Wrong Way, Feldman! How We Men Hear "Worthy" When Women Say "Nice"
Thanks to commenter Sam for linking to a Washington City Paper interview of Jaclyn Friedman by Amanda Hess from 2010. I thought Friedman summed up one side of the problem of "nice guys," and really summarized my issue with the whole "good men" thing.
AH: So do you meet guys who pass the feminist test but then turn out to be disappointments for other reasons?
JF: Oh God. There is a type of feminist guy who is so eager to fall over himself to be deferential to women and to prove his feminist bona fides and flagellate himself in front of you, to the point that it really turns me off. And it makes me sad, because politically, these are the guys that I should be sleeping with! You know what I'm talking about?
JF: Everyone knows what I'm talking about. And some of them are even really cute! I want to say to them, "If you could be a person, like a whole, complicated person, who I feel like I could crack jokes around, then I would really like you." But they're so serious about their feminism at every moment that I don’t feel like a person to them. I feel like I'm on a pedestal, almost. I know that they're not going to disagree with anything I say under any circumstances. And I don't feel like I can make a raunchy joke about sex, because they'll be horrified. . . . I hate to be critical of our allies in any way, because we need them, but there's something about that certain kind of hyperfeminist guy that makes them unappealing to date, to me. I suspect it has something to do with our internal conceptions of masculinity, which is terrible on my part.
The turnoff pretty clearly isn't that the men are feminist, it's that they're trying to demonstrate their gender-masculine "worthiness" by performing feminism. Which boils down to them performing worthiness! And since inside standard gender construction men perform worthiness in order to "earn" or "deserve" sex, that's as essentially anti-gender-egalitarian and therefore as anti-feminist as anything else a man can do! No wonder it falls flat!
And here's the thing, which comes out even in Friedman's remarks: men massively over-interpret and over-construct what women mean when they say they want "nice" partners. They tend to think "are interested in other stuff as well as sex." We tend to think it means something like "interested in other stuff besides or instead of sex." With maybe sex sometimes as earned affirmation for "nice," a.k.a. worthy behavior. In other words our interpretation tends to be almost diametric to the intention.
That, incidentally, is why I have almost zero patience for talk about "women say they want..." and (sweet mother of pearl!) "friendzones." We tend to have such (self-indoctrinated) male certainty about what women "mean" it hardly matters what they actually do say. Which means to the extent there's a problem we're responsible for it.
I need to say a lot more about the whole male worthiness trap. All the ways out that I can see come straight out of feminist tools for analyzing gender. (Just to be clear I don't mean analysis of men by women, instead I mean feminist analysis of men by non-"nice-guy" and non-"good men" feminist men.)