Thursday, 2 August 2012

Nice Guy vs Ass Hole

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. 


  1. Hello James.
    You know me as Horatia54 over at twitter. I've been following you since Rick Belden retweeted one of your blogs. I find that your blogs make me think deeply about men and masculinity and what that means. For me thinking deeply about anything is a good thing. I read it, think about it and let it percolate. I confess that I'm not always understanding what you have to say but it's a privilege to have the opportunity to read what and how one man thinks about and expresses his experience as a man. That's why I like reading The Good Men Project and following what Rick has to say. All these help me to support the wonderful men in my life, my husband, brothers, friends, and colleagues. Thank you.

    However I would gently challenge you when you said, "When it comes to the arena of physical sexuality, a woman demands to be dominated and feel the thrill of a man's power."

    As a woman I can't always agree with this statement. However, I will concede that this might your be your experience, but it is not mine.

    Keep on thinking, reflecting and writing, xxx horatia54

  2. I am also very much enjoying your blog - you are, quite simply, on a different level to other people, and this blog is a cultural asset.

    While I have experimented with S&M in the past, I am only interested in the sexual politics of equality these days. Sometimes it does feel like I'm one of the few people who doesn't buy into domination and submission, and of course the incredible success of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has brought mainstream attention to the sway of this subculture. I notice S&M almost always casts women as submissive and men as dominant, reinforcing a gender inequality that runs so deep that its taken by granted by most, including many of those who identify as feminists and their allies. I keep hearing 'we are so advanced in 2012,' but actually I feel like we have longer to go than most of us realise.

  3. Hi Guys, thanks for your comments! The truth is, it *is* my experience that women like to be dominated, and that although many women these days exhibit a new politics of sexuality, they use this only to deepen the archaic gender expectations of their men, rather than relinquish them. I have engaged in some minor S&M in the past where I was expected to dominate physically. What I found was that the reality was much less sexy than the fantasy, but also that the requirement that I be physically dominant only left me feeling emotionally dominated. A weird but not so surprising paradox. @horatia54, it is refreshing that you say you don't subscribe to these politics of domination, but I can't say I have met a woman who would join you in your views. Even women who come across powerful and dominant appear to simply be raising the stakes for how they want to be treated by a man. It's another form of reverse control, which under Patriarchy is the only way a woman can experience power in her sexuality. I hope my views don't come across as mere generalisations,
    I don't mean them to be offensive in any way. I just want to be honest about my experience.

    I really appreciate your comments guys, and thanks for your support!

  4. I think I have a different perspective to most women because my first relationship was with a woman. (Apparently only 3% of women are in the same category.) We didn't have much of any kind of expectations to live up (or down) to, so we made it all up as we went along. Since then I have had a few relationships with men, and they were all disappointing because they lacked the freedom of that initial romantic connection. I am looking for someone who is happy to 'behave like a lesbian', whatever their gender is!

    So I would recommend that heterosexual couples study same-sex couples and adopt a gender-neutral approach to offset the baggage of patriarchy. (This is not to say that same-sex couples don't also suffer from patriarchy, but that they often do away with many of its harmful attitudes.)