So just yesterday I was reading Scott Alexander’s reply/rebuttal to the NewStatesman “On Nerd Entitlement” and thinking to myself “Gosh, I am really glad that I have such a nice in-group bubble that this never even came up and I don’t have to deal with it.” And then wouldn’t ya know it, someone linked the NewStatesman article.
To be perfectly honest, I was actually feeling kinda left out. Like “Aw, everyone else is having this conversation around me, but it doesn’t affect my life at all, so I don’t really have anything to say.” Not that I wasn’t a nerd growing up, cuz I was/am, but I was shielded from the worst of this by a religion that made dating a non-issue anyway. I commented on the NewStatesman link by posting a link to Scott’s article, along with the summary “Nerds as a demographic are on average extremely feminist (more so than non-geek women are), but nerd-shaming is often done by the same groups who so vociferously oppose slut-shaming, and “When you tell a highly-untitled, high-scrupulosity person that they are entitled, it goes about as well as telling an anorexic person that they are fat.” ”
This didn’t actually go very well. The fact that Scott was even arguing that nerds might not be entitled was automatically one strike against him, and things just went downhill from there. The friend was put off by the humor I enjoyed, and the friend is still allergic to Godwin‘ing, which I guess probably says more about my being a cynical old man now than anything else. Also several concepts used are familiar to those who read rationalist blogs, but were quite a few inferential steps away from those who don’t, and therefore much of the actual argument was lost. And on top of that, it’s over 8000 words. In the end there was all-caps incredulity, phrases like “women are murdered for turning men down”, and the conversation had to be shut down with extreme prejudice to keep everyone OK with everyone else.
I can’t say anything for the emotional state of the other party, aside from “It seemed like they were upset.” I, for one, was trembling and very worried that maybe I’d lost a friend, and scared shitless that somehow the internet police were going to show up and strip me of my feminist card. I KNOW IT’S A STUPID FEAR. It’s still there.
Scott Alexander is one of the nicest and most respectful people I can think of. I’ve said this before, but the fact that we (by “we” I mean “feminism in general”) have lost him is a damn tragedy, and an alarm call that maybe some of our tactics need to be reevaluated or redirected. Yes, there’s sexism in nerd culture. Anyone who’s read a few comic books or played a few video games can tell you that. But there are those people out there – jocks and neaderthals, my tribe would call them – who relish this, and will never change. The best we can do is get them to keep their idiocy out of the public doman, much like your racist uncle who knows well enough to act normal in public and only occasionally lets slip how much the blacks ruin everything behind closed doors at family reunions. And there are those people who respect women as equal humans and actually do a lot of work to make work/play/comic books/etc less sexist in the ways they can. A great deal of them are (or at least were) the super-scrupulous nerdy types. We have a visceral understanding of what it feels like to be on receiving end of abuse from those at the top of the social ladder, and strongly empathize. Most of us anyway.
So when the feminist movement drives away those very people, we are hurting ourselves. These are the allies we want!
Scott has a lot of amazing things to say, which need to be heard by people other than just those who already agree with him. But I fear that the original article is too long for most people to read, and too triggering of those who are expecting attacks from asshole MRA-types. So I’m going to try my best to just cut to the most core parts of the post. This will flense away much of the emotion that makes it impactful, and many of the links to studies and surveys that make it insightful. All that will be left is a skeleton that cannot even approximate the heart of the original article. But hopefully, by just laying down the basic starting proposition that those who are wary of the message can read without distraction, maybe we can get a few people to read them. And consider them. And maybe, in time, discuss them.