You may not have heard the term 'good boy' but chances are you’ve met one. He’s the one who makes a big show of calling out sexism on social media, then takes credit for your ideas at work. He describes himself as a 'feminist' in his dating profile but when you meet for drinks, doesn’t ask you a single question about yourself.
Shelby Lorman, 25, is a writer, illustrator and comedian who runs the Instagram account Awards for Good Boys. Her cartoons – which feature trophies, medals and rosettes as well as characters with speech bubbles – are a satirical look at the ways in which these so-called good boys expect to be patted on the back for doing the bare minimum.
In her new book, Awards For Good Boys: Tales of Dating, Double Standards and Doom, Lorman describes a disastrous date in which the guy arrived, went to the bar and never returned. It’s easy to see this for the rude, immature move it is; where things gets trickier, she writes, is "when they don’t explicitly fuck it up". Society’s tendency, she says, is to celebrate men when they get it right, even if that just means adhering to the most basic standards of human decency.
"Every day on Twitter I see some dude who’s gone viral for his really basic take about respecting women," she tells me. "We're putting people on pedestals for truly doing nothing."
This means, however, that we let people get away with poor behaviour. When we like and respect someone, Lorman explains, it becomes harder to acknowledge their failings. When we believe people share our values, we make allowances for them. Furthermore, many of these failings seem small in the grand scheme of things.
"We'll say, 'Oh he did this horrible thing but at least he's not a Nazi!'" Lorman says. "I wanted to create a way to laugh about this stuff and cope with it."
Since she started posting on Instagram in 2017, Awards For Good Boys has built up a 358,000-strong following. The comments are filled with tears-of-joy emoji, women tagging their friends and writing "omg yes!" People send Lorman screenshots of conversations they’ve had on dating apps in the hope that one of them will be made into art. While she is grateful for her fans, she is cautious about being celebrated.
"It’s ironic to have people stanning me because my whole project is about how we shouldn't have heroes," she says.
Not everyone has taken to her work. One of the cartoons featured in the book shows an angry man whose speech bubble reads: "I’m offended I hate it also explain it to me!!!" This is a fairly succinct summary of the kind of negative feedback she’s had. Lorman used to post screenshots of the weird and aggressive responses her artwork received. But as her audience has grown, she’s realised she needs to be careful about how she interacts with people.
"I used to push back pretty publicly but now it doesn’t really feel justified. Back then I was calling people out in front of 10,000 people. Now I have 350,000 people watching."
She is also very active in the comments on her posts, where she often responds "in character" to people. Many are taken aback.
"There are always people who are like, 'Wow, you're being so rude!'" she says. "But if you're commenting in public that you hate my work, I like to remind people I can actually see that. When male comedians heckle their audience members, everyone loves it. So why is me heckling being a bitch?"
Lorman is sometimes surprised which cartoons do well and which don’t. While the straightforward ones about dating are more or less guaranteed to be popular, she says many of her favourite cartoons have missed the mark entirely.
"There’s one with a guy saying, 'I'm sad that I made you sad so make me feel less sad about making you sad'," she says. "That to me was so obvious. That's just a portrait of my life – every relationship. So I quickly put it up and people went mad, 140,000 likes. Then I drew a guy singing, 'Come buy my baguettes', and only 6,500 people liked it. But I've gotten less sensitive about that. If I want 20,000 likes, I'll post an award about a man not making you come. If I put a nuanced reflection on the world, no one cares."
So why 'good boys' and why now? The notion of someone who looks good on paper but falls short in real life interactions isn’t new. But the amount of self-documentation we do nowadays has made it easier to spot when someone’s words and deeds don’t match up.
"The idea of 'the nice guy' is super old," Lorman says. "But it's easier now to present a version of yourself that really doesn't line up behind the scenes. What is new was me defining it and calling it 'good boys'."
Defining it is one thing; knowing how to deal with a good boy out in the wild is quite another. While Lorman’s online persona is confident, irreverent and indefatigably witty, offline she says she doesn’t always have the energy.
"I made this entire project because I was so exhausted trying to explain the problem," she says. "There are some conversations that aren't worth having. It depends on our relationship. If it's a friend of mine, who I care about, and he does something fucked up, I'm probably going to tell him he’s being a good boy."
The art itself has also been helpful. One post shows a screenshot of a fan using one of her cartoons to respond to a male friend on Facebook. Lorman’s caption reads: "PSA: Please by all means use my content to speak for u when it’s too exhausting this is so fucking perfect." She’s happy to be the scapegoat in such situations. "I will happily take the blame of being the petty passive sub-tweeter," she says.
Creating Awards For Good Boys has been cathartic – not least because it’s given her an outlet for her frustrations – but it has also been enriching. She’s learned a lot about herself and is clear that despite the name, Awards For Good Boys is about more than just men.
"I am not that sentimental but there are times where I'm reading the comments, and I'm seeing people realise they’re not alone in that experience and that feels very profound," she says. "The more I've done this work, the more I have realised that it's not as gendered as I thought. Everyone is capable of being bad and complicated. And part of it, the catharsis, was recognising how I do those things too."
We all mess up. The important thing is to find constructive – and ideally funny – ways to talk about it.
Awards For Good Boys: Tales of Dating, Double Standards and Doom by Shelby Lorman is published by Hutchinson on 14th November.