Nice Guy Syndrome, Take 3

16Dec09
I’m going to put a Broad Generalizations disclaimer on this.  Know that I don’t think this is a rule for every single guy that exhibits Nice Guy behavior.  It’s just speculation on the phenomenon in general.  (Also, if I use a word or phrase with the first letter of each word capitalized, it’s because I’m referring to specific incarnations of that thing.  Except Broad Generalizations in this paragraph.  I just like the way it looks.)

The morning after my first post about the Nice Guy, I realized that, while I was discussing this subject with a friend, I thought some things that just really aren’t true–specifically, that the creation of the Nice Guy is partially the fault of the women in his life.

And really, it isn’t.  I don’t mean that the people in our lives don’t influence our actions and our thoughts.  But they are not the ones responsible for them.  Especially since, in this case, I was referring specifically to the women who lie to men about why they broke up with them.  The fact that I have done this, have made excuses to men while breaking up with them, made me realize exactly how off I was.  One of the main reasons I’ve done this (and I know many women who are the same) is because I’ve been taught that it’s always best to diffuse situations, to always be kind and polite to people, to take the feelings of others into consideration before my own at all costs.  I was a timid girl, to say the least.  (As a side note, earlier today I was sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher harangue her students for not speaking loudly enough, not doing an assignment exactly as she’s intended, etc., etc.  She kept focusing on one girl, berating her about everything from not picking up her pencil soon enough to mumbling to not understanding the assignment.  The girl was getting more and more flustered the more the teacher yelled at her, and so just kept messing up.  It was making me think how I would probably have burst into tears at that age if I’d had to face this teacher.  And the student did…and the teacher yelled at her for it, and told her that she was in third grade and too old to be crying.  Well hell.  I guess I was a failure as a kid because I still cried when someone yelled at me when I was in third grade.  I’m probably a failure as an adult, because I still cry on occasion, and am getting extremely emotional on behalf of that girl right now.  These are the experiences that make me wonder if I can continue to work in the public school system.  Teachers with no compassion for their students are so common.  I mean, I’m not particularly fond of children, but even I wouldn’t, or couldn’t treat them like that.  And, maybe it’s because I was so like this girl, but I am able to see that yelling at her is not going to help her gain confidence in herself.  It’s going to do the exact opposite.)  Anyway, back on topic, it’s not my fault that I was taught that the Ideal Woman was gracious, demure, and couldn’t actually tell someone she thinks they’re wrong.  I was taught to always blame myself before anyone else, and it looks like, even when trying very hard not to, I still do this now and again.
Men and women are rejected and told it’s not their fault every.  Single.  Day.  Most of us get by just fine.  The deeper problem with the Nice Guy is not that he was rejected by women–it is that he was not prepared to be rejected by women.  He was raised being taught (probably not on purpose, although that’s sometimes the case) that he deserves women, and that the way to get what he deserves is to manipulate people.  Of course, this wasn’t taught in some secret society that outright stated this and tries to convince men to use women and underestimate their ability to be independent human beings.  It’s just that sexism is hard to shake from a society.  If you’re raised thinking something, and do not somehow, either through effort or experience or whatever, change that way of thinking in yourself, you will likely pass this way of thinking on to your children, and other people over whom you exercise influence.  And so on and so forth.  Some of those influenced people will change their minds about this thinking.  Some won’t.
The Nice Guy generally doesn’t realize he’s being a complete controlling jerk to the women in his life.  The Nice Guy isn’t always (or even usually) a bad person.  But the Nice Guy has been taught that women need emotional support, and will exchange sexual favors to get it (in fact, in essence saying emotional support = sex when comparing women to men, which is absolutely not true–the thought that women don’t really like or need sex is a product of the false idea that women should be pure beings, and are a disgrace to themselves and everyone connected with them if they aren’t).  They have taken a mistaken Respect for Women–one that comes from the idea of chivalry, and means that women need men to do things for them, that women are incapable of making decisions for themselves, and that women are Pure beings who are not to be tainted by the sexual thoughts of Men Other Than Their Husband (which is interchangeable these days with Boyfriend)–and made it their sole way of interacting with women.  Whether this comes from shyness, uncertainty, the belief that it’s the Right Way To Do Things, or whatever, varies from Nice Guy to Nice Guy.  But no matter what the cause, it is both a bad way to approach women and relationships, and highly unlikely to get the Nice Guy what he’s looking for.
Now, let me be absolutely clear–respect and Respect are two totally different things.  When I use the term Respect (with the capital R), I’m referring to the Nice Guy version of respect (you know, the women must be sheltered, cared for, and not allowed to make decisions for themselves because they don’t know better kind of respect).  Real respect, the kind I’m looking for, means believing that the women in your life are capable, intelligent beings who do not need your help (unless they ask for it).  It means trusting these women to know what the hell they’re doing.  It means not making assumptions about their wants and abilities.  Equally, I’m not saying that doing polite things for women is bad.  It’s not.  But there is a huge difference between doing something polite because it’s polite, and doing something polite for someone because she is a woman.
My boss, for example will always take anything I am carrying from me if he sees me carrying it.  This in itself is not bad.  However, he does it in a way that seems incredibly condescending.  I don’t know how to describe it exactly.  He knows I am capable of carrying these things, because I do it all the time.  It’s part of the job description.  But if I so much as start to carry a computer across a room, he tells me he would have gotten it, or jumps up to grab it from me.  Look.  I am perfectly capable of doing my job.  I do not need to ask anyone, man or woman, to carry computers across rooms for me.  I cannot imagine standing there going “Oh, sir, can you get this for me?  I just need to put it on that table that’s 6 feet away, but it’s awfully heavy.”  Moreover, if I need help, I am not afraid to ask for it.  I know I can’t do everything, but I know there are many, many things that I definitely have covered.  I don’t know, I might be overreacting on that one, because I know this particular boss has issues with the fact that I am a woman and also intelligent and inventive enough to do my job just as well as any of the men who work there.  (When it comes to work-related issues, there are two less knowledgeable women, and, including myself, two more knowledgeable women.  His treatment toward both these groups is so vastly different it would be impossible for me not to notice.)  Another example from something that I was discussing with someone else recently:  Often, if I’m with people and reach a door first, I’ll hold it open for whoever is with me, or happens to be trailing behind.  I don’t think this is a big deal.  It’s polite.  It’s not particularly difficult.  But I have been in the company of men who absolutely will not walk through the door if I am the one holding it open.  They seem to feel it is some encroachment on their masculinity for a woman to hold the door for them.  And, whether they mean for it to or not, this sends the message to me that they think I am a weak person and not considered an equal, because it is so insulting for me to do something as easy as holding open a door for them.  This is not respectful.  It is Respectful.  (For the record, I do not mind men holding doors open for me.  I just mind when they won’t let me return the favor.)
It’s difficult to find balance between taking responsibility for your own actions and behaviors and realizing how much they’ve been influenced by the people around you.  Like in this case, I first worried about the fact that it seemed what I was saying was that women are not responsible for their behaviors, but men are.  I really don’t mean it that way.  What I mean is this–no one is really responsible for how the Nice Guy acts, except the Nice Guy.  How he came to act that way makes his situation more understandable, but does not make his behavior acceptable.  I hold myself responsible for recognizing and changing in myself the bad behaviors my society has taught me.  As made obvious by the way I started this train of thought, I’m not successful one hundred percent of the time.  I don’t expect everyone I make a part of my life to be one hundred percent successful at breaking free from the destructive way of thinking they may have been taught.  I do expect them to try, and I mean really try, not just say they are.  I made the choice to cut people who can’t do that out of my life because I had a history of letting destructive people take too much of my time and concern.  I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with people who are incredibly racist, sexist, generally bigoted, etc.  Not anymore.  I have enough people like this in my family and place of work that I’m forced to interact with.  Anyone outside of that has to meet certain standards these days.  Maybe that’s cold, but I am not willing to sacrifice any more of myself to deal with these people.  It wears on me, maybe because I have a hard time holding my tongue.  The decision between explaining why something bothers me (and dealing with the consequences) and letting things slide (but letting it eat away at me) is just one I shouldn’t have to make.
And as I come to the end of this, I’m not sure I’m making any more sense.  Again, I’ll probably return to this subject at a later date.  I already have an idea of what my next post will be about, though, and it will not be the Nice Guy.
(Also, heard Taylor Swift’s song You Belong To Me on the radio today.  That is the epitome of Nice Guy Syndrome.  Obviously women do this, too.  It’s still creepy.)
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