So the other day I read this article, which is actually just the introduction to a book, called Nice is Just a Place in France. It begins with a humorous jab at Helen Keller. (I’m no stranger to the Helen Keller jokes floating around everywhere–apparently it’s fun to make fun of a blind and deaf woman–but just because one appears won’t deter me from reading something.) This inauspicious beginning rightly foreshadowed the nasty nature of the work. The three young ladies who wrote the book, who call themselves “The Betches,” claim that “in most cases conventional wisdom can and should go f— itself” and that for too long girls have been told they should be nice. Nice meaning meek, submissive, boring, shallow doormats. It’ll be easier to just quote them:
The nicegirl plays by the rules without ever questioning them. She’s dull, lacks depth, lets people walk all over her, yet brings nothing to the table. If she disappeared, you wouldn’t even notice. She’s the girl who rarely colors outside the lines of her life, and even then only in baby pink. She’s the kind of girl who uses a real bookmark. In other words, she’s boring.
Do I think that anyone should lack depth, never question anything, or let people walk all over them? Not at all. Insofar as this is The Betches message, I agree with them. It’s what comes next that’s the problem.
What’s so bad about being nice? Nothing. We have no problem with girls who are nice people, though we personally know only one or two. All we’re saying is that you should learn to be a girl who looks out for herself first and does not allow others to take advantage of her. Ideally, you should be doing the advantage-taking.
So they say there’s nothing wrong with being nice and they have no problem with it, but then they go ahead and say ‘but you should actually be this way.’ Doesn’t make sense. What’s worse, though, is that they say “you should be doing the advantage-taking.” You can be a strong, independent young woman who doesn’t let anyone take advantage of her without taking advantage of others. And “be a girl who looks out for herself first”? I understand they want a girl to understand that she’s important and has value and worth, but I don’t know that that’s the best way of putting it. But let’s look further at what they say before we actually say more.
The Introduction proposes a solution to what it calls “nicegirls.” This is the betch. It’s like the b-word except not quite as mean and horrible (because every girl is a b-word sometimes, apparently–she just doesn’t like to be called one). Here’s their description of a betch:
You may not know the word, but you definitely know the girl. She’s the girl who has guys wrapped around her finger, whose outfit is always perfectly conceived, and who magically accomplishes whatever she wants, whether it’s getting an amazing job at twenty-two or engaged at twenty-five, and she does it effortlessly. She may seem unapproachable, but those who are lucky enough to know her are likely to claim that she’s “really great if you’re friends with her, but she can be a huge b—h.”
But unlike those girls who peak in high school, the betch is the one who always has (mostly) everything figured out, minus maybe a stomach pump or two. Everything she associates with is trendy, every guy wants to date her, and every girl wants to be her friend, but not because she’s, like, kind or anything. She’s edgy, speaks her mind, and commands a room just by being in it.
The girl they describe here is not one that I or any of the girls I know would want to be. First of all, she’s not nearly as perfect as she seems. Having guys falling all over you? What about all the guys that do that you don’t want to date and it ruins otherwise nice friendships or maybe just annoys you that every stranger you meet hits on you? And always having a perfectly conceived outfit only happens for a select few–and I have a feeling people differ on what a perfectly conceived outfit is anyway. And if one of my friends said I was great to my friends but I would be a b—h to everyone else, then I’d really question that friend. I know that’s not exactly what that sentence says, but that’s what it implies.
She can do whatever she wants effortlessly? You can never do everything that you want. Life is always out of your control except for the actions you take, and sometimes life is going to hit you with a whammy even if you think you’re doing everything right. And oftentimes, that which looks effortless actually takes a lot of work, but seems effortless because someone enjoys what they’re doing and puts 100% into it. And if people think that someone can have everything figured out–see the above words on how life isn’t under your control. That doesn’t mean we have no responsibility, but that means that we shouldn’t expect everything to go our way and so should take it in stride when thing’s don’t. Look at what Lady Philosophy says to Boethius in the Consolation of Philosophy. Lady Philosophy reminds Boethius that men come into the world with no possessions and entitled to nothing, and if Fortune sees fit to make him rich, great. If she then sees fit to make him poor, he shouldn’t complain, because Fortune gave him the riches in the first place out of the sheer goodness of her heart, so to speak.
The worst part is the last few sentences. “Everything she associates with is trendy, every guy wants to date her, and every girl wants to be her friend, but not because she’s, like, kind or anything. She’s edgy, speaks her mind, and commands a room just by being in it.” This description only allows for one kind of personality. I know I don’t command a room just by being in it, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like being in the room and that the people there don’t respect me or want me there. I personally don’t want to be the center of attention–having to direct conversation for a group of people just causes me great anxiety. I’d rather just listen to what people have to say and pipe up when I feel like it (although I want people to talk–seemingly awkward silences get to me) Ok, sure, do I want to speak my mind, yes. Just not when I think it’s inappropriate to do so (like if it would get on my friend’s last nerve because she’s had a horrible day, or if I think it would push someone away and rile them up instead of helping them). And I’m not particularly edgy, either, I’m a person who prefers comfort and familiarity–although I do push myself out of my comfort zone (those hikes in the Italian mountains were pretty steep…and a bit scary…but I’m glad I went on them).
That’s not to say that there’s something wrong with being edgy, or being the center of attention, or speaking one’s mind–there are plenty of people who liking doing that, and that’s totally cool. They should be who they are. No, the problem that lies here is twofold: firstly, every personality is different and not everyone is going to want to be edgy or the center of attention. They will (gasp!) be happier not being noticed by everyone. Secondly (and for this post’s purposes more importantly) people don’t want to be this “betch’s” friend or date her because she’s kind or has a good character. They want to be her friend because she’s trendy. They want to be her friend because they want to share her limelight, because they want power. They don’t care about her, they care about her things and about what she can give them. She doesn’t seem to care about others, either. And if she acts the way she does, she may have some friends, but she’s more likely to alienate people than not. Because the girl they describe sounds abrasive, domineering, arrogant, and maybe even manipulative. Not someone you want to be or have as a friend. If you are her you’ll be extremely self-centered and not be truly happy; if you have her as a friend, she’ll eventually drop you like a hot potato when you’re no longer useful to her. (If you’ve ever seen Flower Boy Next Door, think Cha Do Hwi. She makes me wanna puke.)
See a theme here? Power. Domination. Selfishness. This is what these girls appear to be advocating. If you read the article, you’ll notice they talk about succeeding and winning and getting what you want, about dominating everything and everyone in your path. They focus totally on the material side of things. But life isn’t about that. Life is about being happy. And being happy means loving God and others (and yourself).
The last beef with them I’ll mention is here. It could be that they’re just being disingenuous or not so serious when attacking the little axioms at the beginning of the article. Yet they seem so serious about everything else—about how people should live their lives–that I see their drawing these proverbs out and laughing at them as kind of silly. Saying that life isn’t like a box of chocolates? Well, it is, actually. You never really know what you’re gonna get. Sometimes you do, because you recognize it. Sometimes you like what you taste, sometimes you don’t. But life, like most chocolate boxes, is full of variety, so you should prepare to be surprised. And a watched pot never boils? Who said that scientifically speaking watched pots don’t boil? This axiom isn’t about that. It’s about how long we think it takes to boil–about perception. Whoever answered this question on wiki.answers.com did a wonderful job of explaining that. So what it really means is sometimes you just have to walk away from something or let it do its own thing then come back to it. Sometimes you have to get a fresh perspective. Or even, you just have to leave it alone.Therefore, I fail to see why these phrases should “go f—” themselves, considering that at least the latter gives rather good advice.
The comebacks that these three women give to these axioms, whether they are meant seriously or jestingly, miss the intent of the proverbs–they are to be applied practically, just as the girls’ objections were practical, but not meant to be understood literally as the girls choose to here interpret them: that if you watch your real, physical, pot the water will never boil while you watch it, or that you should go around trying to bite different things and see what kind of truffle they taste like, or gorge yourself on truffles (quite on the contrary, you’re supposed to exercise self-control and learn discernment). Simply put, if they were trying to make me laugh by pointing out the triteness of these phrases, they failed. Miserably. Again, I could be taking them too seriously, and I have not read the book, just the introduction as presented in the article. I assume the book continues in the same vein (if it doesn’t, someone please tell me), so unless it’s a complete and total satire so great that I miss the joke like Swift’s contemporaries did with Gulliver’s Travels, I think my assumption is safe.
The big question out of all of this, though, is this: if a girl isn’t supposed to be a b-word, a betch, or a doormat “nicegirl,” what should she be? That is a whole ‘nother post.