If the Internet is known for one thing it’s for putting all of the porn ever created in one place just so we can find it and deal with unexpected challenges to our sexuality.
If it’s known for two things, it’s that it is the natural breeding ground of the asshole. In fact, the idea that assholes are so inherent to the Internet that it becomes a default excuse for shitty behavior; “It’s just assholes on the Internet, what’re you gonna do? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ” This tacit acceptance of asshole behavior is part and parcel of the idea that asshole is just humanity’s natural behavior; in fact, being an asshole is even seen as being desirable in some cases.
However, as the saying goes, “manners maketh the man”, and if we wish to be true gentlemen, then we want to be better than that.
What Makes An Asshole?
Before we get too deep into how to avoid asshole behavior, we should define some terms. And while there are many varying definitions of asshole – “anyone who drives faster than me in traffic,” for example – I believe the clearest and most useful definition of “asshole” is simple: it’s someone who prioritizes and expects their desires to be prioritized over the desires of others and to face no consequences for it.
For example: strictly speaking, babies are assholes. Babies exist in a binary state of demands and satiation of those demands. They will scream their heads off until they get what they want, and it’s on you to figure out what this is. Cats are also assholes. They were once worshiped as gods and see no reason why this should not continue. A cat has no problem letting you know that it’s time for gooshy foods and they don’t care that it’s 5 AM and you’ve crawled into bed at 3 after having spent the entire day working on that presentation you have to make before the board of directors when you roll into work at 7. It doesn’t matter; you are a walking, talking can opener and it’s time to get your bipedal ass out of bed and use those thumbs the way your god intended.
Of course, the difference is that babies don’t know better; they literally don’t have the intellectual development to discern how to express their needs or how to prioritize their gratification versus the imposition it places on others. They’ll grow out of it over time. A grown-ass adult, on the other hand, doesn’t have this excuse. Kim Davis, for example, knows she’s being an asshole by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; she just expects the world to prioritize her personal beliefs over the law of the land.
(Cats know they’re being assholes. They just don’t give a fuck.)
It’s that lack of caring how your behavior affects others, the “got mine, fuck you” approach that helps define assholish behavior – behavior that we want to avoid. And while this won’t (and can’t, really) be a comprehensive guide to all asshole moves, we can provide a framework to work within. So what are some of the ways a gentleman can avoid being an asshole?
Politeness Costs You Nothing
One of the simplest and easiest ways to avoid being an asshole is to practice basic politeness. But politeness goes beyond matters of simple etiquette. After all, anyone who’s ever traveled below the Manson-Nixon line knows that a Southerner can have absolutely perfect manners and still be a complete dick, just as people from the UK will recognize the how condescension can be hidden behind the pretense of respect and a prim smile.
Politeness is simply giving respect to another person’s wishes, particularly when doing so doesn’t affect you in any material way. One recent example is the matter of personal pronouns. As trans people become more accepted and more people challenge the notion of gender binaries, many people have started to express how they prefer to be referred to. One person may be fine with being called “he” or “him”, while another would prefer the gender neutral “they” or even “xie”. Referring to a trans woman as “he” or calling them by their birth name (known as “deadnaming”) is considered to be incredibly insulting – and yet people make it a point of pride to ignore a trans or genderqueer person’s preferences. This is quintessential asshole behavior; someone is going out of their way to be a dick to another person because… well, because fuck them, that’s why. When someone – a certain disgraced game developer, for example – makes a point of refusing to refer to a trans person by their preferred pronouns because “they haven’t earned the ‘privilege'”, they’re being an asshole just for the sake of being an asshole.
It’s similar to that one oh-so-edgy “friend” who, when you ask them to stop doing something, will either do it one more time “as a goof” or even double down for the LOLz of it all. It’s not clever, it’s not funny. It’s just being an asshole.
Even if you personally find the idea of preferred pronouns ridiculous and think that gender non-compliant people are fooling themselves, calling somebody by the name and pronoun they prefer costs you precisely no effort. It has all the effect on your life as a homeless person declaring themselves the Emperor of the United States – none. Just because something isn’t important to you, doesn’t make it not important to somebody else. Respecting somebody’s wishes is a kindness you can do with literally no effort on your part.
Unless you’re an asshole.
Your Desires Don’t Trump Other People’s Boundaries
As a dating coach, one of the things I see regularly are people wanting to know how to break through “bitch shields” – those times when women are cold and dismissive to people who approach them. The standard advice is to push harder, to treat their behavior as though it were a test rather than the rejection that it really is. Much like trying to approach women on buses or trains, this is a classic asshole move: the other person has made their preferences known, but you’re choosing to ignore them because the power of boners compels you.
You may see this behavior over and over again, especially where women are concerned – men are brought up to believe they’re entitled to… well, pretty much everything about a woman, from her time to her attention, regardless of her feelings on the matter. The belief that one’s desire to approach someone is paramount regardless of how that person may feel is why areas like areas like Eaton Center in Toronto has become a douchebag gauntlet for people who want to just get through their day. Even the idea of telling women to smile enters into this territory; while it may seem like a bit of harmless fun or flirtiness to men, it’s still a demand being placed on women. The message is “your expression isn’t pleasing to me right now and you need to rectify that immediately.”
Even the response of “well, women should do more approaching” is a similar demand – that women ignore not just decades of social training and convention but also the negative responses of other men, just to make things easier on men who don’t want to put in the effort to be more approachable. It all stems from a sense that women are somehow depriving men of something that they are owed and it’s terribly unfair.
Another variation of this sort of behavior plays out online regularly; people making demands of other’s time and attention online – they may decide to tell a stranger on Instagram how “fake” they look or how vain they are for posting selfies or that they should do X, Y or Z to be prettier. You’ll see it when people complain that someone has shut off comments on their YouTube videos, because the channel owner somehow owes people a platform or has an obligation to respond to everyone who disagrees with them. The fact that you have a desire to speak doesn’t require others to provide a platform for you.
It’s ok to want things. It’s perfectly fine to want to meet that cutie you see every day during your commute. But just as the right to swing one’s fist ends where another person’s nose begins, your desire to meet someone doesn’t cancel out their desire to be left alone.
But while we’re talking about men and women…
Women Aren’t Trying To Trick You
One of the subtler ways men end up being assholes is in how they relate to women. Believing they’re entitled to someone’s time and attention is only one aspect; the other is in the belief that women are somehow in conflict with men. Society already labors under the commodity model of sex, which automatically puts men and women in opposition to one another. By treating sex as an economic transaction of sorts, it creates an artificial conflict: women are expected to maintain a high “market price” for sex while men are expected to pay as little as they can possibly get away with. By definition, it puts people in competition with one another, transforming sex into a zero-sum game, with all the players trying to out maneuver one another to get what they want.
The belief that there can be only one winner – especially when it gets tied into ideas of women having an “unfair” advantage, socially – leads to the belief that women are inherently deceitful and can’t be trusted to be honest about what they want or what they’re looking for in a partner. The idea is that women are forever testing men, giving them misleading signs or even out and out lying about what they want. Whether it’s saying they want a nice guy but dating an asshole instead or playing status games to weed out undesirable males, the implication is that you can never trust a woman to give you the straight dope. Even in the more benign version of this trope, the idea remains that women simply don’t know what they want. This leads to insulting metaphors like “If you want to get better at fishing, you don’t ask a fish, you ask a fisherman”.
The logical extension of this belief is that men have to play games in order to gain any advantage; all’s fair in love and war after all, especially when you believe that one side has an unfair and undeserved advantage already. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of assholery; men believe they have to play games because they “know” women do; after all, it’s what they would do in women’s position…
The truth is that most people are as honest and straight-forward as they can be – and would be even more so if given the opportunity. Playing people straight and expecting the same courtesy back cuts most of the bullshit out of dating. Having strong boundaries and an unwillingness to play games weeds out the remainder; after all, it takes two to tango. Other people can only manipulate you or test you in as much as you give them permission to do so.
But as long as we’re talking about gender roles…
Stop Believing the Worst in Men, Too
As much as men are willing to believe women are ignorant at best and deceitful at worst, they’re even quicker to believe that men are worse – and to enforce those beliefs.
Men are the first and fastest to insist that men are stupid, animalistic and amoral. Men will cheerfully tell you that all men are at the mercy of their dicks, that they’ll stick it into anything that’s warm enough and that they’ll quite happily lie, cheat and steal as long as it gets them what they want.
As much as men like to insist that women have the social advantages and set the rules, men are the gender police and end up creating and enforcing gender roles. It’s men who insist on defining other men by their lowest qualities, insisting that only certain people count as “real” men and are quick to punish other men for not conforming to these artificial ideals. Men, we tell ourselves, are monolithic and unchangeable and any variance is seen as suspect. It’s men who are quick to accuse other men of being “white knights” if they criticize toxic masculinity or act in a respectful manner towards women – after all, since it’s axiomatic that all men want sex and will do anything to get it, the only reason why men would be respectful to women would be to get a leg over. We’re quick to strip others of of their “man card” for various crimes and infractions of man-code; the way “cuck” and “cuckold” is tossed about in modern discourse a way of using the threat of emasculation to control and diminish others. We define masculinity and manhood so narrowly that we end up isolating ourselves from other men, for fear of being seen as “gay”.
And to make it worse, we insist that this is “just how men are”; that not only is change and improvement undesirable, but impossible. It codifies “asshole” as being equivalent to being “male” and characterizes people who object as weak and unmanly. We’re assholes to ourselves, holding ourselves in thrall to our lesser natures because… well, just because.
If part of being a gentleman is not being an asshole, then we have to hold ourselves to a higher and better standard. If we want to be capable of more, then that improvement starts with ourselves.