Lisa Hickey takes a look at those who talk about The Good Men Project.
The Good Men Project, as a website, officially launched on June 1, 2010. It didn’t take us long to get noticed. I sat in founder Tom Matlack’s conference room, where there were four of us, including NY Times magazine writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis who had stepped in as founding editor. We each had our laptops. We had been checking and re-checking everything a million times deep into the night, and then pressed the launch button. And we sat there on day one and watched the pageviews start to rise.
It didn’t take long to attract media attention. Less than 10 hours after launching, Michael Triplett of Mediaite headlined his article “The Good Men Project hopes to give Men’s Mags a Good Name.” The article began:
You think of “men’s magazines” and you think of Maxim or Men’s Health. Maybe you think of ESPN: The Magazine or GQ or even Out. You probably aren’t thinking about articles that discuss how to be a good dad, what it’s like for a transgender man to shave for the first time, or life inside Tennessee’s execution chamber.
With the launch of The Good Men Project Magazine, Tom Matlack told Mediaite that he wants to “take the magazine model and completely change it for men and the Internet.”
Well, yes. Exactly.
What would you do if somebody said to you, “Hey, I want to spark a national conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Want to help?”
It had been earlier that year that Tom Matlack had asked me that question. At that time, I had known him for 20 minutes. I replied: “Yes.” There was no “Oh, let me think about that.” No hesitation. Not a moment of uncertainty about whether it was even possible. “That’s a great idea.” I said. I might have paused for a moment before saying again, “That’s a great idea. That’s a great idea.”
And so began a whirlwind of activity: a book, a film, a series of events and the birth of the website.
By the time The New York Observer ran an article about The Good Men Project 15 days after our magazine launch, they were already talking about what other media companies were saying about us:
Responses to the inaugural issue have run the gamut. “Without directly referencing feminism, the editors take a stand against patriarchal, authoritarian, heterosexist, racist masculinity,” Ms. raved. Toronto’s Eye Weekly, on the other hand, speculated that the magazine might be a “conservative culty thing.”
These diverging impressions aren’t a source of concern for the Good Men guys — quite the contrary. “Benoit emailed those articles to me and my response back was ‘Perfect!’” said Tom Matlack, the founder of the Good Men Project and an eighth-generation descendant of Timothy Matlack, who hand-lettered the Declaration of Independence.
“We’re definitely not a conservative culty thing,” Mr. Denizet-Lewis clarified. “I think it’s unfortunate that if you have an article that talks about ethics and morals and what it means to be a good man, that some people are going to have a knee-jerk reaction.”
On the day we launched, we got about 6,000 people visiting the site. “Where are they all coming from?”, I naively wondered. It seemed like a lot, for a new-born magazine who had barely sent out a few announcements proclaiming, “It’s a boy!” There had been no paid publicity, no glitzy marketing campaign. It was hard to envision that a mere 18-months later, toddler-aged, we would have had 3.5 million visitors from 227 countries around the world. Turns out, “national conversation” was too small a goal. Today, I was looking at the Google Analytics map of the world trying to figure out which countries haven’t sent any visitors. Azerbajin? Cameroon? Papua New Guinea? Qatar? Greenland? The Good Men Project has somehow reached every one of those places.
And here we are today–- and who’s talking about us now? If it’s Thursday, it must be Gawker. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the course of our short lifetime – someone is talking about us. Gawker seems to be wondering if “manly men” can actually cuddle. Yes, that’s what happens. We start out to talk about manhood, and not everyone believes that conversation should include a man talking about wanting to cuddle. “God, Thomas, You’re Such a Pussy.”
A pussy. Really.
We’re no more concerned than we were day one. We know we live in a world where publicity is publicity and that the reason for sparking a conversation about what it means to be a man today is because we honestly want to know. Believe it or not, we’ve been called worse. Manginas, wimps, pageview whores, liars, scum. It does create an interesting look at the world we live in, the power of communications and the idea that men, as a group, should just “man up” and take it when criticized. If – for example – a group of 3 million women wanted to talk openly about the issues unique to women – say, sex and sexuality, and motherhood and careers, how to make better decisions, how to make better decisions, political clout – whatever they wanted to talk about. And if, when those women started talking about those things publicly they were called sluts, whores, idiots, vermin – wouldn’t there be some small amount of outrage? This has been one of the biggest puzzles as we have started this conversation. How could a conversation about good men be seen as bad?
I was going to say, “We didn’t set out to be controversial.” But that would be a lie. We did indeed. We set out to talk about “the stuff guys don’t usually talk about.” We set out to be thought-provoking. We set out to tackle the tough topics – race, sexual assault, death, marriage, divorce, unemployment, war, porn, the new fatherhood. To look at those topics from multiple points of view but a single focus: How and why they affect men.
Perhaps that singular focus is why CNN called us up when the Justice Department changed their definition of rape to include men. Perhaps that’s why Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast links to us about topics ranging from porn to depression to slam poets. Or why The Toronto Globe and Mail wanted to talk to us about everything from male contraceptives to absent dads. Perhaps that’s why The Atlantic wanted to talk to us about how men see feminism and how feminists see men. Why Jezebel likes to run articles that give their audience of female readers a unique view of men. Why Deadspin did a joint venture on Good Guys vs. Bad Guys in Sports. Why Huffington Post calls us up when they launch a new section.
Nobody else is talking about manhood in the way we are talking about it.
We set out to break stereotypes where they need breaking, but we also believe it’s ok to let people to pick and choose the parts of masculinity they want to keep. We are not looking to change men. We are looking to explore men as they are, and to celebrate their goodness. To talk honestly. To not judge. To allow men to gain insights from other men. Collectively and individually. To figure it out together.
“Why do these wimps need their own magazine?” was a question asked by a commenter on an article in a Boston Globe that heralded our launch.
Apparently because this is a conversation worth having.
photo: inju / flickr