“Nice Guy”: On Identifying a “New” Masculinity, Part 1

March 26, 2015 by Philippe Leonard Fradet 

[Headline image: The black-and-white photograph shows a man sitting on a wall, looking out over water and a city skyline. He has short dark hair and is wearing a white button-down shirt and light-colored shorts.]

The social tropes of Nice guys finish last or Nice guys never get the girl have existed for decades, noted prominently in various movies in the 1980s. In these movies, the “nice guy” is often some demure and/or nerdy and/or chubby (white) guy who promises to treat the girl he is after better than the “meathead” she is currently dating — with little to no regard for the girl’s own autonomy or decisions or desires, mind you. The “nice guy” was centered on the goal of having sex or some sexual contact, even down to a kiss. Inevitably, the “nice guy” was not so different from the “meathead.” He would not only focus on “getting the girl” but also on proving himself better — more of a “man” — than his “meathead” counterpart.

This trope has become more prevalent in the United States in recent years, and it has sparked utterly intense and violent reactions by guys facing rejection. A more recent development alongside the “nice guy” stereotype is the term “friend zone.” The “friend zone” is the imaginary place where a guy ends up when the girl he wants to date or have sex with rejects his advances. The rejected guy and those who care about such things typically see this place as shameful and emasculating. While the term has grown to be used by people of various genders and sexualities, its roots are based in heteropatriarchal masculinity — in this case, in the belief that a straight man who claims he can provide protection and love for a woman, and who is better than the “meathead,” is entitled to be with any woman of his choosing.

“Friendzoning” has become the topic of recent tragedies, even if it was not named explicitly. In 2014, a shooting occurred in the college town of Isla Vista, CA, near the main campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The shooter, whom I refuse to name here, released a manifesto before he committed the act. Although the manifesto is laden with sexist and racist commentary, the Isla Vista shooter points to his lack of success with women as one of the reasons he wanted to move forward with his attack. He goes so far as to claim that he was the “perfect gentleman” and that he did not understand why women did not like him. Wrapped up in mental health issues, internalized racism, and being “friendzoned” by women, the Isla Vista shooter presents an all-too-real-and-tragic example of how the “nice guy” is still a product of violent utterances of masculinity.

As a boy growing up in the 90s, I fell into this preposterous battle between stereotypical masculinity and the “nice guy” role, figuring myself to be that “nice guy” who finished last. As I discussed last month in my article More Than Just Broad Shoulders, my own understandings of masculinity faltered along the lines of wanting to be the best “man” while also being very sensitive and “big.” My incessant sensitivity made me more akin to that “nice guy,” since I was not tough enough to be one of the more macho guys. This sensitivity added to the amount of bullying I got in school, as well as when I started becoming interested in “dating” (as much as one can “date” in middle school)…

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I think my biggest “huh” moment with respect to gender roles is when it was pointed out to me that your typical “geek” is just as hypermasculine as your typical “jock” when you look at it from the right angle.

As male geeks, a great deal of our identity is built on the notion that male geeks are, in some sense, gender-nonconformant, insofar as we’re unwilling or unable to live up to certain physical ideals about what a man “should” be. Indeed, many of us take pride in how putatively unmanly we are.

Viewed from an historical perspective, however, the virtues of the ideal geek are essentially those of the ideal aristocrat: a cultured polymath with expertise in a vast array of subjects; rarefied or eccentric taste in food, clothing, music, etc.; identity politics that revolve around one’s hobbies or pastimes; open disdain for physical labour and those who perform it; a sense of natural entitlement to positions of authority (“you should be flipping my burgers!”); and so forth.

And the thing about that aristocratic ideal? It’s intensely masculine. It may seem more welcoming to women on the surface, but - as recent events will readily illustrate - this is a facade: we pretend to be egalitarian because it suits our refined self-image, but that affectation falls away in a heartbeat when challenged.

Basically, the whole “geeks versus jocks” thing that gets drilled into us by media and the educational system isn’t about degrees of masculinity at all. It’s just two different flavours of the same toxic bullshit: the ideal geek is the alpha-male-as-philosopher-king, as opposed to the ideal jock’s alpha-male-as-warrior-king. It’s still a big dick-measuring contest - we’re just using different rulers.

on men in fandom

The point at which men feel compelled to make a separate, masculine fandom name for themselves, the better to differentiate themselves from other, presumably female fans inhabiting the same space, is the point at which they feel their gender to be not only relevant to their expression of fandom, but so important that it needs its own word, lest we confuse them with women.

The fact that men seem only to be interested in doing this on entering traditionally or predominantly female fandoms says a lot about the logic behind it. Where fans are presumed to be male, there’s no need to assert their maleness with a masculine name; where fans are presumed to be female, however, they strive to differentiate themselves, not only to void the risk of being mistaken for women, but to rebrand the actual property as being for men

If such men were genuinely interested in disproving gender binaries and the sort of sexist logic that tries to steer their tastes in other directions, as is sometimes claimed, they wouldn’t feel the need to establish that the thing they like has masculine properties, as though they couldn’t or wouldn’t like it otherwise. This isn’t like the oft-ignored female fans of comics and videogames asserting, rightly, that such things are for everyone, which category happens to include them; it’s men expressly stating that an originally or traditionally feminine property isn’t really feminine, the better to make it for men.   

Following this logic, female-dominated fandoms are only worth joining if men can make absolutely sure that their support isn’t confused with female support, or their interests with female interests, the better to assert their more selective ownership of the property. Crucially, this move also has the effect of forcing women to either accept the gendering of the fandom and adopt their own, feminine nomenclature - possibly one the men themselves have created, heedless of the fact that it was irrelevant prior to their insistence that it wasn’t, as per the term pegasister - or to refuse the binary and so have the male term become synonymous with the fandom as a whole, as though male interest is the only kind that matters.

tl;dr: If you’re a guy and your first thought on approaching a new fandom is “how do I make a name that describes my interest in this thing while letting everyone know that I’m a dude”, then do us all a favour and stay the fuck out of it.  

Oldie but goodie: As Twitter user @MrPooni points out, this is worth a reshare today.

The list of what 9-year-old boys don’t like about being boys:

  • Not being able to be a mother
  • Not supposed to cry
  • Not allowed to be a cheerleader
  • Supposed to do all the work
  • Supposed to like violence
  • Supposed to play football
  • Boys smell bad
  • Having “a automatic bad reputation”
  • "Grow hair everywhere"

Gender norms are the worst. So is growing hair everywhere, I guess. (h/t BuzzFeed)

  • Men:You're so beautiful ;)
  • Women:I know (:
  • What men reply:Ew nevermind you're not pretty anymore
  • What the reply really means:I can't handle it when a woman knows her own worth and isn't an object for me to project my faux validation onto. You're hurting my masculine savior complex and making me uncomfortable with your confidence stop making me realize that my "generous nice guy" opinion is unneeded you're oppressing me :(

There is nothing wrong with being Feminine

There is nothing wrong with being Masculine.

Femininity is not weakness.

Masculinity is not toxic.

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16 stunning images shatter the emasculated stereotypes of Asian men

What makes a man handsome? 

Whatever your opinion, few can argue that these metrics are inclusive. The American beauty standard is undeniably a white standard, and people of color are bombarded with words and images that celebrate features they, as a matter of genetics, do not possess.

It’s part of why Idris + Tony, a Brooklyn, NY-based fashion photography duo, embarked on the Persuasian project earlier this year. 

"[Asian] masculinity wasn’t acknowledged," Tony Craig said. "It was stripped away … And the way Asian men are depicted in popular culture, [we’re] never the object of desire … we’re still very much ‘just a friend.’”

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Why don’t men kick each other in the balls?

By Lisa Wade, PhD

In Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and mixed martial arts, there is a rule that you never hit “below the belt.” The area of biggest concern is the testicles. As the Ultimate Fighting Championship rules specify, “groin attacks of any kind” are a foul. This is probably because groin attacks might make for short fights or ones where everyone just goes around protecting their balls. In any case, the skills being tested are of a different kind. But, even aside from that, this seems like a good idea and very civilized. I do not advocate for testicle kicking, not groin attacks of any kind, for what it’s worth.

I do think it’s somewhat odd, though, that men who fight each other outside of controlled conditions—men in street fights, bar brawls, and parking lot scuffles—also usually avoid hitting below the belt. These fights aren’t about training or skill, like those between professional athletes, they’re real attempts to do some damage out of anger or defensiveness. So, why no hits to the balls?

The question was posed by a woman on Yahoo! Answers: “If you dislike each other enough to want them to get hurt,” she asked, “why not do the worst?”

The answers, admittedly unscientific, were interesting. One of the common responses involved the idea that not hitting below the belt was “an unspoken rule.” Maybe it’s the Golden Rule—do onto others as you would have them do unto you—and some men mentioned that, but others suggested that it was a rule specific to manhood. It’s a “cheap shot,” said one. A “low blow,” said another.

But why? Why do men agree not to kick each other in the balls? Why is that part of the code?

I think it’s because it serves to protect men’s egos as well as men’s balls.

What would street fights between guys look like—or professional fights for that matter—if onecould go below the belt? For one, there’d be a lot more collapsing. Two, a lot more writhing in pain. Three, a lot less getting up. All in all, it would add up to less time looking powerful and more time looking pitiful. And it would send a clear message that men’s bodies are vulnerable.

Chris Tuchscherer not having been just hit in the balls:

Chris Tuchscherer having been just hit in the balls:

Not hitting below the belt, then, protects the idea that men’s bodies are fighting machines. It protects masculinity, the very idea that men are big and strong, pain- and impact-resistant, impenetrable like an edifice. So not hitting below the belt doesn’t just protect individual men from pain, it protects our ideas about masculinity.

When a man hits below the belt, he is revealing to everyone present that masculinity is a fiction. That’s why one guy said: “For ‘alpha male’ fights, nut shots are just wrong.” Alpha male fights are about figuring out which male is alpha, while preserving the idea that the alpha male is a thing that matters.

This is why men are quick to criticize other men who break the code. One of the best ways to control men is to threaten to kick them out of the man club. “If a guy kicks another guy in the balls on purpose during a fight,” one replied to the question on Yahoo, “he will forever be banished from manhood.” Another said: “Winning like this means that you cannot beat up the other guy by ‘real’ fighting.” It’s a matter of one’s own reputation: “A man who kicks another man in the balls,” said a third, “immediately loses all manliness and respect.”

So, men generally agree to pretend that the balls just aren’t there. The effect is that we tend to forget just how vulnerable men are to the right attack and continue to think of women as naturally more fragile.

I still don’t want anyone to get kicked in the balls, though, just to be clear.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

In one survey, women and men were asked what they were most afraid of. Women responded that they were most afraid of being raped and murdered. Men responded that they were most afraid of being laughed at.
—  Michael Kimmel, “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence, in the Construction of Gender Identity,” Toward a New Psychology of Gender

A 9-year-old boy’s list captures the problem with “being a man” 

When we talk about the unreasonable expectations of gender roles, we’re normally talking about women. But a 9-year-old boy made a good point: Men face a lot of pressures too.

The boy made a list of all of the things that he doesn’t like about being a guy, and his answers are incredibly spot-on. While it’s originally from 2012, the list went viral on Twitter on Thursday as part of International Men’s Day

Masculinity problems that often go undiscussed | Follow micdotcom

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Sam Sax - “After My Boyfriend’s Drag Show”

“Some men own their masculine like a beaten dog.  Some wear it like a suit of grandfather handguns cocked at a pendulum in the gut.”

Performing at the Soap Boxing Poetry Slam in Saint Paul, MN.  Subscribe to Button on YouTube!

Check out Sam’s book at the Button website!

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Amazing photos prove “masculinity is not, and has never been, the sole domain of men”

What does your masculinity look like?

Vancouver-based photographer and self-proclaimed “gender terrorist” S.D. Holman gives us an answer with BUTCH: Not like the other girls, a photography project that delves into female masculinity and demonstrates that the “butch” identity is very much alive and well in 2014.

There is only one emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men; that emotion is anger. Real men get mad. And their mad-ness, no matter how violent or violating, is deemed natural—a positive expression of patriarchal masculinity. Anger is the best hiding place for anybody seeking to conceal pain or anguish of spirit
—  Bell Hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love p. 7