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Good is Good: Are Men Really All the Same?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

 

Tom Matlack is the former CFO of the Providence Journal and is the founder of The Good Men Project, a non-profit charitable corporation based in Rhode Island and dedicated to helping organizations that provide educational, social, financial, and legal support to men and boys at risk.

Contrary to popular belief, all men are not the same—nor should men apologize for being men.

In the many columns I have in the written in the last couple years, I have occasionally fallen into the trap of speaking of men as one monolithic entity. Since I have heard hundreds of men tell their stories, I somehow felt (wrongly) that all those stories gave me a unique vantage point to speak with the royal “we.”

The editorial staff here at GMPM have often debated dropping the word “good” from our name, because some infer that we think we are morally righteous (which we aren’t). Now that the world has come to know us as the Good Men Project we have stuck with it—but also because we think the aspirations and stories of individual men trying to improve their lives, inside and out, is an important focus of our editorial mission.

That does not mean, of course, that I am Good or have some kind of Star Trek–like Vulcan mind meld that allows me to know what every man on the face of the planet is experiencing. I have heard a lot of guys talk about the turning points in their lives, but at the end of the day, all I really have is my own first-person story of failure, success, struggle, and moments of sheer joy.

♦◊♦

I do spend most of my time writing about guys valiantly trying in their own unique way to be good—good dads, good husbands, good workers, good men—and sometimes it seems like no one is listening.

The world, including even some of the most influential writers on manhood, such as Hanna Rosin (“The End of Men,” “Breadwinner Wives”) and Kay Hymowitz (Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys), seem to be talking about men as if they’re universally incapable of adapting to a changing world—lazy ne’er-do-wells treading water in a sea of perpetual adolescence. (All those male celebrities getting caught cheating and snorting coke don’t help much, either.)

Enter this video, “Dear Women,” that has been making its way around the Web.

Its creators state their missions as:

Based on the “Manifesto for Conscious Men,” a collectively written document from a number of men who feel deep appreciation for the gifts of the feminine as a balance to those of the masculine. This document acknowledges many thousands of years of dominance of masculine power, and offers an apology for the suppression of women, in the spirit of a fresh start. The authors do not advocate the domination of men by women or feminine energy, but feel that a balance and equal respect for both energies will allow for a new wave of evolution on our planet. (See video below.)

The first woman friend who sent it to me told me it brought tears of joy to her eyes. Then my buddy Amy Alkon offered her analysis: “I Am Man-Pussy, Hear Me Apologize.” She wrote, “Newsflash: Men have been murdered, circumcised, and abused throughout history. (Most recently, by appearing in this video deballed.)”

I am all for speaking out against violence against women, against the victimization of women around the globe in the sex trade, and even against the continued discrimination against women in the workplace. But I am not prepared to raise my hand as being guilty of any of the above—or a co-conspirator in a grand gender plot, for which men need to create an LSD-inspired New Age video apologizing for the terror committed by men in the Middle Ages.

I have made profound mistakes, some of which involve women.

I have done my best to make amends for those particular events, meaning I have not only apologized but also worked my tail off to change who I am to ensure that I don’t make the same mistakes again.

But this idea that somehow there is a monolithic male Spirit that has been for thousands of years oppressing women makes no more sense than me—a recovering alcoholic with three kids by two different women and a persistent anger management problem—telling guys how to be good.

♦◊♦

I like to blame the media for wrongly pigeonholing guys.

I have met many men, from Sing Sing inmates to NFL Hall of Famers who have contributed to the Project and proven to me that men are far more nuanced than we are often given credit for. We may not be “Good” in any ultimate, Platonic sense of the word, but there are an awful lot of guys who aspire to be better than simple embodiments of the tags bestowed on them by popular culture.

The guys in that video, professing their love for the feminine and to apologizing for the raping and pillaging at the hands of Genghis Khan—as pure as their intentions might be—fall into the same fallacy, by casting all women as victims and all men as perpetrators of the crime of being men.

While there have always been—and there will continue to be—men who do terrible things, that doesn’t make all men guilty. We shouldn’t be apologizing for what bad men have done any more than we should be apologizing for what bad women have done. The best thing we can do for Men (and Women) is to work to be the best people we can be today—and try to be a little bit better tomorrow—while accepting that one guy’s story, one path to Goodness, might be a lot different from another guy’s path. His story might be different, but that doesn’t make him less good, or less of a man.

My occasional use of the royal “we” notwithstanding, that has been the point of the Good Men Project from the beginning: to create a space where men of all kinds can share the truth of their own experience and escape the sweeping generalities that serve us so poorly when thinking about who we are and and who we aspire to become.

Want to see the video?

For more of Tom's works, as well as other pieces on related topics, go to The Good Men Project Magazine online, here.

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