“Nice Guy”: On Identifying a “New” Masculinity, Part 1
March 26, 2015 by Philippe Leonard Fradet
[Headline image: The black-and-white photograph shows a man sitting on a wall, looking out over water and a city skyline. He has short dark hair and is wearing a white button-down shirt and light-colored shorts.]
The social tropes of Nice guys finish last or Nice guys never get the girl have existed for decades, noted prominently in various movies in the 1980s. In these movies, the “nice guy” is often some demure and/or nerdy and/or chubby (white) guy who promises to treat the girl he is after better than the “meathead” she is currently dating — with little to no regard for the girl’s own autonomy or decisions or desires, mind you. The “nice guy” was centered on the goal of having sex or some sexual contact, even down to a kiss. Inevitably, the “nice guy” was not so different from the “meathead.” He would not only focus on “getting the girl” but also on proving himself better — more of a “man” — than his “meathead” counterpart.
This trope has become more prevalent in the United States in recent years, and it has sparked utterly intense and violent reactions by guys facing rejection. A more recent development alongside the “nice guy” stereotype is the term “friend zone.” The “friend zone” is the imaginary place where a guy ends up when the girl he wants to date or have sex with rejects his advances. The rejected guy and those who care about such things typically see this place as shameful and emasculating. While the term has grown to be used by people of various genders and sexualities, its roots are based in heteropatriarchal masculinity — in this case, in the belief that a straight man who claims he can provide protection and love for a woman, and who is better than the “meathead,” is entitled to be with any woman of his choosing.
“Friendzoning” has become the topic of recent tragedies, even if it was not named explicitly. In 2014, a shooting occurred in the college town of Isla Vista, CA, near the main campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The shooter, whom I refuse to name here, released a manifesto before he committed the act. Although the manifesto is laden with sexist and racist commentary, the Isla Vista shooter points to his lack of success with women as one of the reasons he wanted to move forward with his attack. He goes so far as to claim that he was the “perfect gentleman” and that he did not understand why women did not like him. Wrapped up in mental health issues, internalized racism, and being “friendzoned” by women, the Isla Vista shooter presents an all-too-real-and-tragic example of how the “nice guy” is still a product of violent utterances of masculinity.
As a boy growing up in the 90s, I fell into this preposterous battle between stereotypical masculinity and the “nice guy” role, figuring myself to be that “nice guy” who finished last. As I discussed last month in my article More Than Just Broad Shoulders, my own understandings of masculinity faltered along the lines of wanting to be the best “man” while also being very sensitive and “big.” My incessant sensitivity made me more akin to that “nice guy,” since I was not tough enough to be one of the more macho guys. This sensitivity added to the amount of bullying I got in school, as well as when I started becoming interested in “dating” (as much as one can “date” in middle school)…