What does it mean to be a good man? The question preoccupied venture capitalist Tom Matlack so much that he founded The Good Men Project. Called "a cerebral new media alternative" to traditional men's magazines and a glimpse into "enlightened masculinity," The Good Men Project is an online magazine featuring articles on a range of issues that impact men, from fatherhood, sex, and politics to ethics, war, and gender.
Matlack does not shy away from difficult subjects and considers The Good Men Project as much a social movement as a magazine. (The Web site is for-profit, but a collection of first-person essays released as a book by the Good Men Foundation will donate proceeds to the Boys and Girls Clubs, among other charities.) He's also keen on offering alternatives to stereotypes about the American male. "Men are not Bud Light commercials," he says. "And they're as complicated as women." We caught up with Matlack to get his take on post50 modern manhood.
There's been a lot of buzz in the media around articles like Hanna Rosin's "The End of Men" in The Atlantic and a more recent one along similar lines by Kate Bolick called "All the Single Ladies." They in part evoke the extent to which the global economy is shafting men and favoring women. What's your take on that - and how men face the challenges of 'reinvention'?
TM: I think that class plays a huge role. To say that that we're looking at 'the end of men' when you're talking about upper middle class white guys is insane. We're doing just fine. We have all sorts of emotional intimacy issues, but if we're talking purely about economics, you know, the world is still run by white men. But if you talk about men of color and men who are middle and lower class, she's absolutely right.
I think it comes down to what it means to be a good man in America -- and a father and a provider and all that good stuff. When your legs have been completely chopped out from under you and you were working at a GM plant or in construction and you no longer have a job - and somebody tells you that you're supposed to be a nurse or a medical technician or whatever - it's very hard for men to make that adjustment, particularly later in life.
How do you approach manhood and aging?
TM: Ever since I realized that I was completely off-track in my own life, I've tried to figure out what I'm passionate about. And often I've looked toward other men who I respect, even if they're entirely different from me. I listen to their stories and find out what they can teach me. We don't have enough mentoring in our culture.
Where do older men go to hear other men's voices and stories?
TM: We've been trying to create a forum where it's alright to talk about what it's like to be a soldier in Iraq, or in jail, or a foreman in a GM plant, and trying to be a good guy and a good father - and failing. What do you do when you fail? I don't think we have enough space in our culture for that. There's so much celebrity nonsense. All we get is the Bud Light commercial.
I'm struck by the extent to which women's voices and concerns dominate the market when it comes to aging. Why do you think this is the case?
TM: I think there are two things going on. On the one hand, our culture forces the myth of youth on women, so there's an obsession among them to constantly figure out how to stay young.
As far as men go, there used to be mid-life crises. I don't think we have mid-life crises any more. We just have crises. And men are really confused. Sure, age is part of that, but it's not a dominant thing. It used to be that you turned fifty and you'd buy a new car or get a mistress or you do whatever because you felt like shit. You'd think: My life is over and I haven't done anything that I think is really important. These things are happening for men a lot earlier. It happened to me when I was thirty-one.
Men are trying to figure out a very complex set of issues: Being thought of as fathers in very different ways as our own fathers; trying to sort out how to be important without putting all our emphasis on work. So asking what it means to get old is overwhelmed by other issues. Men tend not to enter into that conversation, particularly if it's viewed as a conversation about some version of female beauty, which is such bullshit, but unfortunately that's how our culture works.
Where does the myth of the sexy older woman fit into all this for older men?
TM: Well, my wife hates when I talk about her, but I tell her all the time: You get more beautiful every day. And I honestly mean that. I tell her, if you get any kind of plastic surgery, I'll go insane. I find the obsession with youth so misfounded. Never mind the damage it does -- it's just wrong. We ought to look at the aging process overall.
What about the notion that older men lust after younger women? Your site has featured pieces about this. Do you think this is true, or that it's more of a cultural stereotype?
TM: I think there's something in the older man's attraction to youth that revolves around the idea that because they're older and more powerful, the relationship with a younger woman is going to be simpler. They're not going to be challenged the way they might be in a relationship with someone who's the same age and has the same power base. It's kind of like, if you're married to your daughter, she's not going to give you that much shit.
In your post "The New Macho" you suggest that for some men "virtual sex is better than real sex with a complex women."
TM: Unfortunately, we are culturally afraid of looking at sex as intimacy. Of course, the secret is that that's what's so great about it. That's what's so beautiful about it. Going to a strip club is really not that much fun - for anyone involved. It's not that great, nor is being married to someone who's half your age. It just doesn't work after awhile in most cases, from what I can tell.
I think dealing with the complexity, the challenge and the emotional intimacy of having sex is something we as a culture don't do very well. For whatever reason we talk about it in the most distorted ways. We love to talk about Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen and all gather around the water cooler talking about how bad they are. At the same time, prostitution, the sex trade and pornography are exploding. We're all participating in it. But no. It's Tiger Woods. He's the bad guy.