I’d been planning to let the issue of the Nice Guys of OK Cupid blog on Tumblr slide. It is pretty depressing from every perspective. I’d squabbled and grumbled about it on Twitter with a few people, and then thankfully the Christmas break pushed it out of my mind.
If it passed you by, the Tumblr scours the dating/social networking site OK Cupid for profiles of men and then posts their pictures (without permission) alongside selected quotes. The typical entry shows a less than attractive guy with a few quotes from his profile proclaiming himself a ‘nice guy’ who is fed up of being ‘friendzoned’ and then a ‘wrong’ answer from the set profile questionnaires such as “Should women feel an obligation to shave their legs? Yes.”
Some of them are unquestionably far worse. They talk about ‘sluts’ and ‘bitches’ or they say women should sometimes be obliged to have sex with them, and a few are downright rapey. Many, however, are not. In between the horrors are a lot like these (verbatim and in toto):
I’m a nice guy
I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT: If I will find a relationship via this iPhone App or if every girl is just a friend or demands a Prince Charming rather than the knight I am / why I get into a girl’s friendzone so easily.”
Remember that boy in high school who helped give relationship advice to girls he really liked that were taken? Every time he tries to solve an issue that the girl had, he succeeds, but not with the girl. That boy was me. I was always in the friend zone. The “nice guy.”
These are not rank misogynists and wannabe rapists, they’re not even showing any particular sense of privilege or entitlement. On the contrary, many of the entries come across as more self-pitying, bitter or pathetic than those above. Those are not attractive qualities, but they are sadly common among people who are at an extremely low ebb emotionally, or struggling with depression. I think it is not only immoral, but potentially dangerous to place them in the 21st Century equivalent of the medieval stocks to be mocked, abused and humiliated. The blog struck me less as a blow against privilege, and more as ugly bullying of people who already feel like losers.
I was happy to leave it at that. But then one of my Twitter duellists, the prominent male feminist Hugo Schwyzer, asked if he could quote my tweets in a piece he was writing. Rather than find myself hoisted on a 140 character petard, I emailed him with a couple of comments outlining my concerns
Hugo’s piece has just gone up on Jezebel. In the section quoting me, he says:
“Without entirely dismissing Fogg’s concern that some young men’s rage or despair could be worsened as a result of NGOKC, there’s a lot more to the site than mockery. What’s on offer isn’t just an opportunity to snort derisively at the socially awkward; it’s a chance to talk about the very real problem of male sexual entitlement.”
The first thing to say is that after saying he is not entirely dismissing my concerns, he never once returns to them in any way, which looks pretty much like dismissal to me. Next, I note how Hugo says what’s on offer “isn’t just an opportunity to snort derisively at the socially awkward” – my emphasis because he isn’t denying that the site is, at least in part, precisely that. However because Hugo wants to have a chat about male sexual entitlement, he is quite prepared to accept this bullying as a means to an end, and write off the victims as collateral damage. I can only try to imagine how these men must feel, what the psychological consequences might be for a dejected, lonely young man with minimal self-esteem who suddenly finds himself subjected to public ridicule by millions and branded a douche, a misogynist and a creep by association. But take it on the chin guys, because Hugo wants to talk about stuff.
I should say at this point that I’m not one of the world’s countless Hugo-haters. Although we have many profound political disagreements, we have an amicable relationship online. That said, he does have some habits in his writing that drive me up the wall and half way across the ceiling. Foremost among them is his belief that he knows exactly what all men are thinking and their primal motivations, even if he’s never met them and knows nothing about them. Rather than accepting that the men featured in the Tumblr might be socially and personally diverse and psychologically complex, either individually and as group, Hugo has them all pegged. Borrowing a line from Laurie Penny in the New Statesman (in a much more nuanced but still problematic piece), he writes:
The great unifying theme of the curated profiles is indignation. These are young men who were told that if they were nice, then, as Laurie Penny puts it, they feel that women “must be obliged to have sex with them.”
Raised to believe in a perverse social/sexual contract that promised access to women’s bodies in exchange for rote expressions of kindness, these boys have at least begun to learn that there is no Magic Sex Fairy.
While only a small percentage of these guys may be prone to imminent violence, virtually all of them insist, in one way or another, that women owe them.
Besides the near-universal sense that they’ve been unjustly defrauded, the great commonality among these Nice Guys is their contempt for women’s non-sexual friendship.
Their anger, in other words, is that their own deception didn’t work as they had hoped. It’s a monumental overask to expect women to be gentle with the egos of men who only feigned friendship in order to get laid.
I fully accept that may well be some men featured on NGOOKC who meet those descriptions perfectly. I strongly suspect there are many who do not. I cannot be sure that there are some genuinely “nice”, gentle, loving, humble men on there whose only problems are lack of confidence, self-esteem and chronic loneliness, because I haven’t met any of them. But nor, I presume, have the people behind the Tumblr, nor have the endless thousands of online surfers who have gleefully shared their humiliation on social media, and nor has Hugo Schwyzer.
My sense is that this doesn’t matter to them, because what is being mocked here is not the individuals, it is the archetype. The political target is The Nice Guy ™ who represents a certain strain of male privilege and entitlement, and the extent to which any of the specific targets match the profile, the extent to which they deserve to be personally humiliated is irrelevant to Hugo and the site’s creators and fans.
I happen to agree that the archetype deserves mockery and vilification, but that is beside the point. Archetypes don’t have to pluck up the courage to join a dating site and then go through the awkward steps of creating a clumsy profile. People do. Archetypes don’t cry themselves to sleep into their pillows. People do. Archetypes don’t suffer if their fragile self-esteem is kicked into the dirt and trampled on. People do. Archetypes don’t self-harm and drink or drug themselves into numb oblivion. People do.
The Internet is awash with nastiness of all sorts. It can be legitimate and proportionate to name and shame misogynists, rape apologists and hatemongers of all sorts. Indeed it is necessary. It can also be legitimate and proportionate to name and shame cruel bullies and their apologists, and no less necessary.