Tuesday, December 04, 2012

That's "Nice"

Jezebel takes on the Nice Guy, a phenomenon I was reminded of recently after seeing "Anna Karenina." Levin - in the movie, and as much as I recall, in the book - is very much that type (setting aside the labor angle, which is kind of irrelevant to this issue). But I'm not sure Erin Gloria Ryan's description should be the official encyclopedia entry.

The basic idea is in her post - a Nice Guy is one who believes that if he behaves properly (anything from holding open doors for a laydee to claiming to espouse feminist principles), he is owed either women generally or a particular woman he's after. Male entitlement, in other words, but of a more nuanced variety. I'd only add - and this does seem key - that a Nice Guy absolutely straight-up does not think that if a Girl is Nice, she's owed anything from him. He's of course allowed to choose women on the basis of physical attraction, because without that, what on earth would a man be doing with a woman in the first place. It's about his niceness winning her beauty.

Where I part ways with Ryan (Gloria Ryan? I'm not even entirely sure how to do this with my own name) is, it's not always so easy to convey which sorts of male attention are creepy, and which are perfectly acceptable. For example: being asked out on a date can be creepy, or not, depending on various factors, such as if the man in question is your boss, your uncle, etc. But it is not inherently creepy a) for a man to ask a woman to go do something, or b) for him to want to take the relationship to a new emotional or physical level. Creepy is not taking no for an answer. Asking in the first place: not creepy.* So while some of the examples Ryan gives do seem nice-guy-ish, others not so much.

And the thing where guys on the street ask girls/young women to smile, this is plenty obnoxious, but seems of another category entirely. Oh, and while resenting others who get more dates than you do is an unattractive quality, it only seeps over into Nice Guy if it's expressed. As in, maybe dude feels it's unfair that guys who are better-looking and more successful than he is get more dates. (The adult world indeed isn't big on football players, but there are adult equivalents.) But unless he's bothering the grown-up football player's girlfriend about it, it's really a problem only within his mind.

Anyway, what makes this a tough conversation is, there's on the one hand creepiness, and on the other, a desire on the part of many women not to feel like Aura in "Tiny Furniture," i.e. sexually repellent. It's not always clear when a conversation is about stalking/harassment in the serious sense (and this stuff's plenty real!) and when it's about affirming that one does indeed leave an impression, turn heads. I mean, it's not actually so tough to sort out in individual situations - either an experience is/was frightening or it is/was flattering. But there are some women - thankfully no one I've interacted with in years - who use the "creepy" terminology to discuss things like how dreadful it is that so many entirely appropriate guys ask them out in not-at-all-lewd ways. And Ryan's chart itself is a bit ambiguous on that front.

*To return to the question of "partner" terminology for a moment, it probably is creepy for a man to ask out a woman who's married, engaged, or mentions a "partner" but not necessarily a woman known to have a boyfriend, given that this term is also used to refer to casual, two-month-type relationships in which both parties would be better off with other people, and in which nothing particular is lost if a break-up occurs. But no doubt Dan "Monogamish" Savage would have a different take.


caryatis said...

I also think the guy who claims to have changed completely right after you broke up with him is a different phenomenon. Baffling, but not a 'nice guy'.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Indeed - it's if anything the opposite. The guy who acts all blasé during a relationship, because it's the male role to fear commitment, only to reveal that this was in fact what he wanted once he learns that not all women in all situations, after all, want to marry their boyfriends. Not the opposite of nice, just the opposite of Nice.

Freddie said...

Your third paragraph is really important, and, I'm afraid, largely unwelcome online. I can't tell you how often I argue with people online who are convinced that guys always know when they're being creepy. And I have to insist to them, no, they don't. If it were true that men always know when their advances were unwanted, stopping that behavior would be easier. What makes socially awkward men socially awkward is often precisely that they don't know.

I think there's lots of important work to be done in educating and socially conditioning men to be better about this stuff. But at some level we have to recognize that what we want is to be approached by people we are attracted to and not by people we aren't, and that's never going to be realistically possible. But that idea tends to get treated as straightforwardly antifeminist.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"what we want is to be approached by people we are attracted to and not by people we aren't, and that's never going to be realistically possible."

Indeed, sad but true.

Not sure where you're arguing this specifically, but I think the dividing line needs to be whether a "no" has been given, and whether, if so, the attention persists. If a man asks out a woman, she says no, and she never hears from him again, for the initial asking-out to have been problematic, there would need to be some other factor - he's her boss, etc.

But yes, there are women who, under the guise of feminism, essentially brag about how popular they are with the opposite sex. Additionally, there are feminists who really have dealt with stalking/assault/harassment, and who (understandably) see warning signs where others would not. Meaning, there are women who use "creepy" as a way of I suppose humble-bragging about getting hit on all the time, and others who are just especially sensitive to creepy, and who see it when a man himself might not.