The social tropes of Nice guys finish last or Nice guys never get the girl have existed for decades, noted prominently in various movies in the 1980s. In these movies, the “nice guy” is often some demure and/or nerdy and/or chubby (white) guy who promises to treat the girl he is after better than the “meathead” she is currently dating — with little to no regard for the girl’s own autonomy or decisions or desires, mind you. The “nice guy” was centered on the goal of having sex or some sexual contact, even down to a kiss. Inevitably, the “nice guy” was not so different from the “meathead.” He would not only focus on “getting the girl” but also on proving himself better — more of a “man” — than his “meathead” counterpart.
This trope has become more prevalent in the United States in recent years, and it has sparked utterly intense and violent reactions by guys facing rejection. A more recent development alongside the “nice guy” stereotype is the term “friend zone.” The “friend zone” is the imaginary place where a guy ends up when the girl he wants to date or have sex with rejects his advances. The rejected guy and those who care about such things typically see this place as shameful and emasculating. While the term has grown to be used by people of various genders and sexualities, its roots are based in heteropatriarchal masculinity — in this case, in the belief that a straight man who claims he can provide protection and love for a woman, and who is better than the “meathead,” is entitled to be with any woman of his choosing.
“Friendzoning” has become the topic of recent tragedies, even if it was not named explicitly. In 2014, a shooting occurred in the college town of Isla Vista, CA, near the main campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The shooter, whom I refuse to name here, released a manifesto before he committed the act. Although the manifesto is laden with sexist and racist commentary, the Isla Vista shooter points to his lack of success with women as one of the reasons he wanted to move forward with his attack. He goes so far as to claim that he was the “perfect gentleman” and that he did not understand why women did not like him. Wrapped up in mental health issues, internalized racism, and being “friendzoned” by women, the Isla Vista shooter presents an all-too-real-and-tragic example of how the “nice guy” is still a product of violent utterances of masculinity.
As a boy growing up in the 90s, I fell into this preposterous battle between stereotypical masculinity and the “nice guy” role, figuring myself to be that “nice guy” who finished last. As I discussed in my article More Than Just Broad Shoulders, my own understandings of masculinity faltered along the lines of wanting to be the best “man” while also being very sensitive and “big.” My incessant sensitivity made me more akin to that “nice guy,” since I was not tough enough to be one of the more macho guys. This sensitivity added to the amount of bullying I got in school, as well as when I started becoming interested in “dating” (as much as one can “date” in middle school).
It was in high school that I started growing out of the immature identity of being the “nice guy.” Of course, still being as sensitive as ever, I never had the chops to be a super manly man. I was rejected by many girls in high school, but I also had a few short relationships. It was never because I was the “nice guy” in the sense of attempting to impress anyone or be better than the “meatheads” and “jocks” or anything of the sort. I realized that the most important thing about both entering a relationship and being a decent person was to respect everyone around me, girls and guys alike. This mentality is what led me to entering a relationship in my junior year that I am still in to this day, more than eight years later.
So, with that aspect of my own life in my mind, and with the goal of identifying a new masculinity, I’ve started to wonder what the idea of a “new” masculinity would actually entail. Is it so simple to separate people who act in “masculine” ways into categories that lead to a version of masculinity that is “new” and even “better” than the others? Or in talking about “new masculinities,” are we talking about the ways in which masculinity itself is no longer a viable determination of gendered categorization at all, and that we must move toward dismantling the whole concept?
I’ve realized that I’ve been doing exactly what I’ve been questioning. In fact, I’m doing it even in this article.
Separating out the “nice guy” version of masculinity, as I have here, seems in contradiction to wanting to dismantle the very concept of masculinity itself, does it not? Maybe, then, we can say that the “nice guy” mentality is a version of “new masculinity,” separate from other versions of masculinity, while sharing one common point: They are all associated with being a cisgender man. Even though the “nice guy” stereotype is not necessarily new, the advent of the Internet has certainly helped it become a norm among certain folks.
Can we identify a form of “new masculinity” that is both separate from other forms and inherently more human? Similar to feminism promoting a culture of women complimenting one another rather than trying to tear one another down, the “new masculinity” must speak against the same kinds of in-group behavior. We must call out men who use labels such as “meathead” or “pansy” to make one another feel less than masculine.
While feminism uses the promotion of a communal culture of positivity in order to fight patriarchal ruin, the reasoning for men to be supportive of one another has a different basis. It has to do with dismantling patriarchal standards of masculinity through a rejection of insensitive manly-man stereotypes, including the “meathead” and the truth under the “nice guy” tropes.
Next month, I will be exploring the ways in which men, particularly cis men, can turn toward a sense of “masculinity” that works to be more respectful toward other people while saying “hell no” to the powers of patriarchy.
Are you struggling to find ways to express your masculinity outside of the cult of patriarchy? Check out our webinar 10 Tools for Radical Self Love.
[Feature Image: The black-and-white photograph shows a man sitting on a wall, looking out over water and a city skyline. He has short dark hair and is wearing a white button-down shirt and light-colored shorts.]