Jordan Peterson: Unstoic about Women

If women manifest courageous faith in men, what does this solve?

Posted Jun 18, 2018

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Jordan Peterson, public intellectual and best-selling author of a Quora-answer-turned-into-book-of-life-advice titled 12 Rules for Life, has been defensive about being regarded as dismissive of women. 

And yet, in a recent presentation, he was asked what conservative women could do to end the "war on men." A New York Times reporter recorded Peterson's answer. It was that women should "manifest courageous faith" in the men in their lives, and not just their spouses. 

Others have pointed out that women being told to put your faith in men seems to imply "and not trust yourself so much." It also seems to be a pointed thing for him to suggest in light of how many people have just become convinced that women do suffer from harassment and intimidation, after noting media attention to the #metoo campaign. (Laws, of course, have been used to protect men from the crime of intimidation for a very long time.)

But I would like to quickly focus, once again, on how opposed Peterson's recommendations are from another popular approach to self-help, Stoicism. 

Stoicism has some time-tested life advice, some of which has been incorporated into Cognitive Behavior Therapy (which seems to be effective for various disorders, such as anxietybulimia, and anger control problems). A Stoic (or CBT) approach would not suggest we blame our problems with ourselves on not being "believed in" sufficiently by other people (or on not "believing in" other people sufficiently, for that matter). 

Waiting on society to value men more than it currently does, or for women to finally give men what they "need" in the form of faith, is a strange deflection, the Stoics argue, from what only you can be responsible for.

The idea that someone else's outlook or view of us is holding us back is something Stoicism handles quite carefully.  Sometimes it is simply true that this is the case. For example, some of the ancient Stoics were in fact enslaved. Being enslaved is like other "enforced" social restrictions in this sense: they are "not up to us." And so, says the Stoic Epictetus, we should not hold ourselves responsible for them nor see ourselves reflected in them. We should focus on what is instead "up to us."

Sometimes this will mean we maintain dignity in the face of the most incredible injustices. Despite these, we do what we can with ourselves. What has been regarded as valuable in Stoicism is the idea that you have lost no dignity, no proper self-regard, even if society has treated you perfectly unjustly. 

As Rachana Kamekar explains, for the Stoics, "one's self-evaluative judgments" help constitute who we are. It's just our own judgments that are "up to us" and that can do this. 

For Peterson to be insisting that there is a crisis among men today and that the solution could possibly be that women have more "courageous faith" in men is a full reversal of the Stoic message.

References

Epictetus's Discourses can be read online, thanks to the Classics Department at MIT, here.