Girl, Be Nice

is the most recent affliction to plague our generation niceness?


Oh, sure. We’re pretty fond of each other, but the truth is you all are our favorite contributors to The Man Repeller. …Which is why we’ve formalized that fact with “Let’s Talk About It.” This weekly column is a forum for conversation, communication, and complete distraction from the jobs you’re supposed to be doing right now. So get involved. We promise we won’t tell your bosses.

Like telling your boyfriend that you’re “fine,” calling a woman “nice” has very little to do with her sunny disposition, general good will, or admirable recycling habits. Instead, what I imagine must once have been a super! adjective has since morphed into nothing short of descriptive baggage.

At least that’s the essence of writer Catherine Newman’s recent contribution to the New York Times’ Motherlode blog. In “I Do Not Want My Daughter to Be ‘Nice,’” Newman describes ten year-old Birdy, who “is not nice, not exactly.”

“This makes her different from me,” she continues. “…I put out smiles indiscriminately, hoping to please not only friends and family but also my son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me.”

Of course, this is not to say that Birdy isn’t kind or compassionate or generous. According to her mother, she’s all of the above. (Aww, Mom! Stop it!) Rather, Newman’s point is that her evidently badass kid does not feel social pressure to be perceived as a “nice girl,” a “sweetheart.” Later, the self-proclaimed “radical, card-carrying feminist” concludes that:

[S]he is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty. Which is fine, because God help me if that girl ends up smiling through her entire life as if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologizing for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence.

But here is where I’m suddenly conflicted. Because while I don’t doubt that the burden of “niceness” weighs more heavily on women than men, I can’t accept that my millionth-wave feminism depends on scowling. It’s 2013! Even Victoria Beckham is smiling! Maybe I’m proving my own lingering backwardness, but the truth is being thought of as gracious matters to me. Not because I’m trapped in the 1950s or 70s or the front row of my high school English class, but because I’m human. Don’t we all want to be liked?

In other words: I’m torn. They say you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, but Newman makes a strong case for renouncing the sweet stuff. In the age of Bitchy Resting Faces, Anne Hathaway, and Lean In, how “nice” should a good girl be?

Go on: let’s talk about it.

Written by Mattie Kahn

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • Ab3233

    What blows my mind is how assertive, career oriented women
    in their 20’s, who are in fact, nice, are so often considered
    “aggressive” or “not concerned with having a family” while
    men who act in the same ambitious manners are applauded and praised for their
    earnestness in the area of academic achievement and hard work as they advance
    themselves in the workplace.

    Gender roles have clearly blurred the lines as far as how
    men and women should act in the workplace.

    And….cue Robin Thicke….

    • Amatoria Clothing

      We are expected to make small talk with everyone and ask them where they get their nails done, remember every child’s name, listen to boy problems. If we don’t, we are the “stuck up bitch”. Yet men in the workplace don’t have to do ANY of that.

    • Angeli

      Definitely agree. Where’s the women empowerment?!

    • Emily

      This comment seems like it’s straight out of Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.”

      I completely agree. I have been feeling that as well, as a 22 year old female working in finance. The criticism is harshest, however, is when it comes from a man I have been seeing. Like he has any right to tell me what I can/cannot handle….

  • Jen

    Oprah made a living off being the “nice girl” and she is the most successful woman in the world. Sounds like this mom needs to take a giant chill pill and stop being such a helicopter mom. In the end, the pressure she is putting on her daughter to be the opposite of what she perceives as pressure from society is going to royally fuck up the kid.

    • Emily

      I’m sorry, but how many Oprahs are there?

      One? Really?

      Now let’s try and find a solution that fits the majority, not the minority that are lucky enough to catch breaks like sweet women (Oprah).

    • Kirsten F

      um Oprah is only “nice” in front of a camera. There are legendary stories about the real Oprah. If anything Oprah is the spokesperson for leaning in, staying focused, occasionally being mean and not caring if other people dont like you.

      • Jen

        Yes, I hear you, but she is still making a living off her “nice girl” image.
        My point was to highlight that this mother sounds like a nut job and needs to relax. I think if you want your daughter or son to be successful you should spend less time worrying about her being “nice” and more time encouraging his or her interests and talents.

        Also @disqus_KlJyObQi6H:disqus what about JK Rowling or Taylor Swift? I would consider them both to be successful and nice. But your totally right, there aren’t many woman who have “nice-girl” public image. I’m wondering if that because we are programmed to assume successful woman need to fight their way to the top? Is it possible that this is just an illusion and that woman fight just as hard as men? I really do not think there is a majority to focus on. What makes a person successful is passion, drive, and talent- all qualities a nice girl can have.

        • Kat

          @Jen, have you read the original article or looked at the blog of the author? I wouldn’t consider her a “helicopter” mom in the least, and I think it is apparent that she DOES encourage her children’s interests and talents. Turns out her daughter just happens to be uninterested in pleasing everyone.

          Furthermore, I don’t know what society you’re living in where “we are programmed to assume successful women need to fight their way to the top.” I would argue that what we’re “programmed” to believe is that, in order for women to be successful,they need to figure out how to please (and be “nice” to) successful men. I HOPE that in the future women are “programmed” (ick, in other news, women are not computers who come with predetermined software) to KNOW that they can fight their way to the top, rather than smile at their sleazy boss so they don’t lose their jobs, or laugh along with the sexist jokes of coworkers so that they are considered part of the team. While I do agree that being nice can generally get you pretty far with people, being nice to people who treat you like you are inferior, like an object, or like just a pretty face is demeaning and unnecessary.

  • The French One

    I’m French. French women are not particularly known for being nice. Actually is quite the opposite. Then I lived for 3 years in the US. And I had to learn how to be nice, now I live in yet another country and I smile to everyone, the guy bringing me (bad) coffee, the slow (employee of the bank), my (mean) boss like I’m so happy to see them. I swear, it does not change radically who I am but it makes life so much easier. Because apparently when you’re nice, people tends to be nice too. Or at least, when you’re not (or French), you will get less positive interactions with others…

  • ‘Maybe I’m proving my own lingering backwardness, but the truth is being
    thought of as gracious matters to me. Not because I’m trapped in the
    1950s or 70s or the front row of my high school English class, but
    because I’m human. Don’t we all want to be liked?’

    While I understand what you’re getting at here, Leandra, I think they’re conflicting notions.

    On the one hand you talk about wanting to be gracious because it’s important to you, implying that you enjoy being nice for the sake of others, despite their idea of you, hinting at altruistic motives. But on the other, you say ‘Don’t we all want to be liked?’ which might lead one to believe there’s nothing altruistic about your niceness at all, you (and those you subsume under ‘we’) just want to be nice so long as it results in being favorable to others.

    I think that it’s important to make this distinction if your going to debate why someone feels inherently obligated to be nice, i.e. whats the motive?

    • Mattie Kahn

      I’ll field this one, since I’m to blame for any ambiguity here! I understand what you’re talking about, but I don’t think that the two notions that you mention here are necessarily in conflict with one another. For me, at least, wanting to be nice and wanting to be perceived as such (read: liked) are two totally related impulses.

      Which is exactly what makes the author’s argument interesting and complicated.

      I guess the question I’m posing here is whether girls/women/what have you should fight back against what I think is probably a very natural tendency to want to be nice–no matter their motive.

      • Christine

        I think the bigger question here is less about motive and more about what Newman is trying to define as “nice” in describing her daughter’s character.

        Gratitude can’t possibly be the issue if her daughter is “…deeply kind, profoundly compassionate and, probably, the most ethical person I know…” but rather, “gender stereotypes, among other injustices, infuriate her.”

        While I think Birdy deserves a worm for smirking at the disingenuous (that in essence, is what I think Newman is targeting here), I’m also a bit frightened by the fact that “she is a beautiful kid, but she is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty.”

        Regardless of gender, we might all agree a little bit of humility goes a long way. But, can a strong woman who defies preconceived notions also be humble, and if so, what types of “nice” gestures might she maintain?

  • Alice

    Wow, a mom that doesn’t want her daughter to be genuine and kind to everyone (even the pizza-deliverer or the barista)… that’s just sad. There is a difference between fake-ness and kindness, of course, but I strongly believe that being humble will get you farther than constantly trying to prove your feministic independence and strength through a permanent cold expression (especially in New York where ‘too cool for life’ is becoming a motto among girls)

    • Charlotte

      I don’t think she is vying for her daughter to lack compassion or be impolite, she is referring to this surface-niceness that is a pressure women feel. I definitely make an effort to engage with people I encounter throughout the day in a kind manner, but I can’t count the amount of times I have been minding my own business, preoccupied with my own thoughts either walking down the street, waiting for a friend or out at night, when I have been approached by a man asking “why the long face?” or demanding I give some semblance of a smile. Newman encourages her daughter to maintain a certain level of independence in these types of encounters. I mean, I really can’t imagine a scenario in which I would see a grumpy man and request he turn that frown upside down.

      • Mattie Kahn

        Hadn’t thought of this point before, but it’s so spot on. “Serious” men are complicated, thoughtful, intelligent. “Serious” women are frazzled, prone to wrinkles, and should probably, “Smile!”

      • Leandra Medine

        Really is such a good point–women don’t frequently try to pick up men asking why they look so glum whereas we’re constantly being badgered to look happier (did I just open an entirely different can of worms?)

        • Charlotte

          The worm can of approachability.

        • Dana

          YES!! I was just thinking about this exact thing. I think that’s a whole other topic about what men want and what the physical manifestation of that is. As someone with aforementioned bitchy resting face, I can attest to not being perceived as nice or pretty(!) because I don’t wear a perpetual, possibly contrived smile on my face 24/7.

        • I feel like this has just become an obnoxious pick-up line used by hoards men who have nothing better to talk about than our lack of a perpetually present smile.

      • Cass

        Oh the random “smile!” comments. I’m sorry but wouldn’t we all just look a tad bit crazy walking down the street by ourselves with huge ass smiles on our faces all the time?

        • Kirsten

          This reminds me of The Stepford Wives. Women behave the way men expect them to. Women literally constructed by men.

          • Mattie Kahn

            Agreed. But how do women expect women to behave?

          • Claire

            “But how do women expect women to behave?”

            Exactly! Its not a male construct alone. I know tons of women who are personally put off by other women who are not outwardly friendly or nice. The expectation is set by men and women alike.

      • Isa

        Yes!!!! It makes me SO mad when random men tell me to smile as I walk down the street. Why the fuck? I make a concious effort to be a ‘nice’ and kind person in life, but that demand drives me crazy (I usually respond with the best witherthing-evil-chicken glare I have). And bullshit they would EVER say that to a man. I’d love to hear anyone with evidence to the contrary. Argh!!! Rant rant.

      • Kat

        This is so accurate I can’t even handle it. I’m so glad you used this as an example. Sorry I’m just cursed with a case of bitchface and that isn’t a turn on for you, stranger.

  • Marina Martinez

    I am only reminded of one thing after reading this… NICKI MINAJ (esp @ 1:30)
    “Bitch vs. Boss”

  • Elle

    See, as much as I think people should be nice, nowadays being called “nice” isn’t exactly a compliment. I mean, if you think about it. The last time you were asked by someone to give your opinion on someone you weren’t too fond off, what did you say? So often people just mutter, oh, umm… she’s nice. On top of this, people seem to take way more advantage of women who are nice and smiley. If a women goes in to a shop smiling and acting, well, “nice,” she is far more likely to be taken advantage of, or at least not taken seriously, than a woman that goes into a shop with an don’t bullshit me, you’re messing with the wrong woman face. In my opinion, use your “niceness” when appropriate to suit where you are.

  • Taylor

    I just read Newman’s article. The kid sounds like a sociopath. Maybe “nice” isn’t all it’s chalked up to be, but good manners will always be good manners.

  • disqus_X5gCaSS2zi

    i really think the problem is people think it’s not cool to be nice…….i am 55 and have always been nice…my daughter is 26 and is also nice…she’s probably the nicest person i know……’s how we’re wired……we know no other way..and i would rather be called nice no matter how vanilla it might seem to others than to be called anything else…being nice doesn’t mean we won’t stand our ground or be vocal about what we believe in…..we just have a different way of expressing our opinion…….our delivery comes from a kinder place……

  • Taylor

    Being nice and being successful are not mutually exclusive events. I appreciate women who have an insane drive to achieve their goals but don’t have to step on others to reach said accomplishments. It is always appropriate to be nice and compassionate. No excuses.

    • Kat

      Do you think it’s appropriate to be nice to the man who cat-calls and follows me to my car when I’m trying to pump gas? Should I be nice to the customer at the bar who grabs my ass when I walk past to serve other people their meals? No, thanks, I’d rather give them a piece of my mind than be treated like a sexual object. No excuses.

  • Best to be nice, but at the same time not let people walk all over you. Use niceness when it is needed, but be assertive when you need to be as well.

  • Melanie Vanegas

    Be nice, be good, be graceful… but don’t let anyone walk over you, push you around or take you for granted. Be nice without being perceived as weak, but instead as the “bigger” person in situations where you could be.

    But also, if you don’t want to smile.. let’s say, at your cheating ex boyfriend, you don’t have to. It’s ok to be “bad” sometimes.

    • Bird

      No one should be perceived as “bad” by not smiling at a cheating jerk! The fact that not smiling or being “impolite” is perceived”bad” behavior means that we need to change the connotation.

      • Melanie Vanegas

        The word bad was used just because it can be an antonym to nice. I’m not saying you’re bad if you don’t smile.. that’s why it says “bad”, not bad.
        And trust me, I know what you mean since I’ve been cheated on and I don’t walk around smiling to him.

  • Carrie P

    For me, Newman’s piece focuses more on the social norms of what a female is supposed to do and be when faced with situations where public “niceties” are in order. Ie… If someone compliments you on your looks, say thanks even if they creep you out. If someone asks for help, give it, even if it puts you in a compromising situation. I think that Newman has subscribed to those social niceties and is glad that her daughter has not, since those social niceties may subject her daughter to unwelcome advances.
    “I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.”

  • ASULikeIt

    It’s interesting that Newman would say she “puts out smiles indiscriminately” for the purpose of pleasing the person she’s interacting with beyond her friends. I think there’s a fine line between general politeness and all-out, personality defining “niceness.”

    When it comes to interacting with strangers, it seems like most of it is just maintaining a basic social contract. Most of my day-to-day interactions with baristas, strangers who hold the door open, and cashiers are when I’m in my “polite” mode. My “nice” mode comes into play when I’m networking with clients, in a professional environment or when I meet new people among friends. Politeness scratches the surface but niceness goes deeper into someone’s personality.

  • Marin

    I’ve thought about this a lot. My mom and I always laugh at each other because we both say “sorry” absurdly frequently. Like when we bump elbows, we politely and quickly apologize, even though WE KNOW it wasn’t awkward, painful, uncomfortable, etc. for the other person. Like, why do we do that? Is it a self-imposed curse, saying sorry for EVERYTHING? Is it culture-imposed? And I also know what you mean about wanting to make a good impression by smiling at everyone–Like, I smile at EVERYONE. I can’t tell if it’s something I’ve trained myself to do in order to create a buffer between myself and any perception of bad intentions, or if I’m just that way naturally. Sometimes I like to think I’m making a waiter’s or waitress’s day by giving them my best altruistic-looking cheeser.

    Ah, I don’t know. I think it comes down to this: WHY are you being “nice”? I definitely don’t think women should be expected, as they traditionally have been, to maintain niceness at their own expense. Assertive always trumps passive, and really, why drop unnecessary apologies? But I also think there’s nothing wrong with passing on smiles. I feel better when I smile at other people, even if it’s for selfish reasons like “wanting to be liked,” and I like it when people smile at me. As always, there’s a middle ground.

    • Bird

      I am the same way. I say sorry much too often, and I just beginning to learn that saying sorry won’t cut it when it needs to most- and am told by everyone I know that there is no reason for apology. Although I’ve been like this since childhood, it’s a culturally-imposed curse. Saying sorry and smiling aren’t natural, they are constructed views of femininity (otherwise, my boyfriend would be seemingly beaming with happiness ( :D!:D!:D! ) at every single person that walks by and say sorry for every small fumble to happen upon his day).
      As a waitress, I appreciate happy customers. Yet, if you are happy with your meal/wanting to engage in conversation, I will be able to tell, smiling or not. Servers are acting, just as you are, and smiling at them is the same as them smiling at you- and should just be considered an act of social politeness.

  • Akvile

    Manrepeller, check my post @
    What do you think? 🙂

  • silvana

    This is such an interesting discussion to be having in 2013… When I interact with my female analysts, who are all driven, in their early to mid 20s, all very very smart, and yes… nice, what strikes me about them is the amount of mental bandwidth the subject/worry of perception (“nice” “soft” etc) takes up in their brilliant noggins. Being/called nice is not an insult. The insult is when there’s no genuineness (being, being called, or calling someone nice). Why all this white noise? To answer the question in the blog… it’s not about how nice a girl should be. I think it’s about getting rid of “shoulds.” Don’t be mean. Don’t be passive aggressive. Do be genuine. Do be kind. Be smarter, faster, and just better.

  • Britt

    I am from the South– I was always taught that women can be “iron velvet” or a “steel magnolia” to put it more famously. I think I like that angle.

  • Ali

    I absolutely love this discussion. Being the “Nice Girl” has plagued me for years. For me, it has become somewhat of a burden amongst the people I interact with everyday. I believe whole hardheartedly in being kind and thankful to, for example, your server, a bank teller, the Starbucks drive through girl etc., but in the workplace or among friends it’s usually “Ask Ali, she’s too nice to say no.” Nope, not okay. There’s a fine line between being a bitch and being forward and assertive. I haven’t found it yet… I’ll let you know when I do!

  • Eliza

    Can I bring age into the discussion? I feel that, as a young woman in my workplace, I’m especially expected to always be “on” – armed with a smile or some witty banter – because otherwise my focus and assertiveness could be perceived as threatening or rude. When I’m calm and serious at a meeting, I see eyes roll whenever I raise an issue. “She thinks she knows everything.” But when I’m smiley and raise my voice an octave, I see smiles in return and notice that people, especially men, are much more ready to comply with what I asked for. As a 23 year old in a job with quite a lot of responsibilities, I think people find it threatening when I don’t smile or act young and deferential.

    I envy anyone who doesn’t feel this pressure, and I love that this mother is allowing her daughter to be herself and not push her into donning this veil of politeness.

  • BitchyInBoston

    I think you can be polite in a general way to everyone (until they prove they don’t deserve your politeness) and that engenders good will. Nice is more complicated, and depends what part of the country you are from. What is nice in Boston (telling a store clerk “thanks” sans smile or eye contact) would seem rude in Michigan. But when someone seems, for whatever reason, TOO nice (too effusive too soon, too many smiles), it is offputting to me personally as it makes me think they either want something (“Hi!! How ARE you?! I am collecting money for…”), are trying too hard (and not genuine and/or insecure), or need their meds adjusted. This applies to men and women. If someone smiles all the time, at everyone, when they smile at me, I am just a number. When the smile is personalized, I am special and it means something. Same goes for giving them out. Then again, I am not nice.

  • Jean Marie

    I think there’s no problem with being nice as long as it doesn’t hinder your ability to get your point across and have your voice heard. Being able to communicate your opinion while maintaining a smile is a good skill to have!

  • Aasha

    I think there is a line of when to switch back and forth between nice and maybe not so nice. Smiling on the streets is not submissive, you’re simply making the world a better place, why be pissed off and mad like the rest of the world? Plus every woman looks beautiful when she’s smiling. But when someone is rude or unkind they do not deserve your smile or kindness. Sacrificing your smile and happiness for a scowl to prove nothing only hurts you.

  • Andrea

    I think in the end it really becomes a “Golden Rule” type situation – do unto others as you’d have done to you. I love having nice interactions with others and I love the feeling I get when people are nice to me, so I like to put that “niceness” out there with the hope of getting the same positivity in return. With that said, I wholly believe that you can be a cut-throat go-getter and still have people think of you as the most pleasant girl they ever did meet. The key…? Being so “nice” that people are so caught up with how warm and fuzzy you make them feel that they don’t seem to notice you passing them on your way to the top.

    • Angelina

      Exactly! I can’t grasp the idea of women putting up a tough shield and avoiding being kind. In what way is being nice and showing off a smile harmful or unwanted? The most successful women I know are also the kindest, warm hearted people I know. They share their smiles, give back to others, and genuinely are kind because they are happy, successful and enjoy life. If a women believes she needs to watch how kind she is, especially in a competitive work field, she is far too caught up on what others will perceive her to be and does not want to come off as “fake”. If you are happy, walk with a smile, and if you are not, walk with a smile anyways. Being kind (for the sake of being kind) will never tear a women down.

  • Jillian

    I think many of the commenters (and perhaps the author?) have slightly missed the point of Ms. Newman’s article. I don’t think Newman is equating “nice” with friendly/pleasant.

    It seems to me she is using the term nice as shorthand for being a “good girl” who is overly accommodating, demure, and eager to please, all to her own detriment.

    In which case, she’s dead on.

    • Amatoria Clothing

      Yes, I think she means “nice” as in the girl that pretends to like everyone, never stands up for herself, and draws little hearts instead of dots over hear i’s.

    • Mattie Kahn

      Point well taken. But the two versions that of the term that you describe seem conflated not just in my analysis or the comments, but in Newman’s article itself. Birdy (whom I think is AWESOME, by the way) is adamantly not friendly/pleasant. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as she has plenty of other winning qualities. But Newman doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing her daughter’s personality. Birdy scowls. She is tenacious and difficult and great. Newman is careful, I think, to make sure that “nice” is not portrayed as a purely negative descriptor. Instead, she really does the term justice, explaining that her daughter’s NOT being nice, “not exactly” has had its own ramifications.

      If “nice” were exclusively shorthand for “good, accommodating, spineless” girl, it would be easy to swear it off for good. The difficulty is that being “nice” has some, well, nice qualities too. That’s what makes Newman’s article so interesting to me.

  • “The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity. ” -MARGARET D. NADAULD

    This does not mean that we need to let others walk all over us, or that men are in charge of us. Women are very important. But we need to be proud to be women. I think it takes a lot more strength and fight in a women to be able to be kind, refined, faithful, good etc. then it takes for a women to be rash, rude, over agressive, etc. We can do better than these petty behaviors. I wish more women were proud to be women or proud to be a stay at home mom! That is a lot more important in making the world a better place than being a CEO at a corporation ( although nothing against working moms, that is what I will be). Women are ashamed to just be “stay at home moms” these days when we should commend them for having the strength to do so.

    My two cents ; )

  • Eva Sirgi

    I personally think that there is nice and then there is naive. Nice engage a woman of manners, who is also polite and has some self control but who still fights for what she believes in. While a naive woman is more of a “too nice” person that can easily be walked over and may appear as a stupid person.

    Nice can also be interpreted as elegant and refined but actually it should be more about her personality than her looks. So being nice is quite important in a society and in a world like today. We need nice persons, and more particularly nice woman, to keep a kind of balance.

    Thank you for this brilliant idea of conversations 🙂


  • Hannah

    Bitches get shit done. Sure everyday behavioral niceties are…well….nice, but are they substantial? Do they need to be? I say yes they are, if it affects how you perceive yourself or think you are being perceived. Small actions add up my friends. Is it to the point where you practically “Apologizing for your existence”. I indeed apologize for the most trivial things, way too much. I have come to the following realizations: 1. It is not necessary. 2. (This one may seem a bit extreme, but hear me out) I am downgrading my self-worth. Yes, I said it. There is a difference between wanting to be nice and having to be nice. The truth is, I don’t have to do anything. My point. Being nice can be a compromise if you feel as if you HAVE to be. Frankly, I think it is dangerous. I know from experience. I also have way more respect for anyone who is just plain old straight forward with me. The “bitch” phenomenon it is all entirely unfair. Like many of the others who have commented on this post have said, men get away with being perceived as such almost 100% of the time. Sure they get the “ass-hole” or “jerk” cards but as far as everyday interactions go, it is not expected of them to behave like we women unrealistically are.

    Now I am not saying I bombard around life like a furious “I am intentionally not going to be nice to you” ball of fire. For me, it is becoming personally aware of my actions and why I chose them, then going from there. Protect yourself ladies!

  • Male and Female: Be nice if ya mean it, and at least make an effort to be cordial if ya don’t

  • Haha! We are in the age of “Anne Hathaway,” who frankly I believe is the girl in middle school who always got A’s but always thought she’d fail…but that was me. Being “nice” shouldn’t mean standing one’s ground, and it can pay off in the end. All that matters most is being kind. As Conan said, “Work hard, be nice, and amazing things will happen.”

  • Margaret

    Hmm. I think when it comes to smiling and being “sweet” in general… Dont think of it as people pleasing or submissively apologizing for your existence to that rude barista: do it for their sake. Purposely being kind to someone rude cools their jets, and honestly, should make them ashamed. Or maybe they were having a bad day and your smile gives them a little hope. I dont know, I just like to think that by smiling, or being gracious, YOU are setting the bar. And setting it high. And that’s bad ass, right?

  • Vickie Papageorge

    After reading Newman’s article I can slightly understand where she is coming from – we live in an age where we are constantly told as woman that we can do anything and be anything we want – and sometimes being the “nice girl” doesn’t necessarily get you to that point. I on the other hand may be stuck in a time capsule – but I think that being “nice” isn’t so bad. Being nice for myself – and not because I want others to see me as a “nice girl”.

    Being gracious and nice can also get you where you want in life. You don’t necessarily need to wear a scowl walking down the street to let someone know you’re a confident woman – sometimes you can stop someone dead in their tracks – merely with a smile.

  • Claire

    You can be nice and get the job done. There’s no reason ever to be a bitch.

  • Hudson Berry

    Be kind, but be honest about who you are and what you think. Being governed by others’ opinions gets you very little respect and gets very little done. I think a big part of your 20s is learning to trust yourself, your decisions.

  • Andrew

    I believe niceness is underrated- specifically in fashion. And while I don’t believe trying to please “the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me”, smiling at the Starbucks barista and your dentist is sweet and charming- not antifeminist.

  • smileymagee

    I dunno- I think as human’s kindness and niceness are actually the best qualities we posses. I am know for being exceptionally nice, I smile at everyone and always take interest in other people. Doing so has gotten me further than most of my professional peers ( i’m a photographer) and meant if I am ever stuck I have a multitude of people i can call on to help me. It’s not a female thing, it’s a human energy thing- we respond better when someone is nice to us, especially when it happens in an interaction that is usually sterile. I will bend over backwards to support and help someone who is nice to me, someone who is not can get fucked no matter who they are. As the wise Mad Hatter said- ” it is better to be loved than feared”

  • Annie

    I just recently wrote about this exact topic!
    It’s as though there are only two options for women: to be nice or to be a bitch. That fear of straying even an inch from nice is what prohibits women from being direct and just saying whatever needs to be said– thus leading to all catty, silent, behind the back waring.

  • Dallas

    I like the quotation from Jennifers comment. I want to be refined. That way when I have to lose my cool it will shock everyone stupid. But I like “refined”. Polite but not overly eager to please. That sounds good. A little mysterious. Cool. I think I will need some designer sunglasses to pull this off.

  • TheGirlWithFireHair

    For me, I was always taught to have ‘good manners’ around other people. This means saying thank you if anyone does something for me, being polite around adults and smiling at servers who help me fix my dinner order. However, if someone is being rude to me, I don’t think women should just have to “grin and bear it” or cross our legs and forget about it. We should say, “Hey, you’re overreacting right now.” Or, “you’re misunderstanding me” instead of apologizing when we aren’t in the wrong. However in the heat of an argument it is harder to see who is right with emotions so immediate. I agree with a lot of the other comments that say, “you should be polite, but not a pushover.” When you’re wronged, say something! And if the server was a little slow with your drink order, smile and reassure them. Just never let anyone take you for granted.

  • Janie

    Everyone should be exactly as nice as they want to be.

    We’re all different and should feel free to be ourselves (accepting that there are realistic consequences for that, of course). Behavioral standards are acceptable only when participation is fully voluntary (e.g., professional behavior at a job where all employees are held to the same rules).

    You want to be nice and liked? Great. You don’t give a shit what other people think? Fine. You’re being nice just to manipulate people? Why not. If you’re at peace with your own behavior, you’re sleeping well at night and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  • There’s a difference between being nice and being apologetic. Just as there is between being course and being strong. You can have one without the other.

  • ld

    I feel like this article has brought out a more cynical edge to the discussion. I think that by teaching young girls to not be ‘nice’ establishes another set of expectations to which they have to conform. There shouldn’t be anything negative connotated with being ‘nice’ or being a harder, less ‘nice’ person. Has our society not progressed enough to realise that by encouraging women to be more aggressive, man-like and less ‘nice’ we are still defining how they should behave according to the masculine definition of what guarantees success in the workplace?

  • Zaena

    Its all about balance- knowing when to be nice and when to be tough. People assume that im always sweet – as I like to smile- why not- I think its scientifically proven to have some psychological benefits – but if they try to take advantage I’m forced to show some backbone.

  • Kate

    What a great article and topic for discussion! This is something I’m confronted with and think about fairly often, not necessarily as a gender thing, but as a cultural thing. I’m an American living in Germany and I can’t tell you how often I hear people (mainly other American expats) criticizing the Germans for being generally rude. They don’t smile. They don’t participate in small talk. Someone offering for you to go in front of their giant pile of groceries in the checkout line with your single item? Not going to happen. After several years of living amongst these people, I’ve come to realize that it’s not for lack of being a ‘nice’ culture, Germans are just more private, neutral people. When you are friends with them, they smile, will chat for hours on end and sometimes, even the funny ones will crack jokes. There isn’t the same societal pressure to engage in these kinds of almost intimate, emotional interactions with complete strangers as there is in America.

    I think there’s a fine line between being nice and being an apologetic doormat, and unfortunately, I see a lot of the later in American women. I think we, American women, can learn a little something from the Germans in that not being ‘nice’, as defined by American societal standards, doesn’t necessarily mean being rude. And on the other side, it’s important for society not to condemn women for engaging in this standard of behavior. That woman who took the free parking spot you both saw at the same time, instead of waving you to take it? Guess what, she’s not a bitch. She’s just a woman who’s got shit to do. Same as you.

    I love this idea of thought-provoking discussions. Keep ’em coming!

    • I (an expat Slovenian) like living among Germans for that very reason …

      Obviously, one could write books about the 500 shades of being nice and not nice and many useful and valid insights have been given here already, so there’s no need for me to go into detail, but: I like the fact that people around me are neutral to me. Men and women. It allows me to be neutral, too (so I don’t have to always communicate my sweet, natural niceness and/or sarcasm grown from bad experience. As in: BAD).

      And yes, in a neutral environment, special cases of nice mostly ARE special. In all other cases, the speed/non-intrusiveness of interaction suffices.
      Germans tend to generally behave in a correct and considerate way, so there’s no real need to communicate correctness and friendliness too excessively …

  • Tessa

    I think the point is that being “nice” for women has taken on a conetely different connotation. And there is much more expectation that from a young age girls will put being “nice” over expressing their true feelings, thoughts, opinions and ideas. I also want to be a decent, kind, friendly human being, but not if it means sacrificing my ability to express my true feelings and up-speaking all the time.

  • Be nice when it’s genuine, be whatever else you are when it’s not.

    Case in point:
    I recently handed the keys to an apartment and found it riddled with bedbugs. When I confronted the apartment management about it, I was NOT NICE. No smiling, no apologizing, no laughing to diffuse the tension, no bending to their excuses. I am now living in a much nicer, not bug-infested apartment in the same complex…and paying less. Had I been “nice,” I’d probably still be living there, and dealing with the bugs for months to come.

    Being nice has it’s place – telling women to stop altogether would be stupid. But being nice simply to appease others, when you don’t really feel that way? That IS stupid.

    Unless it’s your grandmother. Be nice to her always, and you will be forever rewarded with the most amazing hugs, baked goods and booze (at least that’s how it works with mine).

  • Melissa

    Great post, Man Repeller.

    I’ve been told (by some severely obnoxious women) to “stop smiling at everyone” because they’re “getting the wrong idea”. She meant men. Men were getting the wrong idea. They thought I liked them. That my smile chose them. It was not the case and now why I was smiling. And although I thought she was wrong in her theory, and ridiculous as a person, that was the moment when I was hyperaware of my emotions and stopped showing my genuine self to strangers. My innocence felt sort of yanked from me.

    I guess I’m taking this article for what it’s worth: that at some point in your womanhood you begin caring about what people think of you. However much effort you place in that, how much you lose yourself, varies from girl to girl. And sometimes, in order to keep from crying at your desk, you have to smile instead of scowl at your creepy-as-fuck-boss to keep the peace.

    I guess I’m still a little like Birdy, even in my adulthood, after years of love and disappointment. What’s important to note, is that being true to yourself is much more important than being “nice” or “bitchy” or whatever lukewarm label anyone is giving women these days. And it’s not horrible to smile, to yourself, to anyone, if that’s the emotion you are genuinely feeling.

  • Summer J.

    I don’t think being kind and wearing a smile is a sign that you are trying to please everyone and make them like you. Personally, I find that when I am in a good state of mind, I smile more. When I am inwardly happy and positive, it shows on the outside. And doesn’t everyone hope to feel happy? It is an effort and a choice that you make. And if it shows in a smile and makes someone else feel good, then that’s great!

    At the same time, being positive (aka “nice”) should not mean that you can be walked all over. That is what I have found to be the main negative point to being “too nice.” It is good to be assertive and strong and stick up for yourself and what you believe and what you deserve. It’s too bad that some strong women get labeled “bitchy” or other negative terms because of this. Is there a happy medium? Does there need to be? Just be you and strive to be the best, happiest you, whatever that means.

  • Frances Coral

    A girl can be nice and smart. It’s just a case of maliciousness and logic.

  • Hannah Travers
  • while i completely agree with most of the sentiments from this ever clever group of commenters, this article is beyond exasperating mostly because of the way in which it tears down other women, as too many a staunch feminist often does. firstly, god forbid your daughter should smile her way through life as if waitressing or pole dancing? while i know that waitress and pole dancer are never the answer to what do you want to be when you grow up, sometimes they’re the reality you end up with and more power to someone who opts to go out and do what they have to rather than thinking they’re above something. and it’s all well and good that your murderous zombie gnome of a daughter has chosen this path of gender blind morality and scowling but there are other, equally viable ways to get through life. the whole article reeks of the superlative voice frequently encountered on mommy blogs and to that i think: you stop. i think: shut up! i think: take off your blinders.


  • dee

    I think that in a world that is increasingly individualistic, fast, and well, rude–we, as human beings, could all stand to be a little more gracious, compassionate, polite even. We have to live on this crazy planet together, why not do our part to make it a “nicer” place to be.

  • Angeli

    Being “nice” also varies from region to region. Texas “nice” is a radical difference from New York “nice.” As a matter of fact, it was the topic of choice last night at Serendipity. Southern hospitality is so refreshing, especially in New York. Once New York takes a toll on you, if you’re from a “nice” place, you morph into a New Yorker: less smiling, less “thank yous” and less opening of doors.

  • RunwayChic Fashion

    Check out for hot and stylish clothing at an affordable price. Use the code PREVIEW10 for a 10% discount. Also, follow us on IG at

  • magnolia

    Seriously ladies? Since when do we want to be like the “men”?! You can be a CEO AND be nice. Smile at random people. Being nice never hurt someone and certainly never hurt yourself. This is the power that women should hold on to. We can actually do more than one thing at a time and still do all of it better than men. Be nice AND be good at your job. And btw…if there is a motive to your “niceness” than it isn’t nice at all.

  • Anna

    Mostly all the boys like nice girls. (even if they say they dont)

  • Mikalah Jones

    girls are “suppose” to be bitches. (excuse my language) but that’s just how people see it so when you are nice Some people just love to try you just to see if you’ll wig out of explode. then you have people that seriously take advantage of you just because they know you are a nice person “Ask LaLa shes too nice to say no” . then you are never allowed to have a bad, mean or off day, take it from a “nice” girl if you are feeling down or snap at someone people scoff and say “Well i thought she was the nice one” or “That nice attitude must be fake, now we’re seeing how she really is”. But the worst is the reaction from other girls “Why is she so damn happy?” have you ever had someone hate you because they don’t like how happy and nice you are? it is honestly the weirdest thing I’ve ever encountered and it has led to some arguments with girls who didn’t know this nice girl has claws. i think what needs to be said is i’m nice until given a reason not to be, i wont continue to smile while someone walks over me but i wont wake up with a scowl on my face either. just the fact that i’m alive and breathing is a reason to smile and be nice. its just different for some people, if being assertive works for you then by all means wear that scowl and fold your arms, but being nice is my thing.

  • Greer


  • Kathryn H.

    I’m afraid this mother is ultimately cheating her daughter out of good karma. I like that she wants her daughter to have a strong, independent, feminist mindset, but to give her the impression that she shouldn’t be kind to others because it’s cliché…? Everyone regardless of gender, age, etc… wants and deserves respect and compassion. It’s human! however, no one should allow themselves to be a door mat ,either.

  • Sloane Peterson

    Women are considered cold bitches or ice queens when they are assertive or maybe not the “nice girl”. Men get warrior labels, pats on the back, and accolades for holding their ground and being direct. Isn’t this why female politicians always get ripped to shreds in the eyes of the public? You can be a gracious and kind person but being “nice” is expected of and taught to females in order to keep us quiet and subservient.

  • Sophie

    This article and a number of comments make me very sad and I think that I have a responsibility to explain something about waitressing as an adult woman. I recently left a salaried management position to go back to waiting tables at the professional level (yes, this exists). Being a waitress, in the right places, allows me the freedom to work as much as I want whenever I want, travel for long periods of time, have relaxing Saturday-style mornings every morning, keep active (no desks) and help people be happy every day. I have the time and money to be an artist and a breadwinner in an expensive city, and I think that this is a good career decision for more people than we think. It’s a balancing act and it’s not for everybody, but there is absolutely no shame or settling or subservience inherent in waitressing. Not every waitress, shopgirl, or barista is acting. She might just be happy at her job.

    • Mattie Kahn

      Thanks for sharing this, Sophie. Leandra and I both thought the author’s equation of waitressing and pole dancing was hugely problematic (and, frankly, deeply anti-feminist). It’s a cheap shot, and I think it weakens her argument as a whole.

      • Sophie

        Mattie, I agree, but I was trying to be nice by pointing out the positive that she wasn’t in a position to see instead of shutting her down. I don’t think that slut-shaming or service-shaming have any place in a community that is trying to support and empower women, and especially, girls.
        We should be able to tell our girls, “If you want, you can have a simple life on your own terms and do a job that makes you AND someone else happy. Waitress, stylist, blogger, party planner, etsy phenomenon…even a burlesque dancer.”
        About the smiling, I have found that people ask “why no smile?” out of a desire for social cohesion, to know “are you hurt or going to hurt me?” It’s like a false alarm to some when there’s no smile and nothing wrong.
        But determined grins say, “there’s nothing wrong, I’m just kicking ass!”…and if you mess with me, I might bite you.

  • Tori

    There are many very thoughtful and meaningful comments here. As well as many different ways in which to perceive this topic, and I suppose I am adding one more to the pile.

    I think one of the core ideals here is whether the individual (the nice / not nice) wants to be a responder to their environment or an agent of action within said environment. If the environment makes the individual feel unsure or insecure, being a responder, one who surveys the mood and adjusts accordingly, may be advantageous. However, as many have mentioned, it lacks authenticity, and is a means to an end. And agent of action would have the individual behaving in whatever manner is dictated by their inner conscious. This may leave those around you in a responder mode, feeling threaten or unsure about you at first. But one thing is for sure, you cannot control how others feel or respond to you. You can try to garner favor, however, this may be an endless and self-esteem hindering pursuit.

    Additionally, these options are by no means mutually exclusive, I feel that I personally am 70% agent and 20% responder with a floating 10% dependent on mood.

    Through the many responses, it seems that there is still quite a lot of pressure on women to be the atmosphere mediators, smoothing over conflict and making everyone “feel better” in stead of being allowed to honestly spread happiness from their inner peace and contentment, and frankly that sucks. I really feel that you should portray to the world your truth, and you might find that it on occasion includes a smile.

    Enjoy the Day

  • Levin

    Holy shit!! Disregarding the entire purpose of this post/discussion I have to segue to (my idea of) the most interesting thing: Is anybody else just divinely in love with the fact that there are so many people/ women in one place sharing educated, interesting and intelligent opinions and expanding on rebuttals with each other in such amicable ways?! You guys are amazing for creating such a platform.

    • Leandra Medine

      No, YOU guys are amazing for supporting what we are trying to create!

  • Very impressive article. I have read each and every point and found it very interesting.

  • Matthew Winston

    I have the exact same problem, I’m beginning to realize that I’m too nice of a person. But then I turn around and think, shouldn’t everyone try to be a nice person? Why should I compromise my humanity and understanding just for some upset meanie.

    I’m a Goodie and will never change.

  • Caroline

    Have people not ever tapped into their brain to really examine what they’re feeling? WHAT ARE YOU FEELING? Are you feeling nice? Do you feel like smiling because you realize that you’re alive and experiencing what’s around you?? I’m going to do this and call myself a bona fide nice girl. I firmly believe that it’s part of my nature, and the way I was raised. (Also…I grew up in a house with four sisters and no boys, mad love for it all). Discussions of the “popular group” in middle school were received with “Just be nice,” from my mother. Maybe it’s my compulsive trait to follow directions from people I trust but that’s what I did, it’s what I’ll always do–be nice.

    And I’ve gotten that, “Smile!” comment on the sidewalk, and at times it’s annoyed me but I haven’t been annoyed because I was told by a man. I was told that because I was upset about something OR I was in deep thought about which dishwasher soap to buy. Honestly, I’m tired of this B.S. discussions about men not having to face this kind of stuff. They are men, I am a woman, this is the life I am living. I’m a woman, I love it, I accept it. Once I got to that point, being a woman involved me tapping into my brain and literally asking myself all sorts of questions–“What do I want to do? What do I like? What do I feel like right now?” To hell with everyone else. But then for me, “to hell with everyone else” involves smiling at strangers, being kind. Plus, I mean seriously, how awful do people look when they don’t smile??

  • Lilandra Carrier

    You can catch even more flies with BS, though I don’t advocate that.
    I was brought up to represent my mother well, so maybe I’m not nice all the time, but I am always very polite and respectful. I also have fierce bitchy resting face without realizing it, yet if someone talks to me I automatically smile. I find that generally being nice to strangers, even if they are not nice back, leads to a nicer day in general. So why not? When I was in my teen years, I used to think being nice and baking was for 50’s housewives, but now that I’m 30 I can’t help but notice that both are good.

  • ellekaybee

    My wide smile and persuasive sweet “nice” talk has got me through a lot of things in life. I’m eternally going to be an awkward person with a lack of tact but mastering the “nice” illusion has been an important part of my career success. Besides men eat that shit up. In my line of work there’s nothing more valuable than a hard working sweet smiling woman with a sharp mind.

  • Ssunbeamss

    I taught my daughter to be effective in all her endeavors, interested in life and people, caring and true to herself. That worked. She is nice when the situation calls for it and not when it doesn’t.

  • Kconks

    Thank goodness for Kahn and Newman. Did this article mention anywhere that the mother was discouraging her daughter from being nice? No, in fact it seems that Birdy’s personality and behavior towards strangers is internally driven. This is less about going out of your way to be “bitchy” and more about not going out of your way to smile and put others at ease. It’s about how you respond when the man on the street says “smile, honey” when you walk past with a neutral expression – why should you walk around with a smile on your face when surrounded by strangers? Why smile without cause? Like the French One said below what is it about Americans that they can’t comfortably interact with you unless you ease the way with groundless positive expressions? And if we’re talking about Oprah, you should really read about Oprah v Martha Stewart. Both successful but with differing amounts of emotional availability – Oprah lets you see her struggle, to the point where you don’t respect her for her strength but for her ability to be open about her weaknesses. While we can call that a strength of its own can we really expect that behavior to be respected by all (men, women, bosses, employees) when exhibited by all? Why should we want a feminism of difference that only allows us to help others or succeed by emulating a woman who gives away minivans on her talk show? Why can’t we be a little more like Martha and not care about whether or not we are liked so much as if we are treating people well and doing our jobs well, if with the occasional furrowed brow

  • infinity_scarf

    How many of you have ever been stopped by a homeless man, doorman, coworker, older male relative or some other male person and they say “Honey, why don’t you put on a smile.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard this happening to any men, at least the ones I know. I agree that it’s culturally expected to be happy and generally pleasant all the time but why must women always be smiling? Why must I always have a smile on my face all day, even when I sit on the subway after 14 hour work day?

    My gay male friend said that men think women should always look approachable and that’s why men might ask us to smile. I’m sorry, but after working my ass off for hours, I want to have a quiet ride home so no, I don’t want to look approachable. And what gives men the right to comment on how we display our emotions? To be honest, when men say this to me, I give them a sour face and walk away.

  • AnnieEden

    I think it is important to consider the difference between being a nice person and feeling the need to go out of the way to be considered “nice” by absolutely everyone you have ever encountered. I believe this is what Newman was getting at when she explained feeling the need to put on smiles for her “son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me”. I think social graces are are important in our everyday interactions, and of course there are those moments where a complete stranger SINCERELY makes you smile, but the main point here is sincerity. Do we take the pressure of being perceived in a positive light so far sometimes that we lose our genuine personalities?

  • Ash

    To me the most frustrating thing about the entire topic of gender roles is the idea that some believe that women can’t be both successful and feminine. Why is it considered a weakness to be kind and “nice” to other people. Throughout my life I have always felt that people mistake my “niceness” for weakness. Nice doesn’t always mean weak. I reserve my right to be nice and powerful. Both feminine and strong. But I also feel that femininity is not strictly defined in one way or the other. As far as I can tell, being assertive, aggressive, and less friendly does not change one’s sexual organs or one’s chromosome count. That mother claims that she herself is “nice” in order to get approval, however this in no way indicates her weakness. “God help me if that girl ends up smiling her way through her entire life.” Doesn’t sound weak to me. Sounds like a badass lady who uses her maternal instincts (a specifically feminine trait) as a source of strength and motivation. Feminine, and strong.

  • I think each side of our unique personas and the various subsets of these personality types have a place in the world and within our everyday. I can’t submit to the idea that we need to be the dominating bitch anymore than I can tolerate the notion that we should walk around with a plastic smile affixed to our faces. It’s an archaic notion that some one who actively pursues a career that requires them to be more socially forthcoming is worth any less than a woman in a colder business setting. I think Newman is raising her daughter under a falsified definition of success and how to reach it.

    Also love that this is becoming a permanent fixture. With so many fashion blogs out there I think it is admirable that you strive to create an environment with so much more than aesthetics. Thanks!

  • Kirby

    Sounds like something my mom would write about me. Being overly “nice”, just like people pleasing, is completely overrated. You gotta learn to be straightforward otherwise everyone will go on treating you like you’re nothing.

  • s

    I definitely would rather deal with other females who are directly aggressive as opposed to those who are “nice” which can be an euphemism for indirectly aggressive, high-school style.

  • Krissy

    I think there’s a balance. My mom recently told me that one of her regrets was raising my older sister and I to be too nice. Because now in my 20’s I’m just learning to grow a back bone. I would let “friends” and guys especially walk all over me because I was so hell bent on being nice and having everyone like me. Then one day it dawned on me when I was walking to class and passing a guy who I let use me for over a year, that I didn’t have to smile at him and give him and friendly hello like I usually did, because I didn’t want too! Smiling and being nice only would only validate his behavior. I don’t think the rule is that you have to be nice to everyone you meet. I think you need to simply respect everyone you meet. And while the difference may sometimes be a bit grey there certainly is one.

  • eliciacarter

    learn how to generate 50 $ a day from your home. simply go here surveymoneymaker dot net