I never realized how I put myself in debt to "nice guys" until very recently. I find it easy to disregard men who I feel are disrespectful or rude. But I find it extremely difficult to straightforwardly tell a man I am not interested if he is "nice" even if I have absolutely zero romantic interest in him.
I could say it's all about a fear of male violence. And I'm sure that's part of it (and justifiably so when you hear stories about a teenage girl being stabbed to death by a boy who she rejected for prom) but it's definitely not the totality of the issue.
For me it has been fundamentally about an internalized sexist attitude I've adopted that makes me believe that I owe my kindness and attentiveness to men who are polite and not out-rightly sexist. At first I thought it was simply about me being an overly nice person myself. But in reality it's a reflection of unresolved internalized misogyny. In any other context it's ridiculous to me that I'd spend my time and energy on something that I am uninterested in. And yet, when it comes to men who are sexually and/or romantically interested in me somehow it seems implausible to be straightforward and say "Thank you, but I am not interested."
This is both a result of negative experiences I've had where I've showed disinterest and received a very jarring reaction and the "positive" experiences I've had where I pretended to have some kind of vague interest and was "rewarded" by not being called sexist slurs or being threatened by violence (and receiving more of the attention I definitely did not want).
More than a few times I've had men say that I'm not "stuck up" like other women because I actually respond to them. This isn't really a compliment to me so much as it's a testament to my inability to stand my ground when it comes to men and dating. Also, more than a few times I've had negative experiences with trying to let a man down easily and being called a "bitch" or told that I'm irrational for not being interested in such a "good guy."
While a man is afforded subjectivity and the ability to choose who he is interested in (based on his personal proclivities... which are often informed by oppressive and irrational ideologies anyway) women are supposed to consent to being chosen by whatever nice enough man comes along first.
The problem with this is that (like a man) I am an individual with individual thoughts and desires. I am not an algorithm. I don't have a check list. There's not a magical number of how many times a man must compliment me for him to be "nice" and for me to be enamored. And just because a man is nice to me doesn't mean I want to date him!
I know right, incredible! It's not unlike how a man doesn't decide that he wants to date a woman just because she's nice to him.
But I've somehow come to believe that I'm in the wrong for being a human being with unique wants and desires and so I try to downplay when I'm not interested in a guy. I try to always put myself in the position to be the one rejected. I can't stand it because I know the tangible costs that exist when women dare to reject men and because I feel guilt tripped into never rejecting a man.
It's the guilt tripped aspect that confuses me the most. I can understand why I'd be scared of male violence but why am I trapped by the fear of displeasing or disappointing a man? Why do I feel like I owe not only kindness but my time and attention to "nice" men?
It took me being told that I was in a "relationship" with somebody I never had any intention of being in a relationship with to realize that this is a problem that I need to address.
And as I've been in the process of ridding myself of internalized misogyny what has helped me is realizing that the "nice guy" is not truly nice. In fact, he is the antithesis of niceness. He is manipulative. He is patriarchal. He has an entitlement complex. And all of this goes into guilt tripping women into doing what they want her to do.
I do myself no favors by commodifying myself and behaving as if I need to put out something in exchange for niceness or else I am a bitch.
Men ask for my attention or sexual favors and when I say no their response is that I am being "mean" or "unfair" or "irrational" because they are nice guys. Once I had a guy say: "well you did that with a guy before me so what makes him deserving and not me?" All of this functions to guilt trip me and other women into doing things and entering into relationships they don't necessarily want to be in.
And as somebody very interested in the feminist concept of "consent" I wonder if the prevailing culture even allows for this as a possibility if when I as a woman do not consent to a man's wishes then I am a bitch and something is wrong with me. If this is so then am I really in the position to give enthusiastic consent for anything from sex to entering a committed relationship? If my no is viewed as invalid anyway.
The "friend zone" is nefarious. Not for the men who complain that they are in it. But for the women who feel they need to put men there because if they don't then they are bad people. It's nefarious for the women who have to clarify: "I am not interested... but let's be friends!" when they really want to say "I am not interested" with a period at the end.
Many times I've tried to make men my "friends" because I didn't want any sexual or romantic involvement with them but didn't feel able to fully sever ties. And this has not really allowed me to make men aware of my disinterest so much as it's put me in a weird position where I now owe them attention and kindness because they are my "friend" even while they are clearly not interested in friendship at all and continually demonstrate that fact.
I had to take a step back from all of this and realize that just because I feel guilt when I do not return the affection of an individual man that my guilt does not mean that I am in the wrong. I am a woman. And that does not mean that I am the general property of men everywhere who decide they have some kind of sexual and/or romantic interest in me.
It's not an easy task getting rid of the notion that as a woman we are here to appease men. But it's a necessary task. One that takes time and starts with a recognition of how capitulating to so-called "nice guys" is indeed an integral aspect of patriarchy.
This is a note to myself!