Connecting the dots: Nice Guys™, MRAs, mass shooters, and aggrieved entitlement

A few things happened in the last couple weeks that stood out to me because they felt connected. About a week ago someone showed me the hot new tumblr, Nice Guys of OKCupid.

Never before has Nice Guy Syndrome been so clearly illustrated.

Not long after that, I got a spike in hits recently from a not-so-feminist-friendly forum and as you might imagine, the comments coming in have been … unkind. One pointed me to a blog called “A Voice for Men.” Up for a good hate read, I clicked. This is what I saw on the site’s masthead.


Yep. Clear as day, right next to the words “compassion for boys and men” is an ad promising revenge on bitches with the graphic image of a bloody knife. So much for compassion. (This is also an example of their fine work.)

Men’s Rights Activism (MRA) is not a legitimate movement advocating for boys and men, but a vehicle for misogyny, violence, and hate. Even the Good Men Project, which has recently come under fire for their icky rape apologism, agrees that Men’s Rights is bullshit. David Futrelle wrote: “the more I delved into the movement online, the more convinced I became that, for most of those involved in it, the movement isn’t really about the issues at all—rather, it’s an excuse to vent male rage and spew misogyny online. To borrow a phrase from computer programmers: misogyny isn’t a bug in the Men’s Rights Movement; it’s a feature.”

MRA Marmoset gets it

Instead of advocating or protesting or doing anything really to better the lives of boys and men, MRAs just like to bash women and feminists in particular. And when I use the term “bash” I mean it both figuratively (complaining about them on the internet) and literally (advocating for violence against women, often supposedly “in jest”). And handy for them, MRAs’ misogyny is supported and reinforced by dominant cultural beliefs about women being manipulative, back-stabbing sluts.

Like everyone else, I’ve also spent a lot of time this week reading and reflecting on the horrific tragedy at Newtown’s Sandy Hook elementary school. I came across a great Examiner piece by William Hamby on school shootings and white, male privilege that introduced me to the concept of “aggrieved entitlement.”

Aggrieved entitlement is a term used to explain the psychology behind mass shooters, which have all been white males. It is perhaps best defined by Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) in their article, Suicide by mass murder: Masculinity, aggrieved entitlement, and rampage school shootings:

These perpetrators were not just misguided ‘kids’, or ‘youth’ or ‘troubled teens’ – they’re boys. They are a group of boys, deeply aggrieved by a system that they may feel is cruel or demeaning. Feeling aggrieved, wronged by the world – these are typical adolescent feelings, common to many boys and girls. What transforms the aggrieved into mass murders is also a sense of entitlement, a sense of using violence against others, making others hurt as you, yourself, might hurt. Aggrieved entitlement inspires revenge against those who have wronged you; it is the compensation for humiliation. Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man. Aggrieved entitlement is a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.

Aggrieved entitlement is the thread connecting Nice Guys™, MRAs, and mass shooters. I spent a couple hours yesterday drawing webs, diagrams, and graphs trying to figure this all out. I wanted to see if I could diagram the different expressions and mutations of aggrieved entitlement in relation to variables like aggression, perceived threat of emasculation, introversion, extroversion, isolation, etc. I wasn’t able to come up with a model that made sense to represent this whole mess, but I did come up with a hypothesis.

MRAs and mass shooters probably started out as Nice Guys™. 

Now, I realize I can’t prove this hypothesis. I also don’t want to be misunderstood — I am not saying that all Nice Guys™ are future murderers or bigots. I just believe that they have the potential to be, depending on their circumstances and the influence of certain variables.

For example, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ who experiences rejection and the perceived threat of emasculation who is an extrovert may seek connection and community on the internet, and may one day become an MRA. An aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ who experiences rejection and the perceived threat of emasculation who is an introvert, on the other hand, may bottle up his anger and frustration. If you factor in aggression and the desire for revenge, that Nice Guy™ could be positioned to become an Adam Lanza or Seung-Hui Cho.

Of course, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ could become a lot of things. He could become an abusive partner, a rapist, the next radio host calling Sandra Fluke a “slut,” or the next right-wing Republican congressman trying to legislate birth control. But just as likely, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ could grow out of it. He could get educated and learn to understand the problems with this way of thinking and go on to become a perfectly healthy, well-adjusted, non-misogynist man and partner.

So, how do we make that happen? What can we do to help Nice Guys™ climb their way out of that aggrieved entitlement rabbit hole?

In a perfectly timed Cracked article, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, David Wong gives some straight talk advice to Nice Guys™:

“I read several dozen stories a year from miserable, lonely guys who insist that women won’t come near them despite the fact that they are just the nicest guys in the world.”

“I’m asking what do you offer? Are you smart? Funny? Interesting? Talented? Ambitious? Creative? OK, now what do you do to demonstrate those attributes to the world? Don’t say that you’re a nice guy — that’s the bare minimum. Pretty girls have guys being nice to them 36 times a day.”

“…don’t complain about how girls fall for jerks; they fall for those jerks because those jerks have other things they can offer. “But I’m a great listener!” Are you? Because you’re willing to sit quietly in exchange for the chance to be in the proximity of a pretty girl (and spend every second imagining how soft her skin must be)? Well guess what, there’s another guy in her life who also knows how to do that, and he can play the guitar.

It’s a good start, but we need to do more than explain that being nice isn’t enough to get girls.

We need to teach boys how to be friends with women. We need to teach them that friendship and kindness are standard elements of being a decent human being, not precious commodities to be rewarded or paid for in sex. We need to teach boys that rejection is a normal part of life, and to stop lashing out at All Women Ever when they feel hurt. We need to teach boys that violence doesn’t make them any more of a “man,” and that revenge is never the answer.

The past few weeks have been full of finger-pointing and solution-hunting. Gun control, mental health, and school security are all important things to talk about in light of what happened at Sandy Hook. However, the issue is larger than Sandy Hook and larger than mass shootings.

This issue at hand is the complex web of sexism, misogyny, and violence that spawns from aggrieved entitlement. In my opinion, the best place to start this deeply important work is consciousness raising with those young, marginalized, and misguided kids who identify themselves to us as “Nice Guys.”

While Nice Guys of OKCupid is a great tool to help explain Nice Guy Syndrome and raise awareness of the problem, it’s also a vehicle to further shame and humiliate kids who already feel marginalized and rejected. It’s not going to help them, and they need help. This is the real challenge. How do we reach out to them? How do we get through to them?

We need to start thinking of solutions; the potential cost of ignoring or further humiliating Nice Guys™ is far too scary to ignore.

The personal, the political, and the public persona: My journey towards transparency and authenticity in the digital age

Sure the personal is political, but is the personal professional?

As a person who has been writing and networking on the internet since she was 14 — before anyone had any idea of what one should or shouldn’t say on the internet — my web footprint is broad and messy. Now that I am an online communications/social media professional (a “specialist” according to my job title), I need to have a public, professional online persona. But how do I create an authentic, professional public identity without hiding or erasing my not-so-professional internet history?

I started using Facebook as a college sophomore in 2004. At the time, Facebook was limited to college students and because the network felt so insular and protected, I wantonly posted photos from events like “The Less You Wear, the Less You Pay Dance” and steamy photos of my summer abroad, which I spent clubbing in Sevilla with hot Spanish boys.  I wrote highly inappropriate status updates with plenty of profanity. Because, why not? It’s not like parents, professors, or employers would ever be on Facebook, right? (D’oh!)

Today I use Twitter for professional networking, but my Facebook profile is another story. With photos and details of all my lurid undergraduate exploits, is not the most work-friendly. Two years ago I created a second “dummy” Facebook profile partly to use for professional networking and partly as a way to hide my real one. It’s a crappy solution; I hate maintaining two profiles, so I rarely check the dummy one. I do this even though I’m fully aware that it doesn’t make sense to be on Facebook for professional reasons if you never update your account. Not to mention the fact that it looks really bad when a so-called social media professional doesn’t appear to actually use Facebook.

I also feel guilty because my second Facebook profile feels like a betrayal of trust. Over the past two years I have accepted friend requests from people expecting to get something out of it. Implicit in the action of becoming “Facebook friends” is the mutual granting of access to our lives, our “real selves.” I have betrayed this trust; while I am privileged to the details of their lives, they get nothing from me besides a few outdated photos and a status update every few months.

I’ve thought about cleaning up my real Facebook profile and deleting and untagging everything that’s professionally “iffy.” But I can’t do it. I don’t want to delete photo albums from the Rocky Horror Picture Show or memorable college parties. I don’t want to stop posting inappropriate or silly things on my wall.  That stuff is an important part of my identity and my personal history, and I would feel like I had lost something without it.

There’s also the issue of my feminist writing and link-sharing, which happens daily on my “real” Facebook page. Talkin’ Reckless is a progressive, feminist, sex-positive, and argumentative blog — and  for that reason linking to it could be professionally problematic. These days I work at a progressive women’s organization, but in the next few years I’ll be switching careers and job hunting and potentially working for organizations or companies that may be uncomfortable hiring a *public* feminist, or an activist of any kind.

I have known for some time that I would eventually merge my two Facebook profiles and let colleagues and everyone else see the “real” me. But I have hesitated, because this is terrifying. The real me still gets drunk at parties where people drink beer out of red solo cups. The real me still attends fabulous/scandalous events in various states of undress. The real me uses the f-word. The real me has multiple identities that don’t always co-exist comfortably: feminist activist; aspiring writer; social media professional; grad student; blog editor; health communication professional; improv comedian; teacher. The real me is also an atheist Jew who’s highly ambivalent about being involved in the organized Jewish community. And sometimes, the real me makes mistakes.

But the real me is also just a person, with a family, friends, and hobbies who takes pleasure in cat videos and silly Tumblr memes just like everybody else. And I know that sharing those “humanizing” aspects of my real self are a critical part of making connections, networking, and building relationships online.

A part of me would love to just put it all out there — to create a professional homepage of sorts, maybe a public Google profile, where I could direct people to my Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, Picassa, Flickr, (dear god – are there more?) and various blogs. The idea appeals to my sense of organization and my ego. I like the idea of marketing myself. But if all of my web usage became part of a grand self-marketing scheme, would my online life still be authentic or would it turn into a performance?  I’m also not sure I want to be that findable. After all, how much information do I want the random Googler to know about me? Good social media networking requires an online presence, but I’m struggling to figure out how wide and how deep it should go.

I’m not going so far as to promote and advertise my entire web CV, but I’m making a big change today. I’m deleting my second Facebook profile (soon) and inviting you to come find me at my real Facebook page. From now on, I’m going to practice what I preach.  I’ll still use the “limited profile” and other privacy restrictions when appropriate; they are valid and useful tools. I also wont usually accept friend requests from people I don’t actually know, but I invite those folks to follow me on Twitter where they can reach out to me and start a conversation. You can also add me to your circles on Google+.

Today, I’m taking that giant leap towards transparency and authenticity. I’m also taking a leap of faith that society — and all of my future employers — will adjust and embrace this brave new world of public identity that is simultaneously personal, political, and professional.