Death of the Nice Girl
Updated: Feb 7
I am not a nice girl.
I am very kind, but I am not nice.
Because the thing is, I don’t believe in niceness. Niceness is often a falsity, a performative act of some sort. It’s telling people what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. It’s being polite and agreeable. It’s not speaking up for yourself.
And for people who have been female-socialized, niceness has often been a safety measure. A safety measure from the aggression of everyone. From violence, from whispers, from ostracization. It has trained us to be palatable. “I don’t want to come off bitchy,” is something I have heard, and said, very often. We learn to keep our mouths shut, or at least not to say the full truth. We’d rather be perceived as nice than be honest. Or more likely, than to be perceived as a bitch.
I have a distinct memory of when this changed for me. I was sitting with my clinical supervisor, a woman I deeply respect and admire, saying something of the same effect.
“I don’t want to come off as bitchy.”
She said, very nonchalantly,
“I don’t know, I quite enjoy my bitchy side.”
And in that moment the proverbial clouds parted. It gave me all the permission I needed to not only let that part of me exist freely, but to love it. To relish in it. To be proud of it. Because I’ve always had an “edge” to me, and I’ve always enjoyed it, but have consistently been made to feel bad about it. So I quieted it down. Better to be quiet than to be called a bitch.
I’ve been called aloof. I’ve been called sardonic. I’ve been told my demeanor can be seen as unapproachable. And all of those are true. I can be distant. I say dark things behind a wry smile and my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I often don’t want to be approached when out and let that be known with my energy. And that’s likely perceived as bitchy, and I’m okay with it. Because I am not abrasive. I am not cruel. I am soft and generous and loving and want the best for everyone and everything. But more importantly, I don’t owe anyone niceness, and it’s hard to be nice to a world that has not always been good to you.
I am kind, but I am not nice.
I was nice for a very, very long time. Always oriented toward the other. Always making sure everyone else was okay, only to accept the crumbs that were left for me. I still find myself at times falling into a dissociative niceness when I’m uncomfortable or in situations that play on wounded parts of me. I am not perfect; it happened recently. But when I think about it, it’s all old conditioning from childhood and an effort to keep myself safe. It is the fawn response, assuring safety by pleasing and appeasing, because fight and flight didn’t seem like options that would ensure my survival. And hear me when I say this, there is no shame in this response. We do not choose it; our bodies choose it for us. But because this is old programming, and I am not a little girl who needs to fawn to be safe anymore, this reaction needs a healthy gut-check.
I was a good girl growing up. That was my role, and I ate up any praise I could get for it. I always smiled, I never drew attention to myself, I took care of everyone and everything and I never made a fuss about it. And, I was chronically neglected. I had no other choice. It was be good or be obliterated. Be good or be left. Be good or be alone. And, to ensure my survival, I chose to be good. I could not make an ounce more chaos for the family, so I was as good as good could be. And like most good girls, I turned into a nice girl.
In adolescence, I was such a nice girl. I didn’t make a fuss. I did what I was supposed to do and didn’t make a peep. I listened attentively to everyone’s problems, offering wisdom of a girl grown up too quickly. I let friends and boys alike use me. I had older men abuse me. And I never told anyone, because I was a nice girl, and nice girls don’t make waves, and they certainly don’t “let” boys touch them. And like most nice girls, I turned into a cool girl.
The “Cool Girl” trope has been made famous in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The cool girl doesn’t have needs. She goes along with whatever the boys, “her man” wants, and keeps those pretty lips of hers shut. She camouflages into whatever her partner wants her to be. I was that girl. I have a lot of affection for that girl, who figured out that sex could mean feeling connection and affection, even if for a fleeting moment, so she didn’t have to go entirely without. These “men” were sure as hell not meeting any of my needs beyond that. Because I didn’t have any. Not explicitly, anyway.
I couldn’t speak up and trade my image of “Cool Girl” for “Bitch.”
But if she has needs, and doesn’t make them known, she’ll never get them met.
And, and let me say this very clearly, fuck that.
“Bitch” and “bitchy” get weaponized against women. We do it to others, we do it to ourselves, and it is done to us. This notion that if I express myself in a way that does not sit well with the other, that I am a bitch, is utterly ridiculous. When men express their needs, they are seen as assertive. When women assert their needs, we are seen as bitchy. I have found that most often when someone is called bitchy, they are just being assertive. I am no longer willing to conflate the two.
Niceness is also the culture of white supremacy. White supremacy demands niceness, for things to be “okay”, to not challenge, to keep it polite and keep it movin’. It demands that we ignore conflict and what is harmful to others to preserve the status quo. Ayisha Elliott wrote “Those who are privileged can choose niceness and default to nonconfrontation to maintain balance within themselves, a balance that is comfortable and content. It does nothing for anyone else…They are operating out of self-preservation, and not out of clarity in their impact. It is intrinsically unkind.”1 I am no longer willing to engage in this behavior. And while I’m out here speaking up and being a bitch, you shouldn’t be either.
Robin diAngelo states “Kindness is compassionate and often implicates actions to support or intervene. Niceness, by contrast, is fleeting, hollow and performative.”2 Niceness is empty. Kindness is empathetic, compassionate, and connected. It is telling people what they need to hear, even if they won’t like it. Even if you look like a bitch.
I will choose kindness over niceness any time it is in my will to do so.
I am not a nice girl, and I’m very okay with that. Because I know in my heart of hearts, I don’t wield cruelty around. I am not mean. I sit here in full acceptance that when I am a bitch, it is for a damn good reason.
And likely yours is too.
1 Ayisha Elliott
2 Robin diAngelo