I disagree with the title of this piece by Tom Matlock - Why Being a Good Man is Not a Feminist Issue - but I mostly agree with what Tom has to say here.
I want to offer up a couple of quotes from this very long article, some of them out of order, in order to make my own points on this topic. So I am going to start at the end:
From a macro perspective The Good Men Project was founded just as The End of Men went to print and the likes of Tiger, Charlie Sheen and John Edwards hit the front pages. In other words just as most men I know, and the thousands I met during the course of working on GMP, were digging deep for real answers to the questions about meaning and importance as a man, our whole gender was getting thrown under the bus.I agree with all of this - the media has horribly misrepresented the shifting culture of masculinity in the U.S. This is not the end of men, it is the end of the unitary option of a traditional, authoritarian, emotionally numbed, and relationally-challenged version of masculinity that existed in the 20th Century. There are had been multiple forms of masculinity and there are now re-emerging multiple shades of masculinities . . . we are not one kind of man anymore than all women are submissive housewives.
According to the media we are less employable, less educated, inferior stay-at-home parents, and sexual deviants to boot. We are really good at going to jail, leading our country into meaningless wars, and taking down massive financial institutions.
The stereotype of what it means to be a man actually crystalized into a narrower stick figure as the ground under our collective feet gave way.
I look at the revolution in the work and family life patterns of men as not the end of men but the birth of something new and better. That is what GMP is all about: exploring that potential from every possible angle. And why viewing manhood from the perspective of a feminist wrecking ball, that leaves every one of us men guilty of gender oppression, a death spiral in my view.
In the end I think we all want the same thing: a new kind of macho in which men are allowed to express themselves as fully formed human beings who change diapers, are capable of intimacy, do meaningful work, and aspire to goodness in whatever way they define it.
But I refuse to see the world with a reductionist lens that dismisses the possibility that men can have their own stories of struggle for goodness that can be shared man-to-man in a way that changes the teller and the listener alike quite apart from what a woman or a feminist might say about that story.
But this is a process of transformation and it will take time. It may take decades before men accept all of the new options open to them - work-at-home-dad, house husband, primary caretaker for the kids, single father, domestic partner, gender rebel (able to embody both masculine and feminine traits), poly-sexual (not specifically gay, straight, or bi), and just about anything else men can imagine and feel comfortable living.
And I agree, in part, with Tom when he says men need to do some of this work as men with men, not with women:
What happened in that classroom in South Boston and in the bowels of Sing Sing with those inmates was a kind of man-to-man honesty that benefits women but isn’t going to happen if the frame is feminism or, when men are grappling with the deepest darkest secrets of their lives, if women are present. At least for me, there’s a kind of deep bonding that happens when a guy looks me straight in the eyes that is different than a similar conversation I might have with a woman. The transformation is only possible when I see that I am fundamentally not alone in my struggles to be a good man.There is a lot of truth in this, and some truth in this as well:
I have often said that the conversation amongst men about what it means to be a good father and husband has obvious benefits for wives and mothers. The aspiration is to figure out how to do and be better men, and that means in relation to the women in our lives.I don't really disagree with Tom on these points, but I want to say, "Yes, and . . . ."
But here comes the problem. The stories that transformed my life where not told by women. They were told by men. My fundamental view is that there is a male experience that is too often squashed in our society by a culture that perpetuates a deeply flawed view of manhood. What I hope to do is not dictate what replaces that simplistic view of what it means to be a man, but simply create the space for a more nuanced discussion.
The "and" has to do with the fact that we are relational beings, and certainly it helps us and deepens us as men to be relational with other men (so few of us ever learn how to do this as young men, and it's something that I still feel challenged by sometimes), but we eventually have to leave those classrooms or church basements with other men and rejoin a world where women are slightly more than 50% of the people we will meet.
And you know what? If the women in our lives do not support the version of masculinity we are trying to adopt, it will be nearly impossible to do it - most of us will give it up to keep the women we love and need. I have seen women complain that their men are not sensitive enough, or that they don't share their feelings, but when the men change, them women realize they now have lost respect for them because in their hearts, they like the hyper-masculine guys who are strong and brooding.
We need for the women who love us, who want us to change, to look into their own needs and wants and explore exactly what it is they really want. We sometimes feel that we are stuck in a double bind - we are told to change, but when we do we are no longer desirable.
This is where being a good man does become a feminist issue.
We need feminism to reclaim the moderate perspectives that seek equal pay for equal work, that want the right to choose what happens to theirs bodies free from government interference (although we would also like to be included in the decision-making process when it is also our fetus), and that sought the right to serve in the military for their country and now face rape by their fellow soldiers far too often.
We need feminism to stop hating men - we are not the patriarchy, they're a bunch of ultra-wealthy, mostly-white guys (and a few gals). They oppress us, too. Consider that 99% of the people doing the 25 most dangerous jobs are male, and many of them are minorities. Consider that only men are required to register for Selective Service in order to get college grants and loans. Men are not the patriarchy, we are its forced servants.
We need feminism to accept that fathers are as essential to the emotional (and physical) health of our children as are mothers. We know that sometimes being a single parent is the only option - but we also know that we too often are denied custody or visitation by the courts (and the mothers) for no justifiable reason. Feminists helped write many of these laws.
It probably sounds like I am anti-feminist, but I am not. Feminism in general is important and necessary, and I think of myself as a feminist. Radical feminism, however, which has become the mainstream in academic circles and on university campuses, is often hateful toward men and focused on removing our rights as fathers.
As long as there are highly visible and often hateful versions of feminism dismissing men as unnecessary or inherently violent, feminism will be an issue for any men working to be good men.