“Why Nice Guys Finish Last”, in review


Lately I’ve been reading Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape (2008). I just finished Julia Serano’s essay, “Why Nice Guys Finish Last”. I had totally imagined that “finishing” was going to be an innuendo for…well, duh! But no, it’s taken in the traditional sense, such a pity.

So, why do nice guys finish last, anyway? According to Serano, who is trans (having transitioned from male to female), nice guys finish last because “assholes” (or “bad asses”, “bad guys”, etc.) always “get the girls”. Girls are just not that into sensitive guys who respect them, which apparently Serano sees time and time again amongst her female friends. In fact, “bad asses” are in such demand that “nice guys” often becomeassholes in order to attract females, she tells us. And assholes are, basically, sexual predators: men are not just socialized to be sexually aggressive, but they actually have incentive to be sexually aggressive and predatory because this is how you get girls. Of course, once a woman finds out that her super-sexy, take-charge “asshole” catch is also abusive, she will probably have a change of heart. But it’s too late: she has created the demand.

Of course, I was immediately offended at the notion that it’s a woman’s fault for desiring males with a bad ass demeanor, rather than the man’s fault for behaving that way. But Serano’s supply-and-demand argument may just have substance: a significant number of women do reject “nice guys” because they see such men as desexualized, asexual, effeminate, or even emasculated. For as long as I can remember I have heard women saying things to the effect of, “I don’t want no crybaby/pussy, I want a MAN,” and so forth. The implication here is that it is not only unattractive for a male to be empathetic, sensitive, and forthcoming about his own feelings, but perhaps it is even unnatural. That’s rubbish, of course; nature doesn’t dictate our ability to empathize– culture does. This is perhaps where demand comes in: men continue to be socialized in the benefits of “assholism” because the demand is there, and the demand is perpetuated because women are enculturated to see the empathetic male (or “nice guy” as Serano terms him) as unnatural.

Probably the reason why I was offended and even irritated was because I just don’t know a lot of women who fit this model anymore. When I was in high school, I’d have to say yes, I was familiar with girls who thought “boys don’t cry and if they do they’re gay”, but they certainly weren’t my friends. If anything, most of the female friends I’ve had in life, when talking about their ideal mate, have said that they want that person to be loving. When elaborating this often meant they want to marry a man who is caring, a good listener, and honest– especially about feelings. I’m not trying to say my friends are better than Serano’s (though on the surface they would absolutely be less annoying to me than hers), but it was just hard for me to wrap my mind around this idea that women want assholes. bzzzzt! *circuits blown*

That being said… There are a few problems with this view.

Serano makes it seem like the asshole predator-type that “women want” is the same guy who turns out to be an abuser, a harrasser, a stalker, a rapist. That is definitely true some of the time.

But there are plenty of “nice guys” who DON’T front as assholes who ARE rapists. The nice Christian boy who goes to Bible study before school and who joins prayer circles and who helps old ladies across the street CAN ALSO BE a rapist. This “nice guy” is not overtly assholish; in fact, he is very nice. He is very popular, though maybe not as popular as the assholes. He may cry openly when he is hurt, talk about his feelings, listen to you talk about your feelings. He may have a large mixed-gender group of friends who love and trust him and believe that he is the “nice guy” he fronts as. Actually, sometimes it’s not even a front: he really believes he is a nice guy. But he’s also a rapist. The idea that all rapists are aggressive or overtly predatory is so off the mark that I’d warn people away from Serano’s argument just so they know labeling someone as a “nice guy” does not make him safe.

This is why Nice Guy™ is now a meme among the feminist blogosphere: enough people have been raped by Nice Guys to know that the “asshole predator” stereotype simply does not describe the person who raped them.

Serano also talks quite a bit about the socialization of boys, which of course she knows something about because she was raised as a boy.

“Male children and teenagers are also regularly and explicitly reminded that they should be respectful of girls and women, and are often punished severely for picking on, or “playing rough” with, their female peers.”

My circuits were kinda blown again when I read that. (For one, I grew up with plenty of boys whose parents or other authority figures watched them hurt me and didn’t do shit about it– punished severely, don’t make me laugh.) Perhaps what it comes down to is how you define “respect”. If “respect” means “ladies first”, “never hit a girl”, and all the other hogwash that boys and girls alike are fed, then it’s really no wonder why we live in a rape culture. Said hogwash only serves to “other” individuals, framing them in a narrow, binary genderview, while at the same time attributing positive and negative traits to both which inevitably creates inequity (i.e. “boys and better than girls”).

Now, maybe Serano was one of those rare boys who hears the hogwash and thinks, “Oh, I get it: gender stereotyping is bullshit and ‘respect’ isn’t about ‘not hitting girls’.” Or maybe not. But respect is actually about acknowledging and accepting another person’s autonomy and agency to choose for their self: what gender am I/do I want to be? What is my sexual orientation [at this time]? How do I want to shape my identity? And so on.

And as far as I know, I’ve never met a person who teaches their son or daughter that they should respect another person’s autonomy and agency, so that they understand they cannot call that apparently “effeminate” boy a “fag” unless if that boy gives them permission to do so, they cannot call a girl a “tomboy” unless that girl gives them permission to do so, and they cannot “pick on” or “play rough with (read: harm)” anyone— regardless of gender or any other trait.

All right, now that I’ve had my piece, I will now vouch for Serano’s “don’t go for the predatory bad-ass” argument:

Women:

Anyone interested in male-identified persons:

See the guy ignoring you at the end of the bar? Yeah, the one that you’ve been making eye contact with. Oh, okay, now we’re going over there? All right, but I still need to tell you something. You just said hello– did you hear that objectifying, overtly sexual comment that he just made to you, as if you guys are already dating? Hm, you still want to talk to him. Now he’s saying he’ll buy you a drink if you do him a favor, “if you know what he means”.

Okay, stop.

This is what I need to say.

STAY AWAY FROM THE ASSHOLES.

You can never know from looking at someone who is going to abuse you, harrass you, hurt you, rape you, or make you feel worthless/bad about yourself, but a safe bet in avoiding all this from the start is to stay away from the assholes.

You also need to stop reading all that garbage on your coffee table. Yes, the Cosmos and the Esquire subscriptions, Red Book– Good Housekeeping, for that matter– toss that shit.

When your daily columnist posts overtly sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted material, even if they write for The Guardian (I especially enjoy #17 on that link, for obvious reasons), express your dislike and encourage them to remove it. You don’t have to call them stupid– just threaten to boycott them.

Your movie collection full of “comedies” and other entertainment that you won’t let your kids watch? You shouldn’t watch them either; they’re brainwashing and enabling you in the ways of genderfying and sexism. Get rid of them. And don’t go see that crap when it first comes out at the box office, either.

Music that sings about the negatives (dangers?) of female masturbation while men take all, or objectifies and stereotypes men and women alike, or idolizes “baby boys/girls”, “angels”, “chicks”, “hoes” and “tricks”? Yeah, that’s gone.

“Eye candy” on your walls, from that 2005 Firefigher of the Month calendar or from Playboy really needs to go…

If we’re going to eliminate the demand for predatory jerks, we should also eliminate the demand for the culture in which they are created, fed, enabled and condoned. I know it’s hard, but if you want the guy at the bar to look at you like a human being instead of a conquest, confection, or “chick”, knock the habit. Gender is not a one-sided cultural creation.

p.s. If you’re a guy interested in female-identified persons, you should really read this, too, just replace the gendered pronouns as necessary (if that helps).

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5 thoughts on ““Why Nice Guys Finish Last”, in review

  1. “Girls are just not that into sensitive guys who respect them,” I can vouch for this statement. It’s an unfortunate fact of life in this life as I know it.

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    • It’s so not a fact of life! I freaking LOVE sensitive guys who respect me! Well, more specifically, I have a deep appreciation for empathetic persons, and when I find myself attracted to them and them to me, well, that’s just ideal. But I never said the world was stupid. Hang in there, “she” will come along… p.s. Moon, do you mind if I link to your blog from this blog?

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  2. WP pointed out this post of yours to me. Your writing is very direct, and I like the honesty.

    In the initial part of the post, you speak about the cycle of ‘nice guy-bad-guy-women factor’. You are right, it is such a vicious cycle, driven more by society, upbringing, culture. But I can see a silver lining here – the very fact that there are people like you & me who recognise this cycle for what it is, is a good thing. That means we are out of it already, and as more people get on the brink of this realisation, it will be time for a more balanced world !

    You raise another important point when you write about the socialisation of children. I have a 6-year old boy. Whether it’s an altercation with another boy or a girl, its equally bad I tell him. A friend of mine has a boy & a girl and she physically has had to stop people from admonishing her son every time both her kids get into a fight. People scold him, tell him he can’t behave that way because she is a girl. (The indirect (and incorrect) message they send is that, he can behave badly with boys!) My friend’s stand is based on a logic, which I strongly agree with. That she doesn’t want her daughter to get a high-handed deferential treatment. She wants her to grow up to be a strong, independent person just like her son. No less than him. That is only possible if they are both treated as equal, with love and respect for each other because of the people they are. Not because of their gender. With parents like her, I have great hope for our next generation.

    Thank you for making me think with this post !

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    • You are so right– you do give me hope, as well as people like your friend. :) Especially because you realize the direct impact you have on the worldview of following generations. Sometimes it amazes– and frightens me, that we have such “power” in the form of socialization. Thank you for your thoughts!

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