On the “nice guy” straw man

I came across an interesting image, linked from a Reddit comment, just now.

The image consists of nine panels. Each of the first eight depicts a Forever Alone rageface, and contains a snippet of text. In order:

  1. Doesn’t maintain physical fitness, style, or personal hygiene, yet judges women on appearance.
  2. Has cripping self-esteem issues that make him come off as needy and desperate.
  3. Claims to be a “nice guy”, but befriends women solely because he wants to sleep with them.
  4. Refuses to “settle” for a less physically attractive woman, but expects women to settle for him.
  5. Complains that women only like assholes, but only thinks of women in terms of sex.
  6. Sacrifices his desires to please any woman who pays attention to him, making himself a martyr.
  7. Thinks of himself as “sensitive”, is in fact a spineless wimp who won’t stand up for himself. (N.B.: Comma splice.)
  8. Is just as manipulative in the intentions of his “niceness” as an asshole is with abuse.

The final panel shows the Forever Alone character reading Reddit, with the sarcastic text, “What a nice guy.”

Is this really what people now associate with the term “nice guy”?

I’ve prided myself on being a nice guy for many years, long before I started seriously thinking about dating and relationships. Now, I normally feel uncomfortable saying good things about myself, because I know I can’t be objective; I’ll make an exception here. I have integrity and a strong sense of justice, and I aim to be the type of person you can trust with your life, your life savings, or your reputation. I’m genuine, and I won’t keep you around if I don’t like you, nor will I pretend to care about you if I don’t, but if you want to talk about your problems anyway, I’ll listen and do my best to be non-judgemental. I am reliable in that when I say I’ll do something, I make a commitment to doing it. I am at least somewhat generous; I’ll help you with your homework and the only thing I expect in return is that you’ll think of me as intelligent and helpful.

I am a nice guy, or at least I self-identify as such and I feel I have earned the privilege to do so. Every time I read a title that says “nice guys aren’t actually nice”, I feel insulted. If I’m in a bad mood, I’ll just close it. If I’m in a good mood, I might read it, knowing full well what kind of drivel it’s going to contain (refer to numbered points above). I’m basically putting up with a barrage of media telling me what an asshole I am, and I’m sick of it.

You might object that I’ve missed the point of those articles. Try me. There are three possibilities that I can see. Lest you argue that I’m the one throwing out straw men here, I’m going to provide some examples.

  1. They are redefining “nice guy” to mean a person who has some or all of the negative qualities elaborated above, and then just reiterating the definition; this makes the entire article tautological. Here is an example. The title says it all. In summary, the article defines “Nice Guy” as different from a guy who is actually nice, by specifying that a “Nice Guy” is a guy who hates women for rejecting him.
  2. They are claiming that a guy who refers to himself as a “nice guy” in fact has some or all of the negative qualities elaborated above. Here is an example. The first two lines say it loud and clear: A guy who proclaims himself “nice guy” is not nice (followed by 13 examples of how they’re supposedly assholes.)
  3. They are claiming that if a heterosexual man seems nice but is undesired by women, it is probably because he has some or all of the negative qualities elaborated above. It was a bit harder to find an example for this, but I’d definitely seen it before, so I dug a bit deeper: here. The author targets a certain type of man by opening with, “I’m pulling back the curtain to reveal five secrets you always suspected about those male friends you would take home to ma, but never home from the bar: the nice guys.”, then calls them “hollow-balled shitbirds” and so on.

Option 1 is the least bad of the three. Being apparently tautological, it strikes me as a massive, ranting waste of words, and the tone always suggests to me that it could just as well have been option 2 or 3 if the author had just chosen their words slightly differently.

Option 2 is a bit worse. It’s related to my original concern. It means I can no longer refer to myself as a “nice guy” because the term evokes a straw man that will earn me instant hatred and trash my reputation by making me look horribly misogynistic.

Option 3 is the worst of all, and I find it unbelievably insulting.* You know what? I know why dating is so hard for me, and it has nothing to do with this asinine caricature you’ve made of me. It’s because I have interests not often shared by women; it’s because I’m only interested in relationships that have the potential to lead to long-term stability and commitment, and I’m aware of my own flaws that would make that difficult with most women; and it’s because I believe the only worthwhile monogamous relationships are the ones in which both partners prefer each other, as they are, to all other potential partners.**

So how do I think such articles should be written? They should say something like this:

If you think you’re a nice guy but women don’t seem to be attracted to you, you should seriously consider the fact that they aren’t rejecting you because you’re nice. Check that you’re not engaging in any of the following undesirable behaviours:

If you’re doing any of these things, stop. They aren’t helping your chances and may be contributing to unhealthy attitudes toward women.

If I came across an article written like this, it would strike me as genuine and well-intentioned and I would be able to avoid taking it personally, as it clearly does not apply to me as long as I don’t exhibit any of the behaviours it would go on to discuss. It also would allow me to continue calling myself a “nice guy”. After all, I am nice, and I refuse to be ashamed of it.

Sadly, I can’t recall a single instance of such an article.

* I might project the image that I don’t take offense to anything and that I feel smugly superior to more emotional people who take offense easily, but this is quite inaccurate. I do get offended by some things, but here as always I want to reiterate that I don’t think anyone has wronged me for offending me. The offense is always related to something I perceive as an actual wrong; the offense is never wrong in and of itself.

** I’m not sure what kind of polygamous or non-traditional relationships are worthwhile, but I don’t have to worry about that because I have no particular desire for a polygamous or otherwise non-traditional relationship.


About Brian

Hi! I'm Brian Bi. As of November 2014 I live in Sunnyvale, California, USA and I'm a software engineer at Google. Besides code, I also like math, physics, chemistry, and some other miscellaneous things.
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2 Responses to On the “nice guy” straw man

  1. oradianto says:

    nice guys =/= “Nice Guys tm”
    If Fagan had used “Entitled Guys” instead of “Nice Guys tm”, would you have felt more comfortable? As much as you’d like to argue her word choice, the men she’s encountered, who’ve described themselves as ‘nice’, exhibit some serious entitlement problems. So, she (along with many others) are merely using the very descriptor that the ‘nice guys’ have chosen with which to associate themselves. Nobody’s trying to shame you or others for actually being nice–it might be an under-appreciated quality.

    I’m not sure where you’re looking, but I see articles written similarly to this tone:
    ‘If you think you’re a nice guy but women don’t seem to be attracted to you, you should seriously consider the fact that they aren’t rejecting you because you’re nice’ [; they’re probably doing so because you’re _not_ nice. And here are a list of behaviours that exhibit your lack of ‘niceness’:] But so long as ‘nice guy’s’ feelings aren’t hurt, right?

  2. Brian says:

    I think it’s clear that many men who have those issues call themselves “nice guys”; what’s less clear is whether most men who call themselves “nice guys” have those issues. An analogy can be drawn with, say, Christian fundamentalists. They spread intolerance and hatred while self-identifying as Christian, but that doesn’t make it appropriate to refer to this group simply as “Christians” and start vilifying all self-identified Christians for the actions of a few. We call them “Christan fundamentalists” to emphasize, among other things, that their behaviour is not even acceptable to other Christians. In the same way, “entitled guys” would indeed be a superior word choice, or even “entitled nice guys”, if we stick to the analogy.

    It may be that I never see these mildly worded articles that you see because the harsher and more insulting ones get more visibility (e.g., more upvotes on Reddit).

    I’m not sure what tone you’re going for with your final sentence. I’m going to try not to assume anything. But, in case you’re trying to make the point that I seem to privilege these guys’ feelings over positive social change, my reply is that I don’t see what positive social change those poorly written articles are supposed to be causing.

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