How Did the Good Men Project Get Hijacked By Such Bad Guys?

In my article “10 Reasons Men Should Love Feminism,” I advocated for The Good Men Project (GMP) as a space where men can discuss the complexities of gender as they seek ways to support and be supported by the women in their lives. I believed this  to be true because of the articles I found there (some of which I linked to in my article) and because of the way the magazine presents itself: a space where both men and women write about ethical manhood. Although I enjoyed some GMP articles and found them insightful and helpful, I had not thoroughly engaged with the magazine or its community. I knew nothing of the history of the organization, or of the discussions happening at and around GMP concerning rape — discussions that contribute to a perception of rape that blames the victim rather than the rapist, and therefore perpetuate rape culture. PolicyMic writer Lauren Rankin brought these troubling facts about GMP to my attention, and I am grateful to her for it, both because she has educated me and because I can share what I have learned.

Here’s the scoop:

The History Of The Good Men Project
Tom Matlack founded the Good Men Project in 2009 — he created an anthology of men’s stories, a documentary film, and an online magazine for conversation about what it means to be a good man. For a couple of years, the magazine explored masculinity while listening to (and sharing space with) feminists and their allies. In the words of Shannan Palma, program coordinator at the Emory University Center for Women, GMPbegan as a woman-positive, online magazine and forum for considering modern masculinities outside the misogynist rhetoric of men’s rights advocacy groups, which claim that critiques of sexism are part of a feminist conspiracy to oppress men.”

However, in 2011, things started to change. Matlack wrote an article entitled “Being a Dude is a Good Thing” in which he stated his belief that most women want men to be more like them. In this article, he was theorizing based on the anecdotes of men he knows, and not placing his comments within an understanding of patriarchy — the cultural paradigm that defines both masculinity and femininity, and that perpetuates  sexism. When a few well-known feminists disagreed with him on Twitter, he used “gaslighting,” a technique for silencing women by making what they say seem emotional or unwarranted. 

Things went downhill from there, as Matlack continued to write articles that showed him to be a men’s rights activist (blaming women, rather than patriarchy, for problems surrounding gender and allowing misogynist comments to run rampant on GMP) rather than a male feminist ally (listening to feminists and their allies — and to the research they present — while sharing his viewpoint respectfully and creating a respectful space at GMP). Matlack left the Good Men Project in April of 2013, but the magazine remains a troubled and troubling space, particularly when it comes to the national discourse on rape.

Perpetuating Rape Culture
In November of 2012, GMP published an article by writer Alyssa Royce entitled “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too," which positioned a rapist as a "nice guy" who was confused by a flirtatious woman. The author knew a man who had raped a friend within their circle while she was asleep. While the man admitted to raping the woman, he said he was confused by the "mixed signals" his victim sent by flirting with him while awake.

Feminist author Jill Filipovic's article about the issue in The Guardian explains why the "nice guy" argument is wrong and dangerous: “Academics, researchers, and sociologists have done in-depth studies on sexual assault and found that it's actually a small number of men who commit large numbers of acquaintance rapes. Most of those men intentionally target intoxicated women. They socially isolate them, ply them with alcohol to incapacitate them, and intentionally push their boundaries to make them vulnerable.” 

When Filopovic and others tried to share this research, GMP writers and editors attacked the scholarly sources about why men commit rape. Editor Joanna Schroeder also published an anonymous article by an unrepentant rapist who claimed that raping was just part of the price he paid for his partying lifestyle. While some GMP writers quit the site in protest, some writers and editors joined forces with men’s rights activists to lash out at feminists and anti-rape activists on Twitter.

To sum up, GMP has published and vehemently defended articles that perpetuate rape. As Filipovic explains, “Challenging rape myths means less rape. But when writers, cultural figures, media-makers or individuals perpetuate the idea that rape is a grey area or that acquaintance rapists are ‘nice guys’ who are just confused or that women somehow bring rape upon themselves, that enables rapists and feeds their propensity to rape.”
To read more details about the articles and how feminists pushed back against them, see Filipovic's posts on her blog, Feministe, here and here.

The Upshot
I no longer consider GMP a healthy, feminist-friendly space for men to discuss issues related to masculinity.  And that's too bad, because I do believe, as I stated in my original article, that feminism is good for men as well as women, and that men need a space in which they can both listen and be heard.

While I no longer support the site, I do think some of the articles at GMP (unrelated to rape) offer helpful or insightful commentary.  I also think its writers are possibly a mix of people who support men's rights activists and/or rape apologia, and people who don't know much about either. The writers and editors who supported the rape pieces are still around, but the site is looking for new writers and editors, some of whom might know nothing about these issues.

This unfortunate situation creates a space (for a wide and growing mainstream audience) that is a mix of outright misogyny, occasional insight, and dangerous misinformation without the research and conclusions that respected feminists and their allies bring to the table — all presented as equally valid parts of the discussion on ethical modern manhood. And that is bad news indeed.

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Liz Hall Magill

Author of Yo Mama (www.elizabethhallmagill.wordpress.com), a blog that explores politics, religion, and pop culture from a feminist perspective. I also teach writing and gender courses at Longwood University in Farmville, VA.

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