The harm done by anti-male sexism

Scott Alexander has a post up titled, Arguments About Male Violence Prove Too Much, originally titled, “Schrödinger’s Rapist Proves Too Much,” changed out of uncertainty that the well-known “Schrödinger’s RapistSchrödinger’s Rapist” argument was the best example of what the kind of argument he was critiquing.

I was actually expect to disagree with the post, but it turned out to be made of win. Basically, it goes after arguments of the form, “5% (or whatever) of men are rapists, therefore something something,” pointing out you could make an exactly parallel arguments about black people, which would be wrong.

One thing I really like about the post is that it doesn’t stop there. Instead, it goes into detail about what’s wrong with doing certain things in response to the actions of a minority–even a non-trivial minority–of the group. That’s something I admit I hadn’t thought enough about before.

What really stood out, though, was this passage:

Real Men Don’t Cry

I can already anticipate the objection here. I’m comparing men to black people. A privileged group to an oppressed group. But racism/sexism/oppression is impossible against privileged groups. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what people say about men. It’s impossible to make men feel uncomfortable or stigmatized. Real men don’t cry. They’re big and strong and don’t have feelings that can be hurt. Right?

But as the saying goes, if it happens, it’s possible. And I actually do feel pretty uncomfortable and stigmatized pretty often.

I am not making the stupid (and surprisingly common) claim that white men are the most discriminated against group in America. For reasonable definitions of discriminated against that’s absolutely wrong and they are of course the least discriminated against group in America.

Nor am I making the argument that sexism against men is just as bad as sexism against women. While in the spherical cow universe arguments against sexism do work in both directions, in the real universe where certain groups are more vulnerable than others some directions are much worse than others.

But there is a very wide space between “not as bad as misogyny” and “totally hilarious and with no repercussions whatsoever”.

As far as I understand it, the reason that sexism is bad is that it adds up. If a single movie portrays a ditzy airheaded female character, then that could just be part of the plot and there’s no reason to get worked up over one character. But if you start to notice a trend where all female characters are ditzy and airheaded, then it starts looking like society is against you, that everyone thinks women can only be ditzy and airheaded, andthat’s terrifying.

And the theory is that since men mostly have it going pretty well, a single negative portrayal of men here and there can’t possibly hurt. So go ahead and mention the rape thing. Maybe men hearing something bad said about them for once will do them some good.

On that note, let me tell you about my morning today.

I woke up and checked Twitter, where my girlfriend thought it would be fun to post, apropos of nothing, “There are two kinds of white people: racist white people and white people in denial.”

Then I got onto Facebook, where a friend had just posted the article I linked above, “Is It Dangerous To Date Men?” which suggests that “men should be declared a public safety hazard” (this same friend posts more or less similar articles practically every day).

Also on Facebook, another friend had posted a link to the blog Creepy White Guys, in which Asian women on OKCupid post about how creepy white guys are. And still on the topic of OKCupid, another friend was posting suggestions for all women to use a script she had heard of which claims to ferret out potential sexual predators based on their answers to match questions, putting me into spasms of worry about whether the fact that I admitted I was introverted and had seen a psychiatrist when I was younger was going to put a big PROBABLY A RAPIST next to my profile.

And a link to Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficult Setting There Is, which says it’s not using the word privilege because “I’ve already established that straight white dudes often cannot deal with the term rationally”.

Then I went to a blog I like which is supposed to be about rationality and cognitive science, but which today decided to host a post called Submissions On Misogyny, which include bits like where someone talked about her boyfriend raping and physically assaulting her and then claimed “You might think my ex was a sociopath, but no — he’s a normal male”.

And what bothers me is that this is a pretty normal day for me. I mean, I admit it was a standard deviation or two above average, or else I wouldn’t be writing this essay today in particular, but it wasn’t a complete outlier.

I don’t go seeking these things out. I’m not an outrage junkie who deliberately searches for the angriest blogs I can find and then reads them so I can feel righteously offended. I am dating a gender studies major, which I guess puts me more in the firing line than most people, but even before I met zir I was getting a constant stream of this stuff every day just by having friends.

So please, tell me again how it’s perfectly okay and indeed hilarious to insult straight white men because they never have to hear anyone say anything bad about them.

Scott goes on to talk about why this kind of stuff makes him feel not just insulted, but actually unsafe. I recommended reading the whole thing–I had to restrain myself to not post an even longer excerpt than what you see above.

I want to emphasize that what Scott describes hasn’t been my experience, not exactly. It stuck out precisely because it gave me a different perspective on a lot of the stuff I see on the internet. On the other hand, it did make me think about why this hasn’t quite been my experience.

Part of it is probably due to having different friends. Part of it is probably due to a “no drama” rule that I’ve implemented for my Facebook and Twitter feeds: if you fill them with drama, I will unfollow you on Twitter and may stay Facebook friends with you but will uncheck the “show in feed” thing on your profile. Exceptions can be made for people who add exceptional value to my feeds and only post drama occasionally.

The reason for the “no drama” rule is not because it triggers any fears of what might actually happen to me (aside from wasted time), but it does feel like it’s triggering a response from the part of my brain that evolved under circumstances where tribal politics were a matter of life and death. What I fear is not real-world repercussions, but SIWOTI syndrome or even just wasting too much time staying current on the latest drama because hey, even a sophisticated guy like me can understand the appeal of celebrity gossip.

Also, I’ve found that atheism has been great training for not giving a shit what other people think. For me, anyway. It doesn’t seem to work that way for everyone, leading me to sometimes actually be puzzled to see other atheists giving as much of a shit as they do.

But… I wonder to what extent the issue is that I’ve trained myself to not give a shit. Real Men don’t cry, as Scott says, something I know I’ve internalized to an extent. So I don’t want to be seen publicly giving a shit about people being mean to my gender, because that would be unmanly.

For example, I know very little about MRAs (“men’s rights activists”)–I think I would have heard of them maybe three times in my entire life if they weren’t popular boogeymen (heh) on feminist blogs–but from what I can tell, some (many? most?) of them genuinely are loons. But I often wonder to what extent the near-universal scorn heaped on MRAs has to do with the fact that they are men who complain a lot, and therefore losers, and therefore people no one wants to be tainted by association with.

Or… to make a slightly more embarrassing admission, awhile back I saw a friend talking on Facebook about how he was having trouble in the dating world, and someone suggested internet dating but he responded that he was afraid to do so because some feminist blogs had started using men’s OK Cupid profiles to demonize them. And I felt sorry for the guy, but you know that thing where pity can bleed over into contempt, because pity involves seeing someone as lowly? That. Looking back, it’s a worrisome example of how I’ve internalized certain attitudes.

Anyway, thanks to Scott for making my view of the world a little bit broader.

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