Mark Ellis talks about how growing up with little discussion of gender left him uncertain how to relate to either feminists or MRAs.
When first contacted by the Good Men Project years ago, I figured it for the brainchild of some media/money guys (Tom Matlack and Larry Bean) who were setting up a website for men to post essays and creative nonfiction. One of my first submissions was “RIP Ripper,” a paean to the favorite professional wrestler of my youth, Ripper Collins, who I found out years later was widely known to be gay even as I worshipped him as the be-all, end-all of machismo. The piece disappeared after the blog became a magazine, but I stuck around.
The progressive feminist thrust of the endeavor only slowly dawned on me after the magazine went up, and that’s likely because in all honesty I was pretty clueless. For starters, I had grown up in a textbook patriarchy. Dad’s was a benevolent hegemony, and he was a good man by historically applicable standards, but the message about our family living in a man’s world came through loud, clear, and resolutely.
Coming of age, my idea of a feminist was Bea Arthur playing Maude on the hit TV show. Yes, she got over on Archie Bunker regularly, but it was all in the name of comic relief—Archie was the reality that anchored everything.
In high school and community college I missed the lectures on feminist thought and activism simply because I was out of school before they existed in any appreciable form. I moved into a male-dominated world of construction work and arena rock, and the women I made my stock and trade were almost exclusively what you might call groupie-types.
Though feminism was coming of age too, I was insulated in a bubble of strictly traditional—albeit promiscuous—gender interrelationship even though I had long hair and considered myself part of a countercultural movement. A famous early 70s New Yorker cartoon captured the irony: the female half of a hippie couple is slaving over a table saying, “Roll me a joint, roll me a joint, a woman’s work is never done.”
The bottom line was that I could coexist with feminists of both sexes because I was oblivious to them, and they had never specifically gored my ox. I just didn’t associate with them. And I got away with that for many, many years.
When the Project’s mission came more into focus, with feminist ideologies strongly represented, ire from the MRAs catalogued, and a high percentage of same-sex material highlighted, I wondered about it, but figured again, if I just stayed out of what seemed like an intractable impasse between the sexes I could enjoy both visiting and contributing to the site. I rationalized that I was no loss to a debate that I knew next to nothing about.
Interestingly, this same insular approach ensured that I would not become an MRA. Every relationship I’ve had that lasted any length of time involved being with a woman whose upbringing mirrored my own in fundamental ways. I was no angel, but never once did gender insensitivity get me in trouble. As a result of the absence of these issues in my relationships I never felt I had any overarching socio-political ax to grind in matters having to do with the fair sex.
That’s not to say that I don’t understand that many men have suffered in the theaters of the family courts, higher education, and the workplace, and that I decry whatever injustices have been visited upon them. It just didn’t go that way for me.
Conservative friends have wondered why a guy like me has gravitated to this site, and I have asked myself the same question. An answer of sorts came when one of my first submissions after the blog became a magazine was “In Defense of Sarah Palin” and it was posted. Though I had figured out that progressive feminists were running the show, I saw that differing viewpoints would be included.
Beyond that I kept coming back because there were a great many interesting articles, lots of different perspectives, good writing and interesting conversation. The site publishes very personal pieces, like my retrospective of the life and death of our family dog. I also posted about the time I learned to love Lady Gaga while watching television with my daughter, and was encouraged to wax vocationally in my treatise on the pressure washer, “The Big Wash.” One of my usual haunts, Renew America passed on “The Big Wash” because it was not political enough.
Now comes new Editor-in-Chief Noah Brand. I took a side trip over to his site, and honestly, with all due respect and no judgment, I can say that I don’t relate to any of it. I just missed the whole thing, and I haven’t subsequently evolved in that direction. Frankly, as I read through some of the angst-ridden posts and comments about the great MRA/feminist divide and the pain it has caused men and women, I can’t say that I am sorry.
I do worry about my own twenty-something son and daughter; they are right in the middle of it. I’m concerned that my son might get involved with the wrong woman, and end up losing access to his children, something that I can only imagine is terribly painful. For my daughter the hoped-for husband, ideally a professional breadwinner who sweeps her off her feet and into the kind of stay-at-home, kept life my mother had, has not materialized.
With regard to the Good Men Project Magazine, I’m in wait and see mode again. It was striking for me to see Tom Matlack assailed by feminists recently because of an essay he wrote about “dudes.” In my world, this site is feminist-on-steroids, and from the minute I started really paying attention I realized that the whole deal is the most feminist enterprise that I’ve ever had anything to do with, which ain’t saying much.
How far out will they go? What gender-bending permutations will they showcase next? Will they someday publish a deal-breaker? Will MRAs cease to bother? Is the voice of a more aggressive feminism where this is going?
And where, at this late stage, for me anyway, does an old patriarch fit in? We’ve all heard about the elephant in the room. What about the dinosaur?
Photo credit: Flickr / kretyen