"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Confidence Without Jerkiness

UPDATE: The following post assumes that we're all on the same page about Nice Gusy(tm) vs. nice guys, a la Feminism 101's definitions. Now, back to the post...

I'm really glad that Dating (and/or Fucking) While Feminist has become an popular topic. Whatever you think about love and romance, and wherever you are in your love life, chances are that if you're a feminist, you've had to struggle with some of the things that other folks are struggling with. From Jaclyn Friedman's Fucking While Feminist interview to Jill Filipovic's wonderful rant Single White Female Seeks Passive-Agressive Misogynist over on Feministe, there is a lot to think about, and, since this is the internet, lots of folks have strong opinions about it all.

I think there are a lot of things a feminist (or pro-feminist) man can say about all of this (after all, some of us are dating/fucking while feminist as well), but I don't want to take that head on just yet. Instead, I'd like to talk about a tangent of the discussions dealing with the idea that it's sometimes difficult to grow into a confident and/or assertive man who is also on board with feminist ideas and actions.

Over on Jill's post, commentor Bagelsan responds to a guy who is taking the oh-so-boring-and-common line of thought that women (all of them!) like jerks. The guy says:
“Girls really do like jerks, though. I mean they don’t like jerks but they like certain qualities that come with being a jerk. Like the confidence and ambition and assertiveness.”

And Bagelsan responds with a hilarious bit of wordplay about dolphins-with-Hitler-mustaches:

Some girls like certain qualities that “come with” being, say, a dolphin too, though. Like swimming ability? Or qualities that “come with” being Hitler — like being a compelling public speaker, or getting along okay with (certain) children. Doesn’t mean guys should all start cultivating wee mustaches over their bottlenoses though.*

More to the point, qualities like “confidence” exist independent of jerkishness. (Just like there are kid-loving swimmers who aren’t Nazi porpoises.) So why in the world do Nice Guys think they have to be jerks to be confident, etc?

*I may or may not have used this somewhat tortured metaphor entirely in order to describe this image. :p Bagelsan

Bagelsan's (likely rhetorical) question is what got me to thinking: So why in the world do Nice Guys think they have to be jerks to be confident, etc?

The trite answer is something like "Because that's mostly what we see. Examples of confident jerks abound all around us." This is no excuse for bad behavior, of course--just because bad examples abound doesn't mean we have to follow them. But the prevalence of them does supply a partial answer to Bagelsan's question. And even boys who eventually learn to be men who are confident-but-not-jerks have an uphill battle in at least some ways; look at how much Barak Obama gets chastised for what amounts (in my mind) to a quiet confidence.

There is a culture of traditional male masculinity which encourages a particular type of cocky confidence, and that traditional type of masculinity is something that boys and men have to come to terms with as they grow up and grow older. We have to discover other kinds of confidence that are not as often presented as options. I've learned a lot of that confidence from the women in my life--women who have learned that they can be straight-forward without being jerks (though there are problems there, of course, that come with being a confident woman; confident women are seen as "bitches" when confident men are seen as...confident). I've also learned about other forms of confidence from other men. The men involved in the Men's Story Project are an amazing bunch of men who have a lot of confidence, and little jerkitude.

Where did you learn to have confidence without being a jerk? Who are your role models in that regard? How long did it take you to learn the lesson that you can be confident without being a jerk?


Amanda said...

Good post! As a feminist woman, I frequently hear this complaint from self-identified "nice guys" who then proceed to ask me how I deal with that fact. I tell them something along those lines, minus the wonderful Hitler-dolphin metaphor, which I may have to utilize in future.

I think it it something that guys, especially "nice guys" have to realize and think about. Because half the time those guys identify as "nice" simply because they think qualities like their lack of confidence and general meekness equal being nice, which is sadly not always the case. They can be jerks, too, without even realizing it, simply because they are less loud and obnoxious about it as the confident jerks.

jeff said...

Thanks for the comment, Amanda! I'm on board with everything you're saying. I would add that the whole meekness=niceness false equivalency is at least partly a result of the dearth of examples of confident-but-not-jerky men...

Jeff said...

Another male Jeff feminist?! I'm in luck!

I saw your posts on my blog mendaredo.com and mozied on over here! Great blog!

But to wade into the issue:

I'm not sure I agree with your use of the phrase "Nice Guy," in that post. Or rather, I think it needs to be clarified between a bona fide feminist men "nice guy" and the whole "but I'm a Nice Guy," man.

I think the whole "nice guy" (the bad kine) thing really is ripe for being deconstructed from the male feminist perspective.

Speaking from just my experiences having been a teenage boy, I think it starts then (or well before). Teens are socialized that we need to get laid. Society holds up a sort of alpha-male in places like high school, you know the type: good looking jocks, possibly not academic, the "popular" kids etc., etc. Now of course, this alpha male exists in other cliques and subcliques, but that could be a whole 'nother post.

Now, not every teenage boy can be that. If you aren't endowed with the physical traits to be an alpha male, and you aren't socialized with that kind of confidence and self-esteem among other traits, you're pretty much out of luck. So, you end up being a "nice guy."

Follow me here: you see girls in highschool complaining about these alpha male types, who, as said before, are pretty much socialized to be confident with jerkiness. So what's guy do who's been socialized in the heteronormative patriarchy, but can't be an "alpha male?" Well, you become a "nice guy." Someone who isn't a total asshole, a step or two below the jerkiness of the alpha male, but still pretty effing jerky. And then you're pretty much entitled to have sex with any woman discontent with the alpha male, because, well, you're a Nice Guy, and you deserve it.

So, to tie in with your post now and use your absolutely fantastic metaphor: the Nice Guy thinks that women don't like Hitler because of the mustache, so they shave their mustaches. That is, the Nice Guy sees a symptom of a system that many women don't like, identify a symptom within themselves and try to eliminate it. What they don't realize is that women don't like Hitler because he's a genocidaire Nazi, not because he has a mustache.

jeff said...


To be clear, that great metaphor wasn't mine--it was Bagelsan's, a commentor on the post I linked to. Much as I wish I could take credit for it, I can't. :)

I was assuming folks knew about the whole Nice Guy(tm) vs. nice guy distinction, but y'know, I shouldn't assume that! I'll update the post for clarity.