At the Good Men Project, founder Tom Matlack vented his frustration with the way the feminist gender theory seems to overwhelm almost every discussion on the site.
The most disappointing, and in fact dangerous, aspects of the Good Men Project’s success, in my view, has been the extent to which we have been sucked into a debate over gender theory in general and feminism in particular. Whether or not you agree with any of the wide variety of definitions of feminism, the Good Men Project is not about gender theory and it certainly isn’t about feminism. Or at the very least that was never my goal in founding it.
This spawned some responses typical of a site that has earned the nickname “The Good Mangina Project.”
Why Being a Good Man is Definitely a Feminist Issue – Noah Brand makes the case that gender theory applies to both genders.
These Are The Stories that Change Everything -Lisa Hickey responds to an article in The Atlantic about ‘having it all’ and debates feminism and Tom Matlack along the way.
Is Men vs. Feminism Even a Relevant Discussion? – Jesse Kornbluth asks why, with women’s rights under attack in America and around the world, we should argue about who gets to be in the club against these abuses.
Men’s Goodness Hinges on Hearing Women’s Voices: A Response to Tom Matlack – Hugo Schwyzer sees a world where men can be better, happier and different by including women’s voices in the telling of stories about men.
A few men also jumped in to support Tom.
Private—Men Only – Dan Griffin thinks there’s a place for single-gender spaces, so long as the people involved are genuinely of good will.
It’s About Men: A Response to Tom Matlack – Let’s create a movement by and for men and be as great as we can be, says Zek Evans. Let’s do something good.
Why Men Can’t be Feminists – Shawn Maxam explains how power dynamics and issues of privilege can distract us from the real conversations men need to be having.
I kinda feel sorry for Tom. I bought and read the original Good Men Project book, with the idea of either reviewing it or trashing it for The Spearhead. I ended up doing neither. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the book. It was good and bad. But that’s what I liked about it. There was honesty to it, and some moral ambivalence. It felt real — despite its potential to be preachy or “goody-goody”–and I couldn’t shake the sense that Tom (like Brett from Art of Manliness) was probably a pretty decent guy who was trying to do something good.
A hundred years ago, a successful guy like Tom would have started a boy’s club or a men’s club or some sort of benevolent association designed to help guys in trouble. Men and women alike would have approved and spoken of him as a “good man” for using his success to help support troubled men around him.
But it was the 21st Century, so he thought, “Hey, I’ll start a web site where guys can tell stories that might help other guys cope with their own challenges.” A noble project.
You can have plenty of women’s centers — a pal snapped a picture of me in front of a women’s center in San Francisco recently (right). Women passionately defend the need to have their own “safe spaces” to have conversations with other women. Sometimes men are welcome, sometimes they aren’t. Most of the time, the presence of men probably just isn’t appropriate, and most guys really don’t want to go spend their free time listening to women talk about their problems. They let the girls do their thing, and everything works out well enough.
But when a guy says, “hey maybe we need some space of our own to talk with other men…,” see above.
In a way, it’s Tom’s own fault. He picked a female publisher. He probably thought she’d be fair and professional and try to keep the site guy-oriented and primarily about men. Maybe she really did try. (She allowed an interview with me to be published — and I’m still surprised) She certainly shielded him from immediate accusations of sexism. “Hey, we have a female editor, how sexist could we be?”
However, as Tom noted, the site has become increasingly feminist-oriented. Most of my friends who are interested in discussing masculinity and manhood take one look at the site and rattle off a string of insults. On an average day, there’s more content of interest to gender studies majors, feminists and gays than there is to average guys. Even the general interest stuff reeks of victimhood and the feminine message, “It’s OK to cry and be vulnerable.” Feminists may think that sounds freeing and empowering, and it does to a small minority of men who are really aching for permission to get their sob on. Most men look at that kind of stuff and see public dishonor. We turn our heads because we’re embarrassed for the guys who are making fools of themselves so enthusiastically.
Tom, you let women and feminists run your site, so you got a feminist site. The Good Men Project reads like Feministing for men. And, like those mall stores that try to spinoff their successful women’s stores, most men are going to smell something fishy and avoid it. If you want a site full of stories from soldiers and prisoners and guys who have real problems — and have found inspirational ways to overcome them — you have to put guys who want that in charge.
When you put women and feminists in charge — or even involve them, you’re going get what you got.
There’s a general rule I’ve learned that goes something like this:
Any discussion about men which involves females or feminist males will eventually become a discussion about what women want from men.
So much feminist writing is already about what women want from men. At least 60% of pop feminism is “cultural critique” explaining to men what they are doing wrong, and what feminists think those men should be doing instead, so that women can be happier or feel safer in some way. It’s not like feminists aren’t heard. One feminist recently wanted to talk about female stereotypes in video games, and supporters threw $160,000 at her. There are no male POV counterparts to Slate’s XX, or any of the very well-funded feminist media enterprises — unless you count cheesy metrosexual men’s magazines or trashy soft porn advertising spreads. There are few if any “mainstream,” content-driven, positive web sites about how men experience the world.
Tom, if you want to hear men’s stories, you have to make it OK for them to say what they actually feel, without worrying what women want to hear. That’s the only way you’re going to make the website feel as “real” as your book felt. That’s how you’re going to involve average guys, and not just the gender studies crowd. If you let the Noah Brands and Jesse Kornbluths and Hugo Schwyzers run things, if you let women dictate what kinds of male feelings are acceptable, you’re going to get a site that’s about what men think women want to hear — not a site about who men really are.