Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nice Guys Don't Finish Last

There is a particularly dangerous idea that has existed for decades, perhaps centuries: "Nice Guys Finish Last." It takes less than fifteen seconds of thought to see that this little meme is patently false and just an iteration of the Sour Grapes fable. Nevertheless, it persists because it perfectly fits the ego of the lonely, sexually frustrated male. The Nice Guy is playing by the rules but will always lose because girls prefer jerks and cheaters.

On the face of it, the idiom might appear to be a harmless ego balm, but at its root is the idea that women can't make good decisions. Otherwise why would it even matter? The Nice Guy in the story clearly doesn't respect the women's personality, because if he did he would realize that the object of his desire was simply a poor match. Obviously our Nice Guy only desires the woman's body.

This meme strikes early. Young males desire females sexually, but often lack the self-confidence to bring their desires into reality. So they have to watch the males who are confident take the females. This is just a part of growing up and because this situation is so commonplace and universal the story of the poor Nice Guy is firmly embedded in our collective consciousness. Many boys outgrow this attitude. I suppose they gain the confidence necessary to see the situation from a more reasonable perspective. Many boys never outgrow it, however, which is why it is a staple storyline for so many songs, movies and TV shows. Good Charlotte's (a generally shitty band anyway) popular song Girls & Boys displays a particularly nasty expression of this idea. In television and film this story often ends up with the oppressed and nerdy Nice Guy getting the hot girl after all, but in most cases (that come to mind) the Nice Guy has to pry the girl away from the jerk. All of this fuels the meme.

I don't pretend to have a solution to this. I don't even completely understand all the angles, and I'm sure that some of my thoughts and actions are informed by some (hopefully diluted) iteration of this idea. I nearly didn't write this post - actually, I've been working on it for a week, widening and narrowing my focus, writing and deleting whole paragraphs. Even now it seems to be nearly unreadable and incoherent, but I want to finish it. And I want to fully understand this problem even though I know I never will. Misogyny is one of the biggest, most enduring problems with human society. We have come a long way since the Bronze Age, but there is still quite a lot of it lurking around. We may never be rid of it completely because it is so entrenched in our culture in surprisingly subtle ways. We can point to Victorian ages or modern Muslim society as being overtly misogynistic, but even our relatively enlightened culture is a confusing grab bag of ideas. The waters of feminism are dangerous and difficult to navigate. The difference between empowerment and objectification is sometimes impossible to see. I am not extremely educated in feminist philosophy, so if I make a blunder in this post, please feel free to correct and educate me in the comments.

I have a friend who recently gave a fantastic talk at our local Ignite event (video of the presentation can be seen here: look for her at the 12 minute mark) about how some women(specifically "Nerd Girls") are being ignored by advertisers and by society at large. This post was inspired by her presentation as I started to think about the nerds who are being advertised to.

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