Why claiming that all male nerds are privileged could be dangerous

“To whatever extent there is misogyny, one could say that there’s also “male privilege.”  Rather it’s to suggest that, given what nerdy males have themselves had to endure in life, shaming them over their “male privilege” is a bad way to begin a conversation with them.” Scott Aaronson, MIT Professor

“They are perpetuating the story that we blacks tell ourselves: that we’re the scrappy dark horse, the downtrodden victim, the rag-tag rebels fighting against an implacable enemy. And that’d be great… if that were true.  Except it’s not. Frankly, the blacks have won. Black culture is culture, period.  Our president is black.  The football and basketball players we cheer on, the rappers we lis–“

If you think that I sound crazy, you are probably sane to believe so.  The examples I have highlighted here are only indicative of a certain segment of the black population.  But most people know that African-Americans suffer from disproportionate poverty as a whole.  However, this awareness doesn’t extend to many socially deficient men, whom the media and social justice warriors portray as privileged based on stereotypical caricatures.

In the past 20 years, the neurodiversity movement has grown by leaps and bounds.  While most people don’t use the term “neurodiversity”, there is a general myth that autistic children, usually boys, will always make up for their deficiencies and childhood bullying in adulthood through their assumed intellectual talents, by becoming wealthy and renowned.  There is even a forum with over 80,000 members, WrongPlanet, which is based on this myth, yet only showcases a small handful of autistics. This took an ironic turn for the worse when multiple articles proclaiming male nerds to be “overly privileged” and “entitled” appeared over the past few years, telling them to give up their privilege. One example was an article praising the “Nice Guys of OKCupid” tumblr, whose author, who once attempted to murder a past girlfriend, said it was an “opportunity to snort derisively at the socially awkward”.  Another example were the “Gamers are Dead” articles, which started with Leigh Alexander, who said “They don’t know how to dress or behave”.  Of course, many male nerds have a lot of privilege, but there are many other men with nerdy characteristics that have little to no privilege, as nerdy characteristics are very vaguely defined.

Several articles about this topic came in again January 2015 when an MIT Professor, Scott Aaronson, challenged the notion of male privilege in nerd culture.  He claimed that in undergrad, he was so afraid of women humiliating him and portraying him as entitled due to his nerdiness that he even felt suicidal.  Anyone who is scared about this kind of situation to the point of suicide should see a therapist.  However, many commentators still portrayed him as privileged.  And as an MIT professor, he is very privileged, but mental health still has a significant stigma in our society.  If he is autistic, his executive functioning is sufficient enough to the point where he can hold down a professorship, and he doesn’t stand out in public.

Amanda Marcotte, a political commentator, mocked his issues with a very bizarre rebuttal.  One point she made was “There are many women out there who are also crippled by social anxieties who would prefer to hide in their hobbies and interests.… Being able to hide in mathematics is, in fact, a privilege, because it is one that has long been and continues in many ways, denied to women.”    She spreads the myth that people can just “hide” in theoretical mathematics.  In fact, it is very hard work and can consume years of one’s life, far from being an “escape”.  Tenure is also very difficult to achieve.  Many autistics, a lot of whom would be classified as nerds, have difficulty concentrating and many don’t even take up postsecondary education at all.

British journalist Laurie Penny wrote another rebuttal “On Nerd Entitlement” on sexism against nerd women saying “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.”  Even if what she is saying is true (but she doesn’t provide sources), she is practically equating “left out” in childhood with “future success”, when there is much evidence to the contrary.  Dating columnist Harris O’Malley says (where I stole my intro from) “Aaronson and Alexander are perpetuating the story that we geeks tell ourselves: that we’re the scrappy dark horse, the downtrodden victim, the rag-tag rebels fighting against an implacable enemy. And that’d be great… if that were true.  Except it’s not. Frankly, the nerds have won. Nerd culture is culture, period.”  Yet the examples of male nerds he gives, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, only focus on highly-social productive nerds.

Jonathan Mitchell, a pro-treatment Autistic advocate, has written an essay debunking the idea that Einstein, Gates, and Jefferson were autistic and socially deficient  He notes that while Einstein was a late talker, he became highly social in adulthood, dating many women, and was very productive.  Bill Gates was excellent in marketing Microsoft to the masses, knowing how to communicate with salesmen with no special assistance.  Mitchell himself is terminally unemployed due to lack of marketable skills.

Telling every male nerd, including those on the spectrum, that they are privileged and will be successful will create unrealistic expectations for many as there is no singular definition of a nerd.  Many also might, as of late, be accused of entitlement when they can’t live up to those expectations or feel socially rejected.  These accusations come from the assumption that they must be lazy (instead of having poor executive functioning) or assuming that they are supposed to be popular in today’s world because of their nerdiness (based on media stereotypes), so they must be doing something unethical.  While there are no guarantees in life, it is a stretch to tell someone that he/she is more than capable, then turn the situation around.

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