Hello Groupthink! I've been waiting to write this post for about a week now, but the bf (I don't have a good male counterpart to my screen name. Sad.) was visiting and I was distracted from most interneting.
Last week I was in NYC. My mother grew up there, my grandmother and a lot of my family live there still. As atrocious as it is, I know to expect your basic-level sexist street harassment. I also know to expect your basic-level driving assholery. I get it, and I'm prepared, and I know how to throw it back. But this time something really threw me.
My grandmother (who is pretty fit but is 73 and moves slowly sometimes because she's 73) was getting out of a cab. It was taking her a minute. I got out first to help her out, and the car waiting behind us starts flashing its lights. Now, this is a wide enough street that if this lady hadn't been tailgating us all the way down the street and therefore pulled up too close, she could have gone around quite easily (one-way street with basically no car traffic). But I get it, I don't like it wait either, she could be in a hurry. I see her window is open so I call back to her "Just give us a second, my grandmother is paying and getting out" very nicely, I swear. She keeps flashing her lights. Finally I turn around and look at her like "What would you like me to do? Have the car take off with my grandma in it?" Finally I get my grandmother out of the cab, so this lady can now see that an elderly woman was trying to get out and starts honking like crazy, not because we're holding her up anymore but just to voice her displeasure. Seriously she just sits there and honks. At this point I flip her off. I know I shouldn't have, but she was being a total asshole, and I was fully expecting a "fuck you" back because I know how this works and that's fine.
What I didn't expect was for her to drive past soooo slowly and say "Nice girl, niiiiice girl." I just said "whatever" as disdainfully as I could, but it really made me mad. First of all, I do not have to be nice to you. I don't know you. My sole interaction with you has been you being a dick to me and my grandmother. Social convention dictates that we maintain a level of politeness to each other even as strangers, but you threw that out the window honey. Second, as discussed on the mainpage in this post on the societal implications of being "nice" for women, I resent the expectation that I should allow a person to be rude to me because I should be a "nice girl."
So I was already thinking about the implications of being nice. Then, I'm about to get in another cab to get to the train and my grandmother is saying goodbye and she says "Be nice." Now, what the fuck. I know she's not referring to the cab incident because we both agreed that that woman was being outrageous. And so I say "I'm very nice, I don't know what's going on here." Which is true. I've so bought in to the convention of "niceness" that I have spent the past year in therapy just working on getting to be able to express my emotional needs without feeling like I'm not being "nice." I have been a doormat most of my life. Apparently, earlier in the week, we had been going downstairs to head out. She had nothing in her hands and mine were full. She asked if I could bring down her iPhone. I said "Sure" and then I realized I actually couldn't and said "Actually my hands are pretty full, can't you take it?" And that offended her, because no one says no to her. So she says, after deflecting a bit, "Well, like, with the iPhone. Whenever you're going to respond to someone just think 'iPhone iPhone iPhone'" This is all about revenge for saying no to her, but still it really upsets me, so I start to cry (don't judge me, I was already sick that day!). She asks me what's wrong and so I say "I really don't think that's fair, I had my hands full, I'm a nice person!" So she gets upset because I'm making her feel guilty, and it's all bullshit.
Anyway the point is, I'm frustrated. I'm tired of the convention of "niceness" and it's value in terms of a person's worth. I'm disappointed in myself that I bought into it so much that I couldn't write off either of those interactions as the bullshit they were. And I'm beginning to see the concept of "nice" as a dangerous one. Once you buy into it, it gives abusive or toxic people in your life an "in" to keep you from setting limits with them, and establishing your own needs and parameters for a relationship. Because all that person has to do is accuse you of not being "nice" because you've asserted yourself, and you have to apologize. But nice isn't the opposite of mean or cruel or hurtful, and it's not a synonym for friendly or polite, and when we do not distinguish the exact meaning of being nice it is hard to see why niceness, as a value, is intrinsically harmful to women.
This was pretty long, and I feel like it was rather rambling. Hopefully as I post more I'll get more concise!