I’ve told you about one kind of category fight, accusing someone of a bait-and-switch and this week I came across an excellent example of another one. A blogger who goes by the alias of Doctor Nerdlove wants to protect the category of Socially Awkward Men from incursions by people who are just assholes.
In this case, the Socially Awkward Men have established themselves as a disabled class and asked for accommodation. They argue that they are less capable of recognizing boundaries set by potential dating partners, and request additional clarity when those boundaries are communicated. What is key here is that they also ask for understanding if they unwittingly overstep those boundaries.
Nerdlove identifies another group of men who claim this accommodation. He argues that these men are not true members of Socially Awkward Men, but instead “creepers” who can recognize boundaries and don’t care. As Nerdlove tells it, these men do not deserve the accommodations offered to Socially Awkward Men, and their dishonesty and their abuse of dating partners has the potential to besmirch the reputation of all Socially Awkward Men.
This gatekeeping argument has close parallels with the watchdogging against Tyson Farms’s abuse of the Natural Chicken category. In both cases, a dishonest actor is claiming membership in a category in order to obtain something that they are not entitled to. The main difference between the free-riding alleged by Nerdlove and the bait-and-switch alleged by the Truthful Labeling Coalition is that the “creepers” are claiming a right to benefits based on their supposed category membership, while the seaweed-injecting chicken manufacturers are claiming to provide value based on their product’s category membership.
One key difference between the two allegations is that bait-and-switchers almost always know what they’re doing, but free riders may sometimes truly believe they are members of the deserving class. In this case there may be some creepers who pose as Socially Awkward, but I think most of the ones who claim the status of Socially Awkward truly believe it.
The besmirching is an added wrinkle to this, and probably deserves its own post. In a besmirching argument, the gatekeeper does not necessarily claim that the intruders are undeserving of the benefit, but rather that they are somehow undesirable, and that their association with the true members will ruin the high esteem that the class is held in. Nerdlove does this when he says that excusing creepy behavior as Socially Awkward “end[s] up continuing the idea that being socially awkward is inherently creepy.”
So there you have an example of the gatekeeping accusation of free riding, and its differences from the watchdogging accusation of bait-and-switch.
I personally agree with a lot of Nerdlove’s argument, but not all. In particular, Nerdlove says, “Here’s the thing about the socially awkward: they don’t want to trip over people’s boundaries.” But as my wife pointed out to me, it’s possible for a guy to be Socially Awkward and still be creepy. He can be unaware of where others are setting their boundaries and not care about them even if he finds out. But Nerdlove’s overall point still stands: there are many Socially Awkward Men who want to learn how to read feedback from others and respect their boundaries. They should be given that feedback, and a chance to learn from it.