Nice guys or more lies: The illusion of the ‘nice guy'


The 'nice guy' trope hides a darker reality of misogyny

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Image by Photo Phiend

By Juliette Barlow

CONTENT WARNING: this article contains reference to sexual assault

Ironically, I was in the Nouse elections when the text came through from one of my friends. "Have you seen the Rex Orange County news?” she asked. “Feel sick.” A second later, the screenshot comes in - "Singer Rex Orange Country accused of sexually assaulting woman in a taxi and at his home." I immediately start furiously googling, insisting to myself that there has to be more to the story. But as I scroll through article after article, I too, begin to feel increasingly sick. Every news outlet is carrying the same story; the singer, whose real name is Alexander O’Conner, has been charged with six counts of sexual assault over the course of two days. According to the victim, he assaulted her twice on 1 June in the West End, and then four more times the next day, including once in a taxi and three instances in his Notting Hill home.

These allegations are particularly shocking as fans were concerned about the singer’s mental health after he was seen crying on his last UK tour and cancelled upcoming tour dates abroad due to “unforeseen personal circumstances” that meant he had to “spend some time at home this year.” Many now feel betrayed that the more plausible reason for this was the fact that he would likely have to remain in the UK for the upcoming trial on 3 January 2023. This feeling of betrayal has resonated across his fan base, with some revealing on Twitter that they feel so let down as it was Rex Orange County’s own music, where he opened up about his struggles, that helped them process their own personal crises, including the trauma of sexual assault.  When the artist is so interlinked with the art, how are fans meant to forget these awful allegations and continue to enjoy his music? Having said this, it is important to remember that I, and other disappointed fans, are not the real victims in this situation; the actual victim is.

For many fans, these allegations are especially disappointing due to the fact that the singer seemed like such a nice guy. If a man who posted cute anniversary pictures of his long-term girlfriend, a man who openly sang about his emotions, his mental health, and his experiences of love and heartbreak is capable of doing such a thing, who can we trust?  If the guy who seemed like one of the most ‘wholesome’ men in the music industry, whose bedroom indie tunes could easily provide the perfect backdrop of a coming of age rom-com, is capable of six counts of sexual assault, can we really say not all men? Or is this whole idea of ‘nice guys’ an illusion?

The concept of ‘nice guys’ has become increasingly common in recent years, with the phrase ‘nice guys finish last’ permeating into popular vocabulary since Green Day released a 1999 song with the phrase as its title. The trope of the ‘nice guy’ is meant to refer to the idea that ‘women only go for guys who treat them badly’ instead of a ‘nice guy like me.’ There are countless courses, online resources, and particularly dating advice, that helps men ‘stop being the nice guy’ and ‘reclaim their masculinity’ - which is supposedly lacking by virtue of their niceness. This ‘pick-me’ mentality has been internalised by generations of men and boys; even my seemingly normal male friends have regurgitated this antiquated rhetoric that girls ‘won’t ever go for nice guys like them.’

This nice guy/bad boy dichotomy is not only outdated and irrelevant, but also misogynistic. These self proclaimed ‘nice guys’ truly believe that the world is stacked against them, and women are too shallow and lacking in judgement to know what’s good for them. These ‘nice guys’ actually have a victim complex, and inherently believe that women should reward them, or owe them something, just because they’re nice (see: ‘the friendzone.’) Simply treating someone with basic human decency and respect doesn’t entitle you to romantic and sexual affection from others. In fact, acting ‘nice’ in order to get this doesn’t make you nice, it makes you manipulative.

The bar is in hell if simply not being a sexual assaulter makes you a ‘nice person.’ In fact, this whole idea of the nice guy is also integral to rape culture and the disbelieving of female victims. More often than not, if a woman accuses a man of having done something to make her uncomfortable, his friends will jump to defend him, claiming that he wouldn’t do something like that, because he’s a nice guy. They say this since this is the only side they see of him; just because a guy treats his male friends with respect, this doesn’t mean that he isn’t capable of problematic or even abusive behaviour towards others. Indeed, this insistence on their friend’s innocence on the basis that they’re a nice guy not only excuses any problematic behaviour, (see: ‘he’s not usually like that - he’s just drunk’) but also, more insidiously, is used to question the real-life experiences of victims, which creates a culture of disbelief and shame around coming forward about sexual assault.

In fact, if these men paid attention, they would be shocked to see how their nice guy friends actually treated women, as well as how they also have a hand to play in perpetuating rape culture. Whilst of course not all men are rapists, the majority of men are complicit in excusing problematic behaviour. Although they may not commit sexual assault, how many men have taken a maybe as a yes, or tried to persuade a no into a yes? How many men have watched idly by, or even laughed, as their friend tries to hit on a visibly uncomfortable woman? How many of them have joined in sexist banter or laughed at a rape joke? How many have jumped to defend a man who has been accused of something before actually listening to the victim? Unless men are actively holding other men accountable for their actions, and stepping in when they see or hear something problematic, they continue to be part of the problem.

These latest allegations against Rex Orange County serve as a stark reminder that this whole idea of the ‘nice guy’ is simply an illusion. Men, if you truly want to be nice; then you need to take accountability for your actions as well as support, and believe, women.