Rhett Butler: Nice Guy

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, October 2, 2008 23:43 EDT
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I have one huge quibble with Michael Kimmel’s otherwise excellent book Guyland. It’s towards the end, when he veers a tad close to validating the complaint of Nice Guys® everywhere, which is that their very Niceness means all women everywhere will reject them. There’s a lot of problems with that I won’t go into, but I do think Kimmel is right that a lot of young women are trained to believe that they find someone who positions himself as untameable and tame him, and that’s romantic. But a lot of young women reject that myth, and yet somehow the Nice Guys® never seem to discover young women that are eager to have a boyfriend that already comes with a sympathetic shoulder and respect pre-installed. I can’t help but think that, since there are a lot of young women like that, the Nice Guy® myth about how women all love jerks and not him will usually mean he’s not as nice as he says, or he defines “women” very narrowly. But enough of that. You’ve heard it before.

None of this is even remotely to be taken as an endorsement of “Gone With The Wind”. Not its plot, characters, acting, and especially not its politics. Also, spoilers of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”.

No, my quibble is the example Kimmel uses to show how young women are socially conditioned into self-destructive romantic choices. He leans on “Gone With The Wind”, using Rhett Butler as an example of the cad that the ladies can’t resist and Ashley Wilkes as the boring but dependable guy, and the assumption is that Scarlett makes the mistake of picking Rhett, and Kimmel leans on the notorious rape scene to prove this. But I’ve seen that movie. He’s got it completely backwards. For all that Ashley is a milquetoast, he’s actually the higher-status cad, and Rhett is the Nice Guy® who can’t catch a break. During the whole entire movie, Scarlett carries a torch for Ashley, who treats her like shit, using her for erotic thrills behind his long-suffering wife’s back and coasting through life on his status in the community. Rhett is a scraper and a hard worker who builds his fortune from scratch, and he is devoted to Scarlett, propping her up and loving her for years without her returning it or even respecting him.

Really, the whole story is sort of a pitch-perfect revenge fantasy for Nice Guys®. The bitchy but irresistible hot chick who thinks she’s so special keeps using the Nice Guy® for his money and his sympathy, but doesn’t love him. She even refuses him sex! How dare she! No, instead she loves that jerk that is just using her. The rape scene is part of the fantasy—one night the Nice Guy® cracks and shows her who’s boss, and she melts and loves it, as he always knew she would. But the real fantasy is the one lurking behind every bitter Nice Guy® rant. One day she’s going to realize what a fool she’s been all along loving that jerk, and come crawling back on her knees to you. And then you’re going to laugh in her face and leave her despondent on the floor, having lost everything for being so foolish. A delicious fantasy that probably doesn’t happen to as many Nice Guys® as movies would have you believe.

By the way, I saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” last night, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t have the same vile Nice Guy® fantasy in it. The worst part was I had some high hopes that the movie would be smarter than to just make Sarah Marshall this horrible villain who needs to be humiliated for having the nerve to dump our hero, because there’s a scene where she explains why she had to dump him and how hard she worked at the relationship. Really, the scene where Sarah explains herself is great. It’s a quick jab at the male privilege that wrecks so many hetero relationships—he lays on the couch, scarfing Cheetos in his sweatpants while she reads books, takes seminars, cries her eyes out, busts her ass trying to make it work, and he never even notices. So after making it clear that the hero deserved to be dumped do we have the routine humiliation of the ex-girlfriend, one that leaves her a) prone b) half-naked and c) whining? Hell, even Scarlett O’Hara got better treatment than that, and she really was a user. That final scene with Sarah was bullshit.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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