Field Guide to the nice guy, misogyny by any other name

Like every sensible child, I grew up fearing the monsters hiding under my bed, in the closet and in every shadow. In time, I learned that these monsters rarely bother with such obvious tactics and instead often disguise themselves as people walking around us such as the “Nice Guy.”

Before you scoff, here’s the seemingly mandatory disclaimer. No, this is not a generalization of all guys nor condemnation for having a Y chromosome. Some people might do nice things just to actually be nice; although, I may disagree about its frequency. The “Nice Guy” might not even be a guy. 

The “Nice Guy” trope is a collective, romanticized delusion that we feed like an addiction. If a guy pines for a girl, we say, implicitly or explicitly, that this “hopeless romantic deserves” her regardless of her feelings. We see it from Ross Geller in the TV show “Friends,” Leonard Hofstadter in “The Big Bang Theory,” Severus Snape with his devotion to Lily from the “Harry Potter” series and any number of “adorkable” guys in entertainment. He seems sweet. He listens to her problems, gives her a shoulder to cry on, is devoted to her, does stuff for her. Obviously, he is entitled to the girl, like she’s a prize ribbon handed out for checking off a list of criteria. 

Saying, “nice guys finish last” or any derivative, is the infantile excuse of the insecure, centered on the belief that the guy knows what’s better for her than she does. It ignores the girl’s feelings and thoughts, asserting that she is incapable of making rational, independent decisions. Maybe she doesn’t like you because you share no common interests. Maybe you aren’t what she’s looking for. Maybe she simply feels nothing towards you. Not reciprocating your feelings means nothing more than that. When rejected, the self-proclaimed “Nice Guy” often turns nasty, a goblin shedding his mask, blaming and degrading the target of affection. Despite the many potential variables at play, the “Nice Guy” cannot fathom how such rejection may stem from any deficiency on his part. At its sticky core, the “Nice Guy” shies away from self-improvement, and despite its absurdity, we enable this inane belief.

Acceptance of this behavior feeds the fantasy of numerous guys dreaming about playing the hero and saving the damsel in distress, then expecting sexual “payment” or “gratification” for being nice, for being human. There exists no exchange where you can save up nice acts and hope to trade it in for sex, affection or just positive attention like she’s a vending machine. Somehow, this “Nice Guy” becomes a hero for not raping, assaulting or otherwise abusing women. Do you really expect a prize for what should be basic human decency? 

 

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What is called “devotion and loyalty” to this dream girl is no more than putting her on a pedestal. Believing that she can do no wrong is idolization, not love, and no one could fulfill that ideal. It is based on a lack of knowledge, being willfully blind to who she is as a person, refusing to get to know her as more than an object of attraction. It’s imagining some deeper connection or relationship with this person than actually exists. Maybe “Nice Guy” met this girl once, and he already believes they would be the perfect fit for each other. 

The misogyny of the “Nice Guy” appears more subtle than the usual display, but they just do a better job of masking it. Central to the “Nice Guy,” is the perception of the woman as a sexual prize to be won, viewed more as an idealized romantic interest, an Aphrodite or Helen of Troy than a person with actual thoughts, feelings, considerations, problems, flaws and desires. The “Nice Guy” tricks us into sympathizing with him for the mere fact that he feels. The “Nice Guy” might not say “grab ‘em by the p—-,” but his insistent advances and excuses still stem from the same sense of entitlement.

The “Nice Guy” is not just some harmless guy either. People eventually turn their rage outwards. We excuse or turn a blind eye to abuse because he seems nice and “sensitive.” We easily see the sloppy jerk or power-driven suit as capable of abuse, but we also see how some seemingly nice or sensitive act leads people to proclaim that he would never do that, that these allegations are ruining the life of a good, respectable man. He apologizes. He does and says nice things, or used to. He’s sensitive, maybe even a bit of a dork. He follows the script. Entertainment and popular opinion condition us to believe that these are the harmless guys, the good ones, the one to bring home to the parents, and who would ever suspect that sweet, caring, standup guy of being abusive? 

We protect the abuser and shame the abused into silence through these beliefs. According to a 2010-2012 state report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women “were victims of sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner with negative impact such as injury, fear, concern for safety, needing services.” We like to imagine abusers and rapists as the guys who pull the wings off flies, but he can just as easily be the guy who smiles at us, who drove us to the airport that one time, who comforts us and dries our tears, who remembers our birthday and gets a nice gift, who makes us laugh whenever we see him. The one we trust enough to be intimate. It seems like a ludicrous gimmick, but it works. We see these results with former White House staff secretary Rob Porter who was accused of abusing both of his ex-wives. Shortly after Porter’s resignation, the president tweeted about allegations ruining life and career, asking, “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” We see it when people’s instinctive response to the allegations is some guy’s future, as with Brock Turner and the Steubenville High School rape case. We see it from the many defenses worded more or less as “He’s too gentle or nice for such allegations to be true.” The “Nice Guy” could be that good friend no one suspects, the charmer, the quiet one, the jock, the nerd, the artist, the suit, the brother, the father, the religious, the atheist, anyone really, and I have seen the symptoms expressed in many guys to varying degrees.

Take a step back from the misogyny inherently baked into the “Nice Guy.” Even if you balk at any mention of sexism, there is still reason to distrust the “Nice Guy.” It is a performance, the siren song steering our boat into the rocks. At best, “Nice Guy” is an entitled jerk, but often, he is the abuser that tricks us into cheering for his disguise, a romanticized illusion we need to dispel. I do not think the “Nice Guy” is always an intentional manipulation, but that’s the crux of it, the true problem, isn’t it? They are conditioned to think it is the correct way to act, to use dorkiness or nice acts as a shield and that requires a reprogramming.

So, solutions, right? Otherwise, this is just a rant, whining about whiners, and none of us cares for that, right? It’s simple. Do not trust the “Nice Guy.” And please, let the excuse “Nice Guys finish last” rust away. Extinguish any notion you hold that a few nice acts render a person incapable of cruelty. Avoid reframing the “Nice Guy” as a harmless lie. If you like a girl romantically, tell her. She’ll let you know if she’s interested, and if not, do not relentlessly pursue her. If she decides to be with another guy or no one, respect her autonomy as a human being. No one owes you affection. Being shy, dorky, nice or anything does not entitle you to the affection or intimacy of your Aphrodite. She’s just not that interested in you, and that’s OK.

 

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