Sunday, January 30, 2011

What a Nice Guy

"Look, college twat."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was in a car with my best friend, her boyfriend, the boyfriend's roommate, and their friend, another student at the University of Pittsburgh's Honors College. We were on our way to a gay club on the other side of town. Their friend, sitting next to me in the backseat, said these words as he pointed out the window toward some women on the sidewalk.

I'd been hanging out with them for about four days, visiting my friend before I went back to Kenyon. As usual, I brushed off most things that they said. Karen had told them that I came to Pittsburgh from Feminist Winter Term and they seemed alternately frightened of offending me and delighting in attempts to find ways to offend me. (They hung their new Playboy calendar. I wasn't fazed.) I'm used to people not watching their language as closely as I do—so words like "bitch" and "slut" slipped out among various discussions that made me vaguely uncomfortable but not angry enough to interrupt conversation. (Note: The word "bitch" can be complicated. More on that another time.)

But now this—"twat"? I have plenty of arguments with friends at Kenyon over using "slut" and "whore" and "crazy bitch" to refer to women (and sometimes to men). But I've never heard anyone at Kenyon use this particular phrase. ("Cunt" I have heard plenty, but only in a reclaiming-it way, and/or to refer to the actual vagina rather than a person.)

I don't remember exactly what I said to the man who said this—something like "not okay."

His response was something to the effect of, "But they are." I told him that it's not a respectful way to refer to a woman.

"But they're all wearing these skanky clothes," he insisted, "They're just going to get drunk and have sex with random guys."

I bristled. "Then that's their prerogative!" I told him.

"And it's my prerogative to judge them for it."

"No. No it is not."

Conversation returned to normal. I wasn't blazing angry or anything, I kept laughing, kept talking. I was a little bothered by his hypocrisy--those girls were probably, like us, on their way to a club. Hell, I was wearing a pretty short little number...would he have called me that if he'd seen me walking around the campus? I was a little ticked, but I felt that this conversation was just one of many I'd already had with people who used words without quite knowing what they meant, or what they implied, or that people could be deeply offended by them. After all, this friend had been, in all other ways, a nice guy.

A nice guy. It hit me later that night, as I was shampooing the heavy scent of smoky bar out of my hair. I suddenly realized that there was a name for this person, and for so many people that I knew, and that name was: Nice Guy.

I frantically began to mentally compile the characteristics of Nice Guy, realizing with shock again and again just how many of them were in my life.

Nice Guys are usually far more appealing (for friendships or romantic love) than the Frat Boys and Pussy-Huntin' Bros we usually spend our time raging against. They're a little more informed, often academic. They may be less traditionally masculine—they roll their eyes at guys who spend hours on end in the gym or who chest-bump over Natty Lights—even if they enjoy playing sports or video games or other culturally dudely things. They like art, literature, and music. They embody the "bromance" when they are with other Nice Guys. (See: Turk and JD on Scrubs...actually, JD on Scrubs is a really excellent example of Nice Guy!). They support LGBTQ rights. They would never pressure a girl to do something she doesn't want to do. And in general: They respect women.

The only problem is that Nice Guys can disqualify people from their respect.

I am never one of those people. Maybe this is why I have so many friends I can identify as Nice Guys (or maybe they are a fairly large proportion of the liberal arts college population, which is probably true). But what always happens is this:

"But Colleen, you aren't like those girls [those sluts, ditzes, whores, bitches]. You're smart." You don't wear makeup, so you're, like, genuine. You don't show a lot of skin. You don't have sex with a lot of people. You're reserved. You don't drink every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night.

And that is why you earn my respect.

The term "benevolent sexism" comes to mind, and while I don't think the Benevolent Sexist and the Nice Guy are one and the same, they have a lot of similarities—they're men who like women, who value them. The Benevolent Sexist wants to protect a woman, to save a damsel in distress, to always pay for a date. The Nice Guy is interested in that too, of course, because he's Nice, but if a woman dares to have sex with a lot of men she's not in relationships with and doesn't care who knows it? Whoa boy, the Nice Guy thinks she's not a lady he wants to pay for dates with any more.

I don't necessarily like all guys, or all girls, but I try for respect, or at least tolerance. I'm not a huge fan of men who participate in hyper-masculine frat culture (not all men who do so, but there are specific groups of men at least at Kenyon I'd rather not hang out with, and that's okay) so I don't expect guys to be huge fans of girls who participate in hyper-feminine sorority culture if that's just not their cup of tea. But you've got to find other reasons to dislike people than "she's wearing a short skirt."

And if you don't like it? Keep it to yourself. Would you use the word "twat" to describe your sister?


  1. You hit the nail on the head: "The only problem is that Nice Guys can disqualify people from their respect." No one is perfect and nonjudgmental, but this is something I see time and time again with friends who fall into the Nice Guy category- perhaps because the Nice Guys I know are largely white, heterosexual, (upper) middle class men. They're coming from the most privileged place and can thus asses whether or not others are deserving of similar privilege.