The Good Men Project is Redefining Masculinity
The messages a man receives throughout his lifetime on what it means to ‘be a man’ have serious repercussions for each individual man and society as a whole. The Good Men Project has started the conversation that no one else is having to encourage a new dialogue and create a community to help lead the way in redefining manhood in the 21st century.
Today is the day you can engage in an important conversation and celebrate the multidimensionality of men by joining The Good Men Project. Founded by Tom Matlock in 2009, this media site is delving into what it means to be a good man in today’s society. Originally started to give men an outlet to share their own personal stories about defining moments in their lives, it was soon realized that many men, myself included, have a disorienting moment where they thought they had it all figured out, only to realize that they don’t actually know what it means to be a man. Since its origin, the project has grown into a much-needed cultural conversation, tackling any and all topics without moralizing or caricaturing what manhood means. While I’m contemplating what manhood means throughout my lifetime, The Good Men Project is highlighting the writings of international thought leaders and sparking the debate on what it means to ‘be a man’, hoping to dial the tone of this conversation towards positivity, from cradle to grave.
Through the first year of my daughter’s life, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to how my rearing would affect my rearing of her, until, of course, my father’s influence started rearing its ugly head through my actions. While trying to diligently deny that his overbearing influence was alive and well, my wife started defining some of my daughter’s behaviors as ‘healthy attachment’. I knew that for my wife, who had a childhood filled with unhealthy attachment, it was very important for her that we work at creating healthy attachment.
One day, after having done some research, she said, “Yeah, you’re definitely anxious avoidant,” and you can bet as much as I wanted to avoid that comment, I couldn’t. Educating myself turned out to be a huge eye-opener. Traits that I exhibit on a day-to-day are definitely still a result of how I handled my emotions as a child. I don’t know about other men, but for me, I thought I left that all behind me. But it isn’t something external to me. My parents had a hand in creating me and we parents now have a hand in creating our children. Yes, I am an anxious avoidant, and accepting what I am is the first step to not creating more anxious avoidants.
The Good Men Project knows that how you learn to define what it means to be a man or how you define what a man should or should not be, comes from conditioning during childhood. They take this issue back to the beginning with informative content on the ever-important attachment theory and insightful stories that can help you reflect on your own upbringing or the way you are choosing to parent your children. Learning from the successes and failures of others can help us change the landscape that this generation of boys will be raised in, and can help today’s boys have a broader concept of what being a man is, so they can move beyond ‘boy will be boys’ into ‘boys will be humans’.
Ah, the good ol’ age of peacocking. Where young men stop being friends and engage in a one-upmanship of one another at a level that’s almost criminal. Most of the bullying directed at me during my adolescence was due to my outright refusal to join in the peacock parade. Instead, I developed friendships outside of school, diving into TCGs and funneling my energies elsewhere. Unfortunately, we aren’t all created equal and others might not happen upon a satisfying outlet. I don’t have solutions, though I often think about how we can help young men retain their friendships so that instead of trying to outdo one another, they can learn to continue to support one another.
Bullying is a heavy topic and one The Good Men Project is not shying away from. Adolescence is a time when all people are seeking to define their identity through a healthy sense of self, and are often faced with pressure to behave in ways that might not be inline with their inner compass. The public sphere of the moment is going through a (hopefully) momentary crisis when it comes to public role models. It appears that ‘locker room talk’ and bullying are being sanctioned by some and used to further an agenda. We need thought projects and insight more than ever. This useful guide can help you educate yourself and today’s youth on the ins and outs of bullying behavior, and most importantly, how to become an upstander rather than a bystander in the face of bullying.
Though I’m well into adulting at this point, on a daily basis I question if I’ve got it all figured out. I’m raising two daughters, managing a growing freelance career, and trying to be the best partner on a day-to-day basis. But, this stuff is overwhelming! Some days I’m on my A-game and have it all figured out, while other days I hit the snooze button one too many times and miss the game entirely. The biggest problem, from my perspective, is that we all feel alone in this: men, women, black, white, young and old. No matter where you are in the cycle of adulting, this oscillation is universal. What would be ideal is to strip this facade that we’ve all got it together. This social media perfection. It’s not relatable. The cold hard fact is we can sometimes pull it together, and sometimes we’re tiptoeing around a house of cards. Showing that vulnerability and sharing our unique perspectives is what can truly guide us on our individual journeys.
For everyone, including me, that first taste of independence and stepping out on your own is exciting and overwhelming. Maybe you’re navigating new responsibilities, the workplace, a romantic relationship, or all three. Maybe you’re looking in the mirror and realizing that you’re not exactly who you thought you were, or you’re struggling with what it means to be a man for the first time. This is the perfect opportunity to read other people’s experiences, for better or for worse. Or, it might be just the moment to dive into a deeper conversation by joining The Good Men Project’s premium member community where you have access to social interest groups, live classes and members only social media groups to connect and communicate with other men sharing similar experiences.
My first exposure to this conversation was watching the insightful documentary, The Mask You Live In. Not only did it leave me questioning my own upbringing and manhood, but it left me feeling that this topic is the missing link for feminists. I am proud to say I am a feminist, because I am for anything and everything that would promote gender equality and equality between the sexes. But, I’ll admit, I often find that ‘feminists’ position themselves as anti-men, and it’s constructive for no one. I had a mentor in my life that was through-and-through a feminist, but she spoke in a demeaning way about men. According to her, the plight of women was the fault of men. She chose to not take her husband’s surname when marrying, and when I pointed out that she did not keep ‘her’ name, she kept her father’s name, my comment was most unwelcome. It’s simply a fact that in most cultures around the world, the family name is rooted in patriarchy. At this stage, this is a societal reality that has nothing to do with today’s men, and while I think that women have every right to choose the surname they prefer, unless they create a name on the spot, their name is inextricably linked to male lineage.
If we want to truly promote gender equality, then how we raise our boys really matters. Yes, women’s issues matter. But the value of raising an empathetic young man who is both allowed to own his feelings and freely engage in and express them, is a definite step that needs to be taken. Hyper-masculine men oppress women (and other men, for that matter). Hyper-feminine women promote an unrealistic body image for our girls, and unrealistic expectations for our boys. I want to raise my two daughters in a world that respects that most of us, on the bell curve between hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine, find ourselves somewhere in the middle. I want my girls to have the freedom to fall where they may. I want their future partners, whether male or female, to have that same freedom.
So, how can we model kindness, empathy and other desirable behavior for our sons and daughters? In the age of shared information, there isn’t a great excuse to not add better practices into our lives today that will help us raise more conscientious children. If the #MeToo movement can teach us anything, it should be that raising kids as kids first, and not their sex or gender, should allow kids to see that one’s good or bad behavior doesn’t have all that much to do with one’s sex. Empathy is the key to men understanding the inequalities that women face, but we have to actively promote, reward and practice this skill. This will begin to level the playing field between the sexes. The Good Men Project acts as a great jumping off point if you’re looking to explore better parenting practices or seeking specific advice on raising your boys and girls.
I’m not there yet, but we’re all headed straight for it. And, another important way The Good Men Project is helping to redefine the conversation on what it means to be a man is that they do not shy away from any topic. Men, if we want to live our best life, it’s crucial that we value ourselves enough to tend to our physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Men have long been known to neglect seeking medical advice at the earlier warning signs that something’s wrong. In the quest to redefine this, the Project puts it all on the line, discussing topics like obesity, the stigma of mental health, and how to be a better lover with impotence. Everything is on the table, making it easy to have conversations that need to be had.
Educate yourself about a broad range of topics and join in the conversation at The Good Men Project. If you have a perspective that you think would help advance the conversation and help redefine masculinity, sign up for the Writer’s Prompts mailing list and consider submitting your own stories.