Is Shame a Productive Tactic for Affecting Change?

By now you’ve probably heard of Nice Guys of OK Cupid. It’s been taken down, but here’s a link about it in case you’re not in the know. Basically, someone went through OK Cupid profiles and took excerpts from the profiles of men who claimed to be “nice guys” but whose profiles also contained sexist or misogynist statements, imposed these statements over their pictures, and posted them on a tumblr. I think this offers a moment to pause and ask some questions, questions about privacy and shaming, about privilege distress, and about the most effective way to change minds and affect change.

It seems fairly obvious to me that Nice Guys of OK Cupid constituted a violation of privacy. Although it did not release the names of the men it was dedicated to mocking, it did release their images. Is it really okay to publish people’s pictures on the internet like this, especially when the result is shaming and mockery? We talk a lot about the importance of respecting women’s privacy. Yes, this is in large part to protect victims, and also because when women have their privacy violated this violation is frequently accompanied by threats of violence. But is privacy also a universal right for its own sake? And if so, shouldn’t we view the sort of violation of privacy carried out by Nice Guys of OK Cupid as a problem? [This section was edited in response to feedback from a reader.]

Furthermore, what is the purpose of shaming these men? To make an example of them? I get that we should talk about the huge problems with the belief held by these men and many others that women owe them sex. Amen and amen to having those discussions! But I don’t think that those discussions have to employ this sort of shaming or violation of privacy. It’s not like the men featured on Nice Guys of OK Cupid are even especially powerful or influential. If you read the tumblr, they describe themselves as down and out, unable to get a date. This isn’t a case of the little guys standing up to the big guy. Is this sort of shaming really productive? Does it actually challenge and change these men’s beliefs, or does it just make them angry and result in them withdrawing even further from feminism and gender equality? Does it educate, or does it serve merely to further alienate them and push them away? Does this sort of thing actually benefit feminism, or does it instead serve to make the sort of men featured on Nice Guys of OK cupid see feminism as an enemy to be opposed?

I am reminded of an interesting article I read recently about privilege distress. After beginning with the image of stereotypical 1950s TV father George Parker suddenly transported in time to the present, and suddenly bereft of servile wife and doting children, the article continues as follows:

George Parker’s choices. All his life, George has tried to be a good guy by the lights of his society. But society has changed and he hasn’t, so he isn’t seen as a good guy any more. He feels terrible about that, but what can he do?

One possibility: Maybe he could learn to be a good guy by the lights of this new society. It would be hard. He’d have to give up some of his privileges. He’d have to examine his habits to see which ones embody assumptions of supremacy. He’d have to learn how to see the world through the eyes of others, rather than just assume that they will play their designated social roles. Early on, he would probably make a lot of mistakes and his former inferiors would correct him. It would be embarrassing.

But there is an alternative: counter-revolution. George could decide that his habits, his expectations, and the society they fit are RIGHT, and this new society is WRONG. If he joined with the other fathers (and right-thinking mothers like the one in the poster) of Pleasantville, maybe they could force everyone else back into their traditional roles.

Which choice he makes will depend largely on the other characters. If they aren’t firm in their convictions, the counter-revolution may seem easy. (“There, there, honey. I know you’re upset. But be reasonable.”) But if their resentment is implacable, becoming a good guy in the new world may seem impossible.

Only the middle path — firmness together with understanding — has a chance to tame George and bring him back into society on new terms.

I think there’s something to be said for this post, and I suggest that you read the whole thing. It’s very tempting to simply mock men who are facing what the article calls “privilege distress.” Very tempting. I get it. But is it right? Is that the example we want to be setting? And furthermore, is it productive? What does it accomplish? What if the result is to simply alienate men and drive them further into resentment? Is that really what we want to be doing?

I am also reminded of a recent comment on my blog:

The three major patriarchal male roles are provider, protector, and head of household. The feminist or post-patriarchal vision of masculinity that you outline here envisions men sharing these roles with their wives or partners and assuming their share of the patriarchal female roles of child rearing and domestic labor. The egalitarian partnership and stay at home dads are featured in these discussions. But what if that’s not what happens? What if heterosexual men simply reject their patriarchal roles without assuming any of the female roles? What if they walk away from committed relationships with women entirely?

Of course, scores and scores of feminist men are today are showing that living a life of gender equality isn’t all that complicated. I don’t think it’s at all as complicated as this reader seems to suggest. But I also don’t think we should simply ignore what he says here. I don’t think we should respond to those men who do find change challenging or distressing by mocking them because I don’t think that’s productive. Sure, if given a chance between being single my entire life and marrying a sexist jerk, I’d pick single any day. But I don’t think the world is as simple or black and white as to be divided unchangingly into “feminist guys” and “sexist jerks.” Like the author of the piece on privilege distress points out, I think the way we respond to men who find change discomfiting affects how those men will go on to handle that change. Will they accommodate to a world where their privilege is diminished, or will they recoil and resist? I think our actions and responses have the potential to affect that choice.

In the end, I feel very strongly that if we want to change people’s minds, we need to treat them with civility – even when we don’t think they deserve it or that it will do any good. When I was a conservative evangelical, being mocked never led me to rethink my beliefs and positions. Instead, it made me dig in my heels. It exacerbated the us versus them way I saw the world. It was when I found people ready to patiently point out my mistakes and errors that I was able and willing to listen and, ultimately, to change. I think the same is true for a lot of people, and probably for many of the “nice guys” of OK Cupid as well. I only hope that the mocking and shaming has not driven them away.

***Update (1/9/13)***: I’ve changed the name of this post, which was originally called “Let’s Stop Shaming Men,” after reading this comment left by LeftSidePositive:

And another thing: the title of this piece is misleading. “Let’s stop shaming men” implies that men are being shamed simply for being men, and this is emphatically not true. What these men are being shamed for is having grossly entitled, misogynistic views. Now, you may make the argument that we shouldn’t shame even then (I disagree with you, for the reasons I have already listed above), but your actual proposal is “Let’s stop shaming self-entitled misogynists,” so you should try to defend it specifically on those terms (I suppose you could even soften it to “Let’s stop shaming those with self-entitled misogynist views,” but frankly most of what I saw on NGoOKC when it was up crossed well into the territory where a more encompassing label was appropriate!).

LeftSidePositive is completely right. I chose my original title very poorly. So I’ve changed it. I chose “Is Shame a Productive Tactic for Affecting Change?” because I think it reflects what I was trying to get at. The question I am raising is one of tactics.

Many of the comments below have also pointed out is that by shaming those who hold reprehensible views, projects like Nice Guys of OK Cupid serve a purpose by making it clear that that those views are unacceptable. Others have pointed out that the goal of projects like Nice Guys of OK Cupid is not to reach the men whose images it has posted but rather to send a message to others watching and thus hopefully positively affect change. Others suggested that we shouldn’t worry about changing misogynists because they are beyond reach, and we should therefore instead focus on isolating and marginalizing them. These are all excellent points, and they have been helpful in further informing my views on this subject.

I think my disagreement rests on two points. First, I don’t think everyone who holds sexist or misogynist beliefs is beyond reach. And second, while I would admit that shaming serves a purpose, I would argue that it also has some significant negative side effects. And interestingly, I think both of these digressions rest in my own past personal experiences.

How We Disagree
Steve Is a Man: On Minecraft and Gender
What I Love about My Feminist Husband
Fifty Shades of Evangelical Justifications for Patriarchy
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for this, Libby Anne. Issues like this can be very confusing to untangle. I’m glad the blogosphere has a voice as reasonable and compassionate as yours.

  • Azura

    I do think a tumblr like that one could have been very useful at pointing out how common these ideas are and why they’re wrong. I do agree that outing these men is not useful or moral, even though I really never thought about it. As someone who gets messaged by these guys on OKCupid and harassed by them in person, I never stopped to think about why Nice Guy Syndrome occurs in the first place. I still don’t think of them as the “little guy” because they still often abuse females for turning them down, but I get your point that they aren’t exactly political figures either. I have no idea how to combat those toxic ideas, and while mocking them feels relieving for a time, you’re right that it just perpetuates the problem.

    • piny

      Yes, this. I’m very bothered by the idea that these guys are “little:” they may not be very powerful men, but they are abusing the power they have over women: to demand sex and then insult women for turning them down. They’re not the powerless ones in this scenario. They’re the bullies. Men who identify as Nice Guys are using manipulation and social pressure to shame women into having sex with them. And even if they’re not directing this attitude at the specific object of their attraction, the “Don’t Be That Girl, Don’t Be The Bitch,” message coerces all women.

      And we have only their word for it that they “can’t get a date.” Their definition of “date” is as much a product of their entitlement as their nasty behavior towards women.

      In general, I really don’t think I agree with this. I don’t think it helps people to coddle them–to make them feel as though they are justified in their grief and outrage over challenges to their comfortable sense of superiority. I think it gives the game away, and allows them to go on thinking of themselves as the center of the universe. In this post, for example, a man’s sense of insult over not being treated like king o’ the heap is treated as tantamount to a woman’s sense of insult over being treated like a pet. And–as another commenter pointed out–you’ve compared “outing” of misogynist bullies to outing as a form of misogynist bullying, effectively erasing what these guys are actually doing with their own words.

      • Libby Anne

        You make a good point with that first paragraph. While these individual men may (if we take them at their word) be down and out and not in positions of power or influence, they still exist within and use the tools of patriarchal power relations and narratives that put women at a disadvantage – and they are, by their own admission, trying to tap into those. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

        As I pointed out in response to a previous comment, I wasn’t intending to compare the morality of the outing in the two situations but rather to point out that both involve privacy violations – and because I think the vast differences in the two meant that my point of comparison got buried, I edited that section to remove the comparison and point out the difference.

        In the end, I think this is where our difference lies:

        I don’t think it helps people to coddle them–to make them feel as though they are justified in their grief and outrage over challenges to their comfortable sense of superiority.

        I don’t think we have to “coddle” people, or whatever you want to call it, but I personally think that it is usually more productive to use gentler tactics rather than harsher tactics if the goal is to change the mind of the person you’re interacting with. Of course, this is speaking from my personal experience, and I know that others in the comments section here have said they’ve had different experiences. And also, others have also pointed out that the goal of Nice Guys of OK Cupid was not necessarily to change the minds of “nice guys” so much as to educate everyone else – a point I hadn’t thought about. In the end, I don’t claim to know everything, I am happy to listen to input – and I’ve found yours quite informative – and I’m fine with agreeing to disagree on matters of tactics.

  • smrnda

    I think my objections here are simply pragmatic – doing this to a mildly misogynistic man is probably going to make him worse and not better. At the same time, I’m never sure how to change minds here, because I never can be sure who the misogynist is since a man is going to behave differently around me than say, around another man who might share his viewpoints – I tend to find that even among men, men who are closer to being feminist men aren’t always interacting with or hanging out with men who struggle with accepting more egalitarian relationships with women. It’s tough to change minds when people’s social circles don’t likely intersect very profoundly.

  • ildi

    It seems fairly obvious to me that Nice Guys of OK Cupid constituted a violation of privacy. Although it did not release the names of the men it was dedicated to mocking, it did release their images. Is it really okay to publish people’s pictures on the internet like this, especially with the intent to shame them? Wouldn’t we as feminists be appalled if someone did something similar with pictures of women?

    OK Cupid is a free site searchable by anybody, so I don’t see how this is a violation of their privacy, particularly since their user names and their locations weren’t released. A similar site “OKCupid Goldmine” lists women as well as men. These people choose to represent themselves in the public eye with the information they put in their profiles; how is compiling them in one spot violating their privacy? A better discussion re. privacy would be whether or not you think the 12-minute video of Michael Nodianos joking about alleged rape of the 16-year-old girl in Steubenville that was deleted should have been leaked by Anonymous? I look at his cute rosy-cheeked baby face and hear the venom and evil spouting from his mouth, and I want to know people like that are out there, and I want them identified.

    Re. shaming and mocking; they’re just one of many tools to use to change behavior. You say that being mocked when you were evangelical just made you dig your heels in. I had a slightly different experience as I was moving away from being Catholic; mocking statements about Bronze Age sky gods pissed me off at first, but realizing religion and some of my unexamined beliefs associated with it could be mocked was one of the things that helped me break free.

  • Lassou

    I would like to address a gray area in this discussion, an area which I think is rather important. While I do think that public shaming or attacking or ad hominem responses to sexism or ignorance are usually unproductive, I think the other end of engagement is equally unproductive. A polite tone, a “Well, I see where you’re coming from,” you see where I’m going with this… those aren’t helpful. Misogyny shouldn’t be accorded respect or credibility in any form. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being aggressively insistent that someone else’s positions are wrong, and that yours are right, so long as you have evidence. And I frankly think that that a more aggressive stance against sexism and ignorance is the way to go. I don’t think we need to shame men as a whole, but I think it’s only appropriate to inform individual men who express sexist ideas that, wow, we are offended and find them astoundingly ignorant for x, y, and z reasons.

    • Elizabeth

      While I agree the extreme opposite reaction isn’t helpful (but who’s doing that anyway?) and saying “you’re mistaken because xyz” makes more sense, from what I understand, that’s not what’s going on here. Instead, it sounds like the response is simply being aggressive or trying to mock them rather than engage the issue, which isn’t the same as explaining the problem. To me, it seems like most of the time that’s only going to further “prove” to guys like this that they’re right and women really are cruel and selfish. It’s not giving them anything other than what their warped views already expect, so I don’t see how this will bring about any sort of change.

      • Lassou

        Perhaps my environment is different, but I find myself consistently around women who are afraid to speak up when people say sexist things, or they express themselves in apologetic and meek tones, as if they are sorry to have been offended and would like very much to express, please, if you don’t mind, that what you might have said is perhaps not entirely accurate. And they are ignored at best, or corrected in pedantic tones. In my own efforts to engage in a less passive manner, I find that a combination of you’re wrong, I am deeply personally offended and hurt by your wrongness, and all the logic besides points to you being wrong works best. Without the element of “What you just said hurts me deeply and I’m surprised that you’re the kind of person who would say such a thing,” I had minimal success. Adding it while maintaining a strong stance seems to be the be rather effective. But I’m dealing with college-aged males, so maybe it’s different in other circumstances.

  • E

    I don’t see why the feelings of men who put their sexism out for public view should be afforded priority over the feelings of women who are constantly targeted by that same behavior. Not every engagement with an oppressive group can or should be for the benefit of that group. Feminism is for men, but the very nature of the power structure it fights means that it cannot center men, or it ceases to be liberatory.

    Those who live with misogyny have a right to mock it. While they can if they wish–and experience and observation tells me that the vast majority of time, they do–they are not obligated to swallow their feelings in service to the greater good.

  • Geoffrey Cubbage

    It’s worth keeping in mind that the “Nice Guys of OKC” tumblr creator’s intended audience was almost certainly not the individuals whose profiles he/she featured. This was an attempt to educate (or just entertain) other people, not the “Nice Guys” themselves.

    Is it productive, in terms of changing the behavior of someone who calls himself a “nice guy” but thinks women should be subservient to men, to publicly shame him? Probably not. But it might be productive for someone ELSE to see him being mocked for that inconsistency.

    I don’t think we need to feel too sorry for the “Nice Guys of OKC” who made it onto the tumblr. They had opinions, and shared those opinions in a public forum, which is well within their rights — and then someone else quoted them, in a different public forum, which was within his/her rights as well. The fact that the reaction isn’t what the “Nice Guys” wanted has more to do with the content of their own statements than it does with the way that someone else repurposed them.

  • Katherine

    Libby Ann,

    I normally find that I agree with you on most things, but I think that you are a little off-base here, and I want to make a couple of points. Some of them have been made by other commenters above.

    1. “It seems fairly obvious to me that Nice Guys of OK Cupid constituted a violation of privacy.”
    Really? Okcupid is a free and completely PUBLIC dating website. They put both those pictures, and the quotes that are being used, on the internet, in a very public way. Nice Guys of OK Cupid is not the only place on the internet devoted to collecting PUBLIC information and showing it in a curated way for shame, laughs, or both. If the men on the site had been under the impression that their images and quotes would be protected, that would be one thing, but what definition of privacy are we using here?

    2. “From time to time there is talk of an MRA site releasing the names of women accused of making false rape accusations, and that always leads to feminist fury. Sure, the situations are not exactly the same, but if we’re concerned about violations of privacy in the one situation, shouldn’t we be concerned about it in the other?”
    These two things are worlds apart and we all know it. In one case, a person is accusing another person of a crime, and as a victim that person should be entitled to certain rights and protection, in part because not to do so would make it MARKEDLY MORE DIFFICULT FOR ANYONE TO ACCUSE ANYONE ELSE OF RAPE EVER. And it is ALREADY very unsafe for many women in many areas to accuse anyone of rape. In the other situation, someone is publicly making misogynist statements and conflated being denied sex with some sort of crime. The obvious logic here is that publishing that more widely (although it was already done publicly and NOT privately so their privacy was not really infringed upon) would possibly make it more difficult for men to publicly make those kinds of statements. Neat.
    3. “It’s not like the men featured on OK Cupid are even especially powerful or influential. They’re already down and out, unable to get a date.”
    OK Cupid is an extremely large, extremely popular, extremely useful (for many), and FREE dating website. Many of the people (both male and female) who use it are not “down and out” or “unable to get a date” but rather are single people who see the internet as one more social avenue that should not be ignored. I can not think of a single person I know under the age of 30 who has not, at one time, had an OK Cupid profile. To assume that everyone who uses it is “unable to get a date” is both wrong and insulting.

    I don’t think that sites like these are the best way to get certain messages out to men, and I can agree with part of what you are saying here. But I don’t necessarily have a problem with them either. To say that if feminists are just nicer to these entitled, sexist men, then they’ll come around eventually is both just plain wrong, and unfair puts the responsibility for their bad behavior on the shoulders of women (which is right where they’d like it to be…) Is it a little mean-spirited? Sure. However, one thing that sites like Nice Guys of OK Cupid *did* do is help women who are on the fence about some feminist issues to, at the very least, spot someone who was outwardly misogynistic and possibly looking to take advantage of them, just a little bit better.

    • Libby Anne

      These two things are worlds apart and we all know it. In one case, a person is accusing another person of a crime, and as a victim that person should be entitled to certain rights and protection, in part because not to do so would make it MARKEDLY MORE DIFFICULT FOR ANYONE TO ACCUSE ANYONE ELSE OF RAPE EVER. And it is ALREADY very unsafe for many women in many areas to accuse anyone of rape. In the other situation, someone is publicly making misogynist statements and conflated being denied sex with some sort of crime. In the other situation, someone is publicly making misogynist statements and conflated being denied sex with some sort of crime. The obvious logic here is that publishing that more widely (although it was already done publicly and NOT privately so their privacy was not really infringed upon) would possibly make it more difficult for men to publicly make those kinds of statements. Neat.

      Thanks for that analysis. My goal in making the comparison was simply to point out that we talk about privacy concerns with women’s information but not with men’s, not to suggest that the two instances of shaming were morally equivalent, but in light of what you point out, I was wrong to put any comparison there at all, because it risks minimizing the differences and making it sound like the situations are similar in ways I wasn’t trying to suggest that they are.

      However, I still think it was a violation of privacy. I know you disagree, and that’s fine. I only drew the comparison at all to point out that we often talk about women’s privacy in this sort of situation, but not about men’s privacy. I’m not saying that there’s not an argument to be made that the two should be treated differently – there is. But I think we need to talk about it, and I don’t think we really have.

      Also, the guys featured on OK Cupid said in their profiles that they were down and out, and desperate for a date. I wasn’t suggesting that everyone on OK Cupid is down and out, I’m aware that it’s a popular dating site that lots of people are on.

      Anyway, thanks for the thoughts, you’ve given me some things to consider. :-)

    • Libby Anne

      I have edited that section of the post in response to your feedback. Thanks!

      • Katherine

        I really appreciate you taking time to respond to my thoughts! Part of the reason that I enjoy reading your blog more than some others is that it leaves room for discussion, leaves room for everyone’s views to change (even yours) rather than simply having that “but let me tell you why I AM RIGHT ALL THE TIME” attitude that seems to be so popular in blogging.

        I want to reiterate that I don’t think that shame is the BEST tactic, and it certainly isn’t one that I use or generally advocate the use of. However, I think it’s important to still defend what the people who ran Nice Guys of OK Cupid did, because while it definitely wasn’t the best tactic (are arguably wasn’t even a very good one) I don’t think that they did anything wrong.

        Also, yeah, I see what you are saying about the “down and out” thing, I guess I got unnecessarily defensive. Thanks for explaining!

  • Nox

    I agree with your overall point. But it doesn’t look like the intent here was to shame these men. It is not so much “look at these stupid sexist men, let’s make fun of them” as “look at how people who don’t think of themselves as sexist can still carry sexist ideas, maybe everyone thinks they’re a nice guy”.

    • Rae

      Exactly this – they were illustrating how a problem with men who set themselves up as the ideal man actually say things and hold beliefs that are disrespectful, offensive, or potentially even dangerous (the number of men on there who said “yes” to questions like “are people ever obligated to have sex” was alarming) to women. Plus, as others have said, the men in question posted both their photographs and their misogynist views on a completely public website. If MRA’s post screencaps of women who post their false rape allegations on public websites, that would be an equivalent non-violation of privacy.

      That, and I feel that although mockery is unnecessary, “Too bad, learn to deal with it” is a completely appropriate response to men who are suffering “privilege distress” – trying to soften the blows is almost impossible without allowing them to infer that you’re validating their sexist viewpoints.

  • Jason Dick

    Two counterpoints:
    1. We can’t expect everybody to care about converting other people all the time. The fact of the matter is that dealing with bigots all the time can be really trying, and it there really isn’t any reason to expect everybody to be continually patient. And if they’re going to be impatient, I’d much rather them at least speak up than be silent.
    2. Ridicule and verbal abuse generally aren’t going to convince people. But that fact doesn’t mean anything at all when the statements are directed at somebody who wasn’t ever going to be convinced in the first place. The fact of the matter is that there are a variety of views on any particular issue, and the people that are very far from your views generally aren’t going to be convinced no matter what strategies you employ. But ridiculing the people who are the worst of the group may convince people who are slightly closer to you on the belief spectrum to realize that they don’t want to be associated with “those people”, bringing them closer to you.

    Put another way, ridicule and verbal abuse may not convince people directly, but they can help to shift the Overton Window, which can indeed help a cause like feminism.

  • smrnda

    Been thinking about this, and I think there are cases where shaming can work, since I’ve seen it work in real life. Imagine a man who is hanging out with a group of guys he knows, and he says something outrageously sexist, and rather than laughs he gets disapproval, or perhaps in a mixed-gender gathering a woman speaks up that she gets sick of hearing that sort of misogynistic nonsense. In some cases, a person feels shame because they realize that there is a social cost to prejudice.

    It’s true that some people, once shamed, will just find a new group of people (or will sit around trolling websites all day) but it can change some people.

    Sort of a story, if I go out in public to read or work, I prefer to be left alone and not hit on by any guy who happens to pass by. I’m usually pretty harsh in these instance, but a guy friend of mine would tell stories about this where he described my behavior as funny and witty, which led more guys we knew to think ‘hey, maybe approaching women in public when they are reading or otherwise occupied isn’t just rude, it’s never going to *lead anywhere.* I think this worked since we was able to narrate an anecdote that kind of explained to guys what’s going on on the other end, even over something that’s not the biggest issue.

  • Custador

    I do like the phrase “privilege distress”, and I agree that shaming and mocking are counter productive. I’ll use myself as an example: I had genuinely never heard of, or even considered, the concept of male privilege until elevatorgate happened. When it did, I was totally shocked at the responses I read from angry men, furious about (what seemed to me to be) a perfectly reasonable request not to do something creepy and a bit rapey. Richard Dawkins can still kiss my ass with his response to it. Anyway, it got me reading around the issue, and that really opened my mind. I actually posted an open apology on Skepchick to every woman I’ve ever met, for taking so damned long to see my privilege. Conversely, I saw a lot of bewildered guys who couldn’t get past “I would hit on a chick this way, and I am not a rapist, so it’s fine”; a lot of them got roundly flamed, and from what I saw, all that did was make them dig their heels in. There were a lot of wasted opportunities to open minds there.

    • LeftSidePositive

      But what you’re failing to take into account is how many people learned from seeing them get flamed–for many people, seeing the outrage the casual sexist entitlement generated in that episode was their first understanding that this situation was not okay. Numerous commenters have written to Rebecca, Jen, and Greta to say how the strong feminist dialogue and the rebuffing of sexist attitudes really opened their eyes to how hurtful sexism is and what was wrong in many of their casually-unexamined attitudes, and Ian Cromwell in particular has written extensively about how his getting flamed for totally failing to understand why what ElevatorGuy did was not okay helped him understand a lot of important perspectives he had failed to consider earlier:

  • LeftSidePositive

    Actually, I think shaming is extremely important to extract a social cost for bad behavior. It is important that people see that their behavior will not be tolerated by others in their community, and facing a social cost can be a powerful incentive for addressing it. Otherwise, the perpetrator of bad behavior (and, let’s make no mistake about it, expecting women to be obligated to have sex or advocating having sex with a drunk friend you know would not want to have sex sober, both of which were frequently shown on Nice Guys of OK Cupid, is blatantly harmful, antisocial behavior) can remain comfortable and consider himself an entitled member of his community. I care a great deal less about whether these young men’s minds are changed, I just want these views OUT of polite society. If these people learn they have to change to be accepted, great… If not, they can remain ostracized and I consider that a much better outcome than having to accommodate their prejudices (and have people exposed to potential harm from their prejudices). Shaming these people also gives other people who are put off by their behavior the courage to draw their own lines in the sand and emotional support that they, as young women getting these toxic messages, don’t deserve this attitude that’s being inflicted on them and that they are justified in rebuffing the advances of these people.

    Moreover, I think it is incorrect to assume that the “dig the heels in” absolutely must be the only endpoint of mockery. For some, it may be a *phase* that they try to go through to maintain their beliefs, but once enough compelling arguments are made they may realize that the effort they are going to in order to continue justifying their beliefs to themselves isn’t worth it, and the whole edifice comes down under the weight of all that cognitive dissonance. Now, it’s great if there is a patient person to helpfully guide them through this process, but that tends to work better one-on-one, where the patient person can actually ensure some level of development of attitudes, rather than stagnating in this “its socially okay that I feel like this and my opinions are acceptable and validated.” When communicating on a mass scale, it’s important to draw lines in the sand and say, “this is absolutely not tolerated here.” Moreover, in my experience, the type of patient, polite, don’t-ruffle-any-feathers deferential approach just gets ignored more than anything, especially when privilege insulates people from even hearing criticisms unless they are quite forceful.

    Finally, some people may completely dig their heels in and won’t change–but we don’t mock Ken Ham or Justin Vacula so that they will change their own individual views: we do it so that other people looking in (who often haven’t formulated strict views in the first place) and paying cursory attention understand that these views are not within the sphere of legitimate debate. We want to make the failures of these viewpoints evident and highly salient to those who don’t already agree with them, haven’t fully committed to them, or haven’t fully considered their implications. If an attitude is too deferential, the casual observer will think that his half-formed biases are okay, and that such noxious views have a legitimate seat at the table.

    • LeftSidePositive

      And another thing, do we avoid shaming, say, shoplifters so that hopefully they won’t feel defensive and will recognize the error of their ways of their own volition? Do we insist that we have to be sensitive to those who belong to a whites-only country club so that their defensiveness won’t get in the way of hoped-for enlightenment? Or, rather, do we clearly and unequivocally say, “This is simply unacceptable, and you will not be welcome in my real or virtual company as long as you do this–end of story.”

      I think the level of sexism exhibited by most of the guys on that tumblr more than reaches that clear line-in-the-sand level.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    This is a good discussion to have. I do think that the textual aspect of Nice Guys is a good thing. It’s far too easy for people to compartmentalise and to fail to see the problems with believing both that women should be respected and that women can owe sex – and that’s true both of Nice Guys themselves and of people who know Nice Guys.

    So had the site just presented the text without the pictures, or had distorted the images in some way to disguise identity, I don’t think that there would be anything wrong with that. Yes, it’s shaming. But shaming by simply repeating to someone their own statements is a good thing. It’s healthy and good for people to face their beliefs and statements head on.

    That being said, I totally agree with the images. There’s an issue of privacy and identity there that’s not cool.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      It’s a public site that anyone can see profiles of. How is that an invasion of privacy?

  • Sarah Jane

    I often agree with you, Libby Ann, but this time I think you missed the mark. It may be that you aren’t interested in participating in this yourself — perhaps you are drawn to more gentle activism, and there is a need for that as well.

    But your distaste for harsh activism doesn’t mean it’s wrong or ineffective. It sends a message that this behavior isn’t cute, or harmless, and that it comes with real consequences for those who choose to engage in it publicly. It makes clear that we will not coddle bad behavior by forever pleading and reasoning, offering the perpetrators one “out” after another. It prioritizes the needs of women who are being hurt over the feelings of men who are hurting them.

    Are any of these guys going to magically become feminists as a result of being called out this way? It doesn’t seem likely, but I don’t think that’s the goal. This being the internet, someone is ALWAYS watching. It’s not the “nice guys” whose minds may be changed here, but the silent watchers and lurkers who greatly outnumber them.

    • Libby Anne

      Thanks for your input! I appreciate reading different perspectives.

      I think everyone is shaped by their experiences, and in my experience I have found that “gentle activism” works while what you call “harsh activism” instead serves to polarize and create resentment. So yes, I am very drawn to “gentle activism.” It’s what gave me a chance and allowed me to reevaluate my beliefs in a way I wasn’t otherwise able to. I remember what I used to be – sexist, homophobic, etc. – and I’d like to think that others should be given the same chance to change that I did.

      Of course, some simply won’t change, and other people have had different experiences with which tactics work and which don’t. I don’t have all the answers, and maybe I’m too much of an optimist. But it’s not like I’ve committed to never changing my mind in the future if things change.

      This comment suddenly feels like it was just one tangent after another! I hope at least some of it makes sense…

      • Ibis3

        I’ll give you some comfort then, Libby-Anne. Whereas you responded to gentle treatment, I’ve responded to harsh activism (mostly that directed at others). I’ve changed my mind (hopefully for the better) on multiple issues when faced with unflinching castigation of opinions I was holding. Different methods really do work for different people. If something like that Nice Guys page can wake someone up who can see themselves in that attitude, or shape the view of some young men who wouldn’t want to be counted among that number, then it’s done its job.

        And as for privacy? I’m not so concerned seeing as these were pics and statements put up by the men themselves on a public forum. And this:

        It’s not like the men featured on OK Cupid are even especially powerful or influential.

        is wrong. Sure, they’re not public figures, but combined–as members of the dominant culture, and of the dominant class in that culture–they have a great deal of influence.

      • Kodie

        This sort of reminds me of a religious argument. When a religious person on an atheist blog offers their very best argument to convince an atheist, well I can see the gaping holes in that argument, as can many atheists, and point it out. But that religious person doesn’t understand that the argument that convinces them is not the ultimate convincing argument. No two people seem to come up with the same argument, but they have in common that they all seem to believe that it should have been equally convincing, and the one thing we’ve never heard before, to us as it was to them. Obviously, I’m not religious, but people are suggestible by different arguments and different kinds of arguments. There is no one way to be an atheist that “works” best to educate or convert anyone similarly. If someone is questioning their beliefs or just arguing theirs against ours, whatever is presented by a group of people may or may not be taken by that person, not necessarily today but someday, or a different reader who did not participate.

        That is just to say we can’t depend on one type of message come across just the right way to change minds or educate people. What worked for you is not evidence that that’s the best or only way to effect the change we seek. When you extrapolate your personal preferences to the general public, you lose out on or may become judgmental of other people’s methods. You might say I agree with that but it’s too obnoxious for me! If I were still x, I would be turned off and stay x so that is “not a good method.” For you, it’s not a good method.

  • LeftSidePositive

    And another thing: the title of this piece is misleading. “Let’s stop shaming men” implies that men are being shamed simply for being men, and this is emphatically not true. What these men are being shamed for is having grossly entitled, misogynistic views. Now, you may make the argument that we shouldn’t shame even then (I disagree with you, for the reasons I have already listed above), but your actual proposal is “Let’s stop shaming self-entitled misogynists,” so you should try to defend it specifically on those terms (I suppose you could even soften it to “Let’s stop shaming those with self-entitled misogynist views,” but frankly most of what I saw on NGoOKC when it was up crossed well into the territory where a more encompassing label was appropriate!).

    • Libby Anne

      Actually, I’ve also been feeling that the title is wrong, and have been thinking about changing it. :-/

  • MichaelD

    I’m still thinking about this, in general I think shaming has its place but I wouldn’t use it alone. I’d suggest something of a good cop bad cop approach where shame and other more negative strategies should try to be paired with more constructive approaches. For example trying to pair an effort like NGOOQ with a links section to say discussions on feminism 101 or good relationship advice links. So that while there is an emotional argument and attempts at prevention, awareness etc there are also attempts to change people’s minds, educate them etc.

  • TheSeravy

    Shaming may get a token display of political correctness but I think it will only breed resentment as the root problem isn’t being addressed. The Nice Guys of OKCupid page got a lot of response but was it ever explained why those views/answers were sexist? Viewers’ understanding was taken for granted. Men who have those views probably still don’t know why those answers were sexist. They just know that if they pull something like that, they will be in trouble.

    LeftSidePositive’s post made a really good point; “It never works to ask others for empathy without offering it back to them.[sic] The Owldolatrous approach — acknowledging the distress while continuing to point out the difference in scale.”

    Studies have shown again and again that a punitive justice system will only caution non-offenders while repeat offenders, who make up the majority of crimes, will continue to committ crimes; rehabilitation and treating prisoners with understanding and kindness (even luxury some may argue) works on the other hand (e.g. Norway). I’m not saying the okcupid nice guys are criminals but I think the same concept applies. It’s hard to fight the urge to “punish” but give these “nice” guys an incentive to want change. Are we perhaps de-humanizing these “nice guys” when shame is the preferred method just as prisoners deserve subpar treatment to pay for their crimes?

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, thank you! I’m truly alarmed and disturbed by all the comments here that think shame, mockery, and embarrassment are the way to persuade someone to alter their behavior or send a message that what they’re doing or saying is wrong. Those tactics are hurtful, and I’m very much against hurting others to get them to “respect” you. That’s not to say women or others shouldn’t get angry or should only try to be meek and polite in response, that’s not really helpful either, but if you want to make a point, you need to explain directly what the point is, not just be cruel in response to cruelty and hope others figure out what you mean or why their harmful behavior is bad while yours is “good”.

      • LeftSidePositive

        It’s really interesting how you’re so concerned with tactics that are “hurtful” towards people who are actively hurting others, and centering the feelings of those who have societal power and are using it to demean others, and policing the behavior of those who are being objectified and demeaned. I’m sure a thief perceives being thrown in jail as being “hurtful,” but does that mean the justice system actually is hurtful, or just that accountability for doing something wrong can be unpleasant? Whether or not these people perceive being called out on their misogyny and having the dishonesties of their worldview pointed out to them as “hurtful” is beside the point that they need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that what they are doing is not acceptable, and that, yes, it is misogynistic, kinda rapey sometimes, and altogether NOT NICE. If simply quoting someone verbatim is enough to be “hurtful” or “cruel” shouldn’t that reflect a hell of a lot more on what they are doing rather than the person pointing out what they’re saying? I think the juxtaposition on the site of how men would say how nice they are, coupled with additional statements about how women are inferior to men, women are whores, or women should be obligated to give them sex, should make pretty clear what was wrong in what these guys were saying. The site also had a helpful flowchart to distinguish “nice” from actually nice.

        And, no, those running that site are not trying to get those particular men to respect us–frankly, I think that ship has sailed. It is to show OTHER people how men who claim to be nice and who denounce women’s judgment for not dating them are actually mean-spirited hurtful people, and that we’re not “shallow bitches” for not wanting someone who pretends to be our friend but thinks we should be obligated to put out.

      • Jayn

        “It’s really interesting how you’re so concerned with tactics that are “hurtful” towards people who are actively hurting others, and centering the feelings of those who have societal power and are using it to demean others, and policing the behavior of those who are being objectified and demeaned.”

        This comment got me thinking more than any other on this thread. For the most part, I agree with Libby, because while some people genuinely don’t care that they’re hurting others, a lot of us engage in behaviours that are harmful simply because we haven’t thought them through. It’s this second group where I worry that shaming can backfire, because human beings tend to get defensive when called out on something, and moreso the more aggressive that calling out is. And when we get defensive we start investing more energy into defending the offending behaviour–the more energy we invest into it, the harder it is later to admit we were wrong in the first place.

        At the same time I see your point, and there is a point where we can become too accommodating and wind up basically doing nothing. There is a base level of assertiveness that is needed, but what that level is I’m not sure, and it probably varies from situation to situation.

      • Kodie

        On the one hand, it’s tone-trolling to say well shouldn’t we be above it, and act like nice ladies. No, we are under no obligation to act like nice ladies. On the other hand, hurting people just to get back at them is a logical fallacy, I agree. Everyone has their personal comfort zone and what they think is the right approach. Ridicule makes some people uneasy, though I think there is a shallow misrepresentation sometimes, where someone might judge a behavior on appearances and say “never cool to do that.” But sometimes, it is witty, biting, purposeful satire.

        Going back to another thing, where someone might tell a smutty joke. Not just smutty, offensive. They will say, hey lighten up I was just joking. Altogether, people think crossing the line is ok and can’t tell the difference between being offensive to women when there is no reason to be and calling out specific men who specifically said specific things. In the so-called “battle” between men and women, women are expected to take a brunt of jokes about themselves, generally because it’s “just a joke!” but men generally do not like to be stereotyped at all if it makes them look pathetic (and still “just a joke!”), only if it makes them look ferocious and macho (and then, obviously, only sometimes). I have just sort of noticed this in every conversation about sexism that I’ve ever had – men do not say, “well, yeah, we do do that.” Instead, it will be “that’s a stereotype! I’m not like that AND I don’t know anyone like that!”

        So we’re often accused of portraying men in a negative light and of making the whole thing up and there’s no problem at all, and it’s just a very few men and not a serious problem.

        Huh, ok. So here is a demonstration that men who actually exist are actually like we say they are. That’s all it is. It’s a compilation of a stereotype of men who men constantly deny even exist in numbers enough to worry about.

        What is wrong with that? Feeling ridiculed is not the same thing as being ridiculed. This is not some exaggerated generalization of all men in order to ridicule all men. If you don’t want the spotlight on you, don’t shame your own damn self. They have names and faces and own their own statements, nothing is fictional. What is wrong with analyzing and compiling these things together for demonstration purposes so that people might actually put all the pieces of the puzzle together and know for sure these aren’t exaggerated or invented just to be a stereotypical man-hating feminist? They plenty get away with exaggerating or inventing a type of person to dehumanize and insult freely without any social costs, and if you can’t take a joke, honey, etc., you’re just proving what they say is true.

      • Elizabeth

        “And, no, those running that site are not trying to get those particular men to respect us–frankly, I think that ship has sailed.”
        I suppose that’s the difference between our opinions here. I haven’t quite given up thinking people can be persuaded, and I think being civil is more productive than being hurtful when you’re trying to persuade because to me using harm is the equivalent of trying to use force to get your way (I don’t agree with that tactic no matter how strongly I believe I’m right. I would probably also see the US prison system as proving my point, but that’s an entirely different issue that I’d rather not get into here since I know I have some uncommon opinions about it). I think most people can be reasoned with, and I generally believe in not becoming the kind of person I’m arguing against. To me it’s hypocritical to be hurtful when telling others not to be hurtful, to tell someone they don’t have power over me while acting like I have power over them. And believe me, I can get *very* angry and rude and very easily do just that; I just generally find that counterproductive when I’m trying to make a point.

        Of course, if I do think someone’s beyond reasoning with, sure, I agree with the basic point your making about using what they say as an example, but I don’t see how going so far as attempting to mock or shame helps. Might make us feel better, but, again, isn’t productive. For one, I doubt they even would feel embarrassed, and personally, I’d rather just ignore someone than continue to antagonize if I think nothing I can say or do will change anything. For another, it will probably only turn some people off to your point; better to just make your point without the attempted shame. Others will still get the point that’s it’s wrong and hurtful and that we’re rightfully angry.

    • Christine

      Thank you. You have just saved me a lot of time trying to figure out how to express this. Were the tumblr done as a “here’s an anonymous profile that we lifted contradictions from”, I might support it, but I feel that just “these people are wrong” sets up an “us vs them” dichotomy, which won’t help in the long run.

      Now, my take on Predditors is a bit different, but that’s a different case (and not just of degree).

  • saramaimon

    i think being a it is ok to repeat their own public profiles but totally off to include their photos or identifying information
    that serves no purpose but to embarrass the individual and this isnt an individual problem. this being said youve made me curious to see the compilation

  • Wendy

    Thanks for the link–good article.

  • Kodie

    I think the problem is that men can’t seem to be shamed, not the sort of men we are trying to educate, unless you somehow equate them with women or homosexuals. That’s even more shameful.

    I think shame works two ways too. Maybe shaming these men will not enlighten these men in particular. I think at least some other men will take the hint actually and not want to be embarrassed like that. I’ll say many of the men I have known and/or dated were pretty much the same way, unfortunately. They were “nice” – they really were, except for when they thought I was supposed to be more like x or y and I’m not serving them, and put me on my insecurities to run ragged hoping they won’t leave. That’s not nice. And then instead of tell me to my face we’re not compatible or how we can work through problems like a mature couple of adults, one broke up with me by calling his family to move his stuff out of my apartment, and another over a text. That’s not nice. And even further after the fact, I find out when people ask him why we broke up, he lies about why and makes me sound like a monster. That’s not nice.

    Anyway, glad to be rid of them. I’ve gotten to one point where dating is at the bottom of my list of priorities anymore. I don’t have time to be distracted navigating that kind of garbage. One thing I would say – you call them pathetic (or something) for not being able to get a date and getting online dating instead. That’s not nice either. I know at least one guy (under 30) who enthusiastically prefers matching up by a computer program than waiting for to meet a girl out here in the world, and all the BS talking to each other what do you like, what do you do, how many ::dies::. It’s basically wasting a lot of time for him to meet someone he knows nothing about and then having conversations with them that in great likelihood do not turn into something both parties want or like about each other. And it’s also not sad to have no one, not for everyone, and maybe people wouldn’t feel pressure to be in a couple or feel bad about themselves for not being in a couple or honestly trying to meet someone if people wouldn’t so easily put that in the category of pathetic. Come on.

    Anyway, shame works in the way that other people are deterred and maybe even educated. Let’s pretend women have to keep their shit together and be polite and demure and not call things honestly what they are. Oh, dear, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar! Similarly, atheists are told to stop being so “shrill” etc. Minorities are told often how to behave to get results, well? Where are the results! Stitching it on a sampler didn’t work.

  • ako

    My opinion is that shaming is sometimes productive and sometimes legitimate, but there needs to be caution about how it’s used, because there is definitely a potential for harm and fallout. I’ve actually got issues with some of the points on both sides of the argument.

    On the no-shaming side, it seems like there’s sometimes an excessive focus on winning hearts and minds and getting true believers. Yes, getting people to sincerely embrace the cause is good, but getting them to stop harmful behavior can be an important victory in of itself. It matters that people quit the whites-only club out of embaressment, or stop using sexist slurs because of the disgusted looks they get, or are afraid of the social consequences of calling gay people sick and disgusting, or they realize their “You’ll all burn in Hell!” screeds aren’t getting anywhere and leave so there can be a peaceful discussion on atheism.. That makes people’s lives better here and now. And there is a risk of a backlash resulting in suppressed hostility, but looking at the history of activism, it really doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to the inevitable consequence that a lot of anti-shaming people make it sound like.

    Also, being asked to put down shaming and mockery and similar responses is being asked to make oneself extremely vulnerable, particularly since there’s no assurance that the other person will always be acting in good faith. And quite often, the people asking others to take this risk are, ironically, trying to shame them into it (Libby Anne is a rare exception to this trend). This can be particularly frustrating as it feels like kindness for bigots, but only guilt for mistreated women/people of color/queer folk, etc. Which, in addition to potentially creating perverse incentives, breeds resentment.

    On the shaming-is-acceptable side, I think there needs to be more discussion over where to draw the line, so there’s some understanding of the difference between mocking a politician for racist remarks and doxxing a teenager for the same thing. There needs to be some things that are never acceptable to do to anyone, and an understanding of power differentials beyond the obvious.

    (Actually, I think more discussions that are focused on “Where to draw the line?” on the gentle-versues-harsh question, instead of the “Gentle or harsh?” binary, would be really helpful. A lot of people are afraid that putting down shaming and mockery and similar tactics would mean accepting an overwhelming obligation to stay gentle in the face of being hurt, and a lot of people are similarly concerned that accepting harshness means a license for unlimited cruelty. Getting away from the binary could help correct these misperceptions.)

    • BonnieLB

      I agree with this — shaming has a place but should be used very sparingly. I think anytime someone is shamed in this manner (especially with their pictures), there is a bitterness created and that person has become more polarized. Some of them on that site (yes I saw it) were not really that bad IMO, and being lumped in with the truly odious ones is both an injustice and bad tactics.

      When I think back on some of my opinions which have changed over the years, I wonder what would have happened if I’d had a stupid comment of mine go viral, picture attached, 20 years ago? How much harder would that have made it for me to change my views and side with the people who did that?

      I loved the discussion of privilege distress and George Parker. I know this is something my mother (and probably countless people in her generation, 70+ years old) struggles with. Having tried all her life to be a good person and follow the rules, she resents being cast as a bad guy because she hasn’t changed as fast as the culture has.

  • J. S.

    There’s just one little thing that confuses me. Nice Guys of OK Cupid called out MEN for making SEXIST comments? I highly doubt that there was a plethora of men on OK Cupid making sexist comments with not a single woman doing likewise. So is this who thing not a little hypocritical?

    • Ibis3

      From what I understand, the page called out a particular kind of sexism (Crommunist recently wrote a blog post explaining the phenomenon in more detail), not all sexism on OK Cupid. Oh yeah, and…Seriously? Do you also troll blogs talking about racism against brown people, demanding where the examples of black racists are?

    • Lucreza Borgia

      No one doubts that women were also doing the same and if you look upthread at the comments, you will see that there is a female version of the site. That being said, it wasn’t the responsibility of the blog to document women.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I don’t think it can ever be “the same.” The particular kind of seering hatred that these kinds of guys show for women is bound up in a sense of entitlement for which there just isn’t a female equivalent and also carries a threat of violence that men don’t have to fear. Remember George Sodini, the guy that murdered all those women at the gym (and then killed himself)? His blog revealed him to be a “Nice Guy” that was super pissed because women would not give him the sex he felt he was owed and he wanted to make them PAY. Less dramatic versions of male violence against women (battering, rape etc.) play out all the time with this kind of motivation. There just isn’t an equivalent phenomenon among women towards men.

        And honestly, although I found that tumblr to be hilarious (and cathartic) too, this to me would probably be the best argument against ridicule. These men are scary. I don’t want some woman somewhere to end up beaten, raped or dead because of something I said or did. (I’m not saying that I completely shun shaming as a tactic because I think a lot of people here have given good arguments as to how it can be effective and ethical, which I am thinking about. But it is something that crosses my mind now and then.)

  • Lucreza Borgia

    Not gonna lie. Loved that site while it was up. Shared a few posts on FB that got conversations going.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    It would be effecting change instead of affecting change I would think. It’s the 1 out of 10 cases someone told you about in the other thread. I’m not a hundred percent sure since it’ not my native language.

  • Francis

    Is shame a productive tactic? That depends who you are trying to shame. To me NiceGuysofOKC was a far, far more powerful thing than … just about any other feminist literature I’ve ever read on the subject. Most of the feminist written stuff either suffers the charge of misrepresenting the other side or you can easily do a find-and-replace on the words (Schrodinger’s Rapist as an essay is particularly open to that).

    The serious mysogenistic bullying that gets quoted is intended to be nasty bullying. Bullying is not intended to be nice and bullies will often throw whatever they can. It’s nasty – but people do treat their enemies badly. This is bad – but to those who will not listen it can easily be explained away.

    Nice guys of OKC is far more compelling because it is using information from a dating site. This is people trying to represent themselves as well as possible. It’s a subgroup of men in their own words presenting themselves in a way that’s intended to impress rather than to degrade specific groups. If that’s how they present themselves to people they want to like them, we have a serious problem.

    • Lucreza Borgia


  • michelle

    I recently read an interesting blog post about shame that when I saw your blog tittle I thought you had read it too. I think that it aligns with what you have said and expands upon something you briefly stated at the end of the your post about the negative side of using shame.