I know we should be judging the idea and not the person who came up with it, but wow, Jordan Peterson’s sexism is so immense I just can’t get beyond it to listen to any of his other stuff, even as someone interested in psychological takes on the Bible.
A family member, knowing of my interests in folklore and psychology, recommended that I check out Peterson’s lecture series on psychology and the Bible. And I’m sorry to say that after a quick Google search led me to Peterson’s blog, I don’t think I’ll find any of his ideas palatable (sorry if you’re reading this, Uncle Roy!).
Why? Because the man is steeped in misogyny. And thus I don’t think I’ll learn anything terribly interesting or insightful from his take on a monotheistic religion which is also already pretty misogynist. Unless I need more reasons not to be Christian, I guess? And as a queer feminist Jewish atheist I feel like I already have those pretty locked down.
For example, in Peterson’s blog post On the New York Times and “Enforced” Monogamy, Peterson specifies that he’s not talking about government-enforced monogamy (e.g. actual redistribution laws) but rather socially-enforced monogamy, i.e. a social system that rewards and promotes pair-bonding behaviors.
…my dude, what do you think the totality of Western civilization has been so far? Are you unaware of the long history of adultery laws, as well as their gendered enforcement rates?
As someone with a background in folklore and anthropology, this is off-putting enough. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict famously said “We cannot see the lens through which we look” and I’ve gotta say, I am not keen on hearing about gender, sexuality, and relationship topics from someone so uninterested in even acknowledging that they might have spectacles on (and granted, we all wear these lenses, because we all have biases and viewpoints that are enculturated… but in my discipline we learn to do the work of first off recognizing that we’re continually looking through our viewpoint-peepers and second learning to jiggle them loose a bit here and there).
Then he writes:
Simply put: monogamous pair bonding makes men less violent.
And I’m just like…. WTF? First off, how the hell do you prove this? Like, can you find me a control society in which there is zero violence? And are you looking at the societies that do not foreground monogamy? I’ve seen different numbers, but by one estimate, 4/5 of human societies maintain polygyny (one man having multiple wives) as an option, if not preferential. The one article Peterson cites is very evolutionary-psychology-oriented from what I can tell (e.g. cites David Buss, who as a feminist I find SUPER problematic), so again, see my skeptical face.
But the main reason the above quote pisses me off is that it takes male violence for granted. It just says, hey, dudes are bound to be violent unless we placate them. This reminds me of sex blogger Pervocracy’s Myth of the Boner Werewolf:
There’s a pernicious myth out there that the male sex drive is unstoppable and irresistible–that once a man is aroused, he literally cannot control his actions.
This idea is insulting to men, which is one of the many reasons I’m always on about how gender stereotypes are harmful to everyone, and feminism is for everyone. And I know if I were a dude, I’d be pretty upset that I was being characterized as though my erections ruled my life.
See also: Why I’m an Angry Feminist
Further, we in Western culture are apparently so into the idea that men’s actions must be justified and valid at all expenses that we don’t even pause to wonder: why should we cater to the idea that men must get what they want or they become violent? Peterson writes:
Frustrated men tend to become dangerous, particularly if they are young. The dangerousness of frustrated young men (even if that frustration stems from their own incompetence) has to be regulated socially. The manifold social conventions tilting most societies toward monogamy constitute such regulation.
And I’m over here thinking: if you had a breed of dog that was (by nature or nurture) so vicious that you had to tell every human interacting with it that you had to make sure to approach it humbly and bare your throat to its teeth and gently stroke it and whisper affirmations and be vulnerable to it in order to make sure it wouldn’t just immediately attack you? That’d be a pretty shitty situation, and I don’t think most people would agree that we should just cater to this breed’s quirks.
What’s that, you say? It’s insulting to compare men to dogs, because that’s dehumanizing? Yeah, tell that to Trump when he called immigrants animals.
But that’s also my point: treating men as though they can’t control their animalistic urges is insulting, in a society that values agency, rationality, and free will. And while I utilized the analogy to make a rhetorical point, I’m not saying men are animals (except insofar as we all are biological critters).
Unlike Peterson, I expect better from men. I don’t want to turn women into cannon fodder to fling at resentful men who have been socialized into entitlement to women’s bodies and sexuality. If we need to do a better job of “socially regulating” men, I suggest that it start earlier in life, before the Need To Own A Woman becomes pressing.
This, incidentally, is why I said “sexist” in my blog post title and not “misogynist” (which was the original phrasing). It’s tiresomely bad to stereotype/essentialize binary gender like that. And remember, binary gender is a fiction, even if your religion tells you otherwise.
To return to the point with which I began this post: if someone is so steeped in rape culture and toxic masculinity that they’re just echoing its main precepts out loud when claiming to provide new thoughts/ideas, I’m not interested in seeing what they have to say about a religion that is equally misogynist and victim-blamey. I’m very much with Audre Lourde here in thinking that the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house, so don’t roll up saying we need more socially-enforced monogamy – a tool of patriarchy – in order to help fix men being violent – an effect of patriarchy. It’s wrong-headed, insulting to men, and dangerous to women (as well as folks all over the LGBTQIA spectrum, since I can’t imagine gay men demanding partners would go all that well, and non-binary folks might be ignored or forced to conform to femme typing to be marketable, and so on).
I will tolerate sexist ideas from my college students, precisely because they’re students: they come to learn, which means acknowledging that you don’t know everything, and being open to changing. I don’t dismiss these students out of hand, and encourage them to think more broadly about the world. I expect better from grown adults who position themselves as thought leaders.