Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ask a Feminist: XKCD and the Nice Guy Conundrum

Image courtesy of xkcd

This post is our first installment in a new column, "Ask a Feminist," which will be published every 1st and 3rd Tuesday. 


I read a bit of your feminism blog, and now I am intensely interested in what you think of this comic. I'm curious what you think the message is that this artist is trying to portray, whether you agree with it, and what you would say instead (if anything.) It might also give you fodder for another blog post.

I'm pretty sure I disagree with the message of this comic, but I'm not sure if I'm interpreting it correctly, or if there even is a single interpretation. If you'd like, I'd be happy to explain what I think it's trying to say and what I believe instead, but I'd rather you have a fresh view of it first.


I've seen this comic before (I love xkcd), so I might not have the freshest perspective. But I think there are a couple jokes at play here - there's obviously the stereotype of women going for jerks instead of the nice guy best friend who's always there to support them, but the joke in the end is that the "nice guy" doesn't respect her either, because rather than risk rejection he's hoping to catch her in a moment of weakness and be with someone who's unhappy to be with him. The other joke, of course, is that she openly decides to date a jerk at the end, which suggests women really do prefer jerks. I can't say I agree with that message, but I would agree with the message that it's equally disrespectful to try to manipulate a person rather than risk rejection.

How are you reading it?


Well, I read on a (Non-LDS) feminism site about two years ago the rant of a woman who insisted that she hated the "nice guys." She said that in her opinion, any male who was obviously interested in her and refused to admit it was guilty of playing the "Nice Guy" con, and linked to this comic to explain what exactly that con consisted of. She insisted that being friends with a girl when you were actually interested in her was inherently dishonest.

I'm especially interested in the second and third to last panels, where he hints that the marriage of two friends would be sub-optimal, and implies that something would be missing from the relationship that would have been there if he'd have been a "jerk" instead. However, this "missing something" is never fully explained. It's almost as though it is just assumed the reader knows what it is and agrees.

I personally think that a truly valuable relationship comes as a result of two best friends deciding to be something more. I have never understood why people go from hardly knowing each other to being in a relationship. In my mind, the progression has always been pretty straightforward: You become interested in a girl, you befriend that girl so you get to know her in a variety of situations, and if, after getting to know her, you're still interested in her, you broach the subject of a relationship and see where it goes. To imply that a previous friendship is a detriment to "real relationships" confuses and disturbs me.

In a way, it's an extension of the "nice guys finish last" aphorism, which I've read many times as I've done research on how the world at large views relationships, which I still have a hard time swallowing, and which I think might say more about the "average, worldly woman" than it does about the kind of relationship God would want between two of his children. I figured any girl who didn't want a nice guy was just disqualifying herself as being "not my type." The added complication of nice guys being viewed by this author as inherently untrustworthy is somewhat alarming, and I hope this isn't the view of the world at large.


I'd be cautious to assume the author of xkcd views nice guys this way, but I can understand your concern, since movies, books, and television are so quick to portray "nice guys" as boring. But this problem isn't as one-sided as popular American culture would have us believe. Along with the woman who ignores the kind boy next door and instead goes for some jerk who uses her, there are plenty of men who do the same thing. I had a female friend who took great pride in her ability to control men. How did she do it? She treated them like dirt, and they'd usually come crawling to her.

Another misconception about the Bad Boy Mystique (if that term isn't already out there, I'm copyrighting it here and now!) is that women want men who openly treat them like dirt. However, having dated a jackass man who treated me poorly, and having watched many friends in similar romantic circumstances, I can tell you one consistent pattern: we all thought the guy was nice at first. The man acted smitten and doting and confident and fun. My first date with the jackass man in question was a bookstore reading and hot chocolate, so trust me when I tell you that I wasn't blinded by money. Charisma, maybe, but a fancy dinner? Not so much. I just thought he was kind, intelligent, and fun. Turns out he thought cheating and manipulating were kosher. Go figure.

So, while I can't comment on what this feminist blogger said, I can see why she might see any form of deception as a sign of trouble. If a man is only friends with a woman because he has an ulterior motive, that's hardly the foundation of a solid relationship. Also, I've witnessed friends crumble after a man who spent tons of time with them and acted like a boyfriend, for an extended period of time but without committing, eventually decided to date someone else. Perhaps that's part of what that blogger was concerned about? Still, I don't think we should preclude the possibility that a man wants to develop a friendship with a woman and also get to know her better, with the potential for romance in the back of his mind. 


  1. I agree with what you all saying there. When that comic first came out it prompted my then "just a friend" guy-friend to be straightforward and tell me he wanted to date me. I agree that the guy in the comic who manipulates the girl doesn't really respect her (or has a warped definition of respect (something I've noticed a lot in Mormon culture...)). Yes, it is good to become friends with someone before dating them, but the manipulation in the comic takes it many steps too far. Further, a guy can be nice without doing what the comic does. There is plenty of in-between from nice to jerk.

    Sorry, I've thought about this particular comic a lot, but it has been a while. :) Interesting discussion.

  2. I think it's important to differentiate between actual nice guys and nice guys (TM) who bemoan about being nice guys. The bemoaning kind are the ones people complain about so much and are the ones that finish last because who wants to spend time with someone who just complains rather than does something like ask someone out? I've known plenty of guys like the dude in the comic. It just seems that friendship in these cases are built with an ulterior motive with the end being in a romantic relationship for the more interested party. It makes it more painful/awkward for both people. I don't know, I always think straight forward is the better way to go if you know what you want out of a relationship rather than waiting for something magical to happen.

    Also, this comic seems to show a girl that wasn't interested in the first place, but settled for something less than what she wanted just because she was vulnerable when the relationship started. Friendship is great, but it doesn't always make a successful romantic relationship if the chemistry isn't there.