Being nice is seen as feminine, and there’s a lot of pressure on women to present themselves as nice, and to act nicely. Men can be celebrated for being ambitious, good leaders, and changemakers, but women who do the same are often called pushy, demanding, and unreasonable. I’m writing this post about the pressures I see put on people who present as female. If you identify with it for whatever reasons, I’m not going to argue with you! (not because I want to be nice, but because its not a good use of my energy.)
Being nice is a passive sort of state. A nice woman is not too sexually active or enthusiastic. She isn’t sweaty, or dirty. She doesn’t smell of alcohol or cigarettes. A nice woman is physically clean, and pleasing for others to look upon. She has no strong opinions or passions. Her voice is soft and quiet. She is a care giver and nurturer but doesn’t draw attention to that. Her home is nice. Her children are nice. She’s a fantasy figure for everyone obsessed with controlling female bodies and going back to an age when women knew their place.
There are things you can’t talk about while still being nice. Nice women don’t talk openly – and especially not in front of men – about sex, menstruation, menopause or pregnancy. These are dirty things that nice women know to hide, and thus don’t educate each other about. Nice women don’t talk about sexual assault, rape or child abuse. They don’t talk about abuse by men, they defend men, because it isn’t nice to suggest that men are abusive. Nice women are quick to say ‘not all men’ if they do have to deal with not-nice topics. If you are a nice woman, male comfort is more important than talking about things that aren’t nice.
The pressure to be nice is used most unpleasantly against black women, who often have the greatest need to speak up about abuse and oppression and are often characterised as aggressive and unpleasant for doing so. Being nice is proportionally harder in relation to how little privilege you have. It’s not so tough being nice when you’re comfortable and life is easy. It is a massive burden for people who are struggling. Making it the priority that disadvantaged women should be nice is an easy way to try and shut them up or ignore them.
Even in all female spaces and relationships between women, the pressure to be nice can cause a lot of problems. Nice women can’t easily talk about problems they have, and this can make them excellent facilitators for bullies and abusers – of all genders. Toxic women can be greatly enabled by nice women who won’t hear a bad word said about anyone. Nice women are likely to try and silence women who need to speak up about male abuse. Nice women minimalise abuse, encourage each other to see the best in people, to assume the motives were good, the intentions kind. ‘I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that’ is a staple of the nice woman.
Nice women don’t deal in problem solving. They deal in soothing noises and emotional support. This often functions to avoid changing anything. Nice women soothe each other over the behaviour of their men and children, their colleagues and families. Nice women are often made uncomfortable by people offering solutions. The point is not to challenge or change things, the point is to help each other cope with things as they are. Emotional support is nice. Radical change isn’t.
Being nice is a trap. It’s something we so often do to ourselves and each other. When we value it as a quality above all others, what we’re really valuing is people who don’t make a fuss, don’t change things, don’t speak up about what’s wrong. We don’t deal with social inequality by being nice and only saying nice things. We don’t deal with domestic violence, sexual assault and rape by only saying nice things to and about men. We don’t get to be complete human beings fully engaged with our own lives if all we can be is nice. In fact, nice can be pretty disgusting when you stop and look at it.