Fess Up: You're Not a Nice Guy
by Nadine Pineau Pothier
Though its popularity pales in comparison to social media titans like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the Reddit community contains a great deal of relatively untapped potential in commentary on social phenomena. This essay aims to tap into that potential through one subreddit in particular: niceguys. This subreddit examines and mocks the newly coined male archetype of the “nice guy.” This term refers to that guy: the one who does not know how to handle romantic rejection and posts long internet rants about how “nice guys always finish last.” Blending my own analysis of some of the published content in niceguys with existing theories on forms of masculinity, I dissect what it entails to be a “nice guy.” Overall, the “nice guy” response reflects a patriarchal sense of entitlement to the woman’s body by doing the "virtuous" bare minimum. When this perceived entitlement is left unfulfilled, the “nice guy” becomes disenfranchised with his concept of masculinity, resulting in frustration or at times even violent rage. The “nice guy” as I conceptualize him in this essay, does not have a neat place in theory on masculinity, which is problematic due to the growing prevalence of this “nice guy” response from men. In the context of the current “crisis of masculinity,” the “nice guy” archetype needs to be discussed in masculinity theory, and this essay aims take the first step in doing so.
Though the male response to the “crisis of masculinity” can manifest in some very serious, alarming, and dangerous ways, it can also manifest in some that are pretty laughable. Frequently, these manifestations – in the form of online temper tantrums – are captured and archived on the internet, accessible for any looking to laugh at the expense of a disenfranchised misogynist. Though the humorous nature of a tantrum thrown by adult men certainly is transcendent, the reasons behind the tantrums are dangerous and should be taken seriously. By taking a close look at some of the posts from such corners of the internet, I dare to make claims on how the “nice guy” narrative functions in these online catastrophes. Further, I also outline a new model for masculinity built off previous models to allow for the “nice guy” narrative as we see it.
A few years ago, the internet was blessed with a Tumblr account entitled “Nice Guys of Okcupid” which sought to denounce the self-proclaimed “nice guys” on the dating app Okcupid as, well, not so nice. The premise of the account was that the moderator would take pictures of these guys and superimpose their contradictory statements over them: the comments describing themselves as “nice guys” right alongside the misogynistic and derogatory comments about women. Unfortunately, it has been five years since that account has been shut down; left behind is only a few remaining pictures and a helpful chart (figure 1) created by the original owner to uphold its legacy.
Cue Reddit, entering stage right. In a faceless respawning of the aims of “Nice Guys of Okcupid,” the subreddit niceguys provides similar critique with the added security of anonymity for the “nice guys” involved. This subreddit provides users with a
platform from which to share their “cringe-worthy” encounters with men that are befitting of quotation marks around the words “nice guy.” Predominantly, the website features conversations that girls have with guys in which said guys do a complete 180 turn on them and berate them for something inconsequential (or no reason at all), or, more often than not, for rejecting their advances. Facebook rants by these “nice guys” are also habitual staples. In the hopes of outlining where in the discussion of masculinity the “nice guy” falls, I will analyze some featured posts from this subreddit specifically.
Before doing a closer analysis of any of the posts featured on the subreddit, it would be useful to lay down some foundational theory. In “The Five Stages of Masculinity: A New Model for Understanding Masculinities,” Joseph Gelfer1 proposes a new model of ‘stages’ for masculinity that proves rather useful for an analysis such as this one. He describes Stage 1 as “Unconscious Masculinity.” In this stage, the individual has accepted and internalized the values of society’s standard notion of masculinity: normativity, hegemony, homophobia and the patriarchy all operate strongly on this stage. However, the key is that the individual thinks of these things as so ‘natural’ that they do not actually consciously think about masculinity, and all the normative values and standards operate on a unconscious level, where people “feel” the way that they feel but could not explain to you why. This stage is the most populated stage and poses the most challenges as, to engage in discussion on masculinity with an individual that fits this stage, the issue of masculinity must be brought into their consciousness in the first place.
The second stage is most relevant to this analysis and is described as “Conscious Masculinity.” Results are similar to those of Stage 1, however the individual does not have blind adherence to these norms and actually thinks about masculinity. Gelfer’s second stage can be divided into four subsections: Naturalist, Men’s Rights Advocate, Spiritualist and Agnostic. The Naturalist is very similar to Stage 1 insofar as they believe that masculine notions are ‘common sense’ and ‘natural,’ yet they’ve come to this conclusion by means of actually thinking about masculinity, not just internalizing societal narrative on a subconscious level. The Men’s Rights Advocate sees issues that relate to masculinity – for ex. higher rates of incarceration – and try to rally against these issues. They also frequently view feminists as being attackers of masculinity. Then there are the Spiritualists, who view masculinity as something in danger but believe this is the result of a society that has lost its way spiritually. Finally, the Agnostics. This subcategory includes a general host of individuals that may have characteristics from any of the previous three subgroups. They understand there to be a crisis of masculinity, yet this individual likely cannot fully grasp their own ideas about why that may be and certainly cannot propose any salient solutions to the “crisis.”
Stages 3 through to 5 are more positive in nature and include “Critical Masculinity” which more or less lines up with feminist thought, “Multiple Masculinity” which more or less lines up with queer theory, and finally “Beyond Masculinities.” Those in the fifth stage actually recognize that masculinity as it is understood does not exist at all – it is an agreed upon social construct created to moderate the behaviour of people. Having no masculinity at all clears the issue of a “crisis of masculinity” as there cannot be a crisis of something that never existed to begin with.
Beginning at stage 1, each subsequent stage has less and less individuals on board. Most people fall into Stage 1, and a decreasing portion of the demographic can be attributed to each increasing stage. However, getting people comfortably from Stage 1 or 2 through to Stage 5 would be a very trying endeavor if possible at all.
Using this framework set by Gelfer, one can examine actual concrete examples of this “nice guy” narrative in action, and subsequently determine from where the concerns voiced likely originate. Reddit user “cutemold” uploaded to niceguys an image (figure 2) of a Facebook exchange between a self-declared “real man” and a girl that was really just trying to wish her Facebook friends a pleasant International Women’s Day. Referring to figure 2, the “nice guy” comes out of nowhere – seemingly not even knowing the woman posting the status – and berates her for ‘falling for’ the anti-men propaganda that he believes is International Women’s Day. Clearly, this individual does not see how a statement such as “I like pussy and capitalism” may be off-putting to women – no, it is nothing he said, it’s that hateful International Women’s Day at it again, making women hate men! This exchange is certainly reflective of Gelfer’s stage 2 in regards to contempt for feminism’s projects. However, the usual charge of the Men’s Rights Advocates tend to relate this contempt to actual issues for men, such as legal concerns. The Men’s Rights Advocate is concerned about power swinging too far the opposite direction. However, this guy does not do this in a tangible way. His concern is not that International Women’s Day marginalizes male issues. Instead, his grievance with the day is that it’s goal is to “teach women to hate men and male culture” which… makes it hard for him to pick up women? In this sense, the “nice guy” is less concerned with impliations of power dyamics and more concerned with his own ability to get laid. This man contending that he is a gentleman is sincerely laughable in the face of his overall message, but what is important is that he – under Gelfer’s model – would necessarily qualify as an Agnostic stage 2.
Another example posted to the subreddit is a lot less alarming initially, but a lot more so for less obvious reasons. Referring to figure 3, Reddit user bizzerk22 uploaded a tweet they came across recently. A lot more innocent in nature than the offside rant by the man in the previous image, there is still the distinct symptom of painting themselves as the “nice guy.” The question behind this tweet then is what is the purpose of the contrast? His use of the words “Your boyfriend” makes it clear that – supposing this is a heteronormative tweet – the tweet is addressing women. It is not an innocent
comparison but a pointed message, less explicit but equally powerful in the way that it paints the tweeter as the “nice guy” compared to your ‘jerk’ boyfriend. Where would this man fit onto the stage model proposed be Gelfers? Again, by the categories available, it would have to be Agnostic. The tweet does not depict any contempt for feminism or particular insinuation that men are under attack. Rather it contains the typical symptoms of the “nice guy” narrative: a distinction between two different manifestations of masculinity, and the implication of meriting women based on the masculinity he chose to adopt. What is particularly alarming about this tweet however is the sheer amount of people that found it relatable. Only six hours after having been posted, the tweet had nearly 200 retweets and over 1,400 likes. Now, from the image, there is no way to tell what the demographic of sharers is. However, this tweet clearly outlines the prevalence of this type of thinking among the general population. These number should be fairly alarming, particular to heterosexual women, for reasons I will explain a little later on.
User Clarkinator69 posted an image on the niceguy subreddit that initially seems like a denunciation of the “nice guy” narrative, but a close reading – or the fact that you’re reading a rant on the topic at all – makes it quickly evident that this guy can only be wagging his finger at himself in the mirror. In figure 4, the “nice guy” in question decides to go on a Facebook rant about women and their willingness to accept compliments from strangers. Rather than blaming women for this reluctance, he goes to blame other men – the “nice guys” that give these compliments with nefarious intentions – and even goes as far as to apologize to women on behalf of these gentlemen. The first issue with this rant is his comment on expectations of response to compliments; he does not say that the nice guy expects nothing at all, rather that they expect little, expecting only a little appreciation. The bottom line of this rant is that – although it could in theory have good intentions – he still depicts himself as the real nice guy, which provides good cause to be skeptical of these intentions. It is not hard to imagine a scenario that could have motivated this Facebook rant in the first place–some girl may not have been too receptive to the compliment he payed her. Though it is hard to gage intention behind a post like this, the evidence previously suggests that this may really be a way of baiting women as he explains it himself rather than a sincere attempt at consoling women, or whatever else he may have been trying to do. He puts this out like an advertisement: “I’m a nice guy, unike the guys that you’ve had to deal with so far!”
The way I’ve described the “nice guy” so far is less of a function of their behaviour but rather a function of the core beliefs that stir the consistent behaviours and symptoms seen across a multitude of these interactions. The paradox of the “nice guy” narrative is that these guys view themselves – even their masculinity – as something distinctive from that of the ‘regular’ macho guy. The nice guy narrative camouflages itself as a rethinking of masculinity when really, there is little distinct differences between the two: the “nice guy” feels just as entitled to women as the “jerk,” is just as obsessed with “getting girls,” and actually views himself as more of a man, thus still playing ball with patriarchal concepts of masculinity. The argument they tend to make is not that they are not the ‘typical’ man, it is that they are a real man. They operate within the patriarchal notion of treating women as a “prize” to be won. Some guys that employ this narrative are more explicit in their disdain for women than others. For instance, observe the exchange shared to niceguys by user paigius:
Fig. 5. Fig. 6.
The exchange was between two guys on the internet, followed by the actual bio of the man that pulls the ‘nice guy’ card. This man actually says that women are not capable of self-actualization because their mental development halts earlier than a man’s… If that is not the epitome of misogyny, it would be hard to discern what is. In the view of the “nice guy,” they believe that the bare minimum of human decency entitles them to the prize of the woman’s love, affection and body, but they are constantly cheated from it due to evil women or jerk men that undermine their appearance of masculinity.
When these “nice guys” are denied the prize they feel they rightfully deserve, it can turn ugly very quickly. The “nice guy” narrative shows a true rage forming among men. The rage seems disproportionate to the ‘crime’ – if one can call it that – committed against them when they are rejected. Girls are habitually called ineffable names in response to even the most polite rejections or no response at all. The violent rage that can stem from what seems like so little is what makes the perpetuation of these “nice guy” narratives so problematic. An example of these over the top reactions can be seen in figures 7 and 8:
This not only raises the concerning question of what happens when men get denied, but also what they feel constitutes ‘being nice.’ Is not raping someone all it takes to be nice, as suggested by the poster in figure 8? Any decent human being would answer no, so the title of “nice guy” is dubious at best. Figure 9 goes from 0 to 100 very quicly, with him starting out saying he “just wanted to talk,” and then propositioning her for sex by the very next message. “I’ll also take a blowjob” may be the most entitled message sent in the history of ever.
And so, the phenomenon of the “nice guy” is born. Although I previously categorized the “nice guy” as befitting of the “Agnostic” categorization of Gelfer’s model, this is an over-simplistic view. The “nice guy” as an archetype fits under the Agnostic category simply by default, because he cannot fit Stage 1 as he frequently thinks about masculinity and its relationship to women. However, he also does not employ the eloquent ability to figure out exactly how they relate like the Naturalist, Men’s Rights Advocate or Spiritualist. Here, I envision the “nice guy” stage as one of transition. Though they may share some characteristics with the Stage 2 classification of Gelfer’s model, I contend that these are actually two separate narratives that only overlap as the transition takes place from Stage 1 to Stage 2. The true “nice guy” narrative has distinct symptoms: 1) a notion that he himself is a real man, 2) contempt for women based on rejection, 3) an expectation that being a “good person” in his perspective entitles him to whatever woman he wants, and 4) he is not really a nice guy at all. The reason these men keep showing up in the “Agnostic” category of Gelfer’s masculinity model is because the problem that they cannot articulate in regards to masculinity is less a problem with masculinity itself, nor a fear that it is slipping away. These men are disenfranchised with their own definition of masculinity; their notion of ‘being a man’ has seemed by and large to have failed them, at least in the respect of ‘getting women.’ Thus, I believe the “nice guy” as seen in the subreddit niceguys is not really in Stage 2, but rather should have its whole own category based on disenfranchisement with their own notion of masculinity. These men are in purgatory, frustrated and unsure of who exactly to be mad at, and as a result lash out at the women that reject them. The ”nice guy” in this context is actually less concerned with any kind of “masculinity crisis,” but rather just narcissistically attributing blame for their rejection onto anyone and everyone else. He sees that masculinity is failing him, but does not yet conceive it as a “crisis of masculinity” until he really comes close to Stage 2. Important note: this is not to say that all men passing from Stage 1 to Stage 2 of Gelfer’s masculinity model need necessarily pass through the “nice guy” transitional stage. Rather, this is just one path of probably many that can be taken to get from point A to point B.
“Crisis of masculinity” could be used by the experienced “nice guy” as a narrative to overshadow the real temper tantrum; they’re not getting what they want, and they want the game to change so that they do. These tantrums are not side effects of insecurities as some might suggest. Anger at rejection is elicited by entitled narcissism, not by insecurities. In fact, an article entitled “20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths and Psychopaths Use to Silence You” 2 that was published to the niceguys subreddit linked the standard “nice guy” to narcissistic tendencies. The relevant strategy that was highlighted in the subreddit is what the article names “preemptive defense.” In other words, people that consistently feel the need to explain how nice they are may not in fact be very nice. The article states that “Toxic and abusive people overstate their ability to be kind and compassionate.” Surely, though, not all these men are clinical narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths. Likely, not even the majority are. It is just that their beliefs about masculinity and the relationship between men and women promote an egocentric and entitled view. The men do not lash out after rejection because it makes the rejection makes them feel badly about themselves. In fact, its quite the opposite: they feel tha they’ve satisfied the requirements for getting what they “deserve.”
I would argue that the “nice guy” phase of masculinities, if thought of in terms of Gelfer’s theory, would be the most dangerous. Without having clear and expressed reasons for their frustration, the “nice guy” could be at a higher risk than other misogynists to lash out and act violently toward the only people he can think of to blame. Clearly overall opinions about women are a lot less progressive than they are thought of by most in this era. Though much political advance has been made (relatively, at least), this progression does not necessarily seem to translate into the actual opinions and stances of the general public. This creates a disjunction between the social norms that are expected of people, in this case respecting and viewing women as their equals, and how people actually feel on the matter of these norms. This disjunction can serve in understanding not only the “nice guy” phenomenon, but a lot of the lines drawn in the sand in the midst of the modern war of culture and ideologies.
Ultimately, the subreddit niceguys is very telling when it comes to this relatively new-emerging phenomenon of the “nice guy,” and an analysis of these exchanges can speak to other feuding narratives that are popular in the present as well. Perhaps more public discussion on the nature of women’s rights vis-à-vis male entitlement and rape culture could help alleviate some of the blowback such as the “nice guy” narrative. In the meantime, the best we can really do is avoid these not-so-nice guys at all costs. Ladies, consider crossing the street if the man walking toward is wearing a fedora and calls you “m’lady.” [Words: 3424]
1 Gelfer, Joseph. “The Five Stages of Masculinity: A New Model for Understanding Masculinities.” Masculinities and Social Change, vol. 5, no. 3 (2016): 268-294.
2 Arabi, Shahida. “20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths and Psychopaths Use to Silence You.” Thought Catalog, 30 June 2016. https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2016/06/20-diversion-tactics-highly-manipulative-narcissists-sociopaths-and-psychopaths-use-to-silence-you/
Figure 1: Untitled, from Nice Guys of Okcupid, Nice Guys of Okcupid Are Not Really; Gawker; 19 Dec. 2012;
Web; 14 Aor. 2018.
Figure 2: Untitled, from user cutemold, niceguys; Reddit; 16 Apr. 2018; Web; 16 Apr. 2018.
Figure 3: Untitled, from user bizzerk22, niceguys; Reddit; 14 Apr. 2018; Web; 15 Apr. 2018.
Figure 4: Untitled, from user Clarkinator69, niceguys; Reddit; 10 Apr. 2018; Web; 15 Apr. 2018.
Figure 5: Untitled, from user paigius, niceguys; Reddit; 10 Apr. 2018; Web; 15 Aor. 2018.
Figure 6: Untitled, from user paigius, niceguys; Reddit; 10 Apr. 2018; Web; 15 Aor. 2018.
Figure 7: Untitled, from user beautifullybroken2, niceguys; Reddit; 1 Dec. 2017; Web; 16 Apr. 2018.
Figure 8: Untitled, from user TeenagerFanatic, niceguys; Reddit; 16 Apr. 2017; Web; 16 Apr. 2018.