With so many men feeling like they’re being blamed for being men, Tom Matlack wants us to embrace manhood.
As the founder of the Good Men Project, I am the butt of my share of jokes. Guys in high places love to take pot shots at me, laughing at my silly little obsession. But that’s in public. Behind the scenes the conversation is always quite a bit different. Most guys I meet in business are still socialized not to show weakness. Emotion is weakness. But behind the scenes, that same guy who made fun of me at the table always has a question. Or a story to tell.
I’ve become acutely aware of the difference between what men say in public and what they say in private. What they do to keep things superficial and the clues to what is really going on.
I’ve been doing my own soul-searching during this last week as a series of articles broke out on our site about the end of men, gender war, and whether or not men have made enough progress collectively to be considered “good” (that’s not exactly how others defined it but that’s how I think about the issue underneath it all).
Amidst all this comes the question of blame.
Why do men get blamed for everything? Well, the cynical response is, “because we can really be assholes sometimes.” I’m going to set aside gross acts of what I would call evil: rape, sex trafficking, murder, and felonies of pretty much any kind. I’m more interested in the petty shit that fills our day-to-day and ends up defining us normally imperfect human beings.
So are dudes as a gender really assholes?
If you look around in the press, on TV, and in popular culture you certainly might conclude that. Again, that was the whole point of starting the Good Men Project—to provide example after example of not perfect men but damn good ones.
I am not interested in the macro here. I really think the question comes down to the micro conversation. How do men in their own lives feel blamed? How do women view men not in general but in particular?
Here’s my theory, and it’s nothing but a theory. Men and women are different. Quite different in fact. But women would really like men to be more like them.
In the locker room, in the bathroom, on the walk out of the board room, in my conversations with men of all kinds, that’s what I hear more than anything. The resignation that to be a man is to be unacceptable at some level to the woman in your life.
One close friend jokes, “When speaking to my wife I always make sure to look at the ground in deference. And I make sure not to make any sudden movements.” I’ve watched him. He loves his wife.
He’s a very competent human being. But with her he’s decided the only way to survive is to submit. The female view is the right view. The male view just gets you into trouble.
So where does the blame come from?
My unscientific theory is from a fundamental disconnect between men and women at the micro level. Men know women are different. They think differently, they express emotion differently, they are motivated by different things, they think about sex differently, and they use a very different vocabulary.
Why can’t women accept men for who they really are? Is a good man more like a woman or more truly masculine?
Here perhaps we have to go back to the macro picture for some explanations. God knows men have done some really bad shit. And god knows as guys we can, at times, live up to the stereotype of knuckle-draggers looking to eat, fuck, drink, and sleep. In that order. We’ve been slow to reveal our inner thoughts and feeling. But again my pet theory is that this comes back to vocabulary. Emotional language has been so dominated by women that to talk about feelings is, at some level, to become female rather than macho.
Sweeping generalizations about individual relationships are pretty useless. How a guy who teaches Gender Studies relates to his spouse is probably pretty different than how some Navy SEAL does. And I am sure there are plenty of heterosexual relationships where the gender roles are reversed before even getting in gay marriages.
But my basic point is that many men, I think, feel blamed for being simply men. That their most basic instincts are twisted around to torture rather than celebrate who they are.
One of the most interesting things about the Good Men Project is the readiness of women to talk about men. They are more than welcome here, but I still wonder why? Why such a passionate outcry by women about men?
I’ve probably done over a hundred talks by now about manhood. For the first couple years I would always say that my best audiences were women, boys (who are dying to know about manhood), and prisons (because the guys can’t leave).
But that has been changing recently. I spoke at the Boston Book Fair a few weeks back to a room of nearly a thousand. And for the first time I noticed more men than women.
It seems that the blame game in the mainstream, whether through the minimization of male life in pop culture or on television or through the continued obsession with men behaving badly, has finally struck a chord with the average guy. We are no longer willing to be blamed for being men. We are no longer willing to avert our gazes and stay silent about our feelings. We are raising our voices and telling our stories in our own male vocabulary.
To women, I assume the response is, “well, it’s about time.” But just remember when we talk it’s not going to sound like a women in a man’s body. It’s gonna be all dude. And you are just going to have to deal with that.