Jordan Peterson and Toxic Masculinity

In the May 3 edition of Harper’s, former Jordan Peterson follower Omer Aziz examines the teachings of wildly popular psychologist Jordan Peterson about masculinity. Aziz immersed himself in Peterson’s teachings as an acolyte for a short period of time but has emerged as a critic. The essay covers much ground and in this post I primarily hope to convince readers interested in Peterson to go read it. In addition, I want to highlight a point or two and make one of my own.

Aziz begins by offering hypotheses about Peterson’s appeal to young men. I have often puzzled over this. He seems to point readers to the father figure that Peterson can become to young men who need direction and focus. This possibility leads to the question: if men need a father figure, what hole in their sense of masculinity are they seeking to fill? Aziz asks:

If Jordan Peterson was the solution that a whole generation of men were turning to, then what was the problem? What was the void that these diverse men were feeling, and why? In the shadow of the debate over feminism and women’s rights, what was happening under the surface of men that led so many of them to this paternal psychologist scolding them about Western civilization, the tyrannies of feminism, cleaning your room, and growing the hell up?

In trying to understand why sane young men turn to the often incoherent and conspiratorial Peterson, these are good questions. Peterson fans I have spoken with seem to feel at war with women (I only know male fans). Peterson is the general in charge of the resistance.

Aziz then brings up some of General Peterson’s more objectionable pronouncements about women. About oppression of women, Peterson once said:

I don’t think there is a great deal of unjust discrimination against women in comparison to the degree of unjust discrimination against men. I think that hasn’t really been true for probably, well, at least ten years. And I know that’s not very long. But then, I also don’t buy the argument that throughout history, men have, what would you say? Singularly oppressed women? I think that’s absolute bloody nonsense.

Even the casual reading of history which Aziz provides puts the lie to Peterson’s bluster.

Aziz also highlights Peterson’s recent statement in an interview where he said feminists don’t criticize Islam because they unconsciously long for brutal male domination. Some followers said this statement was taken out of context or a joke. However, he has tweeted this same sentiment in the past.

Reading Aziz’s essay reminded me of others in the past who, like Peterson, have lamented soft men (Aziz mentions Robert Bly’s Iron John). During and after World War II, “momism” was the enemy of that era’s tough men. Author Philip Wylie coined the term in a popular 1943 book, A Generation of Vipers. In 1946, military psychiatrist Edward Strecker claimed the rigors of war revealed that thousands of men were handicapped for military service by overprotective mothers. In Strecker’s view, these mothers were threats to the nation.

Wylie, not having feminism and leftists to blame as does Peterson, just blames mothers and “momworship” for the demise of men.

Meanwhile, Megaloid momworship has got completely out of hand. Our land, subjectively mapped, would have more silver cords and apron strings crisscrossing it than railroads and telephone wires. Mom is everywhere and everything and damned near everybody, and from her depends all the rest of the U. S.  Disguised as good old mom, dear old mom, sweet old mom, your loving mom, and so on, she is the bride at every funeral and the corpse at every wedding. Men live for her and die for her, dote upon her and whisper her name as they pass away, and I believe she has now achieved, in the hierarchy of miscellaneous articles, a spot next to the Bible and the Flag, being reckoned part of both in a way.

Instead of Peterson’s leftist plot, 1940s mom haters like Wylie simply pointed to controlling mothers.

“Her boy,” having been “protected” by her love, and carefully, even shudderingly, shielded from his logical development through his barbaric period, or childhood (so that he has either to become a barbarian as a man or else to spend most of his energy denying the barbarism that howls in his brain – an autonomous remnant of the youth he was forbidden), is cushioned against any major step in his progress toward maturity. Mom steals from the generation of women behind her (which she has, as a still further defense, also sterilized of integrity and courage) that part of her boy’s personality which should have become the love of a female contemporary. Mom transmutes it into sentimentality for herself. (pp. 195-196)

I could also bring up Mark Driscoll and his provocative claim in 2000 that we live in a “completely pussified nation.” Many in Driscoll’s orbit told me that he attracted young male followers who wanted a father figure. I don’t know if anyone has done a comparative study of Driscoll and Peterson but I suspect there is significant overlap. Driscoll famously had some things to say about the place of women which might resonate well with Peterson fans.

Peterson has found a way to sell a message which as found a home with certain men over the years who are looking for a reason why they experience the world the way they do. Blaming moms, egalitarians, or feminists is another way to say with Adam, “Lord, it is this woman’s fault.”

To that I say, “Grow the hell up.”


Image: Dr.Jordan Peterson delivering a lecture at the University of Toronto in 2017. March 20, 2017, Source: Adam Jacobs, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.