Are you a Nice Guy, or an Ass Hole?
It seems that all forms of masculine stereotype in our culture can be reduced to this conflict of sexual archetypes. I believe that the root of this is what I call Masculine Shame.
This is a shame that results from a dysfunctional relationship with testosterone. It stems from the archaic fear we have as a culture, not just as men, of the masculine drive. This shame gives us a false start in life. It means that, regardless of our social masks, our internal relationship with our masculinity is conflicted and repressed.
There are traditionally two ways of avoiding shame. One is to be the tough guy, to get your attacks in first. Such people tend to be very snippy, acerbic and cynical. They become suspicious of enthusiasm and expressive behaviours. They will seek to smack down any attempt to rise above the norm, to offer up the unexpected, because such behaviour is a threat to their control and sense of power.
The other way to handle one's shame is to bottle it up, and ensure your security by pleasing others. People pleasing is not necessarily a way of winning love. That's too simple. It's just another form of self-preservation, only this time it is a socially acceptable way of handling that hidden shame, and avoiding the terror of our own faults and shortcomings. By humbling oneself, in fact humiliating oneself, one protects oneself from, and to some extent neutralises, attacks on our own sensitivities.
The Ass Hole and Nice Guy personas correspond to these two strategies respectively.
The point is, both forms of stereotype are a mask. The nice guy is just as false as the ass hole. Both are ways of escaping the sense of shame we feel about our masculinity, the fear of our own sexuality and primitive drives. The message we receive from a very young age is that the penis is invasive, and the sexual drive is to be feared. You must fear it, lest it overwhelm you and dominate you.
Once we meet puberty, we experience the sense of being overwhelmed first hand. It's at once a gorgeous intoxication and a vicious monkey on our backs. At the times when we are permitted to satisfy our sexualities we can experience the highs of it, the euphoria of being able to have a desire and meet it. In the times when our desires are not met, we are shoved into a shame about the power of that desire, and a further shame about our masculinity, given that we cannot meet something so basic within us.
It's my belief that the ass hole/nice guy dichotomy is just a social mirror for the internal conflict men experience and which is brought on by a confused and schizoid relationship with our own sexuality. On the one hand culture tells us to keep it under control, to hide it and and suppress the sexual energy. On the other, there is this cultural subconscious relationship with the male sexuality which relishes a rampant and powerful desire, enjoys the fantasy of abandoning oneself to the dark forces of masculine lust.
Perhaps this explains the female fantasies of being dominated, while at the same time being nurtured and cared for. Women want to be listened to and treated equally in all places but the bedroom. When it comes to the arena of physical sexuality, a woman demands to be dominated and feel the thrill of a man's power.
Such divisions in female fantasies reflect a deeper conflict in the relationship we have, as a whole culture, to the energy and biological drives of masculinity. We fear it, but we are thrilled by it. Our religions tell us to control and be suspicious of it, and our artistic culture teases us through the exploration of it. We piously assume the mask of “civilising” our sexualities, while at the same time we titillate ourselves with the fantasy of unleashing it.
The Nice Guy/Ass Hole problem then, is only a problem if we accept that these masks are the only two alternatives. However, in a post-feminist context neither one is practical. As men, we must seek out a new blueprint, one that avoids both Victorian preciousness and bolshy machismo. Both of these entrenched stereotypes are damaging to society, because they fuel a repressiveness that in turn fuels an abusiveness. The Ass Hole archetype masks the vulnerability of a man's need for affection and emotional connection. The Nice Guy avoids his shame around his physical desires by assuming a supplicating role, he emphasises his sensitivities in order to mask the sins of his libido.
Both are abusive and directly linked to a culture that cannot separate violence and sexuality. The cultural relationship we men have to our sexuality is deeply inauthentic. I believe that this false relationship we have to our sexualities is the root of rape, domestic abuse and Patriarchal oppression. The Nice Guy is just another version of the Ass Hole, only he comes dressed in his Sunday best. The Ass Hole is just the only way the Nice Guy can allow himself to experience the true power of his sexuality.
If we are to do away with the past, and rise above the crimes of Patriarchy, then we have to generate new archetypes, new models of sexual and social behaviour that allow men to express themselves across the full spectrum of their masculinity, from emotional sensitivity to physical prowess. If we don't, our culture will hold onto a schizoid, inauthentic and ultimately abusive masculine sexuality. Feminism can only go so far. The responsibility lies with men to evolve new forms of creative relationship with their own sexualities.