This piece is about a person I was briefly dating. I will refer to this person as the ‘Nice Guy’ as this is how he was unanimously described to me prior to going out.
In our first few encounters the Nice Guy actually seemed pretty nice. He was publicly affectionate to the point of overbearing, but I’d simply thought that PDA was his thing and that I had to communicate better that it wasn’t mine. At this stage, still a Nice Guy.
A few dates in, I had planned to catch up with him one evening. I was feeling particularly anxious earlier in the day and as anxiety is something that I’ve dealt with since I was a teenager, I chose to follow my usual course of action: cancel plans, be kind to myself, and try again tomorrow.
I messaged the Nice Guy to let him know that I was feeling unwell, and would see him soon. He replied: “I’ll come over.” I said thanks, but no. He replied that he didn’t mind if I was unwell, and still wanted to see me. I said thanks, but no.
He then called several times, drunk by this stage, slurring that he really wanted to see me, and was going to come over anyway. I said very clearly, thank you, but no. I am going to sleep. I’ll see you around.
I put my phone on silent and, after a while, did fall asleep.
My objections meant nothing to him. The Nice Guy scaled my fence, banged on my front door and asked my housemate for a place to crash. My housemate, completely unaware of my earlier conversation with him, let him in.
I awoke to the Nice Guy climbing into my bed.
The following details are irrelevant, save that the cold morning light bore a scene in my bedroom that was unbearable. His voice was echoing in my head, words whispered over and over in the hours prior:
“This is exactly what I wanted.”
Herein lays the fundamental issue with the Nice Guy. My desires didn’t matter because this was exactly what he wanted. My comfort didn’t matter because this was exactly what he wanted. My consent didn’t matter. My objections didn’t matter. I didn’t matter.
The Nice Guy wasn’t physically violent, but coercive and unrelenting which only made me feel worse at not being able to stop it. He made an independent, capable and intelligent woman feel like she was worthless and damaged. Which didn’t matter, because it was exactly what he wanted.
This is how I learnt that Nice is bullshit. Being Nice doesn’t make you respectful. Being Nice doesn’t make you kind, or thoughtful, or decent. Being Nice for the sole purpose of achieving your own end isn’t nice. It’s a performance. It’s an expression of emotional power. It’s calculated, manipulative and downright fucking terrifying.
This facade of niceness is in stark contrast to the cultural idea of what a sex offender looks like: someone inherently evil, waiting in the shadows to violate unsuspecting women. A monstrous ‘other’. In most of men’s violence against women, this is simply not the case. In fact it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by someone familiar to the victim. Someone who may well consider themselves to be a Nice Guy. Someone who is blind to their own abusiveness on the basis that they don’t fit the mould of a ‘villain’.
The Nice Guy was oblivious to his wrongdoing based upon the premise that he ‘wasn’t that kind of guy’ – a conclusion he reached by comparing his self image with that of a ‘monster’ and not relating. What he failed to do was to hold his behaviour up to the same scrutiny.
How men view their peers can be just as problematic, and will often take the form of a) excusing their mates behaviour under the ‘boys will be boys’ defence, or b) flat out denial. For a victim of sexual assault to have their experience disregarded when, like me, they probably felt pretty worthless, is like a goddamn kick in the teeth.
It was many long months before I acknowledged that I wasn’t worthless. I do matter. All women fucking matter.
Because women shouldn’t be afraid that they will be the one woman murdered every week in Australia. Or the one woman hospitalised every three hours due to domestic violence. Or the one in five women who will experience some form of physical or sexual abuse over their lifetime, many at the hands of men that they trusted.
These statistics are in Australia alone and can range higher still when considering factors such as age, race, women identifying as LGBTIQ, physical or mental impairment, drug and alcohol use, occupation and prior experiences of victimisation.
For far too long, the burden of preventing violence has been placed on the shoulders of these independent, capable and intelligent women.
So to all men, I’ll put it simply:
Do not rape women. Do not murder women. Do not physically or emotionally abuse or coerce women. Do not trivialise or excuse violence against women. Women owe you nothing. Even if you think you’re a Nice Guy.
Now, I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by many excellent men that I am beyond proud to know. Men who fiercely call out misogyny when they see it. Men who encourage and celebrate the achievements of women in their own lives and beyond. Men who see respect not as an act or a burden, but as an innate layer of what it is to be human.
And to these men: women need your help. Because you are a minority and that isn’t fucking good enough. Because the burden of violence prevention is on you. Calling out Nice Guys is on you as well.
Because men who don’t respect women don’t actually listen to women – even the Nice Guys. They just may listen to you.