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In response to the post below “Catching up with Bitch, PhD”

August 21, 2007

Rick Allen had this to say, in response to my complaining about how I am “nice”, and I think it’s discussion worthy:

I have to say I think “nice” gets a bad rap these days. What’s the opposite of “nice,” I wonder–nasty? abusive? cruel? hateful? I don’t know if those are particularly wonderful things.

So this idea of feeling guilty about being nice…I just think, the things we feel guilty about! OK, some study says that angry men make more money than angry women. I would imagine the same is true for greedy men, for thoughtless men, for clueless, prestige-chasing, status-seeking men as well. So what? If what we care about is only equality, well, then, yes, if that’s our only concern, then I guess we get upset that the angry, greedy women don’t do as well as the angry, greedy men. But if what we care about are the values of the gospel, I don’t think our aims are going to be satisfied by reaching of goal of having women reach parity with the men in terms of making this a cold, cruel world.

I more and more ask myself the question when I read these blogs, when does anger become hatred? What’s the real difference? That if someone’s “got it coming” that’s OK, that’s a healthy anger, but if they don’t, that’s hatred, and that’s not? If so, who doesn’t “have it coming”?

This, I hope you understand, is not directed against you. It is prompted by your plea of “guilty” to niceness. It made me wonder, why feel bad about politeness, patience, tact, sympathy?

And, if I can get just a little polemical about this, I don’t think it’s fundamentally a man/woman thing. It is an old observation that “nice guys finish last.” It’s not news to anyone. But it gives me some encouragement to realize that there plenty of people out there, men and women, who don’t sell out their humanity for that marginal buck. You seem to be one of them. Nothing to feel guilty about.

I guess, in a way, it’s true. God didn’t send me to the face of this earth with the ability to be cold or calculating. I’m far more of a cooperator than a conqueror.

I think, though, that there is another layer here. Often times, women who are “assertive” are perceived as “angry” and bitches, while angry men are thought to be assertive and perhaps assholish, but not necessarily angry.

So, I guess what I mean, is that I hope to become less dormatish, in as nice a way possible. You can be assertive without being a strident bitch, I just haven’t mastered the art (and may never, because I’m nice in a dormatish way).

But, in a way, I’d rather be nice then first, or richest or the one with the most power. It’s just the way I am, I guess.

Thoughts all?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2007 8:22 pm

    I think, Eileen, that you are right in that “nice” is a multivalent word (See??? I can use the word “multivalent” appropriately in a sentence, and that is perhaps the best thing I have done all day.) For women especially but not exclusively, “nice” can be a euphemism for “willing to sacrifice self in an unhealthy way, or efface self in an unhealthy way.” If this is what is being discussed, then the opposite is not “mean or nasty” but “healthily self-assertive” or “having appropriate boundaries.” Personally I do not agree that “becoming mean as a way to achieve parity with the dominant power structure” is something to be desired. I think that having a dominant power structure that is able to distinguish healthy self-assertion from aggression is the necessary correction for injustices of all kinds; and that takes a cultural change of heart, in many ways, so that genuine kindness, appropriate sacrifice, etc., can be seen and somehow rewarded. Self-assertive women should not be considered bitches when self-assertive men are rewarded. Cooperative men should not be disrespected. Etc., etc. But we are a long way away from the cultural shift that is required. It seems that we all need to distinguish between what is both internally healthy and in line with our spiritual values and sense of what God calls us to do, and then be prepared that the current social and political structure may have no clue what to do with us!!!

  2. August 21, 2007 9:14 pm

    It’s a fine line between being nice and being untrue to yourself. As you say, you can speak your mind without being hateful or strident. That’s the key.

  3. August 21, 2007 9:30 pm

    Right. What they said.

    It’s not that we’re aspiring to be mean, it’s that in aspiring to be appropriately assertive/intelligent/managerial/or whatever quality of leadership or strength you want to add, we are seen as “pushy, bitchy, angry, etc.” Not when we’re being mean, but when we’re being leaders. There’s a difference in perception about what qualities are OK in women and in men. Strong (not mean) men are usually well-received. Strong (not mean) women are often sabotaged for their perceived bitchiness.

    Like Terri said, big cultural shift needed for both men and women.

  4. August 22, 2007 6:10 am

    I take Rick’s point, but in Terri’s context; we live in a patriarchy, so the suspicion must be that, for a woman, “nice” is the opposite of “healthily self-assertive”, and, for men, it may disguise “cunning, manipulative.” Also, “nice” may disguise “passive-aggressive” in either case. Still, in all, we needn’t be ashamed or guilty for being nice.

    We do need to continue to resist those principalities and powers which shape this patriarchal context and pressure us to lead our lives in a manner contrary to the gospel.

  5. August 22, 2007 8:29 am

    Oooooooo, the good thing about being over 60 is that you can be nice and assertive both, and “they” attribute that to age. “They” make concessions for white haired women (been that way for over 10 years now), too. So, I can get by with being assertive, having boundaries, and occasionally being a sucker and a doormat. Sometimes all in the same day. I still struggle with anger, but only in very private moments.

  6. August 22, 2007 10:15 am

    another advantage of being over 60 is you can be a mean old lady! LOL — and then switch to nice and they say – “my isn’t she getting eccentric in her old age? She used to be so nice.” Being nice is not for wimps.

  7. August 22, 2007 11:06 am

    Sharecropper and Ann, amen. They cut you slack when you are a white-haired old lady (speaking for myself only with the old lady stuff).

    Seems to me, as I look back. that I’ve always been assertive, that I’ve tended to speak up for myself and made trouble for myself in the process, even in my school days. I don’t know where that came from.

    My husband worked for a regional university, and I watched some of the wives try to outdo one another with entertaining, and currying favor with the department head, and backstabbing to help their husbands get ahead, and I decided that I would not play that game.

    At that time, my children were young, and I was a stay-at-home mom. I told my husband that if his getting ahead in his profession depended on me and proper entertaining and the rest of that nonsense, then he would not move up.

    I am not competitive by nature, so that mitigates the assertiveness to a degree, I suppose. One can be assertive, but nice, but I was not always “nice”.

    When I worked, I had no desire to supervise others. I wanted to do my job and get paid a fair salary – which I very seldom did, but in my small town, there were not many options. If someone did me dirty, I let them know what I thought, and I might have come across as bitchy at the time. But generally they didn’t mess with me after that.

  8. August 22, 2007 2:27 pm

    Maybe nice is not the right word, since it popularly implies “doormat”.

    Compassionate works for me. You are assertive and opinionated, but compassionate. You say what you have to say without intentionally berating or hurting others.

  9. August 22, 2007 7:23 pm

    What happens when I don’t check your blog all of the time, Eileen…

    I agree totally with Trudi. When a woman, nice = doormat. I actually posted on this the other night, then took it down. My mom and my MIL *used* to be two of the “nicest” women you ever met. Then they got tired of being walked on by everyone, including their own children, and started to speak out. Now, both of them are “bitches”. Both of them have what I truly believe are rage induced diseases.

    Along with Eileen and many of us, I have been a “nice” (doormat) woman (common among many nurses I know). I attracted lots of power hungry folks, both men and women, as I would do what they said and not complain. Both of my ex-husbands were meglomaniacs (that is a huge post in itself, not appropriate here). Also, I have two ex-friends that became that way when I finally stood up to them, both in the last couple of years. They “divorced” me. Thinking back, I don’t miss either of them. They sucked all the energy out of me. Both of them needed someone they could control, and when I insisted on a partnership of equals, neither of them could be my friend any longer.

    I’ve gotten to the point where I let people know what I think, immediately. And yes, I’ve gotten some uncomplementary feedback. “You used to be so nice…” I’m not playing games anymore. I’m almost 50 and if I can’t say what I think and feel by this time, then go somewhere else.

  10. August 23, 2007 10:20 am

    I’m not playing games anymore. I’m almost 50 and if I can’t say what I think and feel by this time, then go somewhere else.

    Amen, Episcogranny!!!

    I’m all for being polite and pleasant. But “nice”? Not anymore. “Nice” almost made me lose my mind. “Nice” meant giving up myself so that other people could have their “wants” (as opposed to their “needs”) met.

    We should always be compassionate and kind—but those are different things than “nice,” at least where I come from…

  11. August 23, 2007 12:52 pm

    I think what gets me is the underlying assumption that “nice” (or “compassionate,” for those who may prefer a different word) and “angry” are mutually exclusive. In my experience, most people are perfectly capable of manifesting both qualities. And in different situations, either quality (or some combination of the two) would be entirely appropriate.

  12. August 23, 2007 3:15 pm

    What Trudi said about you, dear 🙂

  13. rick allen permalink
    August 27, 2007 6:38 am

    Eileeen, thanks for the temporary status of “web celeb,” though I seem to be coming back long after the train has left the stattion.

    I am not sure I buy the nice distinctions between niceness and the other acknowledged virtures ordinarily implied by it. The seemingly-universally-accepted connotation of “niceness” with being a doormat is interesting. It brought to mind the familiar story of St. Peter, who asked our Lord if he had been walked on sufficiently by forgiving his brother a full seven times, and being told, not seven, but seventy times seven. That is indeed a lot of forbearance. Should we perhaps call it being a “welcome mat” rather than being a “doormat”?

    On the more serious question, asked elsewhere also, and never answered, I keep wondering what the difference is between anger, which seems generally acclaimed, and hatred, which is not. I found the following distinction in the Summa Theologica, which is a bit convoluted (as usual), but helpful:

    “Now the object of anger is the same in substance as the object of hatred; since, just as the hater wishes evil to him whom he hates, so does the angry man wish evil to him with whom he is angry. But there is a difference of aspect: for the hater wishes evil to his enemy, as evil, whereas the angry man wishes evil to him with whom he is angry, not as evil but in so far as it has an aspect of good, that is, in so far as he reckons it as just, since it is a means of vengeance. Wherefore also it has been said above that hatred implies application of evil to evil, whereas anger denotes application of good to evil. Now it is evident that to seek evil under the aspect of justice, is a lesser evil, than simply to seek evil to someone. Because to wish evil to someone under the aspect of justice, may be according to the virtue of justice, if it be in conformity with the order of reason; and anger fails only in this, that it does not obey the precept of reason in taking vengeance. Consequently it is evident that hatred is far worse and graver than anger. ”

    This makes some sense to me, that anger is a less grave sin, even though internally it feels much like hatred, because the person who is angry has been wronged, and has some reason for the anger.

    But I’d further observe that those who hate will often have recourse to this distinction. No one claims to hate purely, but almost always claims that the hated person or group has wronged him, and has it coming. That ease of justification for hatred, coupled with a free pass for anger, may explain the great prevalance of both on the web, where the widespread disdain of “niceness” makes so many places so hostile, whether for good reason or no.

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