Becca Rothfield lays bare the deception of our greatest modern misogynist, Jordan Peterson, in a piece titled, “Sexism and the aesthetics of rationality”. Peterson’s cunning lies not in what he has to say, Rothfield suggests, but what he doesn’t say:
They’re not saying that a Good Woman (tm) has kids and quits her job, of course. They’re not saying anything. They’re just giving the impression of having said something…
He’s not peddling ideas. He’s peddling a “sensibility”, she says. And sensibilities, unlike conjectures, are unrefutable. She quotes Susan Sontag:
“…a sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about,” writes Sontag. This is because a sensibility trades in hint and insinuation, not in propositions that can be directly identified (and therefore directly attacked).
Rothfield calls Peterson’s schtick “Performatively Rational Sexism”, which is a terrific name for something that is both performatively rational, and sexist. While reading the piece, I couldn’t help but think about other professionals who are “just asking questions”: The investigative journalist — the curious therapist — the cop who’d just like to ask you a few questions. I thought about their unimpeachability. I thought about what effect that blamelessness has on their meal ticket.
I thought about my early interrogators; how they came when I had just fucked up. How their interest in punishment was not lost on me. I felt shame and fear. I was a silly goat. And I noticed how asking someone a question in public can make a goat out of them.
In the finest desmonstration of goatmanship I’ve ever seen, a journalist asks coplike questions to a cop. The cop promptly becomes enraged and shows us what a silly goat looks like.
In Peterson’s theatre, his opponent is the goat. He’s not asking questions to them however. He’s asking questions about them — about their worldview. They’re not being interrogated right now. The cops have switched off the camera. It’s time to mess with the detainee’s mind.
Rothfield knows what the goat shouldn’t do:
But you can’t exactly not have an argument either, because to do so is to leave unchallenged the perfectly obvious insinuation that you and…