The Good Men Project is more than just a “big tent.” It’s a big universe.
In a different lifetime, I would consider Hugo Schwyzer a friend. I am awed by his ability to tell stories of his personal experiences, experiences many of us might be afraid to even remember. I admire his ability to make an argument, to add insight, to have a seemingly endless amount he can say, especially when it comes to feminism. In a previous lifetime, I would have called myself a feminist, too. But these days, I prefer disposable labels of who I am. Labels that cycle in throughout my life as needed. I look at labels, simply, as performance art—the same way gender can be labeled a performance. “If this is Act 3, I must be a CEO.” And within that framework, I simply act in ways that I see as bringing the most good to the most amount of people.
Were there to be a label that made sense to define the very core of who I am, it would be a “humanist”. Hugo Schwyzer, on the other hand, as he has made clear with his very public resignation from The Good Men Project, defines himself—through and through, to his very core—as a feminist.
At The Good Men Project, we speak from the experiences of men. It doesn’t mean we don’t allow women’s voices, and it doesn’t mean we don’t talk outright about feminism. But it means we also talk about other things. A lot more than we talk about feminism. In fact, at various times in The Good Men Project’s short span on earth, we have been called too feminist, too macho, too homosexual, too heteronormative, too white, too old, too young, too rich, too poor. We’ve survived that all. And we’ve survived it all because, first and foremost, we are about men, but at our core we are also human.
There is no doubt, when you look at men and the stories they have to tell, that change is happening. If we say “men’s roles are changing,” we might as well have Homer Simpson hit his head with a big “doh.” Everywhere you look you can see men in different states of change. Men losing jobs, gaining jobs, figuring out custody arrangements. Men deciding to stay single, or marry other men, or marry four different women over the course of a lifetime. Men bringing their daughters to ballet, staying home to raise the kids, exploring sexuality. Men in jail and men in war. One of our favorite contributors is a man who started life as a women, transitioned to a man, only to then marry another man. Justin Cascio believes in gay rights, trans rights, the full expression of masculinity no matter what the path to get there, and yes, along with that, feminism. And call us optimists, call us whatever you want, but as we look at the men, the stories they tell, the struggles they have, and the honest way they are sharing those stories—well, all we see is good.
As an individual, I can see how feminism is the fight for all those rights, but as a leader of an organization that revolves around men, I’d prefer to come from a place that doesn’t have a female frame of reference but a human one. We are humanists first, and we have built a website for men to tell their stories. Along with those stories, we talk about provocative stuff: race and prison and war and the sex trade and rape and sexual violence. The Good Men Project allows men to tell individual stories, stories of growth and change and heroism. It also is a place that has deep, long conversations that continue for hours, days, weeks, months. Almost three million people have visited this website.
The first day I ever met Tom Matlack, we had lunch together, and he told me some of those stories. He had been collecting them to put in a book. He had a half-finished manuscript and wanted some guidance as to how to spread the word.
The stories, Tom told me, were all tied together by the fact that the guys had come to a point in their lives, a “defining moment,” a moment when all that they thought to be true was in question. And as these guys looked at the world around them, they realized that what they wanted was to figure out what it meant to be “good.” Tom didn’t know. Tom didn’t want to help them define the word “good.” He just knew that the stories were stories worth telling.
You could see it in Tom’s eyes; as he was telling me these stories, he was right there with these guys. He was on the battlefield in Iraq. He was stepping over a pool of blood in a jail cell. He was in a hospital room while doctors applied heart paddles to a man’s one remaining son.
Tom handed me the manuscript, and then glanced away, far out the window. He handed me the manuscript and said “Here. You can read my own mess of a story in there. It’s the stuff guys don’t usually talk about.”
I took the manuscript from him and replied, “Tom, don’t you see? That’s not just the start of a book. That’s the start of an idea.”
Just to set the record straight—and only because I’ve been asked more than once to comment publicly on the situation—I never said to Hugo, “I will not run your post.” I took the post down over what I saw as valid concerns from Tom Matlack, the founder of this Project, the starter of this vision. I talked with Tom on the phone, and I then asked Hugo a question that I wanted answered before the post ran. He told me he needed 24 hours to think about it. I said, “fair enough.” Hugo could have chosen to answer the question. He could have chosen to address my concerns before the post ran. He could have chosen to talk to me about it. He could have done all of the above and then still resigned. But he didn’t. Instead, he answered my question by sending me his resignation letter. I accepted his resignation. When I challenged him on this on his blog, he said, “There was nothing more to discuss.” That is all I will say about the subject, so please address further questions to Hugo.
But if Hugo and I were to walk together into a very allegorical bar, together, as a male feminist and a female humanist, and have a cup of green tea together, this is what I would say to him. I’d say, “Hugo, I get it. I get that you resigned over politics. It wasn’t really about me controlling your editorial direction. We’ve worked together a year. How many times have I tried to control your words, edit your posts? Once? Twice? Never?”
Instead, I understand, Hugo, that you needed to make a very public act of feminism in your departure from The Good Men Project. Because you are a feminist at your core.
And so, I will tell you a story.
Hugo, on the night your post was due to go up, I was at the mall with two of my kids. It had been a hellish day, but I had promised them we’d go Christmas shopping, and damn it, we were going shopping.
The reason she got “the vibe” from me? I had just gotten an email that Tom Matlack passed along from a feminist who was “hurt” by the words that had been exchanged. He had apologized to the feminist. He had asked her if she wanted to write for The Good Men Project. He had passed me the email because he knew I was the one to make that happen. I did.
Did I say to my daughter, “Sorry I can’t pay attention to you right now, I have a hurt feminist on my hands?”
No, I said “Sorry, hon, I will put down my phone now. I will take off my label of CEO. I will stop worrying about the hurt feminist. And I will pay 100-percent attention to you.”
Anyone who doesn’t see that as an act of feminism is a different sort of feminist than I am, and that’s OK. Anyone who doesn’t see that for me, as CEO of a men’s multi-media company, being able to put my phone down and say to my daughter: “I will stop being CEO while I am in a room with you”—anyone who can’t see why that act is so powerful and life-changing—in my mind, just doesn’t get it. Because—I am very publically showing acts of feminism every day. I am showing men that switching roles like that—seemlessly, without doubt, without guilt—is OK for men too.
I get home from the mall, and Hugo’s post is up. And Tom Matlack calls me up. Tom is the person, who, by the way, when we first started working together, called me up to have a conversation about profit margins. And as we’re on the phone, he says, “If we looked at it this way, the profit margins would be … wait a second …” And then in the background I hear “Whhhheeeee! Thanks daddy! Up!” Tom gets back on the phone and says, “Sorry, just wanted to put my son on my shoulders. So the profit margin would be …”
That’s an act of feminism too.
But the thing that I keep getting back to—and the reason I’m still in this allegorical bar with Hugo, hashing this out—is that The Good Men Project is not about feminism. It’s about men, and their stories.
And through those stories, we also want to be the people who talk about race. Who talk about prison. Who talk about sexual abuse. Who talk about addiction and mental illness and child support and marriage and divorce and life and death. Just tied together under the umbrella of men. Because even if we are moving closer to a “non-binary world,” right now, we still have people we call “women,” and we still have people we call “men.” And we’re here for the men.
I take 100-percent responsibility for the fact that Hugo resigned. If that puts me at odds with the feminist community, so be it.
I tried to do what was right. What was good. What was respectful. What was human. If I failed to be any of those things, I failed nobly. And Hugo, if you’re still here in spirit, I hope you can see that too.
Last night, I worked late into the night with Marcus Williams and Joanna Schroeder as we worked on hashing out a clearer and more consistent commenting policy to make the site a safer forum to talk about the issues that men face. Charlie Capen joined our video chat—and gave his views on comment moderation, which he gleaned from howtobeadad.com.
At 3:27 am, I took a glance at the email on my phone, where Charlie had written up some notes on what had been discussed. My head hit the pillow, and I dreamt of comment moderation. For one of the shortest days of the year, it felt damn long.
Since The Good Men Project started just a year and a half ago, we have had almost three million absolutely unique visitors.
Three million people—any way I look at it, that’s a huge amount of people and a huge responsibility. I’d like to be modest, but that’s a damn “big tent”. In fact, it’s not just a damn big tent, that’s a damn big universe.
And since I’m a visual person, I try to imagine how many people three million is. It’s over 43 Gillette stadiums filled to the brim with roaring fans. No wonder we get people angry sometimes. More people have been to The Good Men Project website than have been in attendance in two-and-a-half years of Patriot’s football.
Late last night, before I worked on the commenting policy but after I had said good-night to my kids, Tom Matlack and I talked for a while on the phone. We talked about where The Good Men Project had been, where we are going, and how to best get there. As usual, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I start pacing back and forth, practically jumping up and down. We talked about core audience, mission, the stories we are telling of men, by men, for men. The stories from men that help define us as human. We talked about how hard it is to talk about provocative topics because we don’t always use the right words. We laughed. We’ve both used the wrong words before. And I found my voice rising as I spoke: “We can’t stop talking about the provocative topics, Tom. Even if we talk about them wrong. Even if we say the wrong words.”
Later that night, Tom sent me one of his favorite one-word emails.
It simply said “Onward.”