I’m back in the saddle again! Over the last two weeks I have enjoyed a long and mostly unplugged holiday. For a week of it, I had my dearest friend up to spend time with my wife and I. It was a week of long, deep conversations, games, and generally goofy behaviour. I came out of it with material for a dozen articles easily.
I wanted to start with one that has been pretty near to my heart, and that I am forever exploring in different ways, and coming to new conclusions about all the time. The Nice Guy, and his current status as pariah in the many circles.
In August of 2011 a woman named Alyssa Bereznak published an article on Gizmodo that triggered a firestorm of controversy. The article itself, was short, pointless, and fairly dull. It certainly was not something that would be confused with stunning journalism. Ultimately it reads a bit like what I would imagine a teenaged girl’s diary would read like. She went online and set up a date on OK Cupid and ended up on a date with Jon Finkel, world champion of Wizards of the Coast’s card game Magic: the Gathering. (full disclosure, I played for years, but I was never any good at it.)
Bereznak went on a date with Finkel that went alright, but she discovered his geeky habit during conversation. She then went on a second date with him to gather more fodder before publishing an article complete with his name and face, talking about how horribly nerdy he was, and how she not only rejected him, but encouraged other women to as well. (This is what is called in men’s circles “nuclear rejection”.) The article whipped up commentary on dozens of blogs and magazines.
For his part, Finkel played it cool. He talked about feeling violated for seeing his name used in such a public manner, but refused to speak negatively about her and discouraged others from doing the same.
The noise about the article came in a lot of flavours but some of the definitive ones were:
- It was immoral of her to post a childish and demeaning article bout another human being, especially when using his real name and image.
- It was unprofessional of gizmodo to publish such an article, specially when it alienated their target audience, and violated a Man’s privacy.
- Our culture is moving away from its contempt of the geeky intellectual in general, but we still aren’t quite “there” yet, and that is sad.
- Bereznak committed theft and fraud by accepting a second date with Finkel when she had no interest in him romantically; she accepted two meals, drinks, and entertainment from him under false pretenses and then humiliated him; it is time that men became aware of the dangers of Date Theft.
- That everyone has odd hobbies and habits, and one person’s fun night out is another person’s deal-breaker.
- That Finkel was clearly a nice guy (not to mention rich, intelligent, and not bad looking), and deserved better treatment than Bereznak, or a better woman.
That latter point was echoed a lot by geek bloggers and writers, and caught some interesting attention from feminists shortly after the initial “Finkelgate” including pandagon.com’s Amanda Marcotte, at the time one of feminism’s most popular voices.
They saw the fact that many people said Finkel was a “Nice Guy” and deserved a chance, that he should have been treated better, etc. as evidence that Nice Guys some how believe they were entitled to sex due to their niceness. In both the feminist sphere and the manosphere there was a lot of fascinating noise about the idea… a lot of which borrowed heavily from ideas put forward in Robert Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy (link to my recent review) taken out of context or hammered out of their original shape in order to fit the ideas at hand. Glover’s “Nice guys are anything but nice” was used in a way oppositional to its context so many ways it is, in retrospect, painful to read.
The most popular iteration of the Feminist argument as voiced by writers like Marcotte went like this: a man who is “nice” is often not very nice at all. He is kind to women because he has come to believe that being kind to them he will win their love and sexual favours. When he finds himself in the “friendzone” he sees it as a terrible position and the friendship itself is debased because he sees it as a second-best solution and is innately dissatisfied it, which they conflate with not valuing the friendship or the person to which one is friends at all. Or, in another permutation, that the friendship itself was entered into false pretences because the “nice guy” saw the woman as a sex object first and became he friend before valuing her as a human being.
Another variation on the idea was that the fact that many believed that Finkel deserved better treatment from Bereznak as equating to a statement that Bereznak should have overlooked her deal-breaker (Magic: the Gathering) and dated Finkel anyway on account of his niceness. It follows, then, that men who act “nice” and see themselves as “nice” feel somehow entitled to dates, if not sex based on their niceness, even if the woman is not attracted to them.
At the time (around the same time I started this blog) I found the first set of arguments fairly compelling. However, as I look back at it now, I see a big logical flaw: it assumes that wanting to have sex with a person must necessarily preclude seeing them as a human being and having friendly feelings toward them. This only works if you either see male sexuality as (i) innately predatory or (ii) degrading / devaluing to women. It is neither: wanting to have sex with someone does not equate to a desire to suborn and use someone, nor does male sexual desire somehow make a woman into less of a person in the man’s eyes. People can hold multiple feelings at once, including a desire to have sex with someone and a desire to be their friend.
The latter is based on a leap of reason I cannot follow. The idea that Finkel deserved better treatment from Bereznak is not problematic; she behaved badly, after all. It does not follow however that “better treatment” necessarily means more dates or sex. Nor does it follow that considering her shallow, mean, or a poor person for making his gaming hobby a deal-breaker necessarily means that she should have continued dating him and eventually trying sex with him in spite of that deal-breaker. She is welcome to turn him down for any deal breaker, even a shallow one. This idea that saying “He seems like a nice guy, who treated her with dignity and respect, harsh rejection and public humiliation is a poor repayment.” or “that is a shallow deal-breaker, he seemed like a nice guy and deserves better” is equivalent to saying “he was nice to her, she had an obligation to keep dating until she found that the sex didn’t click.” is a bizarre leap based on exaggerations.
Since fall of 2011 “Nice Guy” has become a buzzword. The conception that has sprung up around Nice Guys often dips into Glover’s work, but fails to grasp it. The the Feminist camp, Nice Guys have become a target of a lot of hostility, something of a buzzword, or a paragon of “male privilege”.
In the past few months this particular dialogue has been rehashed as some feminist writers have decided to take on the concept of the Friendzone, again suggesting that a man who is sexually attracted to a woman, but satisfies himself with friendship is being dishonest with his friend, or that he cannot sexually desire a woman and be her friend and honestly care about her at the same time.
The manosphere has offered a different take, often as unkind. “Nice Guys” in the manosphere have been formulated as being obsequious woman-pleasers or passive-aggressive guardians of the status-quo.
Many maosphere writers have pointed to the “sisterhood model” of raising boys. Given various names over the years, this feminist-created model of child-rearing suggested that boys could be trained to be less hard, and aggressive, to be more sensitive, nurturing, and aware of their feelings. That they should be discouraged from taking on traditional male role-models, and focus on becoming an ideal husband for the new “liberated” woman in the way many women were once raised to be a good wife for a traditional man.
The model was common in the 70s and thanks to child-oriented media, essentially ubiquitous in the 80s. It took to some degree or another, but as many psychologists, looking back on the phenomenon, including Robert Glover and Michael Gurian have observed, many behaviours are innate or instinctual to boys, and that a lot of their behaviours are not imitations of their fathers that can be erased by raising children differently or by absenting the father. In fact this model turned out to be highly destructive to young men. Robert Glover believes it was one of the reasons why the Nice Guy he describes in his book has become so ubiquitous.
To the Manosphere, especially many MRAs, the Nice Guy is a somewhat damaged man, who is unable to ask for what he wants or needs in a relationship. Instead he follows a strategy that he was told would work and was raised to follow from a young age, even in spite of his natural instincts. He is essentially trying to please women in hopes for getting sex in return. These commentators also note (somewhat correctly) that this nice, friendly, and non-threatening approach to wooing women is highly ineffective. This is true because (i) it discourages men from honestly asking for what they want and (ii) because women find men who are sweet and gentle sexually unattractive at a biological level.
This assessment is fairly accurate to what we know through science, social sciences, Game, and history, but many manosphere writers take it another step. They suggest that the “niceness” of Nice Guys includes a habit of distrust, aggression, and shaming towards other Men in the name of impressing women. That a Nice Guy will essentially become a “White Knight,” actively working against the interests of other men if they feel it will please women.
This is a problematic assessment, too. While it is more factual, and less ideological, it too requires a leap: that trying to please women will lead to an adversarial attitude towards Men. It is true that many Nice Guys, especially the geeky kind are alienated from- or even fearful of- other Men and traditional male roles. Many Nice Guys tend to attract women who have been hurt in previous relationships and try to be their champions. This makes them prime recruiting for feminists or White Knighting groups, but it does not necessarily mean that it is the case. Just as college freshmen are prime targets for cult recruitment, but not all college freshmen necessarily end up as cultists.
It wasn’t until I saw MRA Girl Writes What’s recent video “Look out! It’s a Nice Guy! DESTROY HIM!!11!” that I got an inkling that something was truly not right with the entire dialogue.
I think lost somewhere in the whole mess, though, is something vital. That we are talking about men who have developed a persona that is built around kindness, gentleness, compromise, and politeness. And while this may be a mask for a man who is emotionally injured, or an identity forced on him as a part of an upbringing intentionally designed to try and stamp out much of his maleness, the first priority of the Nice Guy is not Sex. It may be a powerful motivator for him, as it is with all Men, but it is not the sum total of his being.
The Nice Guys I know, both the wounded ones described by Robert Glover, and ones who have simply chosen to play nice, prioritize playing by the rules first. They prioritize fairness and empathy over sex or gain. They have chosen a strategy for living, working and mating that they were reasonably led to believe would work for them, and lead to a happy, quiet life. And for some of them, who can mitigate their niceness with the right level of assertiveness and transparency added it could do just that.
Every persona, belief system, or moral frame people accept is a tool they use to get the life they want. We choose who we are and how we act based on what we believe ti will get us. This is not necessarily a conscious process, and it is rarely a well-thought-out one. Nice Guys have chosen their persona because they have been led to believe, through experience and early childhood learning (however inaccurate) that if they just choose to be nice and gentle first, that the things they want in life will come to them.
That it is an ineffective strategy, and one that invites a lot of problems, especially in one’s love life and in how they relate to Men, ought to be understood with compassion. Nice Guys are not intentional liars or moustache-twirling villains. They are men who try to do the right thing, even when they have a very distorted view of what that is, and even when it means hurting themselves or being unhappy.