Kelli María Korducki | Longreads | December 2019 | 14 minutes (3,786 words)
Not long ago, I noticed a woman reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life at my Manhattan yoga studio as we both waited for our Ashtanga class to begin. The sight took me aback. Despite the 2018 book’s many weeks as a nonfiction bestseller, I’d somehow never considered that the scope of Peterson’s audience might extend beyond sulky white men who like to outsource their thinking. That it might include women with the disposable income and leisure time to spend their Saturday afternoons doing sun salutations, whose lives probably look a lot like mine.
Peterson, a once-unassuming psychology professor at my Canadian alma mater (I’d never heard of him during the years we were both there), has emerged in the last few years as a puzzling figurehead among men’s rights aficionados and self-help enthusiasts alike. Wielding a trademark pastiche of literary references and cherry-picked sociological data points, his writing and, to a greater extent, public lectures broadcast via YouTube deliver what is, for many in this age of ‘toxic masculinity’ and #MeToo, a reassuring story: that men are natural rulers, white privilege is a farce, and if millennial men would just make their beds and assume their kingdoms, we’d all be better off.
Peterson speaks to a constellation of loosely connected concerns that have, in the last several years, dominated popular discourse on where boys and men fit into a society in which gender norms play less and less of a role in determining how people fit together. Conversations about rape culture and damaging gender constructs take place alongside global reports of female students outperforming their male classmates. We hear of a workforce that, at least in theory, rewards the “soft skills” women are purportedly socialized to possess. Meanwhile names like “Dylann Roof” and “Elliot Rodger” have become shorthand for an epidemic of male isolation and rage. A New York Times story that followed shortly after the deadly February 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, included the observation that “about the only thing” nearly all U.S. mass shooters have in common “is that they are men.” Read more…