Suppose I pitched you a blog called, “The Ugly, Uneducated, and Morally Unsophisticated Women of OKCupid Who Don’t Deserve To Have Sex With Me.”
Per the title, I would search OKCupid (a dating site) for women I judged to be insufficiently fit, according to my exacting sexual standards, and then I would post their profile photos and personal answers, along with jokes I penned myself, to a blog where I encouraged men to jeer at how repulsive they are.
How would such a blog make you feel?
Suppose I added a catch. What if the women I featured also felt sad about their lives and ascribed this sadness – crucially – to their belief that “men don’t like women as nice as I am.”
Would you get the joke?
Would it occur to you that these women are confused about their problem, that they think they’re “too nice,” when in fact they’re too ugly, too uneducated, and too morally unsophisticated! Would you laugh at the hilarity of their delusion?
Or alternatively, would you get angry at their nerve? Would you agree that these women are dangerous “man haters,” and that their “sexual entitlement,” evinced by their desire for love but their failure to admit they aren’t worthy of it, is so noxious to the community that it has to be routed out through public sexual shaming of this particular sort?
Would you even know what the hell I’m talking about?
Now, a final question–and this is the Rorschach test. What if instead of ugly, uneducated, and morally unsophisticated women, they were men in these photos?
Should that change everything?
Unfortunately, we have some data. We know that when you create a blog for jeering at unattractive and lonely men who happen to call themselves “nice guys,” plenty of people will jeer at them.
Far more interestingly, we also know that at least a handful of “attractive, educated and morally sophisticated people” – in this case, recent Harvard grads in my Facebook feed – will positively advocate on your behalf.
We know because this blog was, called “The Nice Guys of OKCupid.” (It was taken down for legal reasons.) You can check out an archive here.
One of the “The Nice Guys of OKCupid”:
And some comments from my friend’s Facebook thread:
i think the key word here is “entitlement.” no one is ever entitled to fuck me. ever. not in any circumstances. just…no.
Further, calls for women specifically to be sympathetic I find to be further evidence of the heterosexist socio-sexual norms which assert that women should perpetually be open to men’s advances even if they are unwanted (which, again, is the logic behind what is often called “rape culture”) and therefore I reject them. The end.
And one from Jezebel:
Niceness, they make clear over and over again, is a mere tactic, a tool that they were promised would work to give them access to women’s bodies. Their anger, in other words, is that their own deception didn’t work as they had hoped.
What’s going on here?
Let’s be clear: I don’t think “men” need to be “defended” the way that Bill O’Reilly thinks Christmas needs defending — which is to say, as if we were blind to history.
Contra my opening thought experiment, the sexual shaming of men and of women are not perfectly equivalent; we’d have to forget everything we know about sexual violence and inequality, or just be idiots, to believe such a thing.
But more to the point, if we wanted a female version of this Nice Guys of OKCupid blog, we’d have to invent a female version of the story it’s arrayed against — namely, “The Story of the Boy Who Doesn’t Grow Up,” that epic tale our society loves to tell of some dude who can’t solve the ontological quandary of laying some woman, and thus solicits our sympathy as he rages against her.
How many Mad Men guys throw temper tantrums about women in the name of existential angst? How many Updike women play the functional role of obstacles to some dude’s phallus’s quest for Dao?
I’m bored by this story. And if I were woman, I bet I’d be doubly bored by it. I might even start seeing it everywhere, might even coin a phrase for one of its varieties (“the nice guy syndrome”), and might even start a Tumblr too. And here we are; I get it.
My “case against” this blog, then, doesn’t start with claims about the wrongness of its argument. My problem is with its conceit that being right is justification enough for being cruel.
If it’s true that “Men,” avatars of their gender, don’t feel sexual shame the way women do, it’s also true that these particular men – these dudes with real names, real families, from towns we’ll never visit, and with hopes we don’t know – feel sexual shame. Because all people feel that pain.
If contemporary feminists tell us to inflict this pain on people who are wrong (admittedly) but also weak – the lonely, less bien pensant folks who have already lost – they strip feminism of the grace its done so much to give our world: that voice telling — urging — us to try especially hard to be kind to people who are different from us, precisely because they’re so much harder to be kind to.
Perhaps this Nice Guy Syndrome stuff is symptomatic of the patriarchy’s deprivation. But I suspect it comes from something much more raw: our propensity for loneliness. Could “sexual entitlement” ever really explain why we have sad women who say they’re alone because they’re “too nice,” or queer guys who say they’re alone because they’re “too nice,” or why anyone locates the cause of their pain outside of themselves?
These “nice guys” are just like us: born into a world they didn’t choose; born into a body they didn’t choose; born with a vocabulary they didn’t write, one that is inadequate and sometimes gross, but is nonetheless part of the assets on which they have to build their life.
This doesn’t excuse their failings; it just counsels humility. Knowing that our own bodies, education, and moral vocabulary — the stuff we tout as distinguishing us from these guys — are radically contingent, and could have been totally different, helps us extend the benefit of the doubt. There’s a word for this: it’s called “compassion.”
I won’t get too sententious and say that the “attractive, educated and morally sophisticated” members of America’s privileged class should probably be frying bigger fish than their own victimization at the hands of men who have committed the crime of calling themselves “nice guys” on their dating profiles.
So I’ll just say, instead, that our Rorschach test is revealing. Despite our self-consciousness about identity, we “attractive, educated, and morally sophisticated” people are susceptible to the most ancient chauvinism of all: we’re more likely to be cruel to people who don’t remind us of ourselves.