I’m never sure about how I feel about clichés, maxims and aphorisms. I know they exist because they’ve been proven right, time and time again, but somehow the very fact of their existence makes me either want to counter them in creative ways, or, at the very least, endeavor to be the exception to the rule.
There are some that are just too easy to disprove – “All roads lead to Rome”, for example: I know of one very specific road in my neighborhood that goes nowhere near Rome, but will take you past some very poorly-lit strip joints, at least one excellent Chinese takeout and culminates in a car-park that very rarely contains cars. Others are simply outdated – “All things come to he who waits” was clearly penned by a lazy seventeen year old who didn’t want to leave his pen-and-ink-porn long enough to go milk a cow, and “Better safe than sorry” is not just boring but just about impossible in this age of nuclear weapons, herpes, and earthquake after earthquake. Safety is a luxury we can’t enjoy.
One that I keep coming back to, though, unable to decisively refute, is that golden oldie “Nice girls finish last”. I say golden oldie, even though the least comprehensive Google search in the world found that not only was it coined in 1939 – by a baseball manager, rather than Hitler – but that it was originally “Nice guys finish last”. Now that I’ve seen irrefutable evidence of this (on a website able to edited by anyone who so chooses) it seems obvious.
Of course it was originally about men. It seems that my relaxed modern-day feminism leads me so naturally in my world where women are prioritized – particularly by myself – that I forget that there was a day when those of us lacking a dangly appendage were fellow man nonetheless, and referred to as such, even if we weren’t treated quite the same (read: even as the same species). So this Baseball Boss, in between, presumably, squatting in the dugout and spewing obscenities at his lackadaisical pitcher, spat that out, probably backed it up with a few vicious swings of a bat and a manly pout, and so it fell into common usage.
Nice guys finish last. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Anyone who has had a dalliance, or even any kind of an interaction with a nice guy knows that they can come as something of a breath of fresh air – but that equally, often, we have come accustomed to a little pollution. Like city-dwellers who eschew mountain spring water for the familiar flavor of chlorine, we like a little nasty in our nourishment. That said: Ryan Gosling. The unfortunate wider context is that in the human race, the position of nice guys and nasty guys respectively notwithstanding, women, with alarming frequency, bring up the rear.
This brings us to the greater query of this article, which is this; which of us stands the greater chance of mounting a challenge – the nice girls or the nasty girls? Were we to casually substitute guy for gal in our questioned aphorism, Mr Baseball’s wisdom seems clear – the sweeter we are, the stickier our end. But the simple fact is that it’s not as simple as that. Even in an increasingly femme-friendly world, one which embraces female attitude in all its many and varied forms, it remains true that attributes most appreciated in a female are often docility, empathy, modesty, humility, and all other epithets that sound most like the name of an 18th century heroine in a crinoline. Common wisdom holds that the nicer and more lady-like you are, the more likely you are to have friends, form relationships, and end up in that perfect marriage that is, after all, all you ever wanted. If you’re labeled as “nasty” it almost certainly comes in subcategory “slut”, cross-referenced with “feminazi”. You can be sure that in 1939, Baseball Boy didn’t intend for his wife to pick up on his pithy phrase and immediately start demanding that he be home by five, cook dinner and massage her feet until his hands fell asleep (none of which are unreasonable requests).
Over 70 years have passed since those words slipped past his tongue and gum and into the mouths of men wondering whether they should purchase a motorcycle, and women are now closer to equality that they’ve ever been. The race is still being run, and men remain in the lead, but women are nipping at their heels, overtaking, eyes on the prize. Are they the nice ones or the nasty ones? I posit that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the goal and the motivation. And, besides, there’s never been a distinct divide between the nice and the nasty. Any woman worth her salt is as capable of a compliment as a come-down. There’s no reason why the sweet and sour among us shouldn’t clasp hands and skip across that finish line. Or piggyback naked on a man. Or sit down in the middle of the track and protest the flawed analogy of physical prowess with success.
Niceness is a desirable trait. Just look at Taylor Swift. She’s lovely. I want to bake her fudge. And there’s nothing amiss with a little nasty. And reducing any one of us to one predominant trait displays ignorance of the whole fabulous intricacy of womanhood. What I propose is that we accept that it takes all types to make up a world, and embrace the whole human haphazard mess that we find ourselves in. If we all cross the line together, then no one finishes last. How’s that for an aphorism?