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No Poetry, No Gender War, No Bullshit

No Poetry, No Gender War, No Bullshit

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Published by Tom Matlack
Tom Matlack discusses the popular men’s movements and why the Good Men Project stands apart.
Tom Matlack discusses the popular men’s movements and why the Good Men Project stands apart.

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Published by: Tom Matlack on Mar 17, 2011
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04/27/2012

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No Poetry, No Gender War, No Bullshit
Tom Matlack discusses the popular men’s movements and why the Good Men Project stands apart.
The first and only time I saw Robert Bly, author of 
Iron John
, the touchstoneof the modern “mythopoetic” men’s movement, I was in college—and Iwasn’t sure I was impressed. Although I found the man captivating in manyways, I wasn’t convinced that the manhood he was talking about in poeticterms (and accompanied by a lute, no less) was something I aspired torecapture. Beating drums in the woods never seemed to come naturally tome; to me it sounded more like feminism for guys than the stuff of manhood.At the time, I was immersed in the sport of rowing—a male bondingexperience that had little to do with poetry and a lot to do with the testing of physical limits. I supposethe fistfight I hadwith my best friend during atraining session in a cemetery was related to something Bly was getting at,but it sure wasn’t poetic. It had to do with my questioning my friend’smanhood and his retaliating in kind. We both emerged stronger from theexchange.
 
Our coach, Will Scoggins, had watched our fight from a distance, grinning.He told me that the process of developing underlying trust as a teaminvolved spilling your guts along the way, even showing raw emotion. Hehad made clear from the very beginning that this was about rowing, but itwas also about growing up and learning, the hard way, how to avoid makingexcuses. The payoff was that we could use this wisdom in any situation lateron in life. To his way of thinking, the fight was a sign of progress—a sign of growing faith in one another.The fight on a cemetery hill with my rowing buddy summarized the kind of men’s movement that I respected a heck of a lot more than what I heardaccompanied by a lute.
In many ways, the Good Men Project was born not out of the men’smovement—or men’s rights movement, masculism, anti-misandry, orMGTOW (men going their own way)—but out of the brutal facts of our ownlives as fathers, husbands, and guys trying to make a living. In fact, I hadnever even heard of any of these philosophies until I started writing aboutmy own life and publishing the stories of other men. In the process Isomehow got myself in the middle of a political issue that to me completelymisses the fundamental challenge for men in 2011. There are plenty of waysthe law (particularly family law) and popular culture, as represented by themedia, have limited men. But we have no one to blame but ourselves. Wemade the laws. We control the media. We have, in the end, suffered too longin silence. Too many of us have knuckled under and become absenteefathers.Mothers have more rights than fathers, more women are going to college,and Oprah rules the gender discourse. So what? Do
 
we allow ourselves to be emasculated byfeminism, by divorce law, by women who, God forbid, want to break theglass ceiling once and for all? Or do we embrace their successes whiledeveloping our own powerful voice for good in the world, most particularlywhen it comes to be being fathers and husbands? To me, having guys beatdrums or set up some grand zero-sum gender war ignores the opportunity—an opportunity that’s right in front of our faces—that we might figure out away to get out of the cave of our own suffering.To me this opportunity has always been about the power of completelyunfiltered communication between men once they stopped thinking aboutwhat they were “supposed” to be saying and started speaking from the heartabout their own lives. In fact, it saved my own life. I realized that I couldlearn a lot more from men—damn good men—with no formal education buta lot more street smarts than I had. No poetry, no gender warfare, nobullshit. Just the truth.
I was surrounded by 30 other men at a grade school classroom in SouthBoston, many of whom had been sober barely 30 days. They looked prettytough, and I imagined I must have been the only one in the room without agang affiliation. The leader at the front of the room began to speak about hisstructured approach to sobriety. “You miss a session and you are out,”explained Frank, a blond guy in his 40s. “You are required to do eachassignment and come prepared to every meeting.” Frank asked us to standup and pledge our commitment to this course of action, posing a series of questions to which the group responded in unison, “Yes I will.”

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