I grew up in the girl power 90s; my motto was “Anything you can do, I can do better.” I thought the need for feminism was over.
Of my nearly two dozen first cousins, the boys were closest to me in age. As the girls were teenagers too cool to willingly deal with a grubby-fingered tomboy, I spent most of my childhood playtime with three of my boy cousins. They taught me about soccer, the Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers, and Nintendo. Later, we spent our joint time collaborating on creating Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style QBasic programs and 3D Movie Maker films as well as on perfecting our Force-moving and lightsaber dueling skills. Though it meant that many of the delicate young ladies at school refused to accept me, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
So I was more than fine with the Internet being a male-dominated space. It didn’t bother me. I was one of the boys, right? It would be fine. I didn’t need special treatment like those other women, whether they were prisses or feminists.
Then, the Nice Guys came along, both online and as friends of my teenage self. At first, all I learned from them was that I wasn’t woman enough. I lacked all the hallmarks of the basic level of attractiveness as per their comments: small, pink, upturned nipples; a small mons with tiny bubblegum-hued labia (as they called it, “tight pussy”); hairlessness; large and “natural” (i.e. non-surgically-enhanced) yet very pert breasts; and overall thinness, perhaps with some ass (hips were acceptable only to the more adventurous and kinky men). Fair enough, I thought. I was a chubby, grubby-fingered tomboy, not exactly some kind of desirable woman.
Who would want to be a desirable woman, anyway? I knew what those women were like. The Nice Guys told me all about their wives and their girlfriends and their female “friends” (as in women they secretly wanted to have sex with, which, they strongly implied, meant that they weren’t actually friends). Women, as per them, are obnoxious creatures only worth putting up with for the sex. They take too long to orgasm, annoy men with their requests for cunnilingus and cuddling, friend-zone nice guys while dating and sexing up jerks, waste men’s time by never giving an straightforward “no,” can get sex whenever and with whomever they want, stop giving blowjobs and get fat after marriage, demand free meals and drinks but still won’t have sex, and are fussy and high-maintenance.
The Nice Guys were wrong on both counts.
There were men out there who found me to be desirable — not as an attainable consolation prize or a symbol of “settling,” but actually desirable. And, because they saw me the way that the Nice Guys saw those more conventionally-attractive women, i.e. as an object of sexual desire, I was subjected to the same judgments and accusations. More importantly, I learned, in short, that there’s a reason the women at whom I scoffed act the way that they did. There’s always another way to look at it.
Taking too long to orgasm? The mainstream heterosexual script for intercourse often de-prioritizes pleasurable activities associated with cis female pleasure — like non-genital touch and cunnilingus.
Friend-zoning? Some straight men seem to believe that they are entitled to love and/or sex, sometimes without ever having even asked for it.
Not giving a straightforward no? Being a woman means that responding to certain men overtures at all is an invitation for rebuttals, while ignoring them doesn’t give them the opportunity to engage further. In addition, there’s the issue of female socialization where women know that they will be seen as rude or mean for issuing outright refusals.
Sex on demand? Only if they’re willing to lower our standards (and men could probably have sex as frequently as women if they did so as well).
Demanding of free stuff? All those free drinks don’t exactly rectify the wage gap. When it comes to fat women, we both earn even less than our thinner counterparts and aren’t exactly bombarded with free drinks at Ladies Night (if we’re even allowed in). Plus, women generally have to put much more in the way of time and resources into our appearances in order to be seen as even baseline presentable. And then, of course, we’re berated for being high-maintenance for maintaining the accepted standard for female appearance.
It was through all those realizations that I began to question exactly why women are so widely reviled and wonder if it wasn’t that there is something especially wrong with women but that women are held to impossible standards. I fell down the questioning-the-status-quo rabbithole and ended up a feminist.
So thank you, Nice Guys. You turned one of you into one of them with your bile. May your thinly-veiled misogyny lead legions of other women to freedom from internalized self-hatred.