Deep dive time as we enter the world of Peterson and women. It’s a weird mix that sees nature as the essence of women, that means some appeals to biology and many more appeals to what he claims are archetypes. His metaphors get all mixed up – women are nature and then are controlled by nature and then are how nature controls men and nature is chaos and nature is the order of everything and everything, everything, everything…
I’ve tried to avoid discussing gender in the earlier posts because it just swamps all the other nonsense in his book. It gets hard to examine what he thinks he is trying to do if you try to discuss his staments about women as well. As always, these quotes are lengthy because his points are very verbose. It’s hard to illustrate what he is saying with shorter snippets.
This is long and you may need to take a deep breath before you dive in after the fold.
Peterson starts with some appeals to biology bu we quickly get caught up in fictional tropes which Peterson thinks are deep archetypes.
Women are like…lobsters
“When the females are ready to shed their shells and soften up a bit, they become interested in mating. They start hanging around the dominant lobster’s pad, spraying attractive scents and aphrodisiacs towards him, trying to seduce him. His aggression has made him successful, so he’s likely to react in a dominant, irritable manner. Furthermore, he’s large, healthy and powerful. It’s no easy task to switch his attention from fighting to mating. (If properly charmed, however, he will change his behaviour towards the female. This is the lobster equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey, the fastest-selling paperback of all time, and the eternal Beauty-and-the-Beast plot of archetypal romance. This is the pattern of behaviour continually represented in the sexually explicit literary fantasies that are as popular among women as provocative images of naked women are among men.)” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 10). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Hands up everybody who thinks Jordan B Peterson has *actually* surveyed romance literature in any depth? Hmm not seeing many hands. Hey, he might be right because I haven’t surveyed the actual occurrence of such tropes in best selling romance novels. The difference is neither he nor I actually have any idea. What he’s doing is arguing from a stereotype which may or may not correspond to the truth. Whether it does or not is not a matter he is worrying about – it feels right so he says it.
Middle-aged women and hormones…
“Something similar often happens to people who develop an anxiety disorder, such as agoraphobia. People with agoraphobia can become so overwhelmed with fear that they will no longer leave their homes. Agoraphobia is the consequence of a positive feedback loop… The sufferer is typically a middle-aged woman who has been too dependent on other people. Perhaps she went immediately from over-reliance on her father to a relationship with an older and comparatively dominant boyfriend or husband, with little or no break for independent existence. In the weeks leading up to the emergence of her agoraphobia, such a woman typically experiences something unexpected and anomalous. It might be something physiological, such as heart palpitations, which are common in any case, and whose likelihood is increased during menopause, when the hormonal processes regulating a women’s psychological experience fluctuate unpredictably. Any perceptible alteration in heart-rate can trigger thoughts both of heart attack and an all-too-public and embarrassing display of post-heart attack distress and suffering (death and social humiliation constituting the two most basic fears).” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 20). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Agoraphobia is more common among women than men but the median age for onset of agoraphobia is in the 20s (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/497537?redirect=truehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5407545/) Middle-aged women and the menopause suits his story better and so that’s what he foes with.
Biology and studies are not really Peterson’s cup of tea so later sections on women dwell more on and more on ‘archetypes’ with more broad appeals to biology.
Women are CHAOS because they are choosy:
‘Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters (unlike female chimps, their closest animal counterparts39). Most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. It is for this reason that we all have twice as many female ancestors as male (imagine that all the women who have ever lived have averaged one child. Now imagine that half the men who have ever lived have fathered two children, if they had any, while the other half fathered none). It is Woman as Nature who looks at half of all men and says, “No!” For the men, that’s a direct encounter with chaos, and it occurs with devastating force every time they are turned down for a date. Human female choosiness is also why we are very different from the common ancestor we shared with our chimpanzee cousins, while the latter are very much the same. Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are. It is Nature as Woman who says, “Well, bucko, you’re good enough for a friend, but my experience of you so far has not indicated the suitability of your genetic material for continued propagation.” ‘- Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 41). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Peterson brings in the ‘friend zone’ trope and blames it on nature.
Something, something something, SNAKES! BIBLE! WOMEN! Oh and look out for that weird attempt to mix evo-psyche with literary criticism and theology.
“In any case, there’s a serpent in the Garden, and he’s a “subtil” beast, according to the ancient story (difficult to see, vaporous, cunning, deceitful and treacherous). It therefore comes as no surprise when he decides to play a trick on Eve. Why Eve, instead of Adam? It could just be chance. It was fifty-fifty for Eve, statistically speaking, and those are pretty high odds. But I have learned that these old stories contain nothing superfluous. Anything accidental— anything that does not serve the plot— has long been forgotten in the telling…Perhaps primordial Eve had more reason to attend to serpents than Adam. Maybe they were more likely, for example, to prey on her tree-dwelling infants. Perhaps it is for this reason that Eve’s daughters are more protective, self-conscious, fearful and nervous, to this day (even, and especially, in the most egalitarian of modern human societies). In any case, the serpent tells Eve that if she eats the forbidden fruit, she won’t die. Instead, her eyes will be opened. She will become like God, knowing good from evil. Of course, the serpent doesn’t let her know she will be like God in only that one way. But he is a serpent, after all. Being human, and wanting to know more, Eve decides to eat the fruit. Poof! She wakes up: she’s conscious, or perhaps self-conscious, for the first time. Now, no clear-seeing, conscious woman is going to tolerate an unawakened man. So, Eve immediately shares the fruit with Adam. That makes him self-conscious. self-conscious. Little has changed. Women have been making men self-conscious since the beginning of time. They do this primarily by rejecting them— but they also do it by shaming them, if men do not take responsibility. Since women bear the primary burden of reproduction, it’s no wonder. It is very hard to see how it could be otherwise. But the capacity of women to shame men and render them self-conscious is still a primal force of nature.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 48). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
He keeps talking about women and archetypes and myth but he mainly refers to the Adam and Eve myth from genesis. The only other sources he has for his female archetypes are Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. Even with these they don’t go beyond the Disney movie versions. He talks about our deep seated archetypes a lot and appeals to them as reasons to accept his argument but he doesn’t show much awareness of them. Even easily accessible cultural mythic women from the Virgin Mary to Athena go unexamined- presumably because they don’t fit his story very well.
Beauty and attractiveness (even in the names of the two Disney movies he likes best) are the aspect of women he keeps returning to. As seen above this is ‘chaos’ because it makes men’s life difficult…but then why should that be ‘chaos’ for *women*?
Beautiful women, clever men!
“Beauty shames the ugly. Strength shames the weak. Death shames the living— and the Ideal shames us all. Thus we fear it, resent it— even hate it… What are we to do about that? Abandon all ideals of beauty, health, brilliance and strength? That’s not a good solution. That would merely ensure that we would feel ashamed, all the time— and that we would even more justly deserve it. I don’t want women who can stun by their mere presence to disappear just so that others can feel unselfconscious. I don’t want intellects such as John von Neumann’s to vanish, just because of my barely-grade-twelve grasp of mathematics. By the time he was nineteen, he had redefined numbers. 55 Numbers! Thank God for John von Neumann! Thank God for Grace Kelly and Anita Ekberg and Monica Bellucci! I’m proud to feel unworthy in the presence of people like that. It’s the price we all pay for aim, achievement and ambition. But it’s also no wonder that Adam and Eve covered themselves up.” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 50). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Misogyny? Peterson thinks that’s women’s fault by doting too much on their sons.
“When my now-adult daughter was a child, another child once hit her on the head with a metal toy truck. I watched that same child, one year later, viciously push his younger sister backwards over a fragile glass-surfaced coffee table. His mother picked him up, immediately afterward (but not her frightened daughter), and told him in hushed tones not to do such things, while she patted him comfortingly in a manner clearly indicative of approval. She was out to produce a little God-Emperor of the Universe. That’s the unstated goal of many a mother, including many who consider themselves advocates for full gender equality. Such women will object vociferously to any command uttered by an adult male, but will trot off in seconds to make their progeny a peanut-butter sandwich if he demands it while immersed self-importantly in a video game. The future mates of such boys have every reason to hate their mothers-in-law. Respect for women? That’s for other boys, other men— not for their dear sons.” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 114). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Note that Peterson is OK with the idea that maybe women somehow manage to perpetuate gendered stereotypes and behaviour among men IF it means he can use that mode of argument to blame sexism on women.
Women aren’t well suited to workplaces designed to suit men!
“Who decided, anyway, that career is more important than love and family? Is working eighty hours a week at a high-end law firm truly worth the sacrifices required for that kind of success? And if it is worth it, why is it worth it? A minority of people (mostly men, who score low in the trait of agreeableness, again) are hyper-competitive, and want to win at any cost. A minority will find the work intrinsically fascinating. But most aren’t, and most won’t, and money doesn’t seem to improve people’s lives, once they have enough to avoid the bill collectors. Furthermore, most high-performing and high-earning females have high-performing and high-earning partners— and that matters more to women. The Pew data also indicate that a spouse with a desirable job is a high priority for almost 80 percent of never-married but marriage-seeking women (but for less than 50 percent of men). When they hit their thirties, most of the top-rate female lawyers bail out of their high-pressure careers. Only 15 percent of equity partners at the two hundred biggest US law firms are women. This figure hasn’t changed much in the last fifteen years, even though female associates and staff attorneys are plentiful. It also isn’t because the law firms don’t want the women to stay around and succeed. There is a chronic shortage of excellent people, regardless of sex, and law firms are desperate to retain them. The women who leave want a job— and a life— that allows them some time. After law school and articling and the few first years of work, they develop other interests. This is common knowledge in the big firms (although it is not something that people are comfortable articulating in public, men and women alike). I recently watched a McGill University professor, female, lecture a room full of female law partners or near-partners about how lack of childcare facilities and “male definitions of success” impeded their career progress and caused women to leave.” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 300). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
The idea that workplaces really should change as a result (and probably will) isn’t thinkable for Peterson because that would mean change! Peterson can’t spot the difference between his stereotypes and his archetypes.
Women something something – let’s get socioeconomics all confused!
“The increasingly short supply of university-educated men poses a problem of increasing severity for women who want to marry, as well as date. First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy. They prefer a partner of equal or greater status. This holds true cross-culturally. 184 The same does not hold, by the way, for men, who are perfectly willing to marry across or down (as the Pew data indicate), although they show a preference for somewhat younger mates. The recent trend towards the hollowing-out of the middle class has also been increasing as resource-rich women tend more and more185 to partner with resource-rich men. Because of this, and because of the decline in high-paying manufacturing jobs for men (one of six men of employable age is currently without work in the US), marriage is now something increasingly reserved for the rich. I can’t help finding that amusing, in a blackly ironic manner. The oppressive patriarchal institution of marriage has now become a luxury. Why would the rich tyrannize themselves? Why do women want an employed partner and, preferably, one of higher status? In no small part, it’s because women become more vulnerable when they have children. They need someone competent to support mother and child when that becomes necessary. It’s a perfectly rational compensatory act, although it may also have a biological basis. Why would a woman who decides to take responsibility for one or more infants want an adult to look after as well? So, the unemployed working man is an undesirable specimen— and single motherhood an undesirable alternative. Children in father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor. That means their mothers are poor too. Fatherless children are at much greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Children living with married biological parents are less anxious, depressed and delinquent than children living with one or more non-biological parent. Children in single-parent families are also twice as likely to commit suicide.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 301-302). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
He flips from trends about women in middle class careers with university education to generalities that necessarily include factors around poverty that he’s been ignoring.
He needs a villain in the piece. Things are changing in the world and that’s bad news because his archetypes might get broken. Feminism, ‘political correctness’ and ‘cultural marxism’ are each going to battle against Peterson’s archetypes.
Its political correctness gone mad!
“The strong turn towards political correctness in universities has exacerbated the problem. The voices shouting against oppression have become louder, it seems, in precise proportion to how equal— even now increasingly skewed against men— the schools have become. There are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men. These are the areas of study, dominated by the postmodern/ neo-Marxist claim that Western culture, in particular, is an oppressive structure, created by white men to dominate and exclude women (and other select groups); successful only because of that domination and exclusion.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 302). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Nah, the existence of a woman’s studies course somewhere isn’t magically creating widespread differences in educational performance in western nations that start appearing long before university.
But that’s EXACTLY what you’ve been doing Peterson!
“It is also perverse to consider culture the creation of men. Culture is symbolically, archetypally, mythically male. That’s partly why the idea of “the patriarchy” is so easily swallowed. But it is certainly the creation of humankind, not the creation of men (let alone white men, who nonetheless contributed their fair share).” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 303). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
The rest of this section is Peterson knocking down a big straw men model of patriarchy based on examples of men inventing nice things for women (tampons! anaesthesia!)
Mind you, after blaming misogyny on women, Peterson does blame feminism on men – or rather cultural Marxism, the Frankfurt school and post-modernism:
“Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx
These disciplines draw their philosophy from multiple sources. All are heavily influenced by the Marxist humanists. One such figure is Max Horkheimer, who developed critical theory in the 1930s. Any brief summary of his ideas is bound to be oversimplified, but Horkheimer regarded himself as a Marxist. He believed that Western principles of individual freedom or the free market were merely masks that served to disguise the true conditions of the West: inequality, domination and exploitation. He believed that intellectual activity should be devoted to social change, instead of mere understanding, and hoped to emancipate humanity from its enslavement. Horkheimer and his Frankfurt School of associated thinkers— first, in Germany and later, in the US— aimed at a full-scale critique and transformation of Western civilization. More important in recent years has been the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, leader of the postmodernists, who came into vogue in the late 1970s. Derrida described his own ideas as a radicalized form of Marxism. Marx attempted to reduce history and society to economics, considering culture the oppression of the poor by the rich. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 306). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
I can’t even start with this. It’s one of the stupidest arguments in the whole book. Feminism is bad because Derrida (not actually a feminist or, you know, a woman) and Derrida is bad because Marxism was an evil way to run governments is just a bunch of fallacies standing on each others shoulders, wearing a trench coat and claiming to be an argument.
Nature is the primary source of oppression for women:
“There are other serious problems lurking in the radical disciplines, apart from the falseness of their theories and methods, and their insistence that collective political activism is morally obligatory. There isn’t a shred of hard evidence to support any of their central claims: that Western society is pathologically patriarchal; that the prime lesson of history is that men, rather than nature, were the primary source of the oppression of women (rather than, as in most cases, their partners and supporters); that all hierarchies are based on power and aimed at exclusion. Hierarchies exist for many reasons— some arguably valid, some not— and are incredibly ancient, evolutionarily speaking. Do male crustaceans oppress female crustaceans? Should their hierarchies be upended?” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 313). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
He’s arguing that itt can’t be sexism, because things can only be one thing at a time and if we’ve measured a thing it must be innate and can’t be social – and a whole pile of other hidden assumptions that really don’t bear scrutiny:
“In societies that are well-functioning— not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures— competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not power. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. No one with brain cancer is equity-minded enough to refuse the service of the surgeon with the best education, the best reputation and, perhaps, the highest earnings. Furthermore, the most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness). There are exceptions. Entrepreneurs and artists are higher in openness to experience, another cardinal personality trait, than in conscientiousness. But openness is associated with verbal intelligence and creativity, so that exception is appropriate and understandable. The predictive power of these traits, mathematically and economically speaking, is exceptionally high— among the highest, in terms of power, of anything ever actually measured at the harder ends of the social sciences. A good battery of personality/ cognitive tests can increase the probability of employing someone more competent than average from 50: 50 to 85: 15. These are the facts, as well supported as anything in the social sciences (and this is saying more than you might think, as the social sciences are more effective disciplines than their cynical critics appreciate). Thus, not only is the state supporting one-sided radicalism, it is also supporting indoctrination. We do not teach our children that the world is flat. Neither should we teach them unsupported ideologically-predicated theories about the nature of men and women— or the nature of hierarchy.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 313-314). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
So you get that right? In a functioning society outcomes are meritocratic – at least according to Peterson. Also he regards the outcomes of past society as not active discrimination by men but just everybody trying to cope against the world and women not doing as well as men. He also acknowledges the technological and medical changes that have made womens life easier. Pu those things together and…well if he was right about all that women should start being present in greater numbers in many aspects of society AND HE SHOULD WELCOME that even if it meant MEN were doing less well…Nah. I’ll talk more about this in the next (penultimate) post.
We can’t have equality because it’s hard and wouldn’t be perfect!
“It is also the case, of course, that all outcomes cannot be equalized. First, outcomes must be measured. Comparing the salaries of people who occupy the same position is relatively straightforward (although complicated significantly by such things as date of hire, given the difference in demand for workers, for example, at different time periods). But there are other dimensions of comparison that are arguably equally relevant, such as tenure, promotion rate, and social influence. The introduction of the “equal pay for equal work” argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality, for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible. That’s why the marketplace exists. Worse is the problem of group comparison: women should make as much as men. OK. Black women should make as much as white women. OK. Should salary then be adjusted for all parameters of race? At what level of resolution? What racial categories are “real”?” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 315). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
We literally have tools for looking at explanatory factors in quantifiable variables. It’s a whole discipline called statistics! It’s even a key element of Peterson’s field of psychology! It’s not about which categories are “real” – bias can arise out of categories that are arbitrary and based on confused ideas. Is perfect equality possible? Probably not but that’s not an argument against reducing inequalities and unfairnesses. It’s like not taking an aspiring because it won’t eliminate ALL of your headache.
I’m not sure if Peterson doesn’t know about lesbians or whether he thinks they are ‘unhealthy’?
“Some women don’t like men, and would rather have a submissive mate, even if he is useless. This also provides them with plenty to feel sorry for themselves about, as well. The pleasures of such self-pity should not be underestimated.” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 331). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
I mean he’s there in a section talking about women who don’t like men in the context of picking sexual/romantic partners and Peterson still describes their choice of “mate” as “he”.
A bit further on:
“If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable (who are higher, as one research publication put it, in “income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position”).” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 331-332). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
The idea of anything other than heterosexuality is something he can barely approach.
Gay? The word only crops up once in the book – in the notes as part of the title of Nietzsche’s book “The Gay Science” which is not about being gay and doing science.
Lesbian? Zero matches. Same for ‘homosexual’ and ‘transgender’. Perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies but given the book repeatedly discusses sexual/romantic relationships and attempts to critique modern feminism, it is quite a feat.
He may actually be actively avoiding the word ‘transgender’ because the concept does appear briefly:
“Since all outcome inequalities must be eliminated (inequality being the heart of all evil), then all gender differences must be regarded as socially constructed. Otherwise the drive for equality would be too radical, and the doctrine too blatantly propagandistic. Thus, the order of logic is reversed, so that the ideology can be camouflaged. The fact that such statements lead immediately to internal inconsistencies within the ideology is never addressed. Gender is constructed, but an individual who desires gender re-assignment surgery is to be unarguably considered a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa). The fact that both of these cannot logically be true, simultaneously, is just ignored (or rationalized away with another appalling post-modern claim: that logic itself— along with the techniques of science— is merely part of the oppressive patriarchal system).” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 315). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
For flips sake. Peterson’s whole book, his whole mode of argument, his whole approach to inquiry, the very axioms he has presented as fundamental to his social and ethical critique involves throwing facts and logic under the bus and elevating dreams and myths and whatever symbolism he finds attractive as paramount.
Next time: social change.