Today started out fine. I put on a leather jacket and sneakers, kissed my boyfriend, and walked to work. Then I said "hi" to my colleagues and opened my laptop to see what the internet is talking about today. It wasn't long before I saw an article published by FOX News about how men really just want "nice women." Today remained fine, but became a little bit more stupid.
"That's what men like: women who are easy to love," writes Suzanne Venker, a family and marriage author, intent on teaching "alpha" women how to embrace their femininity and stop scaring off men, who are "alpha by nature," supposedly due to testosterone. She defines nice as "being soft, gentle, and kind." In a filmed segment, Venker told her hosts at FOX News that women should come home from their alpha jobs and be "compliant," and not tell their man what to do. Though many women today believe this type of misogynistic thinking is extremely harmful to women's liberation, Venker says, "we're the one's who are actually the problem."
"This is a reasonable woman," one male correspondent later commented.
As reporters at Broadly, we're regularly degraded by men on the internet for being too critical, or not nice enough. We hear often that we're single losers and that we need to be raped or have sex with men and then we'll be better. I don't think of any of my colleagues as being gentle or soft, but they're all kind. Are they "nice?" Probably not, and I don't think any of us would be interested in dating someone who couldn't stomach a woman who breaks that stereotype.
Venker wrote that for women, nice apparently "means doing something nice for him with no expectation of getting something in return." She made the distinction between "acting nice" and actually being nice, but in my opinion, doing something kind out of the goodness of your heart doesn't make you "nice;" it makes you compassionate and empathetic—which are human qualities that shouldn't be used to stranglehold women into being desirable.
"'Nice women' are those who pander to the lowest common denominator of public desire," says Michelle, a co-worker of mine and self-described mean person. "It's all just a fucking facade for the purpose of long-standing social norms and the mating game," she told me, adding that the person she is currently seeing loves the fact that she's "very mean" to him.
It's limiting and dumb.
"Just as most men are attracted to femininity, or softness, most women are attracted to masculinity," Venker wrote. This is especially annoying and just sounds like something you'd read in a creepy 1950's dating pamphlet. "Masculinity is hard. Gruff. Take charge," Venker defines.
Demarcus, a friend of mine in his 20s, says he is attracted to women who are "cool and don't take bullshit and will fight for their convictions whatever that may be." He finds women like this to be more attractive in part because they inspire him. "It's not that deep but in regards to men liking 'nice' women, there are a lot of problematic implications with that." Demarcus likens the concept of a "nice woman" to the disgusting cliché of a "good girl."
"I think the implications with 'nice' women under a patriarchal system sounds like an 'ideal' woman who does not challenge or agitate a status quo," Demarcus says. If women aren't "nice" then they're "labeled 'nasty' or 'mean' by not falling into a 'nice' category. It's limiting and dumb."
"Women have been taught that being a nice or solicitous wife equates to servitude, as though a woman's niceness automatically equates to being a mouse—whereupon her husband will walk all over her," Venker attempts to explain. "That's not how it works. Most husbands have no desire to lord over their wives, but they don't want to fight with them either. All they want is peace. And the nicer you are, the more likely they are to find it." Uh.
Venker's bit of wisdom seems hypocritical and out-of-touch by decades. In the 1977 paper, "Nice Girl": Social Control of Women Through a Value Construct, scholar Greer Letton Fox questioned, "Who gains from the 'nice girl' construct? More than keeping women out of harm's way, the nice girl value construct also keeps women out of men's way." Being nice, she articulates, isn't actually valuable to women. "One of the impacts of the feminist movement in America has been to liberate women from the strictures of niceness."
The truth is there are no nice women.
Obviously no one wants to date a total asshole, but "dumb dichotomies like that simplify the complexity of relationships," Demarcus told me.
Jennifer is a self-described "raging bitch," whose husband loves her—though denies she is a "raging bitch." Like Demarcus and Michelle, Jennifer sees her mean qualities in the full scope of a woman's identity. "A man could really love the overall woman," Jennifer explains. "That 'mean streak' is just a part of it; I'm not mean all the time but I definitely can pull the mean out when someone messes with my man, kids, and close friends."
Fox wrote that the concept of a "nice woman" is a strategy to socially "regulate the freedom of women and exert control over their behavior in the world." A "good girl," or a "nice girl," is—like Venker wrote—understood by Fox to indicate traits like kindness, gentleness, and virtuosity. So while "nice" might seem appealing on face value, when you consider the way that women's agency has been restricted by our male dominated society the concept seems more sinister. "The truth is there are no nice women," says Michelle. "We're not living in a world where women can afford to be truly 'nice.'"
In an email to Broadly, Dr. Ellen Lamont, a sociologist who specializes in gender and families, explains that she conducted research which found that men aren't necessarily looking for "nice women." Lamont interviewed 31 straight men between 35 and 40, and found that the men didn't want to be pigeon-holed as "alpha men," by their partners, and were critical of men who are "domineering" in their relationships with women. While these men didn't express an interest in "mean" women per se, they generally were interested in qualities that one might not associate with being "nice." Like Demarcus, these guys are attracted to "strong headed" women. "An interesting, independent partner is the most important thing," Lamont explains.
Society has tried to make women meek and subordinate, which is why we have feminism. Sexism and misogyny are nothing new, and obviously haven't gone away; women are constantly being taught that being "nice" should be their goal. "The development of aggressiveness, of skills in physical activity, of independence in thought and action, of self-determination of behavior standards, and of internal standards of self-evaluation is curtailed for adolescent women by continual pressure, transmitted at first by peers and parents and later by the girl herself, to act like and thereby become a 'nice girl'," Fox wrote in 1977.
That dumb article on FOX News says that women need to work at being nice, which is also true, according to Fox. But unlike Venker, Fox didn't see this as an aspirational goal as much as a form of social control. "'Niceness' or 'ladyhood' is an achieved rather than ascribed status," Fox explained. "Niceness or ladylikeness is held out as an achievable ideal; because every woman can learn to be a lady, every woman is expected to act like one." And this, Fox explained, is the sick carrot trick that keeps women walking swiftly toward desirability, only to find that they are still not quite good enough. "One's identity as 'lady' or as 'nice girl' is never finally confirmed," Fox wrote. "Rather, it is continually in jeopardy, and one is under pressure to demonstrate one's niceness anew by one's behavior in each instance of social interaction."
Whether women are vying for employment or trying to be perceived as desirable to men, "there seems to be little that a woman does that cannot be used as a test of her niceness and therefore as an opportunity for control." And if you can't be "nice," if you insist on not being "soft," or "gentle," that's your own fault. You should have tried harder. "The victim, in other words, will have earned her fate," Fox wrote.