Thursday, January 8, 2015

How Nerds Dreamt of Rebel Alliance But Became The Empire

 Laurie Penny, author of Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies & Revolution, is also a prolific columnist and blogger and has written on everything from capitalism and feminism to pop culture and science fiction. She recently read Scott Aaronson's comment on a blog post about sexism and the roles of men and women on the STEM fields, where Aaronson writes of the pain, confusion and isolation he experienced for years and how while he felt he agreed with most of the ideas behind feminism, when it came to discussions of privilege, he stopped dead in his tracks, saying the be was sure that "...being a nerdy male might not make me 'privileged' — that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes" and that he spent years growing up "... feeling not 'entitled', not 'privileged', but terrified."

Penny, in her personal essay "On Nerd Entitlement" responds with understanding and empathy:

"As a child and a teenager, I was shy, and nerdy, and had crippling anxiety... desperate for a boyfriend or, failing that, a fuck... I hated myself and had suicidal thoughts. I was extremely lonely, and felt ugly and unloveable. Eventually I developed severe anorexia and nearly died... Having been a lonely, anxious, horny young person who hated herself and was bullied I can categorically say that it is an awful place to be. I have seen responses to nerd anti-feminism along the lines of  being bullied at school doesn't make you oppressed. Maybe it's not a vector of oppression in the same way, but it’s not nothing. It burns. It takes a long time to heal... [S]hy, nerdy boys. Your suffering was and is real. I really fucking hope that it got better, or at least is getting better, At the same time, I want you to understand that that very real suffering does not cancel out male privilege, or make it somehow alright. Privilege doesn't mean you don't suffer, which, I know, totally blows."
She points out though, that unlike Anderson, she also had additional barriers in her way. "I was also female, so when I tried to pull myself out of that hell into a life of the mind, I found sexism standing in my way. I am still punished every day by men who believe that I do not deserve my work as a writer and scholar." In fact, men outnumber women in STEM fields, and a recent Yale study showed that when faced with equally qualified men and women applicants in a STEM field, professors were more likely to offer the man a job than the woman. If the woman was hired, her starting salary was, on the average, $4,000 LESS.

Penny further explains:
"...imagine what it's like to have all the problems you had and then putting up with structural misogyny on top of that [or] also faces sexism and racism. This is why Silicon Valley is fucked up. Because it's built and run by some of the most privileged people in the world who are convinced that they are among the least. People whose received trauma makes them disinclined to listen to pleas from people whose trauma was compounded by structural oppression. People who don't want to hear that there is anyone more oppressed than them, who definitely don't want to hear that maybe women and people of color had to go through the hell of nerd puberty as well..."

The entire essay is a nuanced, empathetic response, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

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