The viral nature of the internet is an interesting phenomenon and The Good Men Project, like Jezabel and other hyper-popular blog groups (even DDP has gotten some awesome press lately) is no stranger to it. One of the GMP featured articles from February started showing up all over teh Facebooks a couple weeks ago and I’d like to take a moment to address it because, well, some things need to be addressed.
Before I start though I’d like to acknowledge the fact that there is a long and complicated history between feminists and The GMP. The involvement of Tom Matlack and Hugo Schwyzer is enough to keep the controversy kettle at a rolling boil but also the content is overwhelmingly heteronormative and the group has a poor track record for rape-apology. Potentially the most egregious example being this piece [note: I’m linking to Feministe‘s takedown and not the original article because I don’t want to be responsible for more page views. Also major TW for rape-apologizing].
I do however think there is a place in the world for spaces like The Good Men Project, and they’ve posted, in my opinion, some interesting and thought-provoking things as well. I get my conversations about ethical masculinity, as well as a million other things and how they all inter-relate, through intersectional feminism. But for people who haven’t made their way to feminism (yet) but still feel like they reject the “standard narrative” of masculinity I recognize the value in at least having a space to discuss it IF that space is used as a step toward feminism or at least a more intersectional understanding of the issues.
Over on policymic Liz Hall Magill wrote some good words about the history and the good and the bad of The Good Men Project. You can check it out here. Amanda Marcotte also wrote a piece on the fundamental problems with “men’s movements’ like The GMP which you should absolutely read.
I seem to be fond of expository preface and I should really get to the addressing already! I’d like to talk about Noah Brand’s Five Important Things Women Don’t Know About Men:
“1) We are starved for compliments”
On the other hand, most men have never been told they’re pretty. Or attractive at all. We’re supposed to derive value from our success and careers, not our looks, and there is an overwhelming cultural narrative that we are the wanter, not the wanted, the pursuer, not the pursued, the desiring, not the desirable.
Noah also recently dedicated an entire post to this point and I’d like to address that larger conversation here. The article itself brings up a number of really good perspectives about the role of patriarchy and gender norms and how men and women are socialized to value and devalue certain aspects of their personhood.
Brave protector against danger. Breadwinning economic provider. Indispensable handyman. Problem-solving leader… This is what being masculine means in our culture: to be necessary.
Plan A, for men in our society, is to be necessary, to be needed, to be indispensable. There is no plan B. If plan A doesn’t come off, we are lost, we’re adrift, we have nothing. This is an existential fear, on a very deep level.
Every action movie, every sci-fi epic, all the movies that are stereotypically written off as male power fantasies, all have the same way that the hero gets the girl: he proves his necessity, usually by saving her life. If he weren’t there, she’d literally be dead.
I like feeling needed because even for me, even with all my ever-so-educated awareness of gender roles and stereotypes, even with all the women who’ve told me I’m sexy and desirable, I still can’t quite convince myself that I’m wanted.
I don’t disagree with these examples of the experiences of men in society, in fact I relate to many of them conceptually, but the conclusion he reaches from this is incredibly myopic and dismissive of the larger intersectional experiences of women in society.
Essentially you can’t ask women to give men some compliments and tell them that they’re sexually desirable every now and then and ignore the reality that women have to navigate a world EVERY DAY that is filled with street harassment, rape culture, and systemic mysogeny.
As a quick related example, women are generally ONLY told that they are pretty or not and that their value is contingent on it. They are rarely valued for their necessity or intelligence or contribution first if even at all. Their lived experience as it relates to bodily autonomy and sexual objectification is fundamentally different and men can’t expect that women have the same internalized connotation for desirability or attractiveness as men do. This lack of understanding and empathy by men is part of why street harassment under the guise of “complementing” is STILL a thing and why men STILL don’t get why women DON’T LIKE IT.
Putting the responsibility on women to fix this issue betrays that you’re completely oblivious to the fact that this is a problem with patriarchy. Until men’s groups meaningfully address gender roles and gender inequality in a larger intersectional context and not just how it affects them personally men really can’t expect to make progress on this.
“2) We are not more shallow than women are”
[Women] will talk about a guy’s sexy voice, or the way he holds them in his sleep, or the look on his face when he’s passionate about something, or the lines of his hands. When they do talk about the face and the body, it’s not all sharp cheekbones and ripped abs, there’s all kinds of types that different women find attractive for their own reasons.
And yet there’s a stereotype that men don’t do the exact same thing. Believe me, we do. When actual grown-up men get together and talk girls, there’s an awful lot of ‘I love the way she tells the truth, just straight-out with no bullshit.’ and ‘It’s the freckles. I cannot resist her freckles.’ and ‘When she giggles a certain way I just want to jump her right there.’
Not only is this argument (and many others in this list…) heteronormative but it is structured in a “women in groups vs. men in groups” way which isn’t really indicative of how societal beauty standards are enforced or even how friend-groups assemble.
You can’t say “Real men totally aren’t affected by unrealistic representations of women. We talk about it among ourselves! Just believe me, it’s true!” and then go about your day content in with the ignorance to your own biases. I’ve encountered vocal unapologetic body shaming of women by men overwhelmingly more often than I have the reverse. That shaming is normalized by the media which puts way more emphasis on policing feminine standards of beauty in society.
If the everyman isn’t as shallow as we’re assumed to be why does this response to “15 Biggest Beauty Turnoffs from Real Guys” seem so familiar? You think of yourself as having rejected the conditioning of beauty standards? Cool story bro, have you really thought about what subconscious biases still remain? And even if you recognize those in yourself it still doesn’t make the beauty standard barrier to acceptance in society for women any less relevant or oppressive.
“3) There’s a reason for that emotional repression”
Short version: testosterone is a hell of a drug.
OH MY CAT, Testosterone is not a DRUG! Blaming biology in general, and hormones specifically, is a common trope in our society, especially when talking about destructive behavior in men. The simple fact is that using biology as a scapegoat is an incredibly easy way to avoid responsibility for emotions and actions. It’s also made simpler because those arguments are immediately accepted by, and enforce, a patriarchal society. And, even more generally, everyone experiences the effects of testosterone differently and that includes people of every gender at any age.
The “I didn’t have any other choice because: hormones” defense is one of the largest contributors to the “boner werewolf” trope and the general boys will be boys narrative that continues to support male supremacy and rape-culture.
We need to address the disparities and flaws in our gendered socialization (derogatory feminization and “man up” culture anyone?) at all ages if we’re going to make progress on these issues. What’s missing here is an actual conversation about how to become more emotionally aware and responsible. How to have and process negative emotions in ethical ways without letting them control our behavior or become internally or externally destructive.
(Also, the only people who can really talk about the trans* hormone replacement therapy (HRT) experience are trans* people who have undergone T treatments. And those experiences certainly shouldn’t be extrapolated to the cis-male experience with T. Just had to be said.)
“4) We are sick of being success objects”
Just as women too often feel defined solely by their looks and their dress size, so too are men taught that our worth as human beings comes from our career, our bank balance, our success.
This is partly a result of just living in a capitalistic culture (disregarding relationship dynamics, success and monetary worth are valued higher in our society, classism is a thing) and partly another projection of a problem with patriarchy onto women.
Don’t like being expected by women to pay for everything? Maybe you should advocate for gender workplace equality. Or stop telling women that their brains aren’t cut out for STEM fields or leadership positions.
Don’t like “gold digger” tropes? Maybe think about how examples like “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” all the way up to modern “Flavor of Love” were created, written, produced, and directed by men. If you want to go back even further, think about how, historically, marriages have been arranged in order to ascend or protect social status and wealth (typically accompanied by the commodification of women).
Don’t expect women to fight their own oppression at the hands of patriarchy while you lament the privilege that it secures.
“5) Yes, we actually do need to adjust ourselves like that”
The equipment shifts around, it changes shape and size, it chafes, and it is very very sensitive. When it gets uncomfortable, it gets very uncomfortable indeed, so cut us a little slack, could you?
Is this even a thing men are mad about or just something to end the list on a lighter note? I feel like men call women out on bra adjusting at least as often if not more then I’ve ever heard a woman call out a man. Anyways, here.
Ok those are my thoughts on the list, what are yours? Do you think that The Good Men Project is a moral good, bad, or neutral? Let me know in the comments.