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07/14/2005 Entry: "Nice Boys: What I meant to Say"

(None of the opinions expressed below are those of Ginger Mayerson, whose blog this is. She is confident, however, that I am not a psycho-killer. I think.)

A couple days ago I broke my longstanding rule of avoiding threads about the politics of sex and gender except when I can affirm the standard liberal opinion. The thread (continuation here) started off talking about about the harassment of women in public places (subtle or otherwise), which is a topic about which I have no problem affirming the standard liberal opinion.

Then this sentence appeared:

Thus the "nice guys" syndrome of men who aren't vile rapists and expect to get fucked by supermodels as a show of gratitude from the entire female sex.

This sentence (which I slightly misunderstood, as I know now) ticked me off. It sounded like an unnecessarily harsh caricature of me and many of the guys I’ve known over the years. Unwisely, I responded, one thing led to another, and ultimately this was said:

“You seem to believe that men have the right to get sexually involved with anybody they wish, but any woman who dares to consider sexiness over any other qualities should not only expect a nasty and violent death, but probably deserves it.”

(My surly response to this was regarded as proof that I have no sense of humor).

One thing that I did not understand was that the “nice guy” is a standard type in the dating world of today. These are guys, possibly involved in emo, who have developed a schmooze which involved explaining to women that they should have sex with nice guys like them, instead of with conventional, good looking, exciting, movie-star style jerks. In other words, being the “nice guy” is a stereotype move in seduction and courtship.

The nice guys I had been thinking of were just shy, socially-inept guys who went about their lives engaged in activities of various kinds which did not include dating. Insofar as we understood the dating world at all, it seemed to favor glib, light-hearted, fluent, dashing, charming, bold, confident guys who were not at all like us. Included among those guys were a fair number of studly types who had had a pretty complete contempt for women but knew how to push their buttons. [Read More]

None of us knew that you could extort sex from women by claiming to be nice, but if we had known, we wouldn’t have done it, anyway, because we were too shy. The “nice guys” of today are retrofitted bad guys, camouflaged as us.

So we whined. One thing I learned on these threads is that no one in the world is despised more than nice guys. It was suggested at various times that nice guys (not the studly nice guys who were blackmailing women into screwing them, but the shy nice guys) are just losers who can’t get dates because we are fat and ugly and need plastic surgery and are boring and aged and write about useless philosophy (the last one was me).

At some point I realized that, even though the site on the whole was about topics of general interest, this particular thread really was about the contemporary dating scene, in which I am not involved. So I definitely should have shut up. But fools rush in.

For whatever reason, I continued, presenting my theory about American sexual stereotypes. My theory is that the American stereotype of the sexy guy (which I summarized above) did not favor the people I continued to call “nice guys”, but favored cheerful, heedless narcissists who, because they put no investment to speak of in any relationship, had no inhibitions. And at the extreme end of this there were the stereotypical charming sociopaths. (And I failed to say at the beginning that some charming, sexy guys are just nice, confident guys).

I traced this back to Hollywood. The Hollywood founders were misogynist whoremongers who demanded sex from all their leading ladies, and they believed that women really liked to be dominated by charming bad guys. This idea was systematically written into scripts, with the casting of Clark Gable (formerly a villain) as Rhett in Gone With The Wind being the breakthrough. (There’s documentation of this, but I lost it.) Or as I said on the thread:

The Bad Boy image of sexy men, as institutionalized in American society, is part of the problem. And this image is quite powerful in the dating world. And it is a bad thing. And finally, many women do buy in to it, to their detriment. Even if they know better, because it's been institutionalized. And for women in general, to the extent possible, and also for men, the best thing would be to move away from that.

Eventually the shit hit the fan. I had ended up touching three different third rails all at once. First, I seemed to be defending the whiny emo Nice Guy seducers. Second, I was saying that women can’t be as free as men. And third, I was stereotyping and blaming the victim.

It did not help at all that I gave examples of a number of women I knew who had gotten involved with charming, sexy sociopaths and had had their lives ruined. The fact that one of these women had been murdered made it worse for me. From my point of view, I was telling about one of the things in my experience which made me think that the “bad boy” esthetic could be harmful. To several people on the thread, it was like I was threatening to kill them.

I’m sure that there were things that I should have said differently, but my point was mostly about American commercial pop culture and secondarily about predatory studly guys. It’s wrong to say that all women like jerks, and it’s also wrong to say that all charming, sexy men are jerks, but I don’t think I said either of those things. It seems to me that there’s a point in what I said, even if it’s not quite right, and that at least I shouldn’t be accused of being sympathetic to psycho-killers.

A major issue was that I seemed to be saying that women should be more careful than men. And I guess I was. Men are more likely to be murderous and violent than women, aren’t they? Isn’t that a basic feminist point, and also a fact of life? Aren’t men, in general, likely to be more predatory? Does the fact that I say these things mean that I want things to be this way? (And yeah, guys who date guys probably should be a bit more careful than guys who date women, too.)

And blaming the victim is wrong, and if I was doing that I was wrong. Guilt-tripping victims happens a lot and is harmful, but I wasn’t speaking to a victim or to a roomful of them. And ultimately, among the things you have to talk about with regard to this kind of thing is the woman’s agency, and destructive behavior patterns, to the extent that they are relevant.

But I didn’t really want to be talking about the extreme cases of abuse at all. My extreme case got foregrounded, but what I really wanted to talk about was what I think is part of the cultural background leading to part of the unpleasantness many find in the dating scene (a.k.a. “dating hell”).

Ultimately I was told that, apparently, no man should ever criticize any choice any woman makes. In the words of the feminist spokesmen Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins (as interpreted by Billy Holliday):

But I'd rather my man would hit me
Than follow him to jump up and quit me
Ain't nobody's business if I do
I swear I won't call no copper
If I'm beat up by my papa
Ain't nobody's business if I do.

Not much can be said about that.

So I’ve ended up making myself a spokesman for the shy, inept version of the much-hated “nice guy”. Are we really nicer than the average guy, or just less threatening because of our ineptness and timidity? At this point, I wouldn’t venture to say, though the group I’m thinking of has in fact shown itself to be pretty harmless so far. In part I am writing from the resentment I’ve felt in the past when, after missing out on most of the fun, and after helping pick up the pieces after some of the disasters, I started also being expected to take the blame for what Men do. And that’s what I thought was starting to happening when I started hearing about the feminist anger at “nice guys”.

It was darn stupid of me to get involved with this, but my flame war gene took over. I’ve been trying to suppress that side of my psyche, but believe me, it’s hard. Flame wars are my own irresistible temptation, and I imagine that in the end they’ll be the death of me.

Spinoff thread

Nice girl's point of view

Posted by John Emerson 07/14/2005

Replies: 8 comments

John, I don't think you're a psycho killer or Mr. Goodbar at all.

Suzanne Lummis once wrote a poem about Regular Nice Guys, it's here, scroll to the bottom.

I was thinking one of those idle thoughts in traffic about women in society and decided that the only way to make real social change would be to raise girls like Shaolin monks. Not that this is really workable, but it would be helpful if all females knew how to be peaceful and how to defend themselves (and others).

Nice guys are looking better and better as time goes by.

Posted by Ginger Mayerson @ 07/14/2005 08:29 AM PST

I think you were caught in the crossfire on that strand. There was alot of righteous anger at "nice guys", you came in with some observations that, while they are authentic to you, seems to fit in with the kind of bullshit "nice guys" often spout, and boom. You became the embodiment of every passive-aggressive self-serving asshole out there.

Try to understand where Nancy et. al.'s anger comes from, but also know that they have gone over the top in personal attacks and people who follow the thread can see that they have taken your remarks out of contxt.

Posted by Battlepanda @ 07/14/2005 01:36 PM PST

I've been told that I'm not the first person Nancy has gone ballistic on. When she cited the Billie Holliday lyric, I decided that she was basically nuts, and not in a good way.

I have a weakness for flame wars, so I'm not an innocent victim here. I should have quit the thread, but my temper kept me from doing that.

Posted by john emerson @ 07/14/2005 05:07 PM PST

Hm. I think you're basically right that a big part of the romantic seductive asshole dynamic is about popular cultural motifs of what constitutes "romantic." And that both men and women internalize these, and that they're not good for either of us, because they treat "men" and "women" as monolithic groups--all women like being treated in stereotypically "romantic" ways, all men need to be "romantic" in order to court women.

But I think you're wrong in sticking to the "bad choices" meme, and defending it by pointing out that this dynamic hurts women more than it does men. Practically speaking, you are right that--just like rape--it's women's "job" to prevent it because, as a culture, we accept that guys are "just going to be like that" (and guys "get" to accept that because they don't end up being beaten for it, usually). But as a matter of principle, it isn't fair (and this is what Nancy was getting at) to rest on the "well, that's how things are, and women need to make better choices" meme, because that lets guys off the hook for being abusive assholes. If women internalize conventional ideas about romance, and guys use those conventional ideas to take advantage of women, it isn't the woman's "fault"; it's the guys. The point Nancy et al. were making about patriarchy is that warning women about their choices implicitly accepts that the behavior of guys is "just going to happen," as if men were some kind of natural disaster and had no agency or responsibility of their own--which lets men off the hook and places most of the responsibility for changing these harmful stereotypes, which mostly harm women, onto the women themselves.

Posted by bitchphd @ 07/21/2005 01:21 PM PST

I didn't excuse my brother-in-law. I was literally willing to kill him. (He lived in a small Kansas town when strangers stand out. No escape route would have been possible.)

And I didn't blame my sister. But one thing that I had to think, and which she (who has worked as a battered-woman counselor) basically acknowledges, is that she was looking for a kind of guy who was likely to turn out that way.

Nice guys really, really hate the jerky type A guys. We do not excuse them. I did not say what Nancy believes I said, and she became very personal.

Posted by john emerson @ 07/21/2005 01:28 PM PST

Well as Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

But how strange - Emerson left the thread on Majikthese that I was involved in, and came here to continue the conversation, and make claims about me and what I said - and nobody invited me to speak up for myself, and instead I find that bitchphd has to speak up for me.

So what's the problem Emerson - don't people who are "basically nuts" deserve a chance to defend themselves?

For some reason, although you are able to copy and paste some items from the thread, you neglected to paste the actual thing that you said that set me off. But I'm happy to do it for you. Here's what you said:

"And while nice guys shouldn't feel entitled, there is a definite prioritiziation happening when a woman chooses an exciting unnice guy over an unexciting nice guy (or nobody at all, a nice woman). So there's agency there, and some of the harm has to be credited to the woman."

And LATER in the same thread, you restated this to clarify exactly what you meant:

"The woman's agency comes when sexiness is prioritized over niceness."

Of course you're welcome to say you were misunderstood, or inarticulate. But instead you come over here and talk trash about me.

Is it too "personal" to point out that this is a craven and dishonorable thing to do?

Posted by Nancy @ 07/29/2005 01:39 AM PST

Nancy, when I first posted I did not mention you by name. Battlepanda and BitchPhD did in their reponses, and then I responded to them.

Your Billy Holliday lyric did strike me as loony, yes. I'll let the readers judge about that. And, no, I was not at all motivated to invite you over here, but I did announce on the thread we were on that I was coming over here. Sorry that you missed that at first (not really), but you seem to think I should have sent you an engraved personal invitation.

Posted by john emerson @ 07/29/2005 07:29 AM PST

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