Women and Virtue: The Betch

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.

Probably the image you get from their description, right? Some repressed product of an oppressive patriarchy? Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com

Probably the image you get from their description, right? Because this kind of thing makes you think of some milquetoast product of an oppressive patriarchy? Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com

 

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.

Photo courtesy freerangestock.com

Photo courtesy freerangestock.com

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.

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11 comments

  1. medievalotaku · October 7, 2013

    I think the bloggers of Lady Geek Girl would hate this post. Are you familiar with their blog? I mostly read them for the anime posts nowadays and find myself avoiding their more political ones.

    I find the modern (or post-modern?) woman’s dislike of the old stereotype most curious. The greatest woman who ever lived, Mary, was also the most humble and through her quiet humility became a great model for both men and women. By being pushy and seeking popularity, one likely departs from one’s genuine personality, alienates others, and actually becomes a smaller person as a result.

    In my study of the Civil war, the most interesting circumstance presents itself in that the greatest men of that conflict were also the meekest. Lee was rather shy and perfectly obedient to the President Davis’s wishes. Grant sought to credit others more than himself. Joshua Chamberlain described as having “the courage of a lion and the heart of a women.” Even Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose face flushed crimson and veins seems visibly darker during battle, was said to have possessed perfect equanimity when not on campaign. And these were men!

    Perhaps the problem is not that women seek to be more assertive in a rebellion from the patriarchal societies of the past, but that humility and meekness are just not popular virtues in modern times?

    • Nami · October 7, 2013

      I haven’t read many of their posts, but I think I have read their about page. From what I remember I am inclined to agree
      with you.

      Definitely! I don’t understand why some women have a problem with it. I think a lot of them see it as advocating a totally passive role. In the lit class I took in Rome over the summer, we read some dolce stil nuovo poets and some Petrarch, and looked at some paintings. When we talked about Botticelli’s Primavera in class, our teacher told us what each figure represented. Three of the figures are the three graces representing chastity, beauty, and love. When one of my classmates ventured to say that he thought it was a good thing for people (even if they were part of an oppressive patriarchy) to have expectations of these sorts of virtue from women, or to admire these virtues in women, our teacher shut him down and pretty much said you still couldn’t deny that the poets and painters were just holding women up on a pedestal and objectifying them.

      Some women get so reactionary. I’d definitely say it’s because humility and meekness are not valued much at all (people still use the “oppressive patriarchy” excuse, which is bull). I’m just confounded as to why. Where did this dislike come from? I suppose selfishness and pride, that we’re not willing to put ourselves aside? That’s all that I can think of, because I don’t see this “betch” as saying “I’m going to pound men into the ground.” She’s more like, “I’m going to use and steamroll over everyone in my path so I can get what I want.” And what you say about seeking popularity as alienating is definitely true. The kind of popularity they “Betches” describe isn’t even about other people–it’s about the person seeking to be popular. Does that make sense? I think some people want to be popular because they want to be liked and some people want to be popular because they specifically want to be the object of that liking. That is, the person seeking to be liked cares about what other people think of him because he wants them to think well of him, where as the other person seeks to be worshipped he can use that hero worship to get something. Popularity becomes a means to an end. The latter especially alienates people because in the end he doesn’t care about people–as long as he can use them to get what he wants, he probably doesn’t care whether they like him or not. Like a betch probably doesn’t care about the people she’s not friends with, which is why she acts like a b*tch toward them. So it’s worse that just accidentally alienating people–it’s almost an intention alienation.

      I guess what it comes down to is that people misunderstand humility. It’s not dullness or weakness, it’s not stultifying or stagnant, it doesn’t mean being passive and doing nothing: it’s actually rather dynamic. I mean, all those men from the Civil War era you mention? I wouldn’t call them dull or passive or doormats.

      • medievalotaku · October 7, 2013

        Petrarch’s poems are something I really want to read more of. The English translations were beautiful enough to make me want to learn Italian.

        Humility has always been a difficult virtue for people because it involves admissions of imperfection and a willingness to put others first. Perhaps, this is a particularly difficult virtue for moderns because it is usually gained by suffering and failure in attaining one’s desires. Moderns have a particularly easy life. War, famine, and epidemics are rare in the First World. Often, people are able to plan out their lives with exactitude and gain overconfidence in their own abilities. This condition inhibits humility and is ripe for the growth of pride.

        Once again, I envy that class of yours in the dolce stil nuovo movement. I don’t think that I’ll ever learn enough to make The Divine Comedy lucid to me, and I count the middle ages as my favorite period!

        • Nami · October 7, 2013

          I find Petrarch interesting but I need to take a class that really teaches me about him–the one I had in Rome, while teaching me some things, was haphazard at best. We didn’t have a textbook or anthology or anything, no scholarship to go by except for what our teacher gave us (which were her own notes and thoughts–at least I think that’s all they were because there were no references for anything). Since I got mired in frustration with the lack of scholarship and my skepticism of her own view of Petrarch, it made it difficult to really appreciate him. Maybe I *should* take that Renaissance class next semester…

          We really do have it easy. I’ve always had more than enough and haven’t struggled materially speaking. I find that I intellectually know things but never truly realize them unless I’ve actually experienced them in some way. Like I never knew the craziness of things young adults do until I came to college and had friends who became RAs. I’m still amazed and horrified, even though I’ve always technically known that people do these things. And even then, I’m not actually caught up in all that stuff happening: I just know it exists. Same thing with war and famine. That’s probably one reason we think we can do anything–we say, “that won’t happen to me” just because it hasn’t so far. I almost wish something would happen so I’d be forced to really work for something for once in my life.

          One could also say this situation makes humility difficult because men have to be motivated from within, to really choose humility. Not that people in depressed circumstances don’t have to choose or can’t be proud, but they can’t escape the suffering in a physical sense. For someone with in a position where humility doesn’t seem to have any use, learning and choosing it would be a lot more difficult.

          Even better than the class in Rome I was my class on the Divine Comedy. After a semester we didn’t even scratch the surface of that poem (or our teacher’s knowledge of it) and we were all over the place looking at Medieval Italian culture, politics, theology, etc. I like the Middle Ages myself (love the mythology we get from them), though I don’t really know much about them. My first real introduction were my Early Medieval Ireland (I was so happy: it was taught by an Irish Oxfordian and Trinity College Dublin grad) and Medieval Lit courses.

          • medievalotaku · October 8, 2013

            So true.

            When it comes to Petrarch though, he does not need to be taught–merely enjoyed. His poetry is absolutely beautiful! Robert M. Durling has a great translation in his bi-lingual edition. You should see if you could find it.

            • Nami · October 13, 2013

              Mmm…I guess that’s true. I just find myself better able to enjoy certain poetry when I’m analyzing it. I know from a lot of my posts it seems like I analyze EVERYTHING (and sometimes I do) but for most things I actually do just enjoy and appreciate them. Some poetry is a weird exception. I will definitely have to check that translation out!

    • Nami · October 7, 2013

      And the other thing: nowadays people don’t know what it means to be a man or a woman. They try to define gender and sexuality however they wish, which really just further confuses everyone. I wrote a paper on Aphorism 363 from Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” about romantic love and men and women’s romantic relationships. While I was writing it I talked to a psych teacher about differences between men and women, that my belief was men and women are different and that even if they do the same things they’ll do them in a specifically masculine or feminine way, but I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly the difference was and didn’t know of any evidence to corroborate my thoughts. She told me that I was definitely right and helped me flesh things out.

      It makes me think of your post on Freezing Zero, about how unsettling it was to have a woman hit a woman. There’s something about that that seems very unreal and weird to me too, and I’m thinking it might be because that’s not usually how women interact with each other. Because even if women were the majority of the military, it would be a feminine military and not a masculine one. They’d be fighting in a feminine way, and physically beating someone just isn’t quite the thing–I just don’t see a woman doing it that way. Psychological and emotional manipulation would seem more realistic.

      • medievalotaku · October 7, 2013

        I must agree. Post-moderns have rejected the Aristotelian notion that things have a nature to conform to. I remember someone telling me that flat out when I argued that homosexuality was against nature. (Of course, it is in the nature of homosexuals to be homosexual, but heresies always contain inconsistencies.)

        In Freezing, there is a ton of psychological and emotional manipulation–mostly among the Pandoras themselves! But, it’s fantasy and they’re fighting monsters, so manipulation cannot be employed in that combat. I can’t imagine a mostly female infantry, even though female troops placed in combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan did perform in the highest traditions of the military. I do remember being told somewhere that men have a greater ability to disconnect their actions from their emotions. Ulysses S. Grant commented in his biography that it was possible to witness thousands of the enemy being mowed down in battle, but afterwards he had the highest degree of pity for the wounded Confederates. But, this goes back to the idea that men and women are made differently.

        • Nami · October 7, 2013

          Even after reading philosophers explaining why they think things have no natures or that there’s no objective truth or reality, I still don’t understand them. Sometimes they make just want to pull my hair out.

          Very true–can’t have fight physically attacking monsters that way.

          From what I know/have heard, men tend to compartmentalize while women tend to synthesize emotion and action so that makes sense. The analogy I’ve heard (there’s a book with this proximate title) is that men are like waffles, women are like spaghetti. This reminds me of something I read in C.S. Lewis and I can’t remember where it’s from, darn it! We were reading it for a psych class, and the passage was talking about man’s headship of the family. I don’t remember if this was from Lewis himself or an extrapolation from his point, but we ended up discussing the scenario of something happening to a couple’s child, say the neighbor kid hurt him or something. Essentially, the dad would deal with talking to the neighbor better than the mother would, because she has this protective maternal instinct that could get in the way of her dealing justly and well with the neighbor. Not that dad wouldn’t be upset too, of course.

          • medievalotaku · October 8, 2013

            True. My father actually has an interesting story of when he, as a young kid, was beaten up by a few boys. His father actually sought out the boys with him so that they could have a fair fight! Ah, the good old days!

            But, those philosophers who insist that things do not have a particular nature are not even worthy of the name, I think.

      • medievalotaku · October 10, 2013

        Actually, I’m on a military base right now, and it seems like a good one-third of the troops are women! I suppose that we may be pretty close to having an all women army at this rate! 🙂

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