Joanna Schroeder has known a lot of Nice Guys™ and understands the frustration and fear women feel as a result, but believes the bullying and humiliation happening on Nice Guys of OK Cupid is out of line.
There’s a lot of talk about this Nice Guys of OK Cupid (NGOKC)* Tumblr site, where photos of non-consenting men are taken off the OK Cupid dating site and mocked for everyone to see.
First word of warning: I don’t buy the crap that all guys who call themselves “nice” are actually nice. In fact, I’ve witnessed enough self-proclaimed “nice guys” saying racist, sexist, rapey and scary things in my life that my ears automatically perk at any guy who calls himself “nice”.
That being said, I know a lot of actual, real-life nice guys. Guys that are kind, sweet, smart, genuine and giving. My husband is one of those, as is my brother. All through high school my brother was the girls’ best pal, but rarely their date. The girls he had mad crushes on would keep him on the phone for hours, then go to the dance with a different guy. Eventually he grew out of that phase, or more accurately, he went to college where the women were more interested in a highly intelligent sweetheart than they had been at our high school.
For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call guys like my brother “nice guys” and guys like the the scary ones, “Nice Guys™” and hopefully the distinction is clear, because calling assholes “nice” is confusing and I suspect the misnomer does more damage to understanding who is a threat to our safety and who is not.
Hugo Schwyzer’s 2013 debut piece on Jezebel, No One is Entitled to Sex: Why We Should Mock the Nice Guys of OK Cupid, argues that the underlying issue with Nice Guys™ is that they feel like they somehow deserve sex or romance from women.
What’s on offer isn’t just an opportunity to snort derisively at the socially awkward; it’s a chance to talk about the very real problem of male sexual entitlement. The great unifying theme of the curated profiles is indignation. These are young men who were told that if they were nice, then, as Laurie Penny puts it, they feel that women “must be obliged to have sex with them.” The subtext of virtually all of their profiles, the mournful and the bilious alike, is that these young men feel cheated. Raised to believe in a perverse social/sexual contract that promised access to women’s bodies in exchange for rote expressions of kindness, these boys have at least begun to learn that there is no Magic Sex Fairy.
I think Hugo has nailed something about Nice Guys™ and their belief that they are somehow owed sex or love. That really resonates with me from a few experiences I’ve had with Nice Guys™ in my own life.
But I get a whole different sense from some of the guys on NGOKC. I get the sense that they’re like my brother was when he was young, except perhaps a bit more socially awkward. Perhaps they call themselves “nice guys” because they don’t realize that in the blogosphere, that actually means Nice Guy™ and connotes a self-righteous prick who thinks that the only reason he isn’t getting dates is because he isn’t an asshole, all the while not realizing that he actually is an asshole, most notably because he believes he is entitled to a woman’s attention and feels pretty self-righteous about being a so “nice”.
It’s all very confusing. Here’s a tl;dr—Yes, most guys are nice, but no, not all guys who call themselves “nice” are actually nice. In other words, friends, judge each person as an individual and don’t give your number to a guy who is an asshole, regardless of what he calls himself.
So let’s be real, here. NGOKC is a bullying site. We all know that, right? Even those who think the bullying is justified as a protective measure against the Nice Guys ™ realize that what they’re doing is grade-school level bullying. We’re publicly mocking people by putting their faces on a site they didn’t agree to be on, and we’re sharing their faces with our friends so we can talk about how stupid and annoying and awkward they are.
And America loves bullies! As long as the person getting bullied is the “right” person, we love to set our enemies on fire (symbolically, of course). For instance, if you think that women don’t belong in gaming, you were pretty psyched that Anita Sarkeesian was bullied. If you think a reformed and repentant former addict with a sordid past shouldn’t have a voice in feminist discourse, then you’re amped that Hugo Schwyzer has been bullied for the past year.
Because Anita Sarkeesian deserves it. Because Hugo deserves it. Because the Nice Guys of OK Cupid deserve it.
Because we’re pissed off at them for how they’re potentially going to hurt us.
These are extreme examples, of course. It’s easy to say that Anita Sarkeesian doesn’t deserve it—you truly have to be an amoral and misogynist asshole to believe that the threats and harassment Ms. Sarkeesian endured last year were in any way deserved. But what about Hugo? If you are an abuse survivor, or if you grew up in a home with an addict, you may not feel comfortable with Hugo being active within feminist movement. I disagree with you, but you have every right to speak your mind about that and I will be respectful of your critique (though I may critique back). But do you have a right to threaten his safety, the safety of his family, to spread misinformation and outright lies about him in order to topple his source of income? I’d say no.
And the Nice Guys™? Do all of them deserve to be mocked, to have their faces plastered all over the place because we’ve all known one too many assholes who masquerade as “nice” only to turn out to be cruel, or even scary, self-righteous assholes?
I’d say no to that, too, particularly in the format NGOKC does it. They don’t know these guys and some of them are so seemingly innocent that it guts me to see them mocked like this. As Ally Fogg points out in his recent reaction to the Jezebel piece, The Self-Righteous Bullies of Tumblr and Their Feminist Apologists, there are more than a few guys’ photos on NGOKC that feature nothing aggressive, harassing or even politically incorrect, but are mocked nonetheless. One such profile features only the following quote from the guy, nothing else. And he is still mocked:
Remember that boy in high school who helped give relationship advice to girls he really liked that were taken? Every time he tries to solve an issue that the girl had, he succeeds, but not with the girl. That boy was me. I was always in the friend zone. The “nice guy.”
Of course that evokes my brother and my friend from high school, Matt Crowder, who writes about being called a “geek”. I would take you out hard for mocking my brother or Matt in that way. And the idea of the kid above being mocked publicly makes me rage. The guy is so young that I keep typing “kid” to describe him. He’s an adult and I want to respect that, but he’s a kid in the scheme of life, struggling to find dates, and then this happens to him? For what? To make us laugh?
It’s bullying, plain and simple.
Women are angry at Nice Guys™ and that anger deserves a forum. We’re angry at the way they make us feel guilty for not wanting to have sex with them. We’re angry at the way we are often manipulated into believing we’re in a legitimate and safe friendship with them until suddenly they turn on us and call us horrible names and make us feel like shit and deeply ashamed for not desiring them. And we deserve to be angry over that.
But who are we sacrificing to that anger? The kid who is quoted above? Why is he taking the fall for the prick who says, “‘No’ is just a ‘yes’ that needs some convincing”? That Nice Guy™ needs some convincing that he is a scary potential rapist that should seek therapy, tout suite. That guy deserves our anger. But what genuinely nice guys are we going to mow down with all our rage toward him and his ilk?
And when does our rage stop being a genuine excuse for hurting others? There was a time, not that long ago, when men were allowed one emotion: anger. And women were not allowed anger. As a result, the feminist movement rightly encouraged women to raise their anger to seek justice and equality—equal access to the vote, to career and educational opportunities, to equal protection under the law, and equal rights within the family and to property inheritance (among other things). Thank God for their anger.
And their anger was used as a weapon against them, too. They were told they were crazy, out of control squelching witches. It was used as an excuse to not listen to women’s voices. Ladies, just settle down here for a moment. Everyone just calm your pretty little heads. And that patronizing bullshit only made them more angry. But their anger changed things.
But is all anger excusable, regardless of outcome?
Noah Brand recently pointed out to me the ways in which we’ve almost turned anger into a god, a thing we worship, in our society. He says that justified anger gave way to a major change in the nature of discourse. “This [anger] was a game-breaking rule change. Because suddenly there’s one thing you can’t ever argue with, reason against, anything. You just have to accept it.”
Because if you don’t, you’re silencing a woman. And that is truly a very bad thing.
“Given this,” Noah continued, “more and more discourse shifted to a place of anger. It’s like if you’re playing Battleship, but the house rule is you can’t bomb Row H, pretty soon everyone will just stack everything on H. It’s just more efficient to start every argument from a place of anger, because then you can’t ever lose or even be challenged.”
Well, I’m challenging this particular outlet for anger right now. The Nice Guys of OK Cupid goes too far.
I am angry about stuff in our society. I’m enraged about the ways in which rape is not taken seriously in our society, about the fact that less than 2% of rapists ever serve a night in jail. I’m livid about the horrific oppression many women around the world live in. I’m spitting nails over the bigoted politics that keeps same-sex couples from marrying. Man, I’m pissed about a lot.
But my rage doesn’t give me an excuse to hurt innocent people. And you, curators of Nice Guys of OK Cupid, are hurting a lot of innocent people.
In his critique of Hugo Schwyzer’s Jezebel article, Ally Fogg says this:
[B]ecause Hugo wants to have a chat about male sexual entitlement, he is quite prepared to accept this bullying as a means to an end, and write off the victims as collateral damage. I can only try to imagine how these men must feel, what the psychological consequences might be for a dejected, lonely young man with minimal self-esteem who suddenly finds himself subjected to public ridicule by millions and branded a douche, a misogynist and a creep by association.
There are civilian casualties in any war, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exercise caution and practice empathy with each and every discussion. In this case, some of the guys profiled and mocked on NGOKC are guys who are already suffering, and as Ally Fogg explains, “It’s immoral to place them in the 21st Century equivalent of the medieval stocks to be mocked, abused and humiliated.”
I must make one more point here, even though it is only tangentally related. In my Twitter stream yesterday was a plea from a reader who directed me to Hugo’s article with this, “Imagine this: picture of overweight woman who says she has a “great personality” w her misguided/uneducated profile answers. [Next tweet] below photo: ‘HAHA this ugly fat chick thinks she deserves a bf because she has a great personality’. jezebel would be outraged”
Indeed, I think Jezebel would be outraged, and so would I. (By the way, that horrible shit happens all the time. I have Googled and found sites that do exactly that. I will not link here because I don’t want to give them linkbacks.)
But it’s not a direct comparison. As wrong as I think the NGOKC Tumblr is, as far as I can see, they are not mocking the guys because of their weight or their looks. They are primarily mocking them because they said they were “nice”. And there are a significant number of guys on NGOKC who would meet any mainstream standard of being attractive.
It comes down to this. Most people believe that someone deserves to be mocked publicly, harassed, or even bullied. Whether it’s a politician you disagree with, a person who wrote something you find troubling, or an asshole pretending to be a nice guy.
But in every voice you raise against the person you disagree with, ask yourself this: Am I challenging this person, or am I bullying them? Am I trying to make the world better, or am I trying to draw attention to my own “goodness”?
And ask yourself whether the innocent people you take down alongside your target are worth the war you’re waging, the way you’re waging it.
*Update: As of Saturday January 5, 2013 the Tumblr blog “Nice Guys of OK Cupid” has been taken down.