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Women Don’t Become ‘Nice Girls,’ They Become ‘Pick Mes’

Pick Me culture is another example of how traditional, misogynistic gender roles always end up punishing women

While it would seem that the manosphere is exclusively the domain of miserable white men, there’s a surprising number of women among it, too. And so, throughout this week, we will present you with six features that explore the lives and beliefs of these women, from femcels to Honey Badgers: Who are they? What have they experienced in life to end up cavorting with men who — to varying degrees — deny their humanity? And why do we know so little about them?

Six, a 25-year-old writer and astrologer, was always expected to be a “good girl.” Born and raised in a small town in Florida in which Christian values infused every facet of daily life, she was homeschooled until college and looked outward for lessons on how to interact with others. At church, she soon discovered that women and girls’ behavior was strictly regulated in order to make them more appealing to men. “You’re told nice, polite girls aren’t supposed to wear skirts that go above their knees or use profanity, and if you’re a woman, you should learn how to honor your husband,” she continues. “Those values are deeply instilled.” 

Six soon internalized the idea that she should go to outsized lengths to secure a relationship, which meant she needed to be willing to do all the cooking and cleaning, remain a virgin until marriage and prioritize her man’s every need over her own. “Growing up in the South, I was already so different,” Six says, explaining that being dark-skinned, pansexual and genderqueer set her apart from her neighbors. “You don’t want to be ostracized from your community, so you have to find a way of fitting in.” This meant subscribing to the feminine ideals promoted by those around her, the highest of which was to be of service to your man. “You become a product of your environment,” she says, “so that’s what happened.” 

On Black Twitter, the type of woman Six molded herself into has been dubbed the “Pick Me”: A woman who constantly advertises her willingness to be a domestic servant, stay out of the clubs, tolerate cheating and put her man’s needs first — all with a smug self-assurance that she’s doing womanhood right. A Facebook post in 2018 by entertainer Amara La Negra, in which she cleans a shower in a bodycon dress, is often cited as the quintessential Pick Me example. “A man’s house is a reflection of the woman he’s with,” La Negra practically smirks, adding ‘Food for thought’ in scare quotes. “Being pretty is just a bonus with me.” Actress Ayesha Curry is another famous offender

A man's house is a reflection of the woman he's with. "Food for thought". Being pretty is just a bonus with…

Posted by Amara La Negra on Monday, August 13, 2018

The term “Pick Me” carries negative connotations and is often used by feminists to illustrate the impossibly high standards expected of women in relationships — standards women, too, are guilty of enforcing. Jamilah Lemieux, a prominent feminist, podcast host and writer, is a vocal critic of the type. “They’re telling all these people, whether it’s 200 followers or 2,000, ‘I’m better at this than you, I’m more desirable than you,’” she explains. “It’s a pissing contest of sorts, it’s a dick-measuring contest, but for women.” The most objectionable thing about the Pick Me isn’t merely how she conducts herself in relationships, Lemieux says, but the way that she passes judgment on other women. “It’s one thing to say, ‘This is how I behave in a relationship,’ or admit that there are certain concessions you’re willing to make to be in a relationship in the first place,” she continues. “But if it impacts how you look at other women who aren’t willing to make the same choices — like, ‘Oh, you don’t fix your man’s plate?’ — it speaks to more than simply a desire for affirmation from men; it’s internalized misogyny.”

Six first heard the term “Pick Me” when a friend said it to her during college, and while she says she never looked down on other women, she recognized that she was otherwise a prototypical Pick Me Ass Bitch in her relationships with men, as she wrote in a personal essay on Medium. Six describes college as a turning point: She realized that behaving like a Pick Me wasn’t actually guaranteeing her good treatment from men. “I realized that the hoop kept rising, it became higher and higher,” she says. “I started dating people who, no matter what I did, weren’t protecting me, they weren’t following through with the role that was expected of them, there wasn’t reciprocity. These relationships were taking more from me than they were giving to me.” 

One important dictate, in Six’s mind, was that she remain a virgin until marriage, a goal that was leveled when Six was sexually assaulted while she was in college. In part because of this, Six grew increasingly suspicious of misogynistic narratives, and the grip of Pick Me logic loosened. She realized that she was behaving as though men were entitled to a wife who doubled as a cleaner, cook, cheerleader, moneylender, therapist and lover as their birthright, and that she needed to “honor herself and all she brought to the table” instead of settling for scraps from abusive or indifferent men. 

Six also realized that, not only was she enabling male entitlement to the perfect girlfriend or wife, but she was harboring her own more modest sense of entitlement: that if she behaved a certain way — like the perfect Pick Me — she deserved a boyfriend (and eventually, a husband) who loved her, protected her and cared for her. “I had to accept that I wasn’t entitled to anybody’s love,” she explains. “I thought that if I did all these things I’d be entitled to someone that loves me, but you’re not entitled to anything.”

The ‘Pick Me’ vs. the ‘Nice Girl’

Feminists have long been interested in the topic of sexual and romantic entitlement, especially when harbored by men. In the golden years of feminist blogging, a term emerged describing the type of man who thought treating women with basic kindness entitled them to a sexual relationship: the Nice Guy (often stylized, as was the way in the 2000s blogosphere, as Nice Guy™). “When using the phrase ‘Nice Guys’ with a capital NG, I don’t mean a man who happens to be a genuinely kind person,” explained Erin Gloria Ryan for Jezebel in 2012. “I mean the sort of Guy who has declared himself to be Nice, and thus deserving of positive (usually sexual) attention from the female of his choice, upon whom he has often projected an elaborate fantasy of perfection and willingness that rarely has anything to do with the subject’s actual feelings or desires.” The Nice Guy responds to rejection by lashing out at women or society at large, and this is usually the point at which his barely-suppressed misogyny bubbles to the surface. 

When feminists identify and criticize the negative behavior that emerges as a result of male dominance and gendered socialization, as with the Nice Guy, the mansplainer or the Send Guy, a reactionary response inevitably results that usually takes one of two forms: Either the interlocutor points out that men aren’t universally depraved — the infamous “Not all men!” rejoinder — or else he suggests that women are equally bad, i.e., the “Woman do that too!” response. So, once the Nice Guy archetype gained widespread recognition, there was a reactionary attempt to show that Nice Girls also exist — and therefore, implicitly, that the Nice Guy phenomenon has nothing to do with male power and the subordination of women. 

The subreddit r/Nicegirls, active since 2011, is the clearest embodiment of the attempt to make the Nice Girl an equivalent archetype to the Nice Guy. The community blurb confirms the link — “If you swap the genders and it doesn’t belong on r/niceguys, then don’t post it” — and one of its moderators, /u/Applepieman6, confirms in a private message that the Nice Girl arose as a response to the Nice Guy. That the Nice Girl isn’t the simple equivalent of the Nice Guy is evident, however, by the flailing nature of the r/Nicegirls subreddit, which has half as many users as r/niceguys. Essentially, the community struggles to generate enough real-world examples of Nice Girls to make it a functioning subreddit, significant numbers of posts are marked “low-quality post” or “isn’t real,” and the mods are continually trying to reiterate community standards. Few appear to be active: Only one of 10 listed mods responded positively to an interview request, most declined on the grounds that they weren’t active enough to say much of value. One said, “I don’t give one diddly fuck about this website and much less about moderating the losers on it that would sub to r/Nicegirls.” Another, simply: “lol.” 

The problem with the attempt to make the Nice Girl a gendered archetype is that women don’t tend to respond to romantic rejection in the same way as men — i.e., by externalizing it. “The difference is … they didn’t take it out on anyone — they just turned the toxic feelings on themselves,” Tracy Moore wrote in 2018 about women discussing their own romantic rejection by men. “Because women generally lack the power to coerce men into relationships at will, the privilege to expect to the same degree, and are generally inclined to internalize self-loathing for their shortcomings, it’s just less likely to manifest in violent demands, gross, oblivious sexual entitlement or the kind of intimidation or clueless pestering that makes women actually fear for their bodily autonomy or their lives.” 

In other words, in the face of rejection, the Nice Girl rarely becomes verbally and physically aggressive or murderous, like her male counterpart. Instead, Moore says, she “simply internalizes the shame.”

Elise Franklin, a psychotherapist based in L.A., agrees that the level of entitlement in rejected women isn’t the same as with men. “I’m not really familiar with this archetype in my practice,” she says of the Nice Girl. “What’s far more common is women who quietly make themselves smaller to be chosen — they don’t even know they’re doing it. I’m yet to see anyone express a version of feeling deserving of a partner for these traits.” She says that most of the women she sees feel undeserving of a partner because they’re not doing enough, and that they “may cook and clean and try to people-please, but in a quiet kind of way.” 

Other Women Become the Enemy

Franklin notices one exception to the idea that women don’t externalize their anger at rejection, though: She says her patients will often become very bitter toward other women. “I tend to draw a more liberal and non-religious patient, so I actually have more experience working with women who may consider themselves to be the ‘slut’ and they get very jealous of a ‘plain Jane’ type who seems to land the guy beyond just sex.” 

This gets at a key difference between the largely mythical Nice Girl and the very real Pick Me, which is that when women are rejected, they don’t direct their anger toward the man who rejects them or society at large, as the Nice Guy does — and not even just toward themselves, as Moore discusses — but toward other women. These other women might be viewed as the sluts and whores who give it up too easily for men and make it hard for “good girls,” or they might be scorned for not giving it up easily enough or being too prudish or traditional — “You’re too worried about cheating, this is why you can’t keep a man” — but either way, other women become the enemy.

Hence, whereas the Nice Guy is motivated by misogyny — the idea that women don’t have agency and should settle for anyone who is contingently nice to them — the Pick Me is also motivated by misogyny — the idea that women need to serve men and tolerate cheating, and rather than lash out at the men who reject them, the Pick Me lashes out at women who don’t toe the line: the whores and sluts, and the women who expect better. So the Pick Me isn’t the “misandrist” equivalent of the Nice Guy — and neither is the Nice Girl, as some men seem desperate to show. Rather, it’s another example of how traditional, misogynistic gender roles always end up punishing women. 

That this is true is clear from the respective goals of the Nice Guy and the Pick Me. The Nice Guy becomes irate when his basic kindness doesn’t lead to the servant and sex robot he was promised by the movies; the Pick Me is baffled that, despite doing everything she was told she needed to do, she hasn’t been chosen to be someone’s servant and sex robot yet. Their respective ambitions show how far they are from being equivalent. 

The Nice Girl archetype fails because it attempts to conceptualize female rejection without acknowledging the framework of male dominance in which it occurs, and the disparate expectations of men and women when it comes to romantic relationships. The Pick Me, however, is actually real. “It’s not one of those things that is simply an internet phenomenon,” Lemieux says. “It’s reflective of a very [real phenomenon], there’s probably more Pick Mes than there are those of us who would never want to be one. It’s a natural response to patriarchy.” 

Six does think there might be one thing that the Nice Guy and the Pick Me might have in common, though. “Being a Pick Me roots from this desire to be loved. I can’t blame people and I can’t even blame myself for trying to fit into the one role that makes sense and which might help them to not feel so alone,” she says. “They’re trying to be loved in the only way they know how.”

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