No More Mr Nice Guy

You probably know one of the really Nice Guys – he’ll be male (obviously), white, heterosexual and, y’know, he’ll be really nice. He’s probably passably attractive (by patriarchal standards) and knows how to compliment a woman in a way that doesn’t completely objectify her. He’ll know just enough about feminism to know that it’s about treating women well, to a point. He’s probably quite popular, with lots of straight, white, men friends, who like competitive sports and were most likely privately educated. He’ll be charming, polite and a gentlemen. In essence he’s a really Nice Guy. The trouble is…he’s not…and here’s why.

There are many Nice Guys out there who think they get feminism, they’ll say nice things to women that aren’t too objectionable, they’ll offer a helping hand (if appropriate) and they’ll listen to their female friends emote. But they have ulterior motives – they’re nice because they want to sleep with the women they think they are being nice to. They realise it’s not OK to be the Manly Man stereotype anymore (i.e. overlty sexist and aggressive, James Bond for example) so they resort to more underhand tactics instead. They get annoyed when women don’t choose them and pick someone else (who might be way less ‘nice’) as if women have some sort of obligation to sleep with them simply because they haven’t treated them badly. They use Tinder to get laid but won’t admit that’s what they’re using it for (“yeah, I, like, er, really want a relationship…(for 30 minutes)” – more like 30 seconds). Basically they don’t just don’t have the guts to ask women to engage in adult, consenting, responsible sex – precisely because they stereotype all women as needy, insecure and in need of being lied to about the possibility of a family, and because they themselves are incapable of having adult, consenting, responsible sex (for them it’s some sort of competition or game).

Nice Guys don’t like self-professed female feminists because they’re too shouty and angry, and they don’t shave their legs and aren’t ‘conventionally’ attractive. They’ll casually undermine and mock their girlfriend when she tries to make a feminist point, as if we’ve reached a post-feminist age where we’re all equal and women should stop whining. They might even go so far as to deny the existence of the patriarchy. They’ll also be somewhat homophobic, transphobic and racist. And why are they all these things? Because white, straight men are the most overly represented group in society. A Nice Guy will never have had to question their existence or worth because they are regularly made to feel entitled and worthy based on their arbitrary skin colour, possession of a penis and sexual inclination towards the opposite gender. Basically they’ve never had to learn how to empathise and think they’re the dogs bollocks (the sort of phrase a Nice Guy might use).

The litmus test for a Nice Guy is the fact they think they’re a Nice Guy – it’s like the Cool Kids, anyone who refers to themselves as one of the Cool Kids just isn’t (partly for using the phrase Cool Kids) – and any self-professed Nice Guy just isn’t one because they’re clearly insecure about all the nasty thoughts they have and things they do. They basically think they’re owed something because they’re not abusive, aggressive and overtly sexist. They’re deluded. The protagonist of that awful film 500 Days of Summer is the classic example of a Nice Guy or what should really be referred to as an ANNG – Actually-Nasty-Nice-Guy.

So, Nice Guys, what to do? Read up on feminism, start respecting people as people – not as things you could have sex with at some point soon – and practice the act of empathy (keep practising, you can get better in time). In the meantime know that you are not really a Nice Guy you are actually what Lily Allen calls a Wanker, you can listen to her song below (TW: homophobia – she equates Actually-Nasty-Nice-Guys with being closeted homosexuals. Sexism – towards Nice Guys, obviously). Oh, and here’s a great BuzzFeed article on Nice Guys.

The But Men

They live amongst us. They are people we know. They are our friends. They are the But Men. Like the rest of us they live in a heteronormative, misogynistic patriarchy. They are witness to daily acts of sexism against woman. They listen to these women talk about their experiences of oppression. They read women’s blogs and facebook posts about the violence society perpetrates against woman. And once they’ve finished listening and reading the first thing they say is “But men…”

“But men are objectified too, but men get called out for having too much sex, but men experience domestic violence, but men are stereotyped, but men…”

Whilst all of these things are true it’s pretty obvious that the But Men are missing the point. Simply put, when we are talking about women’s experience of the patriarchy we are talking about women’s experience of the patriarchy – not men’s. In this situation the best thing many men can do is shut up and listen. I did a But Men the other day and swiftly learnt my lesson. A friend had posted about the objectification of women in mainstream media – the way women’s bodies are so frequently sexualised and scrutinised. I ‘liked’ the post and then innocently/ignorantly commented, ‘Yes, and this happens to men too.’ It didn’t take long for someone else to comment on my comment accusing me of missing the point and trivialising the issue. “Missing the point, trivialising the issue,” I said to myself indignantly, that’s certainly not what I intended. Fortunately, rather than commenting on the comment on my comment I stepped away from the laptop.

I say I commented innocently/ignorantly for a reason: with regards the innocence I was genuinely trying to reach out to a virtual community discussing objectification and share my own experience of objectification – I get bored with the status quo of male beauty and body type and my self-esteem is regularly diminished by it and I really wanted to share my views on this. With regards the ignorance I should have known better than to butt into a conversation about the oppression of women with a comment about the oppression of men. I would not have interrupted a friend’s discussion about their experience of racism as a black person with my comments on the experiences of racism that white people encounter, or a discussion on homophobia with instances of heterophobia, or instances of Islamaphobia with cases of discrimination against atheists etc. Yet for some reason I thought it was OK to completely divert a conversation about women to be about men. There’s a word for this and it’s sexism. It turns out my ignorance perpetuates oppression and that makes me guilty.

For too long conversations have been led by men, for men and about men. And now people are talking about other things men are suddenly finding their male privilege threatened. It was never a good privilege in the first place because it depended on oppression and violence but it sure is uncomfortable to discover a taken-for-granted power being dispersed, even though it’s for the best.

So, But Men, what can we do? We can acknowledge that there are ways in which we all suffer in society and that we all need to be able to talk about this suffering. If we want to discuss the ways in which we suffer as men we can find appropriate groups to do it with. However, it’s important we don’t hijack other groups to talk about ourselves – this is disrespectful and oppressive. We must learn to listen and not to speak over people (aka when to shut up). We must also acknowledge that there are spaces to which we are not invited (e.g. a woman’s circle). In essence, we need to use our imagination. We need to try to empathise with groups we are not part of in order to understand what it’s like to experience the world as they do – a world that has a knack for treating men unfairly well. Then we can set about changing this by redistributing power equally in order to ensure that this world isn’t all a-but men!