Is It Fair to Believe Men Can Be Summed Up By Our Desire to Drink, F*** and Swear?

Even “regular guys” aren’t two-dimensional stereotypes, says Tom Matlack.

Back in 2009, when I founded the Good Men Project, I hadn’t ever really thought much about the reductionist view of manhood.  I didn’t spend much time considering gender, per se.  I merely knew that I was struggling and a lot of guys I knew were struggling, too. My goals had nothing to do with feminism, men’s rights, or Bud Light commercials. I was living in my own world where I thought perhaps men had something important to share.

Four years ago, Eliot Spitzer, Charlie Sheen, and Tiger Woods were all highly-regarded men. Hanna Rosin had yet to write her Atlantic cover story. And I was a burned out finance guy getting desperate phone calls from other burned out finance guys when the thought occurred to me — that if we were struggling — how were the guys on the ground in Iraq, the guys getting laid off in Detroit, and the guys locked up in prison managing? What must they be going through?

My guiding principle was to find men who had little in common on the outside and see if I could discover what was common on the inside. I thought that their stories might inspire others, and would at least inform my own sense of what it means to be a good man.

Having backed my way into a much broader discussion of masculinity than I ever intended, my eyes were opened both to the profound diversity of stories from individual men I met, and to the ways in which men as a group are misunderstood.

♦◊♦

I have two sons and a daughter. I have been divorced once. My current marriage is a happy one that has lasted a decade. I pour my heart and soul into being a dad and a husband. And I would tell anyone who will listen that I have a much easier time understanding my sons than I do my wife or daughter.

That doesn’t mean I love the women in my life any less. I adore them. But to me the women in my life are “complex” in the sense that they speak an emotional language which is still, after all these years of trying, less than obvious to me. I can understand my boys in an instant, in ways that take conscious efforts to achieve with my daughter.

Complex doesn’t mean better or worse. I believe in equality between the sexes. But that doesn’t mean we are the same.

♦◊♦

As much as I have tried over the last four years to stick to first person narrative to speak the truth about manhood (if such a thing exists), I have gotten sucked into the broader discussion about men and gender.

At first I was honestly baffled by the idea that men can be summed up by our desire to drink, fuck and swear (not that I don’t have a strong interest in all three). Although I’ve described men as simple, because I understand other men more easily than I do women, this distillation of men struck me as not just wrong, but offensive. Having heard so many men spill their guts, this image of men just didn’t square with the yearning and internal turmoil I have witnessed. Over time, this image made me angry.

♦◊♦

One of my friends has a neurological problem whereby his vision is roughly equivalent to being on a constant acid trip. The condition was caused by a freak brain tumor when he was a kid. The tumor was removed, but the condition is degenerative. He also suffers from acute obsessive-compulsive disorder and alcoholism. (He’s been sober for over a decade.)

To meet him you would probably never guess any of that is going on. He’s a good-looking guy in his thirties, loud and gregarious with an infectious laugh. He has a good job, beautiful wife, and two kids. He lives to play golf, watch football, and listen to rap.

But I know better. There’s the guy that the world might dismiss as some kind of skin deep moron and there is the guy with a soul as deep as any I have encountered, striving to overcome a heap of problems not of his own making. He doesn’t necessarily want to go on the “Today” show to talk about it but if you ask him he will tell you how hard—how complicated—his effort to be a good man is.

Every guy I know has his own version of this story. The difference between the stereotype and my friend is like the difference between a two dimensional line drawing of a man and the three dimensional flesh and blood and guts of a real, individual man. Not even close.

♦◊♦

But I can’t speak for any other guy. When I watch a commercial or read another in the endless stream of mischaracterizations of manhood—as sexed-crazed dogs or slackers or just stupid—I certainly get upset because of all the men I know and have interviewed. But I also get offended on a personal level.

What do all these portrayals say about my struggles and successes as a father and husband? About my passion for seeking out men’s stories? About, in the end, my commitment to telling the deepest truth I can about myself and in so doing, inspiring others to face themselves?

♦◊♦

I realize that there is a strong corollary to what I am so outraged about on behalf of women. Endless tits and ass certainly do not leave any real women feeling understood. And while I agree and sympathize with the fight against sexist stereotypes of women, that isn’t my topic here. What I am talking about is a similar corroding impact of male stereotypes on men’s souls.

One can certainly ask where all these messages about manhood came from and who keeps them going. Is it we men ourselves who control the media?

This question brings me back to my wrong-headed belief that the women in my family are more complicated than the guys. I am quite certain that the women don’t feel that way. Their emotional language is familiar to them, as men are to me.

The lack of ability to understand men’s emotions has come to be represented by a vast dumbing down of the male stereotype to beer, boobs, and football. We all look like Charlie Sheen if you squint.

Perhaps this is in part caused by what I see as men’s more profound separation from their emotional lives, both internal and external. I once spoke on a panel with Michael Thompson, the author of Raising Cain, and he said if you want to talk to a boy about something important don’t ask him directly. Offer to throw a ball with him. It is in the doing that the inside will pour out.

With most guys it takes patience and context to get to the real story. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. That’s the very reason I founded The Good Men Project and we continue to work so hard at making it easy for men to let it all pour out.

♦◊♦

One of the arguments I hear a lot regarding why men should not have more of voice when it comes to matters of gender has to do with historic privilege. It’s men who have had the power and have used it to objectify women and commit acts of violence along racial lines. We can’t know what it is like to be on the receiving end of that power play and therefore our job is to listen, not speak.

As we have demonstrated again and again we are committed to talking about race, sexual orientation and how men can be good husbands and fathers in partnership with women. We want to talk about the sex trade and what true intimacy looks like. But the idea that we as men should be silent because of a historic gender role is as far away from my going out to find individual men’s stories as I can imagine. It misses the entire point and casts me and us as guilty by association even if we abundantly agree with a view of history in which gender and race and religion have been used in horrific ways.

I am a rich white heterosexual man. Does that mean I’m an idiot? Does that mean I have no feelings? Does that mean I have no story that’s worth telling?

My pain is no less authentic than anyone else’s. The courage it takes for me to dig deep and share the most intimate details of my journey is no less daunting.

I’m a guy who works hard, builds things, adores his wife and kids, and wakes up every day ready to do it all some more. I’m also sober, divorced, and a collector of men’s stories. Call me simple, I don’t mind; or call me complex: that’s okay, too.

Just don’t call me two-dimensional.

 

Read more on Smashing Male Stereotypes on The Good Life.

Image credit:  istolethetv/Flickr

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Tom – I’ll happily call you simple – that is simple and straight forward – an honest guy. P^)

    Four Years? Wow! Well you get my vote for another four years, and I hope you get a congress and senate on YOUR side. I’d love to see an increase in the dimensionality of content which reflects men and not just what some people think about us!

    You started GMP to have a conversation, and I wish there was more people being allowed to come to the table and have a seat.

    • tom matlack says:

      Thanks MH. All our welcome at our table.

    • Thank you for starting this website, Tom. Although I am not a man (lol) I do admire the depth and honesty that is portrayed on the site, as well as the ability of anyone who reads the ‘articles’ to post their comments, good, bad, and indifferent. I also enjoy the vast information and insight that I discover about men; especially since society and many men in general, often portray themselves as ‘emotionless’ fearing that showing anything other than anger or sportsmaship is a sign of weakness. Women (including myself) need to know that (our) men aren’t one or two dimensional, and men need to know that it is okay to express who they really are, as long as they are with a partner who is open to the discovery.

  2. Dear Tom,
    Thank you for being awesome.

  3. a so-so man says:

    I think it’s true. Thanks for saying it. My friends aren’t simple because I understand them better than I understand their wives. We just share some things that give me a little more insight into them.

    I think men are sold short by being called “simple.” Like the fellow above noted… straightforward, direct, etc… but no less significant. Calculus is simple enough within the right context and frame of understanding. But, otherwise, some may find it impenetrable.

  4. Tom,

    I started following you about 6 months ago on twitter, since then I have trawled through the GMP, waited for the next story,= to come out and told my kids about some stories.
    This is truly an inspiring site, which achieves what you set out for, and on top of that, provides good advice and direction for those of us struggling to find that voice.
    Keep it up! I look forward to more from GMP, and maybe even one day writing for it!

  5. I love The Good Men Project because it engenders empathy. Women and men ARE different; reducing them to broad brushstrokes based on simplistic character or physical traits is lazy. It’s also common, because most people have enough stress/drama/activity in their own lives that to take the time to deconstruct another’s life takes too much time. Context and back story are messy and not always necessary to every human interaction. So stereotypes fill the void.

    Part of why I promote your work via my nonprofit is that most of the women we serve have been broken by men from the bassinet (abandoned, minimized, used as a vessel, actually beaten or verbally assaulted). They truly think that the idea of a “good man” is bullshit and a bad joke, even as they hold out hope for finding one to rescue her.

    Sharing these posts gives them a glimpse behind the curtain and access to a perspective most have never had. No, all men are not asshole abusers who drink too much and leave them. Yes, they need to take ownership of their own choices and stop blaming men for the bad things that happened to them.

    Life is grey. I’m glad you guys are here.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Thank you so much MCKRA1G. Obviously part of the point is that we are all broken in some ways. While goodness can feel very far away it is possible and often closer than we know. At least that is my experience of it. And sometimes goodness shows up in the most unexpected places. That’s the beauty of it.

  6. Lovely thoughts, Tom. I’ve followed this site for a long time and I love the progress you’ve made.I just wanted to say that while I love the gist of this article— I think that men have been reduced to some awful, simple stereotypes of late as well— there is a bit of truth that bums me out a bit in the bits about how men understand men more intuitively than women, and the assumption that women do the same with other women. I am bummed out only because it is not my personal experience, and saddened to think that some of my closest friends might be confused by me due to my gender and this “emotional language” that I cannot deny exists as a woman. Perhaps I am so frustrated in that I want to be understood and work tirelessly to be understood, which may be a symptom of my woman-brain. These distinctions were not as clear to me in the family I was raised in, and I wonder if that is a part of it.

    Absolutely no argument from me, just wanted to note that it’s a bit of a bummer, because I doubt that was your intent at all. Please keep up the good work.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Rachel as always I am not trying to be overly general here in that it is just my experience. Perhaps yours is different…didn’t mean to bum anyone out.

      • Absolutely! I assure you it comes across that that is not the intent, though I know if it were my piece I’d want to know if that was a result, so I decided to share. Nevertheless, what you wrote is very thought provoking, and seems to be resonating with your readers. Thank you for your insight.

  7. Y’know Tom, if you keep saying everything so concisely and thoughtfully it makes it hard for the rest of us to contribute ;)

    On a serious note, I feel the same outrage at the “simplicity” ascribed to men. I feel that outrage when women are marginalized/stereotyped, and when it happens to friends who are LGBT/Asian/Black/Hispanic, so why shouldn’t I be angry when unfair stereotypes are applied to men too? The notion of historic privilege is something that troubles me deeply, and it exists in our country and around the world in relation to gender, age, sexual preference, creed, etc… Historic privilege, be it male, white, wealthy, etc… is not an excuse for silencing voices. As with any shift in power there are complicated dynamics between men and women right now, but we should be encouraging diversity of voices, not shutting people down with simplistic portrayals. As a progressive man I consider it my responsibility to work at making sure women have a voice, and men too. I understand and am always willing to learn more about the struggles women face, but it’s not and has never been a zero sum game.

    • That’s really well said Joe. “it’s not and has never been a zero sum game.”

      • @ Boysen I think many GMP contributors have made this point elegantly in response to the Hanna Rosin “End of Men” arguments. Instead of it being about a power balance, it can and should be about how we can be of help to each other. The rest falls into place when you are willing to ask that question and listen to the response.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Indeed Joe it’s the idea that listening is a one way street, or a zero sum game that drives me nuts. I want to understand my wife as deeply as I possibly can. Sometimes that is hard but I keep trying. But I also really want to be understood too. That is human. No gender involved.

      • Definitely. I think acknowledgement of the human condition and the joy/suffering that goes with it is what most of us are looking for. Giving men the opportunity to express that concept is important. We don’t always need to be right, or to be happy, but there is a deep desire for understanding.

  8. John Smith says:

    Whilst I can relate to and agree with much of what you say, I do think the repeated references to Charlie Sheen do not help men at all. When it is a woman, such as Britney Spears or Anna Nicole Smith, whilst there was still some derision of them, the media mostly was at pains to show us how they were broken and mixed up people with deep and tragic issues (surprise surprise, all caused by men according to the media). When it is Charlie Sheen all we do is talk about how he is this beer swilling womanizer, and not see that he has deep issues and problems. Talking about him as an example of the shallow man dose us all harm. We need to understand that people, men or women, normally engage in this kind of self destructive behavior for a reason.

    • …whilst there was still some derision of them, the media mostly was at pains to show us how they were broken and mixed up people with deep and tragic issues (surprise surprise, all caused by men according to the media).
      Yes. You can even see this happen when talking about male vs. female criminals. Female criminals being offered a level of sympathy that would never be extended to male criminals, no matter how terrible the crime is.

      Good show Tom.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Fair enough John (and Danny)…

  9. Great article Tom.
    I’ve now been facilitating men’s work and seeing men’s guts spilled out on the carpet for 8 years. And it is amazing to me, again and again – that when men have the opportunity and get the skills to work within their emotional landscape – they can be brilliant. And these same men, after having the space to do their own work, are so much more capable of holding that same kind of space for the women in their lives.
    I’m honored to have been along for the ride with you. And I hope you’ll soon come along on a ride with me as well.

  10. Tom, I really like this piece, as I saw so much of my hubby in it. He’s the deepest guy I know, even if he doesn’t talk much at all. To be honest, he’s much more ‘tuned in’ and intuitive about people, both male and female, than I am. He’s able to read people after just a few hours spent with them. Obviously, he’s not always right, but I am sometimes surprised at how often he is. I on the other end, am totally clueless at times with other people, mostly women though, cause a lot of the guys I meet seem to be exactly as two dimensional as you describe them. I don’t know if that’s a cop out or a part some men play, but it has been my experience that many men are perfectly happy to be the shallow, drinking, skirt chasers, emotionally stunted people so many women think they are. That said, I do applaud you for the work you do on GMP. It truly shows you’re no two dimensional guy. :)

  11. Tom, I’ve enjoyed much of what GMP has provided and I commend you for starting and continuing this forum. Let’s face it, trash sells and if the media concentrated on the not so colorful people, men and women, no one would read or watch. Keep up the good work, you’re making a difference.

  12. Tom,

    Nice spotlight on a too often tossed assumption about men and women. We are layered both as genders and as individuals in as many different ways as genetics permuates. To assume differently is to diminish. And yet, where it matters most, we are all, on a global scale, also the same: the desires to connect, to be whole, to be seen, to love and be loved, to matter that we lived at all.

    Beyond that, that the specifics of person and gender can still surprise and inspire are the gifts of being human that we too often under-appreciate. GMP has been, for me, a beautiful window into the vast and complex lives of men who, given this platform, have not failed to surprise, enlighten and give me pause to contemplate. Time and again I have watched you bring it full circle again, bring it home to ask who you are and how you relate as a man to other men, women, children, work and life with naked honesty.

    Good things come to those with the courage to imagine and GMP is a good thing.

  13. The Wet One says:

    For my part, skip the drinking and swearing (well most of the time). Bring on the f**king though. That’s the icing on the cake of dialogue, rumination and existence.

    But maybe that’s just me…

  14. ‘Complex doesn’t mean better or worse. I believe in equality between the sexes. But that doesn’t mean we are the same.’

    I really loved the article, it was great all the way through. But I just wanted to point out that I believe the problem with gender stereotyping and the pain it causes many people is in this belief that gender is natural, a mounting belief despite the phenomenal amount of evidence against it and the impossible task of proving that any part of gender is naturally occurring. There are differences in the ways men and women think but they are socially constructed. People look at the world around them and use their lay perceptions to inform their opinion about a hugely complex issue with innumerable variables.

    People love to through around the word ‘natural’ because they feel it gives them ammo in their argument – homosexuality is not ‘natural’, boys being aggressive is ‘natural’ – there is no substance to that argument and there is plenty in both neurological science and gender studies to disprove gender stereotypes.

    ‘I am a rich white heterosexual man. Does that mean I’m an idiot? Does that mean I have no feelings? Does that mean I have no story that’s worth telling?’

    No, actually we want to hear your voice, because perhaps rich white men who maintain their bigoted views will actually listen to you.

  15. Thanks for putting into words so many things we “simple” men all feel, Tom. Great insights and truth.

  16. Pommodore 94 says:

    Tom Matlack, I agree on everything, but I wonder, why is Hugo still posting here? why there are so many women centric articles on this site? ins’t this a men site? why so much focus on what’s good for women. In my experience, the entire world is concerned about women, isnt about time we focus a little bit on men?

  17. Matlack, this might be one of the best articles you’ve written yet! I found myself nodding my head while reading this thinking “Hell Yeah!” As a father of 3 girls and 1 boy can see what you’re saying. My son is so much easier to understand. You spoke of being considered an ‘idiot’ for being a rich white male (although how you can become rich an successful if an idiot I just don’t get). Wait a minute, this is where the feminist bing up the ‘white male privilage’ argument! right! It’s OK, even though I’m not rich, being a white male, I’m told I’m privileged too. (sometimes by authors on this very site) I guess as in’ You really didn’t accompilish that on your own merits as you were privileged.

  18. Tom , Tom, Tom, can I be brutally honest? Out of your whole article a few words stuck out like a sore thumb, “I am a rich white heterosexual man” That alone makes you so much more appealing to a woman, that alone makes her more patient, understanding, tolerant and a good wife. Not to mention your very good looking. But getting back to what you where trying to point out. That men can be more complex than “Drink, F K, and Swear”. Yea some can, Im married to one. And they are a gem, a true treasure but Tom Im sorry to disagree with you, men are not that complicated or emotional, or deep and that I happen to think is their best asset. Men are simple and I envy them for that gift. Women are problematic, emotional, insecure and domanering.Thats why I believe that a perfect marriage happens when the man is silently in control and understands that ever so complex emotional individual he is sharing a home with and doesnt try to change her but instead loves the good in her and her flaws are just that flaws. Long live the patient,smart,white, rich heterosexual man. Have a good life.

  19. Tom, you touched on something I’m curious about – that so many negative stereotypes and representations of men come from the media and/or commercials, yet when you peek behind the curtain, there are still lots of men in positions of creative influence in these industries. By that, I mean not necessarily the bosses and executives, but the people on the creative teams who develop this media, the people writing the dialogue for the commercial or creating characters for a feature film – the Ideas people. There’s still a significant representation of men in those roles.

    I get confused, I guess, when I try to reconcile your message about men’s complications and complexities and the unfairness/ignorance of casting them as simpletons, a message I agree with and am glad to see spoken, with the reality that the media portrayals of men often come FROM men or otherwise involve men in the process of creative production.

    The easy answer is, this stuff sells, and the people behind it are more interested in selling than in the plight of men, or making the world a better place. But … well, I still struggle with the idea that there are men in creative roles across both media and advertising who are OK with, essentially, selling out their own gender. Sure, there are women in positions of influence in these industries too, but all that means is that at the very least, the men are *complicit* in furthering the stereotypes for the sake of profit, if not always the point of origin. (Though I highly doubt every misandrist commercial out there originated in the mind of a woman – surely men came up with some of them too.)

    So maybe that’s something you, or another GMP columnist, could shed some light on. What’s up with men selling out their gender in the name of profit? I love it when you pull real quotes and conversations from people you’ve reached out to on a certain topic. I’d REALLY love to see some interviews with men in these roles to find out what’s going on here. What’s their thought process? Do they feel conflicted, or justified? Do they go with it because they feel powerless to fight The Machine, or because they don’t feel it’s worth it to take up arms in the first place? Inquiring minds want to know…

    • So maybe that’s something you, or another GMP columnist, could shed some light on. What’s up with men selling out their gender in the name of profit? I love it when you pull real quotes and conversations from people you’ve reached out to on a certain topic. I’d REALLY love to see some interviews with men in these roles to find out what’s going on here. What’s their thought process? Do they feel conflicted, or justified? Do they go with it because they feel powerless to fight The Machine, or because they don’t feel it’s worth it to take up arms in the first place? Inquiring minds want to know…

      Well you have to bear in mind that first and foremost like any other walk of life men are not some monolithic entity where we work together as some hive mind for the betterment of the male gender (this tends to also be forgotten when people bleat on about how the majority of politicians being men means that “men have the power”).

      I would imagine that different men who engage in this selling out have different movties. Some see it as a quick and easy way to make a buck and otherwise get ahead in this messed up world. Some have probably given up with trying to stop the machine and have taken their place as gears in it. Some have probably given up on the idea of making the world a better place for men overall (which would require some of that unified thinking that we are accused of having when some small portion of men mistreat women).

      I wager some do feel conflicted. Trying to decide is it worth the risk the rock the proverbial boat. It’s nice to say that a man shouldn’t have to be “the provider” but if he is in that role then its hard to expect him to risk that in order to change the system. And since you were talking about guys who are engaging in this but may not be bosses then this gets even dicier. People think that men are just free to willy nilly do whatever they want because they are men. This is not true.

      Some may feel like it’s not worth it because they have actually tried to buck the system, even if in some small way, and learned the hard way that people that they thought would support them actually didn’t. When you’ve been burned before it’s hard to try again.

      I’m betting if you were to ask about women that engage in profitting off of stereotypes that harm women you’d probably get the same answers (because it’s not like all of them are helpless puppets of man machine, even though that seems to be a common thought, I guess it makes them feel better to know that someone else is actually responsible for their bad doing….).

      • Danny, I appreciate your response. You said many of the things I would guess would be revealed in such an article. But I can’t help still being curious to hear the men themselves giving their perspectives.

        Men are not some monolithic entity where we work together as some hive mind for the betterment of the male gender.
        Point well taken and understood.

        I guess what I was getting at is, are the men who work in advertising in the creative roles I spoke of *conscious* of the stereotyping, or not? If they are conscious of it, do they see the harm in it, write it off as benign, or simply not care? How do they feel about it all? Are these conversations even happening at ad agencies? That’s what I’m mostly curious about.

        I work in marketing and a large part of my job involves reading trade pubs like AdAge and Adweek and such, and I just don’t see this addressed much. Sure, there will be a few reaction pieces to a particularly over-the-top campaign like the Dr. Pepper 10, but it’s not really the reaction I’m interested in – I want to know what goes into the process, how the individuals involved feel when they’re peeled away from the groupthink.


        • But I can’t help still being curious to hear the men themselves giving their perspectives.

          Understandable. Its one thing to think that’s what guys would say to your ponderings but its quite another to have actual guys say them. (So if nothing else thanks for presenting what you think but still asking for us to chime up on our own rather than trying to present what you think as solid fact and truth.)


          I guess what I was getting at is, are the men who work in advertising in the creative roles I spoke of *conscious* of the stereotyping, or not?

          I bet it’s a mixed bag of those that are conscious of it and those that are not.

          If they are conscious of it, do they see the harm in it, write it off as benign, or simply not care?
          I bet it’s a mixed bag. I know you are probably tired of that answer but without hearing form them directly that’s the best I could say.

          How do they feel about it all? Are these conversations even happening at ad agencies? That’s what I’m mostly curious about.
          If they are happening I bet they are happening on an extremely small scale right now. Like two or three guys chatting at the water cooler small. I think the biggest roadblock to those conversations getting bigger is that such guys don’t have a lot of support for their actions. And I don’t even mean activist support either but real world “how am I gonna feed my family?” support.

          I think this is something that gets lost in the mix when talking about guys changing the system. There is the ever present whining about how guys think they are going to lose their precious privileges but that nowhere near explains the entire story. A lot of these guys have real world concerns and with the way things are now they are not able to just rock the boat so much. And it also doesn’t help that despite the great strides that have been made for men it is still politically incorrect to actually bring up topics that affect men as men.

          Sure you can bring up things that affect men as men as long as it’s a subcatetory of one of the “valid” points of discussion (like race and sexual orientation) but trying to bring up something that affects men on the basis of gender is still a no no. I see guys that write articles about things that fall into this category that are wrapped in assurances that being a man is still a cake walk. Why? Because without such appeasements those articles will be taken as an attempt to say that men are the only oppressed group, or an attempt to deny the harms that befall women, and so on.


          I want to know what goes into the process, how the individuals involved feel when they’re peeled away from the groupthink.

          The reason you may have a hard time finding that out is because the groupthink is what sustains them.

          • So if nothing else thanks for presenting what you think but still asking for us to chime up on our own rather than trying to present what you think as solid fact and truth.

            You’re welcome. And I say this around here pretty often but I thank YOU, Danny, and the site’s writers, and a number of other commenters I’ve had productive back-and-forths with. The articles and conversations here have prompted me to change my thinking and adjust my behavior when it comes to men. Most importantly I make a conscious effort to watch my language and to not speak for men or assume I know them better than they know themselves. It’s the least I can do and I’m happy to make the effort and try to spread it, at least among my own peer group if not on a large scale.

            • Most importantly I make a conscious effort to watch my language and to not speak for men or assume I know them better than they know themselves. It’s the least I can do and I’m happy to make the effort and try to spread it, at least among my own peer group if not on a large scale.

              It’s great to actually hear how people find interacting with other positive – and due to my overly developed and ironic funny bone I do wonder how some can take the simple and make it extreme!

              I can see some writing the headlines now – “1 Down, 3.5 Billion to Go!” – P^)

      • About men not being a monolithic entity – this has always been the case. Men haven’t always had all the advantages. Some men have. But not all of us. Consider men who don’t fit the tough guy archetype, perhaps those who are tagged “effeminate” or “sensitive.” There are examples throughout history of what happens to men who are not in power. I’m not whining, I’m simply saying maybe they didn’t want it that way either. I sure don’t.

        One of the criticisms I hear from women often is along the lines of “you [men] have always had all the advantages and power so you don’t have any room to complain.”

        To me that illustrates both the point above and also speaks to what Tom is talking about when it comes to historic privilege. As men, we do our best to listen to and understand women, but that is not a precondition for talking about what it means to be a man. Demanding that we do so furthers the same kind of frustration that women have had for so long, in other words, not being able to express themselves without first considering men. I can’t speak for Tom or other men, but that’s the last thing I would want for anyone and it certainly isn’t something I want for myself.

        • About men not being a monolithic entity – this has always been the case. Men haven’t always had all the advantages. Some men have. But not all of us. Consider men who don’t fit the tough guy archetype, perhaps those who are tagged “effeminate” or “sensitive.” There are examples throughout history of what happens to men who are not in power. I’m not whining, I’m simply saying maybe they didn’t want it that way either. I sure don’t.
          In addition to those men that don’t fit the tough guy archtype there are plenty of men that actually did fit that archtype and were crushed under foot just as harshly (if not more in some cases perhaps). I think I’m having a problem with this idea that the only a man could be disprivileged is if he has some other subcategory that works against him (like the tough guy thing you speak of).

          To me that illustrates both the point above and also speaks to what Tom is talking about when it comes to historic privilege. As men, we do our best to listen to and understand women, but that is not a precondition for talking about what it means to be a man. Demanding that we do so furthers the same kind of frustration that women have had for so long, in other words, not being able to express themselves without first considering men. I can’t speak for Tom or other men, but that’s the last thing I would want for anyone and it certainly isn’t something I want for myself.
          Are you by chance talking about the tendency to hold the gender discourse on the condition that talking about men and things that affect us can only be done in relation to women and the things that affect them?

          If that is what you are saying then yes I agree that this is a serious problem. For all the talk of everything being all about men its interesting that we are still expected to have to include analysis of women in the analysis of men to the point that the analysis of men is overshadowed by the analysis of women.

          • Yup, exactly. It makes perfect sense to me but seems to be a subtle point for many people.

            The subcategory thing you mention frustrates me too. I think has a lot to do with what Tom talks about on this site. We don’t need preconditions to be validated in our attempts to express ourselves and understand others doing the same thing. This means that we don’t automatically weigh based on categories, instead we accept and listen to experiences. I spent several years as the only young, white male in a Hispanic neighborhood, so I know something about what it feels like to be the other. It’s certainly nothing like the experience of a young black man growing up on the South side of Chicago, and I would never weight one above or below the other. Also, the concept of who’s suffered most is not inversely related to intelligence, or value. Suffering almost always includes an opportunity to become a better person, but it’s not required in the extreme.


            • We don’t need preconditions to be validated in our attempts to express ourselves and understand others doing the same thing.

              Damn straight. And honestly I think this is probably one of the larger reasons why men have such a hard time speaking up on such things. When we do we have to do so under the watchful eye of people (namely women) standing over us waiting to judge the validity of our experiences or the scope of our experiences.

              How many men have tried to share an experience about their gender and had a woman (or a feminist for that matter) swoop in with some lip servicing apology immediately followed by some delcaration about how it’s not that bad, it’s not an -ism, it’s not institutionalized, or some other qualitification that serves little more than a way to tell men that “okay so you have some baggage, it’s not that big of a deal”? And I think what makes it worse is that it’s coming from people who frequently say that they have to put up with the same thing from men!

              This is precisely why I don’t talk to too many women or feminsits when it comes to gender. Too damn many of them have already decided they know my experiences better than I do and know the scope of my experiences and are more concerned with making sure I don’t steal their precious spotlight. They don’t want to hear men’s experiences, they want to hear men confirm what they have already concluded about men’s experiences. But good luck telling them that because they will just say that the reason people don’t want to interact with them is because men are intimidated by them or some other deflective reason.

            • It can definitely be frustrating. I think it highlights the problem with keeping score. Now and then I’ve found myself thinking about the Middle East as a foil for the back and forth that sometimes happens between men and women, someone always has to be “more right.” You can’t always be right and be understanding/compassionate.

              I do talk with a lot of women and feminists about gender. I think it’s all about being allies because having honest, thoughtful conversations is good for everyone regardless of gender, sexual preference, creed, etc…

              But, I find that I have to keep a couple of things on the ready. One is that while I’m a student of history & themes/ideas, I deal primarily in individual personhood, and applying judgement or value to someone’s experience is easy but not usually helpful. So I often break out the “hold on a sec, I understand what you’re trying to say but keep in mind I am a human with complex emotional and intellectual frameworks the same as you, I am not a figure head that represents EVERY man ever.” The other thing I do regularly is remind women of what we’re talking about, which is that if they want the ability to express themselves without preconditions, they’re going to have to extend the same courtesy to me.

            • It can definitely be frustrating.
              And understatement if I ever heard one but I get your point.


              Now and then I’ve found myself thinking about the Middle East as a foil for the back and forth that sometimes happens between men and women, someone always has to be “more right.”

              Yeah I notice that too. Even to the point that people will save tidbits and facts as little trump cards to shut the other person up once and for all. (Like the Middle East. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone pull out women in the Middle East to shut down concern for American men.)


              I do talk with a lot of women and feminists about gender. I think it’s all about being allies because having honest, thoughtful conversations is good for everyone regardless of gender, sexual preference, creed, etc…

              Ideally that would be it but I think a problem we all face is that there is a tendency to value being “more right” over what you say here but try to pass it off for what you say here. Such as a conversation about men and body image and that person that absolutely must say something to the effect of “yes men do have body image issues but women have it worse”.

              Sure they can claim the reasoning you give here about it being allies and all that but at the end of the day its about being “more right”. Acknowledging that men have issues but making sure that we all know that when it comes to body image its more of a woman’s issue. And what makes this even more aggrevating is that they will do this even as they try to say that it’s not about who has it worse.

              …I deal primarily in individual personhood, and applying judgement or value to someone’s experience is easy but not usually helpful.
              I think one of the worst manifestations of this is the tendency to try to categorize someone’s experiences as insitutional or individual. The line between individual and institutional has to be one of the most entrenched battle lines I’ve seen in the gender discourse.

              I’ve seen entire discussions fall apart over whether or not something bad that’s happening is institutional or individual (and in my experience in the gender discourse the sole determining factor for if something is individual or institutional is “which gender are we talking about?”, if it’s something affecting women it’s institutional if it something affecting men it’s individual).

              And mind you this fall out will happen even as there are people on both sides saying “it doesn’t matter if it’s institutional or individual, it’s bad and needs to be confronted”. So it doesn’t matter in the long run but it does matter enough to destroy an otherwise valuable discussion…

            • I too am overly tired of certain people using Arab and Moslem women as supposed feminist bombs and even racist bombs to stop people communicating.

              I do wish they would show some respect and not use others in such an unpleasant fashion.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      KKZ,

      I worked as an advertising creative for a long long time before helping to start The Good Men Project. And yes, oftentimes I was the only women in the room or in the creative department. In fact, I took one job simply because I then became the only female creative director in New England. It’s changed quite a bit since I started, but to say “there’s still a significant representation of men in those roles” is an understatement.

      So why is it so hard to change stereotypes? It’s hard to change stereotypes, period. But in TV commercial advertising you are dealing with a lot of variables. You need to sell a product first and foremost. You have to have your idea approved inside the agency by multiple levels of people, then you present it to the client, and often *they* need to present it to numerous levels of people. It gets tested in focus groups. It gets shown to the spouse of the CEO. And everyone all up and down this line is responsible for huge amounts of money to create and run the ads. The more the ad is seen, the more money is at stake. Everyone’s job is on the line, especially in a down economy. The creative team presents dozens of ideas before the one gets through to production. And at every step of the way, the creative team is told “just make it a little more mainstream, will you?”

      Every creative person I know was actively involved in doing something creative and *always* trying to break stereotypes rather than reinforcing them. But it’s simply not as easy as it sounds when it’s other people’s money involved. One person I know got fired from an ad agency and then a few months later was on national TV, talking about how distraught they were because their house was being foreclosed upon and they had a 6-month old baby. Selling out? Someone who doesn’t care? Furthering stereotypes for the sake of profit? Sorry, that’s not seeing the reality and complexities of the situation.

      Most ad people I know feel conflicted. All the time. It’s hard. It was easier for me to just go and just start a media company, but that’s not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do either.

      • Sounds like we need the Mad Men Project! P^)

        “just make it a little more mainstream, will you?” – if I hear anyone saying that I’ll Scream!

      • Lisa, thanks for your perspective. I knew someone in the ranks of the GMP had ad experience couldn’t remember who.

        I only work in a small corner of the marketing world (new business/lead generation for small to mid-size agencies) so there’s a lot, a LOT about what happens on the agency side that I simply haven’t had access to or been exposed to, including both the multi-layered creative process and the cutthroat competition among the industry giants and the people who want to work for them. I’m sure on that level, staying competitive is more important than pushing for social change. So from that view, the “selling out” language I used is a little harsh.

        So a lot of what you’ve said makes sense, and I thank you for taking the time to write it out.

        I guess what I’m left with is sadness that male-bashing/ stereotyping/ oversimplifying is mainstream and salesworthy. Marketing is a game of demographics, and I would think the demo of Men Sick of Being Insulted is a large enough one to pay attention to. But nooo, marketers are obsessed with women, because women control something like 80-85% of consumer spending, and [sarcasm] clearly women like to hate on and make fun of men so that’s what the ads have to do to reach them [/sarcasm], right ? Ugh.

        • Lisa Hickey says:

          Yeah, advertising is all a big mess right now. It’s why we — me, Tom, other media folks, futurists, vc’s etc. — are trying to change the whole nature of advertising. Like, if we are talking about changing stereotypes about men here — we’ll get advertisers who want to do that *also*. Some actually do. Some want to take part in this conversation we’re having. If we can figure out how to integrate them into this conversation on a very core level, it will be a huge win for everyone I think.

          Don’t give up hope just yet KKZ!

          • Lisa – forgive me for being naughty, But it would be fascinating to see just how you would take a product such as Average Guy and sell it!

            Any chance of an article with the black arts of media? Advertising used to show not just what there is to be advertised, and just how hard it is to get past the media tropes and stereotypes.

            • Lisa Hickey says:

              I will rise to that challenge MediaHound!

              These are just ideas off the top of my head. You’re right, I should write an entire post about it.

              —–
              AXE – Axe is a cologne for men. They do commercials right now that show hoardes of gals chasing after the guy because – wow! He’s wearing the right cologne! Run, girls, quick! And guys are idiots enough to fall for that – right? Uh, no.

              We know however that dating is fraught with anxiety for men. Rejection sucks. It would be nice to believe there was a magic potion you could rub on yourself and become attractive to whoever you want to be attractive to.

              But what if AXE was the EXTRA. What if that was their marketing campaign – the EXTRA to ATTRACTION. Like, AXE actually decided to help you find dates. The real kind. What if it sponsored online dating sites. Offered advice. Maybe it offered different types of advice depending what type of guy you were. Like there could be “nice guy” advice, a form of ethical PUA advice, meet-up type advice, etc. Maybe there’s an app. Or an advice column. They helped us, the good guys, succeed. Like if AXE actually helped guys be more attractive to women (or men, if that’s what they were looking for) – wow. That would be a damn good marketing campaign for a cologne.

              ——-

              Huggies – You know, Huggies did that “Put our diapers to the Dad test”. UGH. We were among the people who helped get that changed. One small success for stereotypes-smashing. So what if Huggies decided to own the Stay-At-Home-Dad market. What if Huggies said – we’re going to go out there and help SAHD’s change the perception of these guys as incompetent slackers. We’re just going to work to make it happen. And what if Huggies went and they tracked down every SAHD in the country, and gave them a free gift bag the same way moms get gift bags leaving the hospital. And what it – say Huggies helped with this conversation and every time a SAHD commented on a post they could get a free coupon. That would be easy enough to set up with us. Huggies would get this vast array of data on the issues of SAHD’s, what they worry about, what their issues are. And every time a SAHD joined the conversation – they became a Huggies fan.

              Dove for Men – I bring up Dove for Men because I do think Dove does a good job of looking at the varied unique humanity of both Men and Women. But what if they dove (hah! No pun intended, I’m using that as a verb) – what if they dove into body image issues. Really dove into them. What if they used Noah’s line of “I’m tired of being ashamed of my body.” What if that became a mantra. There could be exhibits in museums. Body Pride weeks. Sponsorships of videos that showed people as they really are – unashamed, unadorned, human.

              Again — these ideas are just off the top of my head. The key is for marketers / advertisers to not be afraid of really diving into the issues and conversations. And to treat people as what they are — people.

            • LOL LOL LOL – challenge Ms Hicki and she never disappoints.

              Lisa – It’s interesting. You come up with Three Good – even Great Ideas – which are all about long term commitment by product owners to markets. For me AXE is a lost cause, The Huggies ideas and focus is actually very good – the Dove for men is quite literally amazing as it does not just reposition the product in the market – it redefines the market for both men and women – that’s a bit special.P^)

              I wonder if we ran a pole on the three ideas what would be the feedback?

              My biggest suspicion as to why none of the three would have the “Coglioni” to do anything like it. The reason is market share and bottom line. In realigning the product image there would be a Hiatus in market share and the share holders may drop a cent on dividend. That just creates inertia against change. The bean counters all too often get in the way of progressive images, and too many CEO types and underlings have issues with anything that lasts more than 6 months and needs a 3 to 5 years perspective.

              I suspect that in a few hundred years humanity ( if it’s still about ) will look back at advertising and wonder what we were all smoking – first to come up with the ideas that get peddled – but more so why people believed them. P^)

              I’ve manage to cut down to 1 a day! It used to be 40.

            • *applause* I’d love to see campaigns like that.

              On the dad front especially, I’d love to see more variety represented in advertising – SAHDs of course, but also dads who aren’t the golf-playing, sports-watching, grillmaster Dads of the catalogs. I get frustrated every year at Father’s Day trying to find an appropriate card for my father (whom I call “Papa,” not Dad – the only cards with Papa on them are in Spanish!). not to mention a gift. He does not golf, he grills without being emotionally invested in the act, he doesn’t fish or hunt, he’s not a gearhead, he has a full beard and mustache and no need for a high-tech trimmer, he doesn’t exercise, he takes little more than a passing interest in any sport, he doesn’t wear polos and Dockers or even that many ties, he’s not a gadget guy, and I think the concept of a Man Cave would confuse him.

              Instead, he plays air guitar along with his favorite classic rock and blues, goes birdwatching on the weekends, kayaks, camps, loves his dogs, likes to cook and try new recipes, plays the Elder Scrolls roleplaying games for PC, and reads exciting nonfiction like accounts of climbing Mt. Everest or working on submarines. Try finding any of that represented in a “Gift Guide for Dads.” I’m not saying I can’t find gifts – I made his day a few years ago with a Frank Zappa-themed gift for Father’s Day – but if you look at the advertising, my dad is nowhere to be found.

              I’m wondering… my dad is technically a Boomer (though he doesn’t really behave like one), but as more GenXers become parents, will the All-American Dad image catch up and evolve accordingly? I’ll be curious to see where it goes.

      • Lisa, thank you for your response, you saved me a lot of typing …. If men want to start to change things, then what they can do is start being conscious of how the products are marketed and in the event they find that the advertizing is offensive, then don’t buy the product. Write letters to the advertisers or better yet the product manufacturer.

        I will never have a SEARS appliance in my home simply because of an advertizing campaign several years ago when the “husband” throughout the commercial called to his wife to find out where to place the appliances that were being delivered. “Honey, where do we put the microwave” and wife rolls her eyes and tells him it goes in the kitchen ….

        Advertizing is a business and it’s their business to come up with a campaign to sell product. You and I know that market research is done long before a campaign is put together. Women and men aren’t selling out their gender; they are simply doing their job. Places I’ve worked, if ya want to “make a statement” do it on your own time.

        I can see things changing simply because there are more men in the roles that women used to hold. But ya don’t have to go any further then looking to the right of this screen …last I looked was an ad for women’s shoes.

        • The effect will be even more powerful if the women working alongside men in advertising also take up the standard and push for messaging that isn’t harmful to men.

          As to non-advertising media … I’m an NPR junkie so that’s pretty much all I listen to in the car, but during election season it got to be too much, so I tried a few other stations in my listening area, including some that play pop music. The first week that I tuned in during the morning commute and listened to the morning shows on the two pop stations I’d programmed, I was shocked at what they were saying. I can’t think of specific examples anymore but it was sexist drivel that abused both sexes. I had to remind myself, I’ve gotten so used to the insulated environment of places like this site where most writers and commenters are sensitive to gender issues and language, that I’d forgotten how people talk outside of that circle. A pop radio station is about as mainstream as you can get; to me, the thought that ‘This is what the mainstream listens to and enjoys’ was depressing. It’s easy to have a thoughtful debate with someone on here and eventually come to a consensus/agreement and feel triumphant and good about other people, only to have that crushed when I step outside of this circle.

          • It’s easy to have a thoughtful debate with someone on here and eventually come to a consensus/agreement and feel triumphant and good about other people, only to have that crushed when I step outside of this circle.

            Yup – and I harbour terrible fantasias of certain people – especially certain supposed celebs – being strapped to gurneys and being forced to Main Line GMP! P^)

            I’ve actually managed to make to make my whole life about 99% add free. The Net – TV – Radio – Publications … all massively controlled and curtailed .. and it’s fascinating to be free of all the subliminal pressure and ideology.

  20. Tom, though in a way it actually contradicts your point, your post put me in mind of Tony Hoagland’s poem about D.H. Lawrence, which concludes, “. . . and we still walk around like zombies/ in our dying, burning world,/ able to do little more/ than fight, and fuck, and crow:/ something Lawrence wrote about/ in such a manner/ as to make us seem magnificent.”

  21. I actually came to GMP out of frustration with men. Disappointment. Hurt. Mistreatment. I’ve learned a lot about men since coming here. Which in turn, has allowed me to learn some things about myself as well. There are things discussed here that I never heard the real men in my life ever talk about. But because these discussions happen here, it’s given me a much bigger index of understanding of men than I use to have. You can’t really fault women that don’t understand men when men refuse to talk about those deeper parts of themselves that unfortunetly get hidden away for fear of shame or unacceptance. I also don’t fault men for not sharing those aspects of themselves.

    It’s through the courage of the men that come here in their own personal quest, that we are allowed to see things more realistically than what is usually touted as being men’s interests. Such as other popular male sites that focus on the newest celebrity to turn 18, ridiculously expensive cars and gadgets, And the top 10 ways to flirt with other women while your out with your partner. Those things use to leave me really cold toward men. But GMP really contributes in fighting those stereotypes. It’s helped me to see that there is always potential for more happening under the surface that I can’t see.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Erin, thank you for this. What’s amazing to me — and I shouldn’t be so surprised — is that what you describe is exactly what Tom (and me, shortly after) set out to do with The Good Men Project. Find men who had the courage to tell their stories. Let people see them as complex, multi-dimensional humans. Fight stereotypes.

      We talk about the good, the bad, and everything in between. It is not always easy. But more and more, we are recognizing just how important it is.

    • You can’t really fault women that don’t understand men when men refuse to talk about those deeper parts of themselves that unfortunetly get hidden away for fear of shame or unacceptance. I also don’t fault men for not sharing those aspects of themselves.

      So glad it’s a no fault culture and there are no stereotypes in there. (heavy irony)

      Odd cos as A Man of a certain age I have so much experience of so many men having no real issues in talking, communicating about deeper parts of themselves and they tend to keep very little hidden. You seem to have had a very sheltered life.

      I can hear and I know so many other men who can hear and they don’t need their ears Syringing to get rid of excess wax. So glad that you are happy to tell men their is no fault on their part. NO fault in what?

      So if there is fault to be apportioned and linked to defect, who has been getting it wrong and who is responsible ….. or should it just be tied to that Sterotype that so many can’t leave at the hitching post even whilst claiming to be at the Last Chance Saloon?

      Saying you don’t fault can be such an unpleasant way of making out all is fine and dandy whilst still being superior and controlling! But then again I would not blame you for being like that or holding it against you, and you may have to buy your own drinks at the bar. Equality is like that, and being negative by inverted trope gets equal disdain. P^)

  22. wellokaythen says:

    The most basic myth at the heart of many forms of sexism is the idea that men are simple and women are complex. A lot of gendered ideas are getting re-examined, challenged, blown apart, left behind, etc., but this one is pretty unshakeable so far. Even people with some incredibly radical approaches to gender keep falling for this old myth. It just won’t seem to die, partly because men themselves keep perpetuating this assumption.

    In the past, I’ve used the myth myself as an excuse, for my own purposes – “I’m not as good at dinner party conversation as you are, honey, I’m just a simple ape who scratches and belches, so maybe you should go without me.” (Paraphrasing here.)

    Just a radical thought experiment here, everyone: imagine the possibility that, on the whole, men are just as complicated as women are. Sure, maybe complicated in different ways in different areas, but imagine in the aggregate men and women were equally simple or equally complicated. Even imagining that requires some people to dump a whole lot of garbage they’re hanging onto. Some people feel threatened by the very mention of the idea.

  23. Valter Viglietti says:

    “Complex doesn’t mean better or worse. I believe in equality between the sexes. But that doesn’t mean we are the same.”

    Tom, once again you’re spot on. :)

    I don’t believe men are “simple” (I consider myslef quite complex indeed), but I agree that – on average – women seem to have a somehow unfathomable complexity, that often baffles us. Or maybe they’re just different and, as such, we are reciprocally hard to understand.

    Lastly, I can’t stress enough the importance of genders being “equal BUT different”.
    I think most problems between genders stem from differences: we see and feel things differently, we like and want different things, and so on (maybe not al the times, but often enough). Hence, the other gender often seems absurd or foolish, while it’s just going its own (different) way.
    Yes, we are equal, meaning there’s no better or worse gender; but we are in no way the same.

  24. I’m a hard working, divorced father who barely survives due to child support. Can I have some money?

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