Tom Matlack responds to comments on a recent story about the Good Men Project Magazine that appeared in the Boston Globe.
Squeezed between the headlines, “Job Market Appears to Lose Steam” and “HP’s Chief Steps Down After Harassment Probe,” the Boston Globe ran a story about our fledgling enterprise titled, “A New Read on Masculinity” on the cover of its business section a few days ago.
Good Men Project Magazine Publisher Lisa Hickey, Editor Benoit Denizet-Lewis, and I stood proudly on the roof of our office building—like an unlikely rock band posing for an album cover—with the Boston skyline in the background.
(For some reason I’m holding a chair in the photo—after seeing it, several of my college friends emailed to remind me that I am not allowed to have furniture in high places, since being dubbed “The Couch” in college. If you must know why, please get our book (free with premium membership) and read my essay, “Crash & Learn.”)
Neither the photo, nor the article, was the least bit controversial—but you wouldn’t know it by reading the comments. (By the way, the article gets one thing wrong. We do write about sports and sex—we just do it differently than other men’s magazines.)
The comments started out stupid, but innocuous: “Sex and sports will always be more interesting than ‘when do I start calling myself a man?’ essays. Oh, and by the way…if you wrote that piece, the answer is: not yet.”
Another commenter wrote: “A story about a normal man playing in a gay men’s softball league? Puleeze!”
Okay—standard homophobic, idiotic comment.
But then they began to piss me off. “I think the editor’s name in the picture says it all: Benoit Denizet-Lewis,” wrote another. “This is the de-masculinization of the American man. 20 Yeas [sic] ago his name would have been Ben Lewis. I would entitle [sic] the magazine, Men Who Act and Think Like Women. Men are supposed to ignore and repress their feelings…be strong, tough it out, brush it off, and go have a beer. We express emotion through sports. What’s going to happen when all these kids with hyphenated names start marrying?”
What small-minded Neanderthals would come up with that? Really—is it some kind of joke? (For the record, twenty years ago, Benoit’s name was Benoit Denizet-Lewis.)
We publish everything from far right- to far left-wing men’s stories about what it means to be a man in modern America—and that is the response?
And the inanity just kept coming…
“The Good Men Project is the wrong name. The Sensitive Metrosexual Project is more like it. How about, The Sensitve Whimpy [sic] Guy Project. Don’t try and redefine our gender, we’re quite happy with it as it was.”
And much, much more:
“Don’t need a psychiatrist, I can solve my own problems. That’s what men used to do before they became helpless, insufferable puddles like yourself. Go have a good cry, you’ll feel better.”
“I don’t get the photos. Are they the result of a photographer trying to be creative or possibly visual documentation of a far more nefarious polyamorous incident that occurred minutes earlier?”
“I thought the Promise Keepers cornered this market back in the ‘90s? They filled a stadium or two with men all proclaiming their ‘masculinity.’ It was the gayest thing I have ever seen.”
“When I need advice on masculinity from two metrosexuals who don’t know enough to tuck in their shirts they’ll be the first to know. I wouldn’t hold my breath. I get so tired of hearing this ‘men need to express their feelings’ crap. 90% of it is an excuse for whining. My father grew up in the Depression, went to WWII, and was pretty much the model of the regular guy. We’ve never had a problem expressing thoughts, feelings, or love as he approaches the end of his life. It doesn’t have to be a drama coached by some woman’s vision of what is the way we should express ourselves. Didn’t this crap die with Robert Bly?”
“Why do these wimps need their own magazine? Just send them subscriptions to Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day and Family Circle magazines…along with Cosmopolitan!”
“To quote John Hannah, they should put him in a skirt! These guys need to grow a pair.”
I’m not going to bother breaking down all this nonsense (a tucked shirt is a prerequisite for manliness?); the good thing about mindless online comments is they tend to bring out some thoughtful readers who see them for what they are. While the majority of the comments on this fluff piece about a men’s magazine hoping to do more than sell suits and cologne were of the variety above, two of my favorite comments put things in perspective.
A reader with the handle “Da-Caveman” wrote to reassure me, “As a caveman…my first instinct is to be negative and scoff at men exploring areas that are uncomfortable to us cavemen. When my wife buys me a new shirt…I immediately do not like it…it makes me uncomfortable…When I hear new music…I generally do not like it…it takes time for cavemen to become comfortable with new things. The thunder you hear in the distance is the sound of all the educated, hardworking women that can make a living just as easy as us cavemen. The world is a changing…but we still have football. Keep up the good work, Tom, and keep dragging us out of our caves.”
And another contributed a tragic thought, adding a horrific personal experience and sarcastically equating it to the mindset of all the commenters that had gone before: “Growing up, my father would beat up my mother regularly. When the cops where called they would say, ‘Just keep it down and at home’ and then they would leave. Oh for those good ole days when a man was a man and a woman knew her place. Sigh!”
I would like to think that the negative comments were all written by the same miserable person, but they weren’t. There were forty-seven comments by more than thirty readers, most of whom participated in the onslaught of negativity.
Several of our contributors responded, but new readers jumped in to talk about “growing a pair,” hyphenated names, and metrosexuals. Globe business reporter Johnny Diaz innocuously described our magazine and our mission in the most general terms, yet more than three quarters of the comments were harshly negative.
From the very beginning, I said that ten percent of men will “get” the Good Men Project right away, ten percent will never get it, and eighty percent will need convincing. The trolls on Boston.com, obviously, are among the ten percent who never will. But this magazine is for the other ninety percent. They don’t come in particular sizes or shapes, ethnicities or political parties, sexual orientation or home states.
They are men like me and Benoit—the men I’ve met who fought in the war in Iraq or did hard time in Sing Sing. They’re Hall of Fame athletes and homeless, teenage fathers, unemployed guys and investment bankers, stay-at-home dads and those suffering through the loss of a child.
They’re men who just got married and guys who just got divorced. They’re men who are struggling to be good—men who want to be better fathers, sons, and husbands.
They’re men who don’t equate strength and toughness with ignorance and repression. They’re men who would prefer not to go through life as miserable jerks—and from what I’ve seen, they’re everywhere. Well, almost everywhere.
♦ ♦ ♦
In September, 2009, Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? It’s free with a premium membership.