No more Mr. Nice Guy

Where do men like Pennsylvania gym shooter George Sodini get the idea they're too "nice"?

Published August 7, 2009 7:08PM (EDT)

There is something BLATANTLY wrong with me that NO goddam person will tell me what it is. Every person just wants to be fucking nice and say nice things to me. Flattery. Oh yeah, I am sure you can get a date anytime. You look good, etc. Pussies.

That line from the diary of Pennsylvania gym shooter George Sodini, written before he killed three women and himself, almost makes me feel bad for him. Almost. Because in among all the misogynistic and racist ranting that makes up the bulk of the diary, he actually showed a flash of insight: There was something blatantly wrong with him, and people who told him how nice and attractive he was probably were blowing sunshine up his ass. No one told him the truth, especially not the women he was attracted to. Among miscellaneous notes tacked on at the end of the diary, he wrote: "Told by at least 100 girls/women over the years I was a 'nice guy.' Not kidding."

Sodini knew that was B.S. And yet, in an effort to learn how to appeal more to women, he took dating classes with R. Don Steele, where he was taught that being too "nice" was his whole problem. Tony Ortega, writing in the Village Voice today, transcribes a video of a Steele seminar Sodini attended, in which the author of "How to Date Young Women: For Men Over 35" says, "I would say that's the problem with most of the guys in the room. That you're too nice. Women don't like that. They don't respect it. It's about as arousing as a booger." To underscore the point, he writes on a whiteboard, "Nice Guy Must Die."

Plenty of people in the feminist blogosphere have attempted to clarify the distinction between guys who are actually nice -- whom many women, as it happens, really do dig -- and "Nice Guys," who, as Amanda Marcotte puts it, "are angry at women, at least the ones they will admit are women because they are the only ones they find sexually attractive, who refrain from giving out sex despite the fact that said Nice Guys® feel they've put in the requisite work of putting forth kind behavior, whether phony or at least somewhat sincere." But to disciples of the R. Don Steeles of the world, it never gets through. What gets through is: Women tell me I'm nice when they reject me, and my laydee-getting guru tells me women don't like nice guys, and I have a kneejerk dislike of the guys I see dating women I'm attracted to, ergo, all women hate nice guys and love jerks.

We don't have to wonder why professional Pickup Artists keep banging the "women don't like nice guys" drum: It makes them a hell of a lot of money, by reaffirming what their customers already, self-servingly, believe. So maybe a better question is: Why are so many women reinforcing the idea that insecure, manipulative jerks who feel entitled to 20-year-old booty if they put on a clean shirt and refrain from saying "whore" out loud are nice guys? How is it that so many guys like Sodini -- the kind who routinely refer to women as "hoes" (sic) and "bitches," and act disgusted by the thought of women having sex with any other men -- have heard, "You're really nice, but..." again and again in the course of being rejected?

In a post about how women's socialization leads to the very behavior we're blamed for if we have the poor judgment to let ourselves be raped, blogger Harriet Jacobs offers one answer. She says women are taught, among other things, that "it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed ('mean bitch')... it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others ('stuck-up bitch')... it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you ('mean dyke/frigid bitch)."

Telling a guy the real reasons you're not interested -- you don't find him attractive, he's way too old for you, you get a distinctly creepy vibe off him, whatever -- or offering no explanation at all, because you just met this guy and owe him nothing, would be "rude." And thanks to the conditioning Harriet describes, exhibiting the slightest hint of "rudeness" to any stranger who approaches you with sex on his mind makes you feel not like a normal human being with healthy boundaries, but a mean, frigid, stuck-up bitch. Worse yet, sometimes, the same man who called you beautiful and offered to buy you a drink ten seconds ago will turn aggressive when you say you're not interested; he'll tell you flat out you're a bitch, or a whore, or less printable things. He'll reject your rejection by getting in your face and losing his temper. So really, it's a lot safer and simpler to say, "Look, you're a nice guy, but no thanks/I have a boyfriend/I can't." Most guys will walk away calmly after that -- and hey, it's none of your concern what they go home and write in their diaries.

I don't mean to suggest that that should be women's concern, or that we should stop using excuses that extract us from unpleasant and potentially dangerous situations as efficiently as possible. I just think it's worth taking a look at how a sexist culture gets women coming and going here. Because we're taught to be polite, submissive, and generous even when men are making us uncomfortable, we automatically reach for the "nice guy, but..." out. Then the guys convince themselves that "nice" is a dirty word, and charlatans like Steele profit from telling men who hate, fear and objectify women, who feel entitled to women's bodies and enraged when they're denied access, that they just need to stop being so gosh darned nice to women. And then one of them snaps and starts killing women he describes as not even looking human to him, and we're all like, "Huh, didn't see that coming. "

I'm sure this will have no more effect on "Nice Guys" than it has when umpteen other women have said it, but once more for the record: Guys, you are not being rejected because you are too nice. Niceness is a positive characteristic. I doubt any straight woman -- even the kind with a stated preference for "bad boys" -- has ever said to herself, "Hmm, I'd be really into this guy if he weren't so compassionate, thoughtful, and respectful. If he'd just dick me around and insult me a little more, I'd want to rip his clothes off." If you get rejected by every woman you approach, the problem could be a million different things, but I guarantee it's not that you're just too kind for your own good. We tell you you're "nice" because we don't want to be rude, we don't want to risk your aggression, and most of all, we want you to leave us alone.

George Sodini knew he wasn't really a nice guy. He knew there was something "blatantly wrong" with him. He wished someone would tell him what it was. But who's going to say, "You seem to have a really deep hatred of women, and some serious rage issues, and a ludicrously overblown sense of entitlement, and I'm guessing you'd need about a hundred years of therapy before you'll be ready for a healthy relationship"? Certainly not any woman he approached at a bar, who only wanted him to go away as quickly as possible and without incident. Nor friends who, by all accounts, kept pulling away until he had none anymore. Probably not his family, whom he professed to despise. So that left R. Don Steele, whose best advice was, "Nice Guy Must Die."

Well, this one did, along with three innocent women. As long as Pickup Artists keep conning insecure men into believing that hatred of women is the hallmark of a real man, and women still have reason to feel it's too risky "to completely and utterly shut down" men who make them uncomfortable, I guess all we can do is hope there aren't too many more "Nice Guys" out there with guns.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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