Dear Nice Guys

Dear Nice Guys,


Oh how I hate you.


Oh how I hate how difficult it is to hate you, or, should I say, how difficult society makes it to hate you. You know, I despise just how quickly society can take any action you do and qualify it by affirming that you are, at the very least, a “nice guy.”


I imagine it’s nice to be measured on the scale of men rather than on the scale of human beings. I imagine it’s convenient to walk about the world knowing that you can say most anything, do most anything, and face little repercussions for your actions.


You are, after all, a nice guy.


Too often I find myself nodding along or verbally agreeing when someone declares some man a “nice guy.” Without question, without the need for explanation or elaboration, I understand what that person means. They’re suggesting that this man is pleasing or agreeable. He fits the commonly held understanding of what a man should be.


He’s a nice guy.


He smiles, he laughs, he jokes. You feel comfortable around him even when he makes those repeated sexist comments. Of course, a racially charged joke here or there doesn’t do much to derail your image of him. Never mind a homophobic slur or yet another insensitive comment.


But what about that party where he wouldn’t leave that girl alone? Oh, he’s just like that when he’s drunk. He’s actually a really nice guy.


One shouldn’t get too caught up in his actions or his comments because they don’t mean he’s a bad person. They’re all just minor cracks to the image of a nice guy, yet nothing too image altering. He makes people laugh. He always stops to talk to you whenever you see him. He’s always available to help you on that problem set if you need it.


He is, after all, nice for a guy.


Yet, too often this simply means that he meets an ambiguous and arbitrary bar that society has chosen for men. Rather than declare an individual a nice person, or even a good person, we implicitly or explicitly bring their gender into it. As we label a man a “nice guy,” we inadvertently acknowledge that our expectations are lower for him because he is a man.


I know this to be true because very rarely, I would say almost never, do I hear anyone refer to a woman as “such a nice girl.” In fact, this seems like something only older people would use to describe a younger girl or woman. Instead, women, if considered nice, are just said to be “nice.”

There is no implicit or explicit call to gender because women are being compared as people. There is no exception for what niceness should look like in women just because they are women.


That privilege is reserved for men.


One must wonder why we rarely hear the phrase “a good woman,” but we consistently hear men referred to as “good men” or “he’s a good man.”


Why is it that he isn’t good enough to be good, but is good enough to be a good man? Why are we, as a society, okay with this distinction?


Could it be, perhaps, that we continually allow men to walk through life saying what they want, doing what they want, and affecting whomever they want?


But they’re just nice guys.


Yet, what about Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Roy Moore, and John Conyers? I’m sure at some point or another they were also referred to as “nice guys.” I’m sure that a derogatory comment here or an inappropriate action there was often swept aside for these men with a but he’s such a nice guy. Yet, maybe if comment after comment hadn’t been swept aside or buried, there wouldn’t be such a horrifying number of women who were harassed or assaulted by these men.


Worse yet, these are just public figures. One can hardly estimate the amount of men who have acted similarly, but are not enough in the public eye to be publicly condemned.


These are public figures that were respected, upheld, and even adored. They are public figures that were probably considered “good men.” These are men who were potentially even labeled as “nice guys.”


The trend here, both for these men and the men sitting on the bus with you, walking to class beside you, or frequenting the same parties you do, is that they are rarely, if ever, held accountable for their actions.


The act of women being brave enough to accuse these famous men, to face their perpetrators and harassers is one of the few instances that I can recall of men being accused and actually facing some consequences for their actions.


Yet, it is only occurring because a few women were forced to come forward.


The burden of getting men to own up to their actions should not fall on the shoulders of the women who have already had to deal with the behavior of these men, especially when it’s obvious that plenty of people knew about what these men were doing. Survivors and victims should never have to bear that burden, especially alone. Yet, perhaps if we as a society began to hold men accountable, at even the smallest day-to-day level, then we could begin to raise the bar for men up to the bar for people.


Perhaps we could stop measuring men by low standards merely because they are men and challenge them to be good people who respect, uplift, and see others.  


The longer we allow men to get away with merely being “nice,” the longer we allow them to hold a disproportionate, consistently abused power over everyone else.


Besides, I don’t want or need a nice guy.


Instead, I would prefer to sit with, talk with, be friends with, and be with a nice, good person.

Kristina Smith