The Nice Guy Syndrome in Mainstream Media

Three days ago, a 22-year-old guy by the name of Elliot Rodger went on a shooting rampage after posting a video claiming he wanted to avenge women for rejecting him, and for being the reason he was a virgin.  (Ironically, the majority of his victims ended up being men, as he failed to break into a sorority house he targeted.)  Since the incident, many have been describing Rodger as an extreme manifestation of the “Nice Guy Syndrome” – a popular term used to describe a condition where males think women are obligated to reciprocate any romantic interest/advance, and that they automatically victimize men when they don’t.

I consider Rodger to have been on the extreme end of the spectrum of very disturbed, warped minds.  He is exceptionally disturbed even in the context of the demographic of men who identify as “incels” – involuntary celibates who have been wronged by women who deny them sex.  I discovered the online ‘incel’ community about a year ago, and was very chilled by the comments I read on the forums.  They are seething with red-hot hatred, resentment, and misogynistic attitudes.

These are definitely extreme manifestations.  But what I find bothersome is how the ‘nice guy syndrome’ is ingrained in everyday attitudes.  Even innocent, well-meaning guy friends who haven’t had much luck with women have described their predicaments in the framework of “another nice guy who can’t get a girl.”  It is also everywhere in pop culture.

It usually goes like this: a geeky, plain guy pines after a pretty girl.  He bends over backwards for her: buying her dinner, doing her homework, paying off her bills, etc.  The girl either continues to be oblivious, actively takes advantage of the favors, or just doesn’t reciprocate interest (in other words, is ungrateful for everything said nice guy has done for her.)  Whatever it is, the guy ends up as the victim of the whole situation.

Usually, in the context of the plots, sympathy for the male character is justified.  The female characters take advantage of the guys, openly accepting the guys’ favors without ever thanking them or returning the favor, and thickly go after obviously worse guys.  In many of the plots, the girl character eventually comes around and finally realizes ‘what a good guy he is’, and agrees to go out with the “nice” guy.

We see this in The Big Bang Theory.  The show is about 4 geeky men who typically have trouble getting dates (although Sheldon is not really interested in doing so.)  Leonard is the prototypical nice guy who pines after Penny, a beautiful blonde girl who lives across the hall.  Penny and Leonard have an on-again, off-again relationship throughout the series peppered with petty arguments.  Penny – a waitress who aspires to be an actress – is very financially insecure.  However, she doesn’t have to move out of her apartment because Leonard pays for everything – her rent, her takeout food, her Wi-Fi – even when they aren’t dating.  He fixes her printer/computer, and proofreads her essay when she re-enters community college (because she really can’t do anything.)  In spite of all of this, Penny regularly treats Leonard, and the other geeky guys, with contempt, making her rather unlikeable.  However, this blogger accurately describes the situation:

“We don’t root for Leonard and Penny to get together because we think they’re a good match. We feel sorry for Leonard, we think Penny’s out of his league and we root for the underdog.”

In fact, Leonard and Penny begin dating when he is comforting Penny over a failed relationship.  It turns out she actually has a history of repeatedly dating assholes, as she prefers “macho” men with money.  She ends up crying, “I want to just date a nice guy!”.  In the season finale, Penny and Leonard do finally get together, and it is a cause for celebration because Leonard has spent the entire series chasing after this beautiful girl.

Then we have our Joseph Gordon Levitt plots.  In the ’90s romcom “10 Things I Hate About You”, his character falls for the female character, Bianca, at first sight.  He pursues her despite rumors that she is selfish and shallow, because she is very pretty.  He signs up to be her fake French tutor and everything!  When he sees her with another guy at a party, he gets very pissed off:

In Friends, Chandler gripes about girls insisting he is a good friend, and then complaining about their boyfriends to him.

Friendzoning happens so much to our favorite characters that it must be a real phenomenon, right?  But what are the implications of this recurring form of wish fulfillment – that girls will eventually come around or get theirs – in so many movies and television shows?  When the same rewards don’t actually occur in real life, many guys lash out.

A lot of people internalize the fictional moral compass. In its most extreme form, both guys and girls believe women are inherently responsible for, and deserve, all of their romantic problems, because they make the wrong decisions.  Girls are considered picky for wanting to date attractive guys, while guys are seen as deserving to date beautiful women.  Some girls feel pressured to oblige guys they really have no interest in.  Guys want to believe that their rivals are all abusive jerks, and think that women should eventually reciprocate a guy who is persistent enough, even if she didn’t initially want him.

Misogynists swear by these messages, supported and propagated by popular media, when they justify violence against women.  The “Nice Guy” trope implies that women never really have rational control over their decisions, so it is okay for guys to fill that void.  When mainstream media accepts women’s right to choose, maybe more people will, too.

The Right to Privacy in Public

I have been wanting to write about this topic for some time, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.  The actual topic is sexual harassment, and the unwanted attention that women have to deal with in public.  My commentary will join the billions of blogposts already written about this topic.  However, it seems to me that people are taking a bit too long to just get it. 

Too many people (read: mainly people who themselves don’t get constantly harassed) are quick to counter complaints about harassment/unwanted attention with any of the following:

-we have to stop feeling annoyed, and start feeling flattered, by the attention and compliments,

-we should be polite and accommodating to strangers who are just being “friendly”,

-smiling at strangers makes the world a better place.

While all of these responses irk me VERY much, I can see where they come from:

Unfortunately, many people who propogate these messages do not understand what interacting with strangers means for a lot of women.  Where I’m from, most people expect to be able to go out in public and about their business without actually being bothered by random strangers, and being demanded by strangers to converse with them.  These messages assume strangers helping out a friendly neighbor, an elderly person, or a distressed soul on the verge of committing suicide, rather than a creepy man who demands that women smile at him for his own enjoyment.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the majority, if not only, of strangers who demand attention from me just happen to be old men who, for whatever reason, only seek out interactions from other women.  My swift rejections to these advances are immediately met by “Hey!  I’M JUST TRYING TO TALK TO YOU!” and “Why don’t you give me a chance?”

I cannot stand or sit alone for more than five minutes outside in my city without being bothered by one of these idiots.  Unfortunately, poetic rhetoric is not on my side.  Apparently, we are obligated to smile to light up some other person’s day and converse with random strangers to alleviate their loneliness.

Or are we?  It has long been known that the definitions of being nice and polite have been warped against females so that rejecting male attention actually compromises our morality.  However, no one is actually obligated to interact with another civilian against their will on public transportation, in a store/mall, in a park, etc.  The difference is that women are likely to get too much unwanted attention, and then criticized for rejecting it.

The fact that many women feel uncomfortable in the presence of strange men is so misunderstood that, during the Trayvon Martin trial, women repeatedly became the punching bag as the racist bitches who avoided black men in elevators and on the street.  Therefore, George Zimmerman happened.  Even the President of the United States didn’t get it!  Has it ever occurred to some people that these women may have just been avoiding strange black men because they were avoiding, well, strange men?  And that they may be avoiding strange men because they have had previous negative experiences with strange men?  (Which is why I appreciate this nice response to Questlove’s annoying rant.)  Now, you can argue that women avoiding black men is racist, and thus women avoiding men is sexist.  Sure, I’ll give you that.  But as long as they aren’t going out of their way to shoot you, harass you, or disenfranchise you, you haven’t got much to worry about.

This is a good article describing one girl’s experiences with harassment under the guise of stranger-friendliness in the D.C. area, which is very similar to my experiences in San Francisco.  People who insist that everyone regularly interact with strangers assume that all strangers are sane and should not make the person feel uncomfortable.  They also forget that circumstances differ in places like big cities.  Many women, feeling the need to be polite, end up disregarding their feelings of discomfort and vulnerability, and possibly put themselves in danger.  It is about time we stop this nonsense.

I’m Just Not That Into ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’

When it comes to unrequited love, our culture tells girls to get over it, because ‘he’s just not that into you’; and guys are allowed to play the ‘nice guy’ card.

We’ve all heard of this book/movie, right?  Here are some gems that come from it:

“We (men) would rather lose an arm out a city bus window than tell you simply, “You’re not the
one.” We are quite sure you will kill us or yourself or both—or even worse, cry and yell at us.”

What I get from this quote is that women’s emotions are more scary than they are meaningful, and men would rather avoid us when we are feeling them than tell us the truth and verbally communicate with us.  Also, all men think all women will go as far as to end their own lives – and that of their partner’s – upon receiving bad news.  Because we’re all cray, y’all.

“I’m tired of seeing great women in bullshit relationships.”    

“When it comes to men, deal with them as they are, not how you’d like them to be.”

I consider this book the frenemy of dating advice.  This is taking into consideration of the fact that practically 99% of them are directed at females, written by 100+ dating ‘experts’, with random, all-over-the-place advice on how to snag a man.

It isn’t all of the advice in HJNTIY that I have a huge problem with.  I am going to give this Greg guy the benefit of the doubt.  He is tired of seeing women in bullshit relationships.  He wants to clarify that if a guy is giving mixed signals, isn’t calling back, and is being dodgy in any way means it’s time to drop him and move on.  True and solid advice.

But does he have to be so condescending?

“And above all, if the guy you’re dating doesn’t seem to be completely into you, or you feel the need to start “figuring him out,” please consider the glorious thought that he might just not be that into you. And then free yourself to go find the one that is.”  

Oh!  Silly us.  It never occurred to us that a guy who initially showed interest in us and asked us out and everything was just playing around all along.  We were too busy being desperate and insecure and naïve to notice the subtexts and hints.

“You picked a lemon, throw it away lemonade is overrated. Freaks should remain at the circus, not in your apartment. You already have one asshole. You don’t need another. Make a space in your life for the glorious things you deserve. Have faith.”  

If I had just waited around being faithful all my life, I would never have gone out on a single date.

What I got from this books is: women should tip-toe around their dates’ inconsiderate habits, immediately let it go, and then go after what they really want all along.  The only reason women are unable to tell the difference between the guys they REALLY want and the assholes is because they completely misunderstood the signals and were overly optimistic.  Guys will go to any length to get the girl he wants.  If a girl wants a guy, she is desperate and needy.  If a guy isn’t dropping anything and running after a girl, he is just not that into her.  So, in the end of the day, women just have to continue waiting by their phones until the day that a guy really IS into them will call.

This book is the frenemy of dating advice because it claims to empower women while, in my opinion, doing the complete opposite.  The advice is patronizing, seems to assume all women are stupid and emotionally unstable, and simply instructs women to walk on eggshells regarding their dates’ whims and desires.  Basically, men are expected to treat us like shit until they don’t, and we are to accept this and continue improving ourselves until we find someone who doesn’t.

Life isn’t that simple.  It is not that easy to avoid/pick the wrong men from the right men.  Sometimes a guy is busy because he is juggling a shit ton of work and family commitments.  Sometimes a guy is busy because he is having an affair.  If he is busy because he is avoiding you, even if you two are going out, then you should probably ask him what’s up.  Even intelligent, secure women get duped and fall into bad relationships, because they didn’t turn out quite as they expected.  The guy seemed sweet at the beginning but then turned out to be a jerk.  Their date deliberately lied or misled them.  Their date is passive-aggressive and doesn’t want to communicate in a mature manner.  It takes awhile to catch on when the wool is being pulled over our eyes.  And if this behavior is as common as Greg makes it out to be in the book, then why did he not pen a book about “How to Facilitate Honest, Respectful, Communication with Your Partners” ? (The title is not as catchy, I admit.)

This is just another book that objectifies women and invalidates our feelings.  If we like a guy, we are desperate.  If we get genuinely angry at another girl, we are catty.  If we get hurt because he left us for another girl, we are jealous and bitter.  If we call a guy to see where we are at, we are crazy!

Here is my two cents (I’m sure you were waiting for it..):  Everyone plunges into the dating world almost, if not completely, clueless.  At minimum, expect your date, and everyone else, to treat you with respect.  If some idiot leaves you hanging, it’s okay to call him asking for a definite answer.  It doesn’t make you crazy – you are a human who deserves honesty and being communicated with.  Also, don’t take rejection personally.  REMEMBER, IT IS OKAY TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING WITH FEELINGS AND DESIRES, TOO.

Best of luck.