Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good Men?

I was really interested when I first heard about The Good Men Project--and I haven't read the book, but a look at the site is discouraging in many ways: I'm disappointed in its overall tone--seems to be pretty based on a gender essentialist framework that isn't (to my mind) particularly helpful. Some examples, from just a cursory look:

Snowden Wright has a long-ish article describing what are (to my mind) the horrors of rushing a fraternity during college, and then ends his article with a stereotypically "no regrets" attitude, even about his own misogyny:

But the pain wouldn’t last. We had been different people back then. On our way home, I thought back on the person I was during those years, rude and crass and smug, without any sense of regret or shame. None. Call me an asshole, label me a misogynist, wish me an early death. Doesn’t matter. I will not apologize for having one hell of a good time. Because that’s the point of college: not only to figure out who you want to be as an adult, but also to spend four years being the person you don’t want to be.


Tom Matlock (the creator of The Good Men Project), in an interview, is the dictionary definition of a gender essentialist:
“I actually disagree with your POV here, Henry. I don’t think it’s about transcending gender at all. I think it’s about men being men. We are different. Just look at all the various statistics about what men are doing and how it differs from women, from education to incarceration to parenting. And what we as men like to do, what interests us, what inspires us. I would hate to think that our mission is a great leveling of the genders. I love women. Because they are so different. I quite honestly cannot tell you how or why my wife does or says or thinks what she does. But I love her for it.
(Because, y'know, women just think differently!)

Andrew Ladd has a slightly more nuanced take on things, but still ends up playing up the stereotypically "male" traits as positive, by noting that being a good man often means being a sissy:
So what to make of all this? Should we all go back to acting like Don Draper? The Man with No Name? Bogey? No. I stick by my own sissiness, and those iconic men of the past century are hardly perfect either. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that what we talk about today as being “good” masculinity often is sissiness, with all the word’s pejorative connotations, and not the purely positive thing we make it out to be.
As if being a sissy can't be a purely positive thing...

Also, the creator of The Good Men Project, Tom Matlock, explicitly distances it from feminism:
The way Boston-based founder Tom Matlack tells it, the website owes its existence, at least in part, to one very important feminist in his life – his mother. “My parents don’t like it when I call it this, but I basically grew up in a commune,” he says. “My mother had a strident form of feminism and it influenced me on a personal level – I found it scary.”

Although Mr. Matlack understandably won’t label his project “feminist” – its mandate includes topics too broad to be boiled down to any one political agenda – he admits there is a relationship. “I think it’s feminism on its head,” he says. “Women were trying to get out of the home. Men’s challenge is the opposite: how to be at home.”


To my mind, any work that men do toward shifting from the traditional male masculinity models to a greater breadth of what it can mean to be masculine is great, but starting from a Men-Mars/Women-Venus perspective is bound to eventually leave out a lot of potential for change.
Post a Comment