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Good Is Good: Are Men Needy?

Friday, September 28, 2012


Tom Matlack is the former CFO of the Providence Journal and is the founder of The Good Men Project, a non-profit charitable corporation based in Rhode Island and dedicated to helping organizations that provide educational, social, financial, and legal support to men and boys at risk.

Any time we get into these vast summary statements about one gender or the other it is fraught with peril.  I have definitely learned that the hard way.  One can say that men are at an end, education rates and workforce figures demonstrate the rise of the women and the fall of the man.  But if you look more carefully at the data by socio-economic group, by region, by industry and you get a much more complex picture.  Just as one example, when you think about the changing role of dads in our country you really can’t generalize across all dads without looking at class as a central issue.  Middle and upper middle class dads are certainly trending towards a much more activist parenting style with an increasing number of men staying at home by choice.  At the lower end of the spectrum we still have a large number of children growing up without fathers in the home and the dads that do stay at home to take care of the kids aren’t doing it by choice.

In my most recent piece, “Male Yearning,” I tried to write about a particular panel discussion in which I participated and make some generalizations purely from my own experience (always predicating my comments by the phrase, “the guys I know,” since that is really all I can speak to despite hearing from a lot more men than most by virtue of my role as founder of The Good Men Project) about guys’ desire to connect with each other and the women in their lives.

I am always interested in how my words, written with a novice hand and more often than not from the heart rather than with an expert command of the english language, strike the readers of my work.  Sometimes I am very pleasantly surprised how much casual musings can have a positive ripple effect, like my recent piece about what I want my sons to know. Other times, either in the comments or in follow up pieces that reference mine, I clearly have not communicated myself well enough to get through.

Today was one of those times I am left scratching my head once again about how my intent to raise men up, talk about our collective goodness, and embrace the women in our lives, can possibly get turned around into something negative.  Hugo Schwyzer, writing in Jezebel today, says: “The contemporary female version of ‘male yearning’ isn’t just ambition, it’s exhaustion.”  He goes on in his piece, “The Rise of the Needy Man,” to say “a growing number of men expect women to serve as perpetually available emotional beacons in their struggle to navigate the transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency.”

The idea that all women are exhausted by their emotionally needy and immature male counter-parts frames out exactly the stereotype of masculinity that the Good Men Project was founded to disprove once and for all.  If we are all a bunch of BudLight commercials walking around with our knuckles on the ground, or emotionally stuck in the fetal position, there really isn’t much to talk about is there?  But we’ve found that there is a vastly complex and nuance male experience that defies the gloss of being needy or immature or dead inside.

Hugo finds a sentence which is far from perfect to both point out my mindset and discout GMP at the same time:

In a phrase as garbled as it is instantly descriptive of a certain masculine mindset, Tom writes that most guys are struggling to figure out what “it means to be a man and to be good and to try to do things that are impossible despite the long odds.”

Let me unpack that for you Hugo. The boys who I speak to on a regular basis are all trying to figure out what it means to be a man. They are confused by the onslaught of negative stereotypes in the media, the prevalence of porn, the questions of life and death, war and peace.  The men I know (granted a small sample in the grand scheme of things but all I have to go on) aspire to be good.  Good dads, good husbands, good workers, good sons, good men.  But they don’t always know how or even what that means in the context of this personal circumstance.

A good number of men I meet in places like prison or schools in the inner city are looking at long odds.  But they have dreams.  Not dreams of great wealth or influence but of well being and responsibility and education. In fact I would say that all the men in my life–rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight–have aspirations for goodness that bump up against the kind of negative rhetoric that you and Hanna Rosin put out.  And in that sense their view is that perhaps they are facing long odds.  But they don’t care.  The decision to be good isn’t one based on potential outcome but rather a commitment to right action.

I hope that helps.  Men aren’t needy.  As I said before, men, in my limited experience, yearn for love of all kinds—romantic, sexual, fatherly, in work, in friendship.

For more of Tom's works, as well as other pieces on related topics, go to The Good Men Project Magazine online, here


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