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.

Avoiding divorce doesn’t make you a traditionalist
Why I’ve decided to start deleting jerky comments more often
Harry Potter and the problem with genre deconstructions
Notes on Robert Fogel’s Without Consent or Contract
  • D4M10N

    For reasons I’ve never fully understood, in the world of identity politics it is almost always ok to broadly generalize about people in privileged groups, while at the same time it is almost always an act of oppression to do the same to people in underprivileged groups.

    • David Osorio

      Go figure! Double standards to address discrimination? Who’d say!

    • UWIR

      Saying that people in privileged groups are generalized about is a tautology. Identifying a “privileged” group is, by definition, a generalization. For instance, if you say that men are privileged, you are saying that “privilege” is an attribute that men, in general, have.

  • hf

    pointing out you could make an exactly parallel arguments about black people, which would be wrong.

    Indeed it would be factually wrong! For a white man like me, possession of a black face by a stranger actually seems like Bayesian evidence against them attacking me. If I were a black man, though, it would give me a mountain of evidence in the other direction. And ignoring this would seem foolish.

    So Scott’s general argument-by-analogy fails. Now, you could try to argue that point #4 here allows for a closer parallel with race. I think this still has a major problem, which I believe is called “covariance”.

    If one black man in a gathering has never committed a crime against anyone, that lowers the probability that another black guy in the same group has done so. African-Americans who don’t attack or rob people don’t like to associate with those who do. By contrast, p(raped someone|man) (which starts at 6%) seems more independent between different men. We seem more likely to ignore signs that a guy we know raped someone, more likely to accept or even laugh at jokes about this crime. You can observe for yourself people making excuses for rapists in the news. So the probability of a group with 20+ men (for example, your audience) containing a rapist seems close to 70%.

    (Mind you, I’m willing to tentatively grant that Ed was just grandstanding about a Twitter comment, and then complaining when people applied the same bad standard to his own misstatement. Call that 94% likely.)

    • hf

      Forgot to add: I therefore predict that the lifetime chance of victimization by black-on-white crime is less than even the 6.25% for man-on-woman stranger rape that Ana suggests. Running some inflated-looking numbers for black-on-white rape gives a lifetime (well, 60-year) chance of just over 0.5%.

    • ThrustVectoring

      p(rapist|man) independent of social network is incompatible with the idea of “rape culture”. If how you associate with the people you associate with changes how likely they are to commit rape, then there’s a causal link between someone’s social connections and your probability estimate that they are going to rape.

      Hell, p(had sex|man) isn’t independent of social network. You’re more likely to find virgins at Chess Club than on the football team, as well as distinctly different social networks.

      • hf

        If how you associate with the people you associate with changes how likely they are to commit rape

        And the fact that we don’t so that enough is called “rape culture”. Again, compare the degree to which high-status communities care about this, and the degree to which well-off blacks like Scott’s friend avoid low-status black criminals.

        • ThrustVectoring

          Err, yeah. I’m actually embarrassed about not making that an explicit point. “Rape Culture” is literally the theory that how you associate with people has a significant causal influence on the expected number of rapes that they commit. So if you believe in rape culture, you can’t also consistently believe that who people associate with has no correlation with how likely they are to rape.

          In other words, if you think that you can and have done your part in fighting rape culture among your acquaintances, you have to revise downward the probability that they are going to commit rape, since your model of how the world works essentially has that causal influence as a prior.

          • hf

            …Sure. This seems completely irrelevant to the ‘stranger rape’ scenario that “Schrödinger’s Rapist” talks about, or Ana’s response-to-a-response.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I had the thought about crime by black people mostly being black on black. But independent of that, it’s still wrong to think of black people generally as violent criminals, for reasons Scott lays out in his post.

  • David Osorio

    “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.”

    This is exactly one of the things I was going after here:

  • Ben L

    If you go to, you will find the loons. They make it very difficult to advocate anything like a balance in custody cases or the serious investigation of woman on man rape or domestic violence, no matter how rare.

  • miller

    My experience isn’t much like Scott’s either. I have lots of feminist friends, but they’re mostly of the queer variety. When gay men complain about creepy guys, there’s a lot less opportunity for overgeneralizing. It’s much more obvious that the takeaway message is “Guys, don’t be creepy” and much harder for either proponents or opponents to treat it as “Guys are scary”.

  • Itchy Ike

    “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.”

    I like how you write about the dangers of generalizing about a group of people, then generalize about the Men’s Rights Movement. I challenge you to prove yourself a fully-grown adult and read the rest of my comment, if it even gets posted without being “moderated” (i.e. censored).

    Men’s Rights seeks equality between the genders. There are men and women who believe in its ideas. MRAs do complain, but they have plenty of reason to. Men are getting the short end of the stick more and more often. Don’t roll your eyes. Do some research.

    How easy is it for a man to defend himself against false rape allegations? Read Judith Grossman’s column in the Wall Street Journal for an example. To wit: women’s groups are advocating shifting the burden of proof from the accuser to the defendant; if you’re a man accused of rape, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

    How often do men get even shared custody of children in divorce cases?

    How does society treat male victims of female rape? Yes, women can and do rape men, and it’s not an “incredibly rare” occurrence as is often stated. What about female pedophiles? We don’t even call a teacher who has sex with her underage male student a pedophile, but that’s what she is. Instead, we laugh and say he was lucky.

    Go to YouTube and look for videos about the protests at the University of Toronto. A group called Canadian Assocation for Equality (not even an MRA group, despite others’ opinion) put on a talk about misogyny and misandry, and armed masked feminist thugs did everything in their power to disrupt it, including pulling a fire alarm. Just because some people wanted to talk about men’s issues.

    Go to Go to the National Coalition for Men website: Read the articles there. I do not speak for the MRA movement; I only speak for myself. Get some real information. You’ll find that the people, both men and women, who write those articles are rational, reasoned people who find legitimate justification in their protesting the way men are treated and viewed in today’s society. It’s a global phenomenon, and it’s growing.

    To dismiss them as “loons” and “losers” is disingenuous, insulting, and ignorant. There are legitimate concerns involving men in society today; to dismiss them out of hand shows only bigotry and prejudice.

    • Chris Hallquist


      I probably should have said “perceived as losers.”

      And I probably should apologize, but the fact that you responded to a brief unintentional slight with a long diatribe, confirming the negative stereotypes I carry around in my head about MRAs, is not helping you.

      Also not helping you is that you missed that I’m not calling all MRAs loons. I said some are, indicated uncertainty about how many, but at no point did I even suggest that all might be.

  • Itchy Ike

    “some (many? most?) of them genuinely are loons.”

    The fact is that NONE of what I have seen could be called “loony.” Not even a little, let alone some. You admit you don’t know, but you don’t bother to get the facts.

    And why are men who complain a lot “perceived as losers” when women who complain a lot (“Rape culture! Misogyny! Patriarchy! Someone asked me for coffee in an elevator! I overheard a joke about big dongles!”) aren’t? And, perceived by whom? You only speak for yourself; show me an example of this perception that ISN’T from a feminist.

    Or should MRAs and I just shut the fuck up?

    Your prejudice is showing. MRAs are unjustifiably vilified over and over, often with zero evidence. I took the time to provide concrete evidence to refute that perception, and you said I’m “not helping.” I guess dissent is as unacceptable here as anywhere else the feminist ideology has an influence. You obviously did not bother to get the information I urged you to get. I doubt you even read what I wrote. You probably just said, “Gah! TL;DR!” and looked for a new Rebecca Watson podcast.

    Fuck you, jerk. Don’t blow me off and tell me I’m in the wrong. At least I read what you wrote.

    • Ophis

      Well that escalated quickly.

    • Chris Hallquist

      This is hilarious in so many ways.

      For MRA loons: well, r/MensRights used to have a paged linked at the top by one of their founders that made claims of an international conspiracy against men.

      You’re also missing the fact that the paragraph you’re so mad about was presented as an illustration of the pervasive idea that Real Mean don’t cry, and men seen giving a shit about people being mean to them are deemed unmanly. I don’t think that’s an idea that exists only in feminist circles.

      And FYI, I don’t read or listen to Watson anymore. I actually think she’s a toxic influence on the atheist movement.

  • Jon H

    Thanks for this post.

    I had religious self loathing instilled in me at an early age, but as I left religion I found myself hating myself not for being a “sinner” but for being a “straight white male.”

    This sort of thing fueled my suicidal thoughts and led to me beliving that me and everyone like me deserved to die. A few times I said, straight to the faces of my white friends that “All white people deserve to die. And if you want to make the world a better place you should start by killing yourself, I know I’m planning to.”

    The internet social justice movement is on balance a great thing, but a stroll through tumblr or a visit to /r/srs these days makes me think that while these folks have more sympathetic/better intions than MRMs, they can be every bit as hateful.

    • Ophis

      I’m not so sure that one side can so easily be said to have better intentions than the other. MRAs could, just as easily as feminists, define their movement as being simply a movement for equality between the sexes. If we were ever to reach some future egalitarian utopia where nobody was judged by their gender then both movements could claim that their aims had been reached (with the possible exceptions of the really, really wacky people way out on the fringes). The difference to me seems to be not so much their intentions or aims, but in their sociological theories and which gender is viewed as being more oppressed.

      Take away the shitty sociology and you’re just left with a bunch of moderates in the middle writing about different aspects of the same problem of sexism, and a bunch of gender tribalists who divide the moderates and give them a bad name.

      • hf

        I deny your premise. Feminists help to reduce the power of Todd Akin and generally advance real-world goals of value. MRAs have never accomplished anything of value and never will – their movement exists to attack feminists. Otherwise they’d be working with the existing pro-equality movement. I deny that MRAs have any coherent “sociological theory” which could get in the way, unless you mean their hatred of feminism.

        • Ophis

          By their “sociological theory” I was thinking mainly of their view of the power balance between men and women in our societies. Calling it a “sociological theory” was probably giving it too much credit, “worldview” might have been a better word.

          Where you say that the MRA movement “exists to attack feminism” I think I’d put it a little differently and say that it exists as a reaction to feminism, which they believe is sexist against males. That’s why I said that their aim is not so different to feminists, they’re trying to eliminate sexism. Their problems come not from bad aims but from incorrect opinions about the amount of anti-male sexism. But these problems are no different from exaggerated claims of misogyny from the extremes of feminism.

          I will make a couple of concessions: first, I have a suspicion that feminists have a rather better ration of sane people to crazy people. I don’t know whether that reflects reality or just my own limited experience of MRAs. Secondly, reducing Todd Akin’s power is a pretty good thing to aim for.

  • MNb

    Two remarks on the piece of Scott A.
    1. He completely does not address this point of Schroedinger’s Rapist:

    “you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance.”

    Indeed – if I have to enter a black neighborhood – or a Maroccan one, to put it in Dutch context – nobody is going to tell me what my own risk tolerance should be.

    2.”this same friend posts more or less similar articles practically every day”
    I don’t think I would want to be friends with someone who sees me as a public safety hazard. And that’s something I decide myself as well.

    Admitted, I haven’t read the entire article as I thought it bad. But it seems to me as if it’s based on a false presupposition: that macroscopic features of a group say a lot about the features of a random individual member of that group. That’s not how probability analysis works. And Schroedinger’s Rapist has everything to do with probability analysis. The author of that 2009 article understands. Scott Alexander doesn’t. Neither does that friend of his campaigning on internet every day.

    “atheism has been great training for not giving a shit”
    For me it worked that way as well and it generally improved my life.

    “Real Men don’t cry”
    The funny thing is that I apply this the same way as those women with Schroedinger’s Rapist. If I know that I can trust you in this respect I’m not afraid at all to show my emotions. That includes crying. On internet I don’t trust anyone enough for this. Because of the risk of getting abused. I set my own risk tolerance.

    • Drew

      1. He completely does not address this point of Schroedinger’s Rapist:

      “you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance.”

      Indeed – if I have to enter a black neighborhood – or a Maroccan one, to put it in Dutch context – nobody is going to tell me what my own risk tolerance should be.

      Except that Schroedinger’s Rapist is quite frequently used (every time I’ve seen it used, though my own experience is not exhaustive) to suggest that other people ought to alter their behavior based upon how “[you've] set [your] own risk tolerance”.

      To put it in the terms of the analogy (since we’re still using it however flawed the analogy may be) it would be like expecting a black person to cross the street when approaching a white person because of concern that the white person might be racist and it’ll make them feel better.

  • Alex

    The trouble with Schroedinger’s Rapist as probability analysis is that most people don’t think in terms of probability analysis. Categorical thinking seems to be the human brain’s default setting, and it takes considerable training (which people should, but generally don’t, receive as part of basic public education) to learn to think probabilistically.