I liked Scott’s most-recent (edit: Scott writes posts faster than I can think about posts, so it’s now his second-most-recent-post) post, an anti-anti-nice-guy treatise to the effect of “it is a bad idea to attack and shame people for being sad about being lonely, and assuming that complaints about loneliness are rooted in entitlement, misogyny, or other forms of bad-personitude is toxic”.
I can get behind this, as a prime example of almost-no-one-is-evil-almost-everything-is-broken. The world does not run on story rules, virtue doesn’t correlate with attractiveness, this is not anyone’s fault, and it’s okay to be sad about it. We humans have a nasty habit of writing in villains when telling the story of our problems (misogynists in this case), and any diagnosis of a problem that identifies the root node as “people being evil” should be suspect.
Which is my main issue with the post – that it identifies the root node of the backlash against “nice guys” as something-like “evil in feminism”, when there’s a much more charitable explanation of a world where almost everyone was and is trying to do the right thing. If you step back and blur your vision a bit, it becomes really easy to tell a story where a lot of people really have and are experiencing a lot of real pain, coming up with explanations of varying accuracy, forming political coalitions based on those explanations, becoming deeply invested in those arguments, and everyone ends up in more pain as a result.
Rebecca, in 1999. notices that in story after story, film after film, female characters aren’t really characters – they’re the reward that the hero gets for triumphing over evil and nastiness. Mario gets Peach. Luke gets Leia, except then she turns out to be his sister and he turns out to be a monk so Han gets Leia after he becomes a Good Guy. It would have been narratively unacceptable for that not to happen – the heroes deserve to get the girl after all they’ve been through. And this trope starts showing up in their personal life – Bob sticks up for her when she’s getting harassed, and she’s grateful to him. Then he asks her out, and she’s just not interested. She dates people who are sometimes rude, but she finds them charming. People seem irritated at her for not liking the people she’s supposed to like.
Bob is definitely irritated – he notices that his life isn’t going the way every story he was raised on said it should. He is trying to be a good person, but he is lonely. Loneliness is painful. Eventually some of the less-nice iterations of Bob do the human thing and seek out a villain to blame for their troubles: Women are purposefully rewarding evil people and punishing good people out of some deeply-rooted malice. Lots of Bobs get together on Digg to collectively blame their troubles on those bitches. Many more Bobs don’t do this – they’re sad about being lonely, and maybe sometimes they see the blame directed at “bitches”, but they don’t take part in it – they’re just sad and confused on their own. Let’s call these non-participant Bobs “Robert” from now on to avoid confusion.
Rebecca is really irritated. She doesn’t have an obligation to be attracted to anyone, and she really resents the implication that her dating choices make her a bad person. Eventually some Rebeccas do the human thing and seeks out a villain: Clearly, entitled mysoginists are making unreasonable demands on women – and this includes every guy who is sad about being lonely in spite of their niceness (or “niceness”). Rebecca’s case is stronger than the first group’s – she wasn’t the first to pick out a villain – but most of the people she’s attacking are innocent of any wrongdoing. Again, most would-be Rebecca’s don’t take up this flag – we’ll call these non-participants “Becca”.
The rest of the story is familiar: Bob and Rebecca form stronger, more strident, and larger coalitions (though Rebecca is much better at this). The Roberts look on from afar and get told about what horrible people they are and keep on feeling horrible. The Beccas look on and, to a lesser degree than the Roberts, have it insinuated that they’re bad people for not rewarding good behavior with dates. Over time, these constant low-level background attacks convert more Beccas and Roberts into Rebeccas and Bobs.
Eventually, Scott notices that a bunch of Roberts are being accused of being horrible people by a bunch of Rebeccas, does the human thing, and picks out the villain: Clearly, it’s the social justice movement.
Rebecca has a good point: Pretty much all media since forever has depicted women as rewards for men. This is wrong and broken and justifiably upsetting to a lot of people who would rather not be thought of as prizes to be won. But this does not justify telling all men who are hurting and wondering why virtue doesn’t correlate with attractiveness that they are horrible people. It’s a mistake, and an obvious one when it’s pointed out, but it’s a very human and understandable mistake.
No one was evil. Everything was broken.