Men who are ‘too nice’ to women are called ‘simps.’ Why this insult is problematic.

·4 min read

Many of us are familiar with the jokes about "whipped" husbands or phrases like "nice guys finish last." But these "nice guys" now have a new insult to contend with: the controversial slang term "simp."

Derived from the word "simpleton," the popular term began as a way to mock men who pander to women in an effort to sleep with them. But over time, the term has evolved, and "simp" is now often used to refer to anyone who treats a woman with kindness and respect.

If he compliments her, he's a simp. If he buys her a late-night cab home, he's a simp. Even if he buys his girlfriend flowers, he's a simp.

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Though use of the term may seem like a harmless joke, experts say it's damaging to equate a man's kindness with weakness.

"When we 'simp' shame, it sends a message to men that caring about the plight or well-being of women is not a 'manly' thing to do," says Destin Gerek, author of "The Evolved Masculine." "But it should be the exact opposite: to not care is the 'unmanly' thing."

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'Simp': Why is it controversial?

The term "simp" became a mainstream word in recent years through pop culture references. But the seemingly playful slang "has always been rooted in traditional masculinity," says Ronald Levant, a professor of psychology emeritus at the University of Akron.

Though most people today may not be using the term maliciously, Gerek says there's often a tendency to look down on kind or sensitive boyfriends and instead praise traditionally masculine traits like dominance or aggression. Even the simplest gestures, like holding the door open or supporting the cause of feminism, can lead to "simp" shaming.

"Over the past couple generations, women have been growing in their standing, power, financial access and leadership, but some men see this as a threat," he says. "At a minimum, the word 'simp' stems from a paradigm in which men and women are in a constant power struggle … and they may think that to be a man, you have to always hold the upper hand over women. So to be a simp is seen as the opposite of that."

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The word "simp" can pressure men to conform to traditional stereotypes of aggression and dominance, while objectifying women as transactional, says Abigail Riemer, an assistant professor of psychology at Carroll University.

"It's this dangerous idea that every interaction with a woman is a social exchange," Riemer says. "It reinforces this mentality that if I do something for a woman, she has to do something in return. Often times, a sexual favor is the context I've heard it."

Simp shaming is also a form of benevolent sexism, she adds. In contrast to hostile sexism, which includes sexual harassment or physical violence against women, benevolent sexism is "more subtle." For instance, it's when men say women are worthy of their protection in an attempt to seem "chivalrous and superior."

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These jokes can also perpetuate bigger issues of sexism and prejudice. A 2019 study found that men who tolerated sexist humor were also more tolerant of aggressive and violent sexual behaviors against women.

That's why it's important to avoid "simp" shaming and instead celebrate and normalize self-expression for both men and women.

"When we think of the emotions that are 'acceptable' for men... we forget to take into consideration that we often teach them from a young age to bottle things up, instead of expressing them with other people," Riemer says.

Levant suggests people make an effort to challenge stereotypes.

"We need to stop making gender so central to everything," he says. "Encourage boys and men to be who they are and not fit into this 2D stereotype of traditional masculinity and manhood."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Simp: What does it mean and why is it problematic?

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