There is no right to sex: the debate over “Nice Guys” at Jezebel

My first column of 2013 is up at Jezebel: No One is Entitled to Sex: Why We Should Mock the Nice Guys of OkCupid. Excerpt:

Besides the near-universal sense that they’ve been unjustly defrauded, the great commonality among these Nice Guys is their contempt for women’s non-sexual friendship. They rage about being “friendzoned,” and complain about the hours spent listening to women without being given so much as a hand job in return for their investment. 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. It’s a monumental overask to expect women to be gentle with the egos of men who only feigned friendship in order to get laid.

So how should we respond, when, as Penny writes, “sexist dickwaddery puts photos on the internet and asks to be loved?” The short answer is that a lonely dickwad is still a dickwad; the fact that these guys are in genuine pain makes them more rather than less likely to mistreat the women they encounter. A rage rooted in anguish is no less dangerous because it comes from the Great Big Sad Place. For that reason alone, we shouldn’t make men’s pain into women’s problem to solve.

I got a strong response from Ally Fogg, an English writer on masculinity, and his take is worth a read. Here’s The Self-Righteous Bullies of Tumblr and Their Feminist Apologists.

12 thoughts on “There is no right to sex: the debate over “Nice Guys” at Jezebel

  1. Hugo,

    remember when, about two years ago, when you still used your blog to blog, you wrote a post about your “blindspot” with respect to men? That you, having been who you were, having had sex with four out of seven women on a field trip of four days (if I remember correctly) cannot understand how it feels to *not* be on that side of the attraction curve? If you don’t remember, check your archives.

  2. Oh, and speaking of lack of empathy:

    “NGOKC reminds us just how many young men are outraged at this reality that attractiveness, charm, and fuckability are not and never can be equally distributed.”

    Of course it cannot. Just funny how it’s all socialized for you with respect to women (stop fat-shaming, the bad male gaze, horrible objectification) while it’s all the guys fault that women don’t want them, and the best thing is, they aren’t even allowed to be bitter about it. Being bitter about it may be a bad way to get out of that situation, but it’s hardly difficult to understand for someone who’s not mostly interested in pushing his own ideological agenda.

    • The part that bothers me is that we have no way of judging our social ability without others’ validation. Google “why people don’t acknowledge you” from Psychology Today, and you’ll read that the default is for others NOT to give us validation. But somehow, when it comes to social skills, it’s a different ball game. We have NO way of proving or gauging, in the absence of feedback from others, how we really are interpersonally. As it is, the best way to prove we are successful with other people, is for others to choose to like us. Which, of course, is not under our control! But naturally, we have to make sense of the situation, and so we must be to blame if other people don’t choose to gift us with favor. And so we’re sold on endless self-improvements, gimmicks, beauty tricks, etc. because that’s what we believe is “taking care of ourselves” and “taking responsibility for ourselves”. And which, depending as always on others’ free choice, may still not be enough to get the social favors– and therefore the proof we are good at human interaction– we seek. It’s completely untenable!

  3. I’ve said this before: this is why the media– particularly the pop-health and pop-psych media– needs to STFU about how important it is to receive love and sex. Because it’s counterproductive to hear messages about how much your health depends on something that, at the end of the day, you do NOT control and cannot guarantee. Want Nice Guys to chill out? Stop, media, pushing the message that a romantic relationship is the best, or only, way to prove social skill and emotional health. It will help all of us chill out a bit more about life, actually.

    • Agree–this is something that isn’t addressed enough.

      I do like seeing the NiceGuyTM persona satirized in a less than flattering manner, as a cautionary tale to viewers of that media. Beavis is arguably one of the best examples of this, as he always feels like he is entitled to “score.” And one of my favorite storylines in Sons of Anarchy (which, as has been discussed elsewhere on the ‘net, often has a pretty outstanding take on race and gender issues) is when Tara’s ex-boyfriend from Chicago, an ATF agent investigating the titular motorcycle club, shows up in town, and strongly implies that he feels “NiceGuyTM entitlement” to have Tara back because, unlike Jax, he’s not in a motorcycle gang.

  4. In this particular case, I think there is a specific underlying ideology at work in this archetype that is rarely addressed and that is that men are often punished by their social networks for having relationships with women that do not include the possibility of sex. That’s why “friend-zoned” is an insult. Granted, there are certain exceptions to this: 1.) if the woman is related and 2.) if the woman is already “taken” by another man in the close social group (this also implies some possibly disturbing analysis about “ownership” and potential relationships, but I digress). But the point is, I don’t think that this is just about entitlement, I think that there are also other intersections of social and cultural pressures that devalue non-sexual friendships between men and women or that deny that they are even possible. This, in my opinion, is in service to a gender ideology that attempts to set up all relationships between men and women as exchanges for sex/intimacy and if they aren’t, the man’s masculinity must be at stake (i.e, there must be something wrong with him). This is why perceptions of entitlement become so malignant. If the culturally promised access to women’s bodies doesn’t happen, then clearly the man is being denied his rightful identity (thus leading to depression and the sense of being ‘a loser’). This doesn’t necessarily mean that women are always perceived as “at fault” in this, but they are certainly the objects through which the identity crisis is typically narrated.

  5. I suspect that a lot of the “nice guys” in question are not only victims of a sense of entitlement, but also of a set of gendered expectations that severely restricts what ways they feel safe expressing their own sadness and disappointment.

    Sometimes people have poor social skills. Sometimes people use the “nice guy” thing as a crutch. Sure. But there are also certain social expectations of men (with implied social sanctions for failing to measure up) that limit their ability to find an adaptive solution to a problem.

    A rough (albeit extreme) comparison would be a derisive discussion about whether a group of women with eating disorders are in fact simply expressing anger due to a feeling of “entitlement” to be pretty.

    • Kyle, I think you might be on to something to the effect that many men may not have the social tools to adequately express sadness and frustration, particularly at failed or absent relationships. The hardest part about that especially being not to frame it as somehow the responsibility of another person to give you access to their body/mind/emotions in order to fulfill you. I think this is also made more difficult because it is not necessarily unique to men. It also happens in families when older women feel frustration with their daughters for not fulfilling their dreams of being grandmothers by “giving them grandchildren” if their daughters do not wish to become mothers or in any case where one person’s fantasies, desires, or life dreams are contingent on the body/life choices of another person. The question remains I suppose as to how we go about reconciling the intersection of entitlement with frustration, with thinking you are owed something by someone who you can’t force to “pay up”.

      Lastly, I think I see what you were going for using the eating disorder analogy but I don’t think it works here. Aside from a real stretch of analytical maneuvering, I doubt most women who suffer from bulimia and anorexia do it because they are thinking that it’s because they “deserve” to be pretty. They do it because they believe they “must” be pretty at any cost (and a very distorted view of “pretty” at that).

      • I actually really like the analogy that you draw to mothers who feel “entitled” to grandchildren. I think that it captures the spirit of the type of emotion that I was picturing.

        I am actually a little confused/shocked that such a comparison is not drawn more often (so far I have not really seen it). Everyone in the comment sections of the relevant articles seem to be staking off the two sides as being roughly as “women do not understand the position these men are in and so should not be exploiting them for a laugh”, versus “these men have a sense of entitlement to access to women’s bodies, and you could not satisfy that entitlement without violating those women’s rights”.

        For me that is not the real conflict (either in Hugo’s specific piece, or in the larger conflict that is being touched on). People (even awkward or unpleasant people) will have needs for affection and closeness. This is just a fact of life. No argument will circumvent that. By the same kind of logic, women obviously have sexual autonomy. This is also something that can not be bypassed. So what does that leave?

        For the eating disorders analogy, I feel like there was an explanation that I forgot to write in there. The analogy was meant to say something about how if the eating disordered group were criticized similarly (with their photos, personal info and vulnerabilities put up for people to mock), then anyone here knows that would just make it worse. Generally when you back someone into a corner like that, you tend to make them become more extreme in that view, rather than less extreme. In the case of the “nice guys of OK cupid”, I believe most of them probably took this whole fiasco as “ok so now on top of everything else, everyone thinks my situation is funny. I guess women must REALLY not respect me”.

        • I’m actually a little surprised similar analogies don’t come up more often either, but that probably has to do with a particular focus on the gendered nature of sexual entitlement as opposed to a more broader kind of cultural entitlement that exists in relation to what women are “supposed” to do with their bodies (I tend to view it as a related continuum). And I think you’re right in reframing the overall issue more along the lines of “there is a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies; that entitlement cannot be satisfied without violating a woman’s rights”. So where does that leave us? Oh, the volumes we could write I’m sure. In short, I think it has to start with self-reflection and redirection. If we agree that the violation of a woman’s rights is the more egregious act than allowing a sense of entitlement to go unfulfilled, then that entitlement needs to be deconstructed and redirected into something else that person can find meaning and fulfillment in. The same way as a wanna-be grandmother would need to find something else to make her life whole and meaningful should her daughter(s) choose to remain child-free or be unable to have children. In any case, there is certainly open (and, I think, welcome) debate as to the method, but in the end, I think the “Nice Guys” of OKCupid need to be made aware of the self-reflexive nature of the problem and given a better, more self-aware and personally responsible, way to express their frustrations.

  6. Hugo and friends are missing an enormously important detail here: Nice Guys do not consciously choose their beliefs and they are not aware of the fact that their behavior is unfair and manipulative. They honestly believe that the only way to receive love and affection is to be as nice as possible.

    And OF COURSE they despise the friend zone. Imagine being infatuated with a girl (or guy). For years. You do everything you know to attract this person. But you never get her (or him). To make matters even worse, the person complains to the Nice Guy how other lovers don’t treat her right, and how she wishes that she could just have a nice guy. And this pattern repeats itself over and over and over again. To be at peace and happy with this situation would be utter insanity.

    Nice Guys are not aware of how incongruent and ineffective their behaviors are. There is a book, called No More Mr. Nice Guy, which explains what Nice Guys are, why they become the way they are, and how to overcome all this. Countless Nice Guys who’ve read this book were blown away and their lives were changed by this book (but not after months and years of self-improvement. The beliefs run deep).

    So although Hugo describes the Nice Guy behaviors right, he clearly does not understand them. A fair analogy is, for example, saying that women are stupid or hate money, because they don’t assertively and effectively negotiate higher wages at the work places as well as men do. But the fact is that women are taught from a young age that “real women” (i.e. the traditional feminine stereotype) are passive and submissive, among other things. And our society tells women that being assertive and confident means you’ll be judged as “bossy” or “bitchy”. So women end up acting more passive and subtle, and less assertive, on average, than men. And most of the time this is entirely unconscious. Women want the raise, but they just happen to behave in a way that is not optimal to get it. But is it reasonable to call women stupid and money-hating because of this? I’m sure you would argue that, no, it isn’t.

    In exactly the same way the Nice Guys have been taught from a young age that directly expressing their desires or directly asserting themselves is bad, that expressing their sexualities is bad, and that they can only get what they want by being incredibly nice. And that’s how they act now, without even being aware of it. Yes, their behavior is manipulative at its core. But no, the Nice Guys did not “decide” to be manipulative. They truly consider themselves to be Nice Guys, and they truly don’t understand why they don’t get what they want, even if their behavior is anything but effective at getting what they want.

    If you believe that there is a community of men that promotes acting *really, really* nice because it’s supposed to get you sex in return… Guess again. There ARE plenty of forums, however, that show men lamenting their lack of success with women. They say “I don’t get it! I am acting as nice as I can. Why don’t women like me? What am I doing wrong?” They mean well. They have messed up beliefs, and in the long run they might turn misogynistic. But please, when you talk about Nice Guys, at least know who and what you are talking about.

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