Can Women Learn Anything From Jordan Peterson?
Dr. Jordan Peterson is back.
The renowned Canadian professor and clinical psychologist has returned at long last. After a lengthy hiatus due to ill health, Peterson is slowly convalescing, returning to form with pithy cultural commentary on Twitter, appearances in his daughter Mikhaila’s podcast, and the promotion of his new book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.
Like Anyone Who Speaks the Truth, He’s Either Loved or Hated
Many have long awaited the solace of Peterson’s return in a time of such cultural unease, welcoming his calm voice of reason to strip away the veneer of regressive intersectional identity politics. For others, it’s caused literal tears.
For the weeping employees of Penguin Random House, Peterson is the elusive tyrant they’ve been warned about time and again by the media: a political provocateur, transphobe, misogynist, and darling of the alt-right, looking to entrench the patriarchy and unravel their progress.
A popular misconception about Peterson is that he is only of value to young men.
But, for those who applaud his return, Peterson is instead a Jungian analyst, a connoisseur of Nietzsche, an insightful biblical interpreter, and a beacon of light for those blindly searching for meaning in their lives, ultimately dedicated to the ascendancy and triumph of the individual.
I fall into the latter camp. When I first heard Peterson speak as part of his online Biblical Series, it was like listening to someone decipher a foreign language, speaking to me in a native tongue I never realized I knew and unlatching another world. All misconceptions I had of him hastily fell apart.
Jordan Peterson’s Work Is Not Just for Young Men
One of these false impressions was that Peterson is only of value to young men. And it’s a popular one. Headlines read, “Why do young men worship Professor Jordan Peterson?”, “Jordan Peterson’s Gospel of Masculinity,” and “Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy.” During his infamous interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, she accusatively asks, “What’s in it for the women, though?”
“Well, what sort of partner do you want?” answers Peterson. “Do you want an overgrown child, or do you want someone to contend with, that’s going to help you and that you can rely on?”
“So you’re saying,” Newman responds, “that women have some sort of duty to help fix the crisis of masculinity?”
Personally, I think women do have some sort of responsibility to help the men in their lives who feel totally lost and hungry for purpose. But, that’s not all that’s in it for them.
Women also have a duty to fix themselves, just as men do.
In modern culture, it’s often implied that women are now morally superior to men, that we’re the mature and faultless sex besieged by misogyny and toxic male attitudes. We don’t need any fixing. And therefore lectures on personal responsibility, accepting accountability, and lifting the onus from others could never be useful or attractive to women.
But women also have a duty to fix themselves, just as men do. We too face problems that are undoubtedly exacerbated by our own bad habits and unhealthy behaviors, and we, like every human on Earth, could always benefit from working on our flaws.
As a 21-year-old woman, here are just a few lessons I’ve learned from Dr. Jordan Peterson.
1. The Importance of Individual Responsibility
“Stand up straight with your shoulders back,” reads the first rule in Peterson’s second book 12 Rules for Life.
“It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order,” Peterson explains. “It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and morality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality.”
Confronting and bearing your responsibilities with dignity is the only way to stop them from swallowing you whole.
We’re all saddled with responsibilities in our lives: trying to protect our health, quit bad habits, look after our families, advance our careers, protect our finances — the pressure can sometimes seem endless. These duties can become so overwhelming that we can start to believe it’s easier to avoid them entirely. And yes, not starting a family, not following your ambitions, or not pursuing meaningful relationships might spare you all the burden that comes with them. But, like a muscle without movement, the mind atrophies without meaning.
For Peterson, confronting these responsibilities, getting a grip on them, and bearing them with confidence and dignity is the only way to stop them from swallowing you whole.
But, women today are told not to change for anyone. We’re to be treated like queens, worshipped no matter what we give in return. Women’s magazines triumphantly claim, “Why You Shouldn’t Change Yourself, You Should Change the Person You’re With,” featuring advice such as, “You do not need a smaller crown. You need a man with bigger hands.”
Do whatever makes you happy! You’re perfect the way you are! Every girl has heard it. But, what if sometimes it’s our own habits and behavior that are making us miserable?
True self-empowerment is taking your suffering into your own hands and out of the grip of others.
In other words, it’s not just men who need to look inwards and start burning off their deadwood — the parts of themselves that have rotted and darkened — but women too. Rather than just blame everything negative in our lives on something external (e.g. societal pressure, evil men, microaggressions, unconscious bias, patriarchy), it’s more helpful to start taking responsibility for the things we can control. That’s surely true self-empowerment: taking our suffering into our own hands and out of the grip of others.
2. To Live Is To Suffer
Facing up to your responsibilities becomes far easier once you realize that everyone suffers. As Nietzsche said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
“Life is very difficult and we all die,” Peterson bluntly puts it. “Pick up your damn suffering and bear it and try to be a good person so you don’t make it worse.”
There’s a never-ending list of reasons to be resentful about your existence, Peterson argues. Everyone you know will die someday, including you. And until that time, your life will no doubt be riddled with unfairness, inequality, and seemingly worthless suffering.
Complaining about everything will only make things infinitely worse.
But, you can’t wait for all that to be smoothed out before you flourish. It’s endemic to life. Complaining about everything, Peterson warns, will only make things infinitely worse. Hell is a bottomless pit: once you fall through, it only gets deeper and deeper.
And so, find meaning in your suffering. Don’t just pursue happiness, but strength and gratitude. For Peterson, the fundamental aim for men is not merely to be happy, but to become the strongest person at their father’s funeral, able to lift others’ spirits rather than weeping in the corner.
I think women need to hear a similar message. Instead of lamenting the difficulties of life, we must also pick ourselves up and bear it as much as we can, even trying to find gratitude in our misfortune.
Accepting that life is inherently unfair isn’t as depressing as it seems, either — it actually sets you free. Once you realize that life doesn’t owe you anything, everything good that manifests leaves you deeply thankful.
Once you realize life doesn’t owe you anything, everything good leaves you deeply thankful.
It also frees you from a victimhood mindset. Throughout my time at university, I was informed, both implicitly and explicitly, that I was a victim of invisible forces just because I’m a girl. But as Peterson warns: “What you aim at determines what you see.”
Of course, misogyny and prejudice still exist. But if women are told that these oppressive forces are everywhere, and are encouraged to start redefining words to justify their powerlessness, we will always feel like victims.
3. Everyone Has the Capacity for Evil
“I don't think that you have any insight whatsoever into your capacity for good until you have some well-developed insight into your capacity for evil,” Peterson writes.
We all have the capacity to be evil. Peterson advises men to confront their Jungian shadow — their anger, resentment, and hidden insecurities — and integrate them into their personality to stop them from coming out in distorted ways.
Women have shadows too. We’re not simply paragons of virtue surrounded by evil men, patriarchal institutions, and corrupt societal norms — we have our own flaws.
Once we’re aware of our vices, we’re less likely to project them onto those around us.
Once we’re aware of our vices, we’re less likely to project them onto those around us. That way, we’ll make better people, partners, sisters, and daughters. And so the choice that stands before us is whether to continually lament our misfortune, taking it out on others, or take the hard route of self-reflection and development — a bitter and brutal one, but far more freeing in the long run.
Closing Thoughts: Welcome Back, Dr. Peterson
If patriarchy is the domination of men, while women are kept docile and meaningless, Jordan Peterson is certainly no custodian of it.
In fact, in many ways, he’s the antidote: teaching individual responsibility, the development of the self, and transcendence from victimhood. Not only does Peterson discourage men from becoming old infants, but he also teaches women to walk with their heads high and become someone to contend with. In a world where women are told never to change, and that everything that happens to us is out of our control, it’s refreshing to hear someone say that we possess the power to improve.
He may be excoriated by the media, but Dr. Jordan Peterson has truly helped hundreds of thousands of people — both men and women — to confront their responsibilities, cultivate gratitude, and explore deeper understandings of the world. And I, for one, am thrilled to see his return.