Monday, May 6, 2019

Creeping Victorianism?

We don't hear much about it anymore but just a few years ago "benevolent sexism" was a hot topic. The claim was that activities such as holding doors open for women or allowing them to get on a bus first may appear kind-hearted but are actually sexist. One argument was that men who did such things tended to see women as more fragile and therefore were sexist.

I recently had dealings with a strongly committed Social Justice Warrior. She insisted that she be treated with special respect because she was fragile. It wasn't terribly difficult to meet her requirements. She was clear about what she wanted. What struck me, though, was the coincidence of the attack on "chivalry" as benevolent sexism being accompanied by a sudden concern with trigger warnings.

No doubt this feels like a victory to the people pushing it. They'd argue that trigger warnings are not sex specific whereas chivalry was. Unfortunately, a few months on a university campus will rapidly disabuse you of this notion. While the people who insist on special treatment because of their triggers are not all women the overwhelmingly majority are.

All of this, I should add, only concerns a minority of students. SJWs are a small minority. I'd be surprised if they made up even five percent of the total student population. Other students go along; buy in because it costs them nothing. I did exactly that myself when this woman started asking me to make special allowances for her. I found her likeable and easy to talk to and her requirements not onerous. They were no harder to meet than lots of other requirements I make for all sorts of other people and have done so all my life.

I did wonder, though, whether it was good for her. As she talked about her "triggers" I found myself thinking that what she was describing sounds exactly like anxiety. Anxiety is a well-understood and treatable phenomenon. One thing we know beyond a doubt is that avoidance makes anxiety worse. It may be the only choice sometimes; if I have a crippling anxiety attack at a shopping mall, I should leave. When this happens, however, I need to get back on that horse again. Deciding instead that I will never go to public places again will make my condition steadily worse. And that is exactly what being concerned with being triggered does.

I think we might be bringing back the very worst aspects of Victorianism. We hide this from ourselves because it seems like what we are doing is progressive and caring. But that is exactly what drove the Victorians. They also thought they were being progressive and caring too.

So-called "benevolent sexism" on the other hand seems harmless. Indeed, both men and women are happier because of it. Every SJW I've ever met, on the other hand, seems fragile and sad.

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