Situational Awareness: Nice Guys vs. “Nice Guys”

They may look the same, but they’re not. Here’s how to tell them apart.

by posted on April 14, 2022
Istock Street Harassment

It’s nearly impossible to talk about armed self-defense for women without talking about gender roles and the differences between women and men. That’s for many reasons, the most obvious being that from a statistical perspective, men are far more likely to be physically violent towards women than the other way around. That fact colors the way we calculate risk and how we interact with men we don’t know. That said, it’s even more difficult to talk about armed self-defense for women without a bunch of men popping up in the comments section to argue that this discussion spends too much time on Bad Guys and not enough on Nice Guys. Today, I set out to correct that.

Because this is the Internet, a few caveats are in order. It is absolutely true that, from a statistical perspective, most of the men we meet in our daily lives are no threat to us. From a statistical perspective, the vast majority of men are (in fact) pretty nice. Only a tiny percentage actively wish to victimize us. The problem is that actual nice guys look exactly the same as the “Nice Guys.”

What makes a “Nice Guy” different from a guy who is nice?

A “Nice Guy” (which I’m going to call an NG from now on) is a man who uses social pressure to try to coerce you into doing things you don’t want to do. The NG may or may not want to actually harm you, but whatever it is he wants, he’s going to use the sheep’s clothing of niceness to try to get it. Since the NG is wearing the same costume as an actual nice guy, we can’t rely on visual cues. Here are some simple ways to tell NGs and nice guys apart.

Actual nice guys don’t need to tell you they’re nice.

Your Number One clue that you’re dealing with an NG is that he will tell you how nice he is. Over the course of your life, you’ve no doubt met some very nice people. Have they ever told you that they’re nice, or did you figure that out on your own or by hearing it from others? Actual nice men don’t need to tell you that they’re nice any more than hilariously funny people need to tell you that you’re laughing. If you’re still not convinced, ask yourself this question: When was the last time you felt the need to tell a total stranger that you are a nice woman?

Actual nice guys hate the thought of making you uncomfortable.

All men have a story about the time they were going somewhere on foot and realized (too late) that the woman walking in front of them had just sped up and crossed the street to get away from them. When real nice guys tell this story, you’ll hear genuine regret that they accidentally scared someone. When NGs tell this story, you’ll hear aggrieved anger. How dare she skedaddle away from him—he’s a Nice Guy!

Actual nice guys listen and learn.

Men who are actually nice may not be able to empathize directly with what it’s like to navigate life as a woman. They will try, though. Here’s an example. For most men, having their car break down on the side of the road is a massive inconvenience. Many of them feel compelled to help if they see someone broken down, in part because that's what they would want to have happen. However, for women, seeing those headlights pull up behind us in the breakdown lane can be absolutely terrifying. When you explain why that is to a man who is actually nice, he’ll do two things: First, he will believe you. Second, he'll modify his Helping Strangers plan to try to ease the fears of the stranger he wants to help.

The NG, on the other hand, just wants to argue that women stranded alone on the side of the road ought to be more grateful for his assistance.

The NG will always tell you how nice you aren’t.

Men who are nice are not only so confident in their niceness that they don’t need to tell everyone about it, they’re also secure enough to know that not everyone needs to experience their niceness right now. What do I mean by that? Nice guys understand that women have a right to exist in public without engaging everyone who wants to talk to them. If he approaches a woman and is rebuffed, he simply goes on about his day without arguing that she should pay attention to him.

The NG, on the other hand? He considers himself quite the arbiter of social discourse, and he has no problem telling you that he thinks you’re out of line. That’s because the NG knows that women are socialized to be polite, and therefore his first line of offense is to accuse you of being rude.

Nice guys vs. NGs and your situational awareness …

Just as only a fraction of all men are violent criminals, only a fraction of NGs are violent criminals. Many of them are just awkward and self-centered. It’s even possible for NGs to grow into actual nice guys with time. But that shouldn’t matter to any of us. We generally only have a few seconds to evaluate the risk to ourselves, and the risk of being victimized far outweighs the risk of being thought rude. So when you hear “BUT I’M A NICE GUY” being bellowed at your retreating back, know that it’s both irrelevant and probably not true.

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