There’s been a lot of internet discussion around the new phenomenon of the ‘Nice Guy’. The Nice Guy is your friend. He listens to what you have to say. He cares about you. Isn’t he nice? Well, he certainly thinks he is. But the Nice Guy is only nice, because the maths he mislearned in school was Nice + Woman = Sex. No no, Mr Nice Guy. No no. That’s some pathetic mansplainy bullshit you got right there.
But this has set me thinking about Medieval Chivalry, and really what a ‘retro’ pattern that of the ‘Nice Guy’ is. You see, it’s all about the illusion that the woman has a choice, while the man fulfils and social ritual that is essentially meaningless, and then reverts back to his privilege. No woman in a medieval romance ever refuses a man who fights valiantly for her. There’s a practical element to all of this, you know. Are you going to say no to the man who has just knocked all the other men down when you are a woman without a sword? So courtly love makes it seemly. Just like being a “Nice Guy” and pretending to be friends with someone before you pressure them into sex is just a seemly (or not so seemly – sorry Nice Guys, we ain’t so fooled) illusion that does painfully little to conceal the fact that an assumption of ownership is being made by any male who takes care of a woman. Is kind to her. Implicit in this is that she owes him something because he has not pressed his advantage, when the reality is that he already has.
I’m not saying men shouldn’t be polite to women. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be aware of their physical strength. I’m not even saying that they shouldn’t pull out chairs or open doors. People should do those things for people, because it’s friendly. No, what I am talking about is different. Kindness, that is aiming for something. Kindness that is not disinterested. The kindness of the ‘Nice Guy’. The chivalry of the medieval knight, who is conveniently also looking for a wealthy patroness. It’s like the mafia’s protection racket. I’m being kind to you. I could harm you, but I’m not. You owe me something.
The ‘Nice Guys’ say they are hard done by. They are kind and polite to women, and all the women want the bad boys (that’s a whole pile of sexist bullshit, but I will leave that there because I think we’re getting into tl;dr territory). But what is all this “politeness”, this “kindness” worth if it is all proprietorial? If you are kind to me to express that I belong to you, and should be grateful for it? If it comes with pressure attached to respond in kind?
For my part, my answer is no. You can’t have my castle or my land. I don’t care how many stanzas of Troilus and Criseyde you memorised because I liked it. I don’t owe you shit.