Nice Girls

culture and society

I want everyone to think I’m nice. I’d prefer to be categorized as plenty of things, of course, like brilliant and incisive and strong and thoughtful and cool and levelheaded and enchanting and youthful and maybe that I have Disney hair, but mostly, I want people to think that I’m nice.

When I hear someone being described as kind, I get a pang of envy in my heart.

Do people say that about me?

Because I’m afraid that maybe I’m too other things — too outspoken, too concerned with the state of our culture and politics, too up for a debate, too opinionated — to be considered kind.

Growing up in a fundamental religious school, I often heard the ideal woman being painted as a gentle, mild-mannered peacemaker, and I wondered if I was made the wrong way. I would feel shame after being loud during a soccer game or vocal about a perceived injustice or excited about something excitement-worthy and I’d regret it and sit at my desk and try to fold myself in. Take up less physical space, less auditory space, and be a gentle member of the community. I wanted to be the consummate Nice Girl. Pleasant to be around. Easygoing. A friend to all.

I recognize a grown-up version of that in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman… Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner…”

I think about this as I look online at a surf club baseball cap I consider buying (I neither surf nor play baseball). I like wearing hats to the gym, and I had to toss one in the recycle pile. The potential new hat says “nice and cool” on it, and I realize I want to be labeled both so badly, I’m contemplating willing it into your perception of me by making you stare at it on my forehead.

My friend’s livelihood is currently based in the photography she takes and the community she builds online. Three brands stole one of her photos to promote an online giveaway, and were absolutely shocked when her attorney reached out to them. “It was a mistake! We’re so sorry! We love you!” they crooned over private message. Another friend had the audacity to demand agreed-upon compensation and ultimately lost further business for being less than a Cool Girl pushover.

We do this to ourselves, but we do this to each other. There’s something inherently sexist about both examples I’ve given. Something sexist about insisting that women be walked on, be less than, and take the hits with a smile and a heart-eyed emoji. Men wouldn’t be chided or belittled for being demanded what was owed to them. The idea of women supporting women has been bastardized to mean that women should be complacent and understanding and giving of oneself to no end.

God, I want to be Nice and Cool.

But when I speak up (or write up, as it were) about the treatment of refugees and black people or common sense gun control or the political climate or human trafficking or parenting or the state of the church or injustice, I turn in my Nice and Cool chips.

I could simply not. I could keep all the things I write and say benign and safe and optimistic. But some feeling in my chest doesn’t let me get away with that. And so I’m resigned to thinking that maybe my version of being a gentle, mild-mannered peacemaker includes saying hard things and calling a spade a spade and losing friends. To be clear, I’m not saying I’m always right or that I’m this beacon of truth shouting into the oblivion. I continue to hold ideas with a loose grip, which maybe makes it all the worse. Am I giving up being Nice and Cool to defend something with ambiguous answers and solutions? 

I had this conversation with two friends (both men) who write and speak and make political stances and are involved in activism. I jokingly lamented, “When I post something, I’m a harpy, angry shrew of a woman. When you guys do it, you’re enlightened, progressive thought leaders.” And then we laughed and then cursed because it’s funny and awful and true.

“You notice,” one said, “that you and I can post the same things online, and men and women will come after you for it, but not me?”

God, do I notice.

We’re not afforded the same judgment. Women are too thin, too large, too quiet, too outspoken, too sexy, not sexy enough, too ambitious, too apathetic, too icy, too combative, too flirtatious, too familiar. The perfect woman walks a tightrope in no man’s land and the wrong gust of wind deems her neither Nice nor Cool.

I should care less, and I think I do care less. I’m starting to see it in manifest in different, small ways. Saying no without regret, removing “just” as a qualifier from my vocabulary, sticking up for my kids when they need sticking-up-for, being direct instead of politely rebuffing when out with friends and some drunken Wall Street boys’ club member gets mouthy.

And yet. I want you to think all of the good things about me without my having to wear an embroidered hat. I close out the website and resolve to get my gym hat elsewhere. We were all made the right way, I internally whisper to Childhood Me and Current Me, and our society’s collective perception is a little off.

Current Me will eventually get it.

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  • Reply Corinne B. March 5, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    👏👏👏👏 Yes! I absolutely identify with this. I’m working on it, but getting closer and closer to not caring about it. Having an 8 year old daughter has helped me see how this was expected of me growing up – to be “good and nice”. I am trying to show my daughter that speaking up for yourself doesn’t make you ….. less. Of anything.

    • Reply Roo March 5, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      Yes, having daughters helped put it in perspective for me, too. The language isn’t SFW, but essentially that quote “Do no harm, but take no shit”? I want my girls to adopt that.

      • Reply Kadie Spino March 5, 2018 at 9:05 pm

        I just want to instill in my son that girls are not obligated to take his shit…. that’s my whole goal.

  • Reply Nicole March 5, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    I think you are nice and cool BECAUSE you speak up and stick up and get concerned and all that other stuff. But yeah, I know what you mean.

    • Reply Roo March 5, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      Thank you, Nicole!

  • Reply Christine Meyer March 5, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    I don’t know a woman who hasn’t ever felt that way. I will say, that the older I get, the less I worry about being nice. Life is too short. “We were all made the right way.” Damn straight.

    • Reply Roo March 5, 2018 at 5:56 pm

      Ha, a friend recently posted “My favorite thing about being in my forties it that I give no f*cks.” I’d like to get there mentally.

  • Reply Lindsay Durrenberger March 5, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    When I was nine (!!!) years old, I was brought into a meeting with the children’s director of our church and the lead pastor. They called the meeting to let me know that I was too loud and too outspoken, and that God didn’t like that about me.

    So I asked them, “But wait, didn’t you teach me that God made me? Why would he make me a certain way just to not like it?”

    I don’t remember their answer, but I remember that was the first time I had similar questions that you wrestle with today, especially because I distinctly remember that the boys in my class weren’t asked the same questions, despite their numerous sword fights and Power Ranger re-enactments during kids’ church. Apparently those actions weren’t as concerning as my assertion that girls get the same number of minutes on the trampoline as boys do (yeah, my first Feminist protest happened in third grade).

    I know you aren’t fishing. And you’ll probably recoil at this comment. But you ARE kind. You ARE cool. You ARE brilliant and yes, you WERE made exactly the way you were supposed to be.

    And I say that not because you need someone to say something trite to you. I say it because it’s true, and there isn’t enough truth floating around the internet these days.

    • Reply Shannon March 5, 2018 at 2:58 pm

      I just want to clap for this comment. You are amazing and have been apparently since you were a child. Never let your voice get quiet! Good for you!

      • Reply Lindsay Durrenberger March 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm

        Thank you!

    • Reply Roo March 5, 2018 at 6:01 pm

      You were a badass then and you’re a badass now. (And I didn’t quite recoil, but I cringed. You’re the best.)

      • Reply Lindsay Durrenberger March 9, 2018 at 2:51 pm

        <3 <3 <3

    • Reply Julie March 9, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      Lindsay, I don’t know you, but I want to be your best friend.

      • Reply Lindsay Durrenberger March 9, 2018 at 2:52 pm

        I’m here for it. :)

  • Reply Shannon March 5, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Love this! And I love you! Thank you for writing this – I think almost every woman can relate at some point in her life.

    • Reply Roo March 5, 2018 at 5:55 pm

      Thank you so much, Shannon! You warmed me right up.

  • Reply Jennie e gilardoni March 5, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    If you’re talking about “the treatment of refugees and black people or common sense gun control, etc etc” and someone decides that makes you NOT nice or NOT cool, what does that say about them? Are those really people you are trying to impress and win over? I am not super nice, nor have I ever cared to be thought of that way, so the idea that you’d spend any time thinking of how your opinions make you less nice is so foreign to me! For the record, I think you’re about as cool as they come.

    • Reply Roo March 5, 2018 at 4:36 pm

      I’m not saying my thoughts are right or remotely rational. Thank you for the kind compliment!

  • Reply MichelleLG March 5, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Hells yes. Get after it Roo. Here for it.

    PS: there is a certain amount of leaning back into my character that has come with my 30s and it is good news in all the right ways. Did I think the image of an infinite God could be contained by one person? Of course we are all different, each containing a couple facets and glimmers of that One imgage. Why did I ever downplay my personality and long for another’s? Yes, my particular set of strengths comes with unique temptations. But these strengths can be used for good and they are STRONG. I can let them breathe a bit. No more folding in. No more making small. I can own it.
    45, you better be bringing something. 35 set a high bar.

    • Reply Roo March 5, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      This is a good comment, Michelle. I keep re-reading it. All of it is right on. Thanks for this. xx

  • Reply Charlie March 5, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    The N & C Music Factory can churn out pop-hits but raising your voice for people and cultures who need your verse makes you way cooler and nicer for people that need it. That’s mega-multiplatinum status.

    I’d imagine, for a woman, this is a layered entanglement. Niceness is equated to many things and can be classified in many ways. Women have every right to be frustrated, angry, and every other emotion men have without being classified in some reductive way for it. But I get the compulsion. I feel it, too.

    • Reply Roo March 6, 2018 at 9:12 am

      Layered is the right word for it. I really ought to get to the place where I feel like it doesn’t matter, but these perceptions permeate our personal lives and social lives and careers and it’s hard to separate all of it.

  • Reply Kristin March 5, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    Maybe it is now because I am in my mid thirties or that I have a pre teen daughter, I don’t know which, but I do know that I am not about inequality. However, I am about showing up and out for humanity. And I know I am doing something right because my daughter sticks up for herself when someone says rude and inappropriate things about her looks, what she says or her opinions. She lets them know, boldly, that speaking to her with those words is unacceptable and that they can not continue to speak to her that way. I never would have thought to speak up for myself when I was her age. Because my mom never spoke up for herself. All that self bragging to say, kudos to you, because you are doing that very thing. Showing up and out for yourself, for your three lovely daughters, for you mom, for all women….for all humans. Nice post from a nice notes girl!

    • Reply Roo March 6, 2018 at 9:29 am

      You’re momming so well. I want my girls to be all those things too. And some similarities there with the way my mom was (part of the culture, etc) so it’s been a learning process for me, for sure. Thank you, Kristin!

  • Reply Lauren Ross March 5, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    For the record, I’ve loved your writings since Nice Girl Notes, but lately you are giving me so much life. Thank you for being truthful and someone we can look up to (even if we are almost the same age).

    • Reply Roo March 6, 2018 at 7:43 am

      That is an incredibly kind and undeserved comment, Lauren, thank you! xx

  • Reply Katie March 6, 2018 at 3:17 am

    Women have written this before, and usually I say, “yes. YES!” and then move on. But today, with your particular words and voice, it resonated even more. Maybe it’s also because I have a daughter now, or maybe it’s because I just looked down and noticed an areola-sized stain on my left breast because I forgot my nursing pads, but I’ve felt the same conflict. I re-read that passage from Gone, Girl a million times when I first bought the book.

    The thing is, I think there’s a difference between “nice” and “kind.” Nice implies that meek, passive “girlness” that those of us who are outspoken, who’ve always been told we’re too… *something* — can’t embrace wholeheartedly, even though we’ve always been told that we should. But kindness is different. We can show our daughters that passion and compassion are not mutually exclusive.

    It struck me in reading this that even though I don’t know you, after many years of reading your blog, it never occurred to me that you might not be kind. It’s clear in the honest way you write. In your compassion for others. In your passion for equality. For you, gone is the girl who just wants to be nice. Now stands a woman who, through kindness, wants to make change. Nice girls would apologize. Kind women will smile, accept the fact that they can’t make everyone happy, and then continue to kick ass.

    • Reply Roo March 6, 2018 at 4:42 pm

      Gosh, Katie, this comment. Phew. I’ll be thinking about this for awhile. Thank you for your insight. xx

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