the nice guy problem: white knights, black teachers, male feminists, and atheist christians

Sometimes, I think that women are very busy fighting the problems men create for them, and they don’t always criticize themselves. Cultural change involves everyone. It takes work to break free of all the dysfunction society instills in us.

Being a male feminist is a somewhat thankless job:

It’s obviously something that isn’t highly encouraged. By women. I’ve written before about increased social support from a male partner provoked increasingly negative behavior from the female partner in a stressful situation . Today I saw this abstract:

Social psychologists theorize that individuals seek connection following rejection. However, accepting connection from a low status other may imply that one is of similarly low status, which may call into question one’s prospects for future acceptance. Thus, we hypothesized that rejection would lead individuals to distance themselves from a low status other even when the low status other is accepting. In two studies, single, heterosexual, female participants received simultaneous acceptance/rejection feedback from one physically attractive man and one less attractive man. As predicted, rejected individuals derogated their rejecters as indicated by a decreased desire for affiliation and more negative evaluations. Moreover, participants rejected by the attractive man also derogated the unattractive man even when the unattractive man offered acceptance. These data may shed light on specific circumstances under which rejection leads to antisocial behavior.

The Nice Guy Problem is dangerous territory. When discussing Nice Guys, it’s very important that I not do anything abnormal…like announce I’m a feminist.

The researchers found that whether a man transgressed a social norm was a much greater put-off than whether he was unattractive. Normally women do not feel differently towards a homely man who toes the line. If that same ugly duckling, however, transgresses the boundaries of right or wrong, a magnified or “double” devil effect comes into play. He is then viewed in an extremely negative light, much more so than would have been the case if he were handsome.

“The unattractive male is tolerated up to a point; his unattractiveness is OK until he misbehaves,” says Gibson.

The halo and devil effect often comes into play when people view others’ profiles on online dating sites. Based on their results, Gibson and Gore believe that unattractive men who provide unusual or alarming information in their profiles may not receive a second glance from women. This will not be the case for an Adonis posting the same information, or unattractive ones who do not violate these norms. In the judicial system, unattractive defendants are also known to receive more severe penalties than more attractive ones, even if they committed the same crime.

The Geek Feminism wiki has helpfully summarized internetz discussions of Nice Guy problems. I’m going to address some of the criticisms specially labeled as feminist.

Women are culturally trained to be gentle when rejecting men sexually, thus “you’d be a great boyfriend for someone else” and “you’re like a brother to me” may be signals that the woman knows of the attraction and is trying to gently let the man down and encourage him to find other people he is attracted to, rather than callous obliviousness.

I don’t think this is something feminists would accept from men:

Men are culturally trained to be providers, breadwinners, and hopefully not the men that sexually harass women. Thus, “I bought a thing for you” or “I fixed your computer” may be signals that a man wishes to express interest without sending you a picture of his erect penis, rather than a purely altruistic behavior.

In general, acting in bad faith is not good. He’s afraid to ask. She’s afraid to answer. It’s not callous obliviousness, but it’s not nice, exactly. If you’re friends, wouldn’t you talk about it? What’s wrong with him, exactly? Is there any constructive advice you have to offer? If he’s the kind of person you’re afraid to be real with, was he ever your friend? “Shoo! I cannot conceive of you as a sexual being.” is not friendly.

  • Nice Guys™ seem to expect, at some point, sexual “payment” for their kindness and generosity; that is, their niceness is self-interested.
  • The self-interest is deceitful: if the man does not reveal his attraction and expresses willingness to support his friend with her problems, then it makes sense for her to treat his friendship as genuine and take the offered support.
  • The implicit trade of “niceness” (emotional support) for sex is a sexist generalization that women want closeness and men want sex, so they can trade one for the other.

I agree completely that it makes sense to take offers of support at face value. Notice that the other two points use weasel words. Look closely. They’re statements about things in the writer’s head. “Seem to expect.” “Implicit trade.”

Objectively, we have a sequence of events like meet –> friend stuff –> “Will you have sex with me?”. What does it mean? Actually, it depends on the particular people involved. Otherwise you’re just making assumptions about how someone’s feelings have developed over time. Incredibly, people have invented the term “demisexuality” for preferring to be close to someone before being intimate with them:

Fuck, it’s bad out there. What this implies is that our society is so objectifying, so dehumanizing, that sexuality is assumed to be an emotionally distant, mutually exploitative kind of thing. Each other’s bodies will do. It seems contrary to the spirit of feminism, if I may be so bold. People actually feel the need to “come out” for something that’s been part of Western culture since The Canterbury Tales. Chivalry explained by a Franciscan friar:

If he wasn’t Catholic, is that not the goal? I think it’s interesting that the “demisexual” guy mentioned a repressive Christian upbringing.

Nice Guys™ regard women as being moral guardians: that women should choose the nicest men for sex in order to reward them for doing the right thing.

We should all regard everyone as moral guardians. You could put it differently: should you have sex with men who treat you with less-than-pretend niceness? If the personal is the political, that’s because humans exist in a world of symbols, and our actions have symbolic significance. At any rate, they’ll be interpreted. The more a guy experiences act like an asshole –> get laid, the more he’ll act like an asshole. This is instrumental conditioning. Do we have a responsibility not to make the problem worse? What I’m saying here is not the same thing as sexual entitlement.

Objectively, the left hasn’t had much success cajoling people into doing the right thing for its own sake. Rational arguments are necessary but not sufficient to convince someone of the reality of global warming, or the moral rightness of veganism. People come to my house and throw glass in the trash when the recycling bin is next to the trash can.

What I’m saying is that any man who defects from the patriarchy is volunteering for homophobic bullying when he doesn’t have to:

Maybe early childhood bullying prevented identification with “those people” in the first place. The simple fact of being bullied is harmful to people’s mental health. Therefore, on average, you’d expect male feminists not to conform in other ways, as well. If they aren’t particularly attractive, that means they’ll face chronic rejection from the people on whose behalf they suffered. It’s true that nobody asked them to do this. Well, actually they did. The morally correct thing to do is to accept that nobody will ever love you and die alone without bothering anybody too much. Really. It’s not up to you whether the universe rewards your behavior or not. It’s up to the universe, which in this case consists of heterosexual women.

People have every right to make irrational, unfortunate choices. On a practical level, if someone doesn’t have sex with these men, a subset of them will be tempted away from righteousness and start reading about how to get over their beta maleness and stop acting like a pussy. When that doesn’t work, a much smaller subset will be Elliot Rodger and violate the rule about dying alone. Because animals become aggressive in response to frustration.

The situation is dysfunctional. The incentives are out of alignment. Women are asking men to do something that invites pain into their life. It’s not as bad as women’s pain, but it’s not a competition. To the extent that people are privileged, they act like babies. It has to be unlearned.

Women sometimes regret this empathic failure and express their feelings in emo:

The person at the Geek Feminism wiki felt free to speculate about what’s “implicit” in other people’s behavior. I feel the same way. Our culture promotes values that are antithetical to close relationships. Women also internalize those values. Men are rejected for being boring. Who told you that love is exciting? Or that it just works magically without requiring any effort or sacrifice, as long as the person is The One? Constant (mostly unwanted) sexual attention inevitably promotes its own form of entitlement. TFW NO GF is pretty bad. So bad that it literally makes the concept of unwanted sexual attention hard to understand for people, which ultimately makes them more obnoxious. Could it be that women, like the rest of society, fear intimacy? Sexual liberation rhetoric is understood to be false on some level, in that sex inherently tends to promote closeness. Could it be that some women reject Nice Guys because the guy knows them too well, and they’d rather have sex on vaguely dishonest pretenses, too?

Some feminists do ask men to change their sexual preferences, in that they should less resemble degrading porn. Ultimately, if someone’s not attractive to you on an intuitive level, they’re just not. However, there are edge cases. From the press release of the rejection study mentioned above:

On an anecdotal level, MacDonald says that many people who he has spoken with can relate to being harsh towards less-attractive others when their dating life isn’t going so well.

I don’t get the sense that what I’m talking about is uncommon at all. It’s shitty. People open themselves up to the risk of rejection, and they get rejected to make the object of their affection feel more secure that she doesn’t suck as much as them. Because they suck.

Um…you’re welcome for making you feel better? The helpfulness extends to the act of getting rejected. Amazing.

Harshly someone to make yourself feel better is also a type of objectification. It’s using someone to meet an emotional need, to their detriment, in a way that’s based on their (lack of) sexual qualities. In a sense, “you’re like a brother to me” is like “your tits are too small for me.” One person is failing by the standard the other person is actually using. It’s arguably more twisted, because that’s the reason he’s asking in the first place. It implies that if he’d made different choices and not acted like a brother to you, he might’ve had a better chance. Isn’t that weird? How would you envision interacting in a close long-term relationship?

The awful truth is that unattractive people are unattractive, our cultural norms are unhealthy, and violating those norms in a healthy way is punished. No good deed goes unpunished. My mother taught me that the world is a wicked place run by Satan the Devil, and the righteous will have a hard time of it. It’s actually true, and I can have the stubbornness of a Jehovah’s Witness if I want to. When I went vegan I was mystified that it was so easy. I could say no to Christmas in 3rd grade. Fuck cheese.

On the one hand, the JWs are criticized for scaring the bejesus out of kids. On the other hand, the world should scare the bejesus out of adults. I feel that I’m less naive than people with innocent childhoods. That’s part of the cultural narcissism, too. Parents try to create carefree childhoods in part to work through their on issues, losing sight of preparing your children to survive adulthood. From Christopher Lasch’s The Minimal Self, in 1984:

The neglect of children is part of a broader pattern of neglect that includes the reckless exploitation of natural resources, the pollution of the air and water, and the willingness to risk “limited” nuclear wars as an instrument of national policy…
…children have paid a heavy price for the new freedom enjoyed by adults. They spent too much time watching television, since adults use the television set as a baby-sitter and a substitute for parental guidance and discipline. They spend too many of their days in child-care centers, most of which offer the most perfunctory kind of care. They eat junk food, listen to junk music, read junk comics, and spend endless hour splaying video games, because their parents are too busy or too harried to offer them proper nourishment for their minds and bodies. They attend third-rate schools and get third-rate moal advice from their elders.

That’s followed by a very interesting footnote:

In a comparative study of day-care centers…the black teachers, assisted by three grandmothers, practice “a traditional discipline of firmness and love.”…Their supervision combines physical affection and unambiguous moral guidance. The adults do not hesitate to break up fights among the children, to label actions right or wrong, or to insist on the respect due themselves as adults; but neither do they hold themselves pedagogically aloof from the children or attempt to set a model of emotional restraint. The following scene provides a vivid glimpse of a moral atmosphere worlds apart from the atmosphere that prevails in many middle-class households.

One morning Cedric and Benjamin were hitting each other, pulling hair and punching hard. They were left to “fight it out.” However, when the fight escalated, Teacher Pat walked to the closet and brought out a box of beanbags. She threw one at each child and said: “Here, throw this at each other.” Within minutes the children were laughing, engaged in a boisterous “beanbag fight.” They were joined by other children, partitions were drawn back, and soon all thirty children, the staff, and three seventy-five-year-old grandmothers were ducking, throwing, and whooping with laughter.

Compare the contrasting situation Suransky found in a Summerhillian school, where the children are allowed to bully each other and the teachers and where, accordingly, “the ‘survival of the fittest’ appeared to be the norm.” Dogmatically committed to “creativity” and “free expression,” the adults in this experimental, progressive school never offer an opinion of their own or even an emotional response that might help the children find their bearings in a confusing world. These adults “appeared to be intimidated,” Suransky writes, by their anti-authoritarian ideology.

I was born in 1982, so the above is a description of my own generation. It’s only gotten worse. Parents decided to let corporations, which are explicitly sociopathic, raise their children for them. We turned into self-centered assholes. Who could have foreseen?