Tom Matlack wrote in a piece for the Good Men Project:
The most disappointing, and in fact dangerous, aspects of the Good Men Project’s success, in my view, has been the extent to which we have been sucked into a debate over gender theory in general and feminism in particular. Whether or not you agree with any of the wide variety of definitions of feminism, the Good Men Project is not about gender theory and it certainly isn’t about feminism. Or at the very least that was never my goal in founding it.
Unfortunately, that is what the site became. The Good Men Project is more the Good Feminist Men Project. Spend any time on the site and one will find an abundance of left-leaning, feminist-focused articles. As Jack Donovan notes in an article about the site:
Any discussion about men which involves females or feminist males will eventually become a discussion about what women want from men.
Alex Bove’s recent piece provides an excellent example of that. Bove questions the nature of “real” masculinity in his article:
While we might be inclined applaud the “positive” message that “real” men don’t look like soccer stars and models, I think we ought to question whether any group of men ought to claim the mantle of the real. I endorse a maximally-inclusive version of masculinity that embraces cisgender men, transmen, men of color, gay, straight, and omnisexual men (and asexual men too), vegans and hunters, atheists and Baptists, young and old men, men of all physical and mental abilities, and yes (gasp!), even masculine-identified women. I will not accept an unexamined conception of gender.
This is a laughably stupid position for two reasons.
One: if all “conceptions” of masculinity are accepted, including “masculine-identified women”, the very idea of masculinity is rendered moot as it would describe whatever one wanted it describe. That defeats the purpose of a definition. One must define what masculinity means on a basic level in order to be able to apply it anything.
Two: endorsing “a maximally-inclusive version of masculinity” means that Bove will accept an unexamined conception of gender as long as it fits within his ironically narrow feminist definition of masculinity, i.e if it is “maximally inclusive.” That definition does not include all “conceptions” of masculinity. It only includes the ones feminists find acceptable.
He goes on to state:
Conversations about “real” men abound in the men’s rights blogosphere and are usually couched as battles between authentic men and limp-wristed, so-called “beta” males. A term has been coined for these men: “manginas.” […] On one level, ridiculing men by calling them women is classic misogyny. The insult only works if observers believe that being a woman is a bad thing
No, the observer need only believe that being woman is a bad thing for a man. Furthermore, it is not clear that such a view is misogyny. Women are subject to the same type of insult, yet no one claims that accusing a woman of being “mannish” is misandry.
or that displaying womanly traits is unmanly.
And it makes sense given that masculinity and femininity are not the same thing. Men value their separate identity from women. They do not want to be women, so they will reject anything that would make them appear womanly.
This has nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with how identity works. A great analogy is how some black people will avoid “acting white” in an effort to assert their black identity. It is not that they fear or hate white people; it is only that they want a separate identity.
Of course, none of those traits are limited to white people, so the correct response is not to claim that a person must get in touch with their inner whiteness or redefine the black identity to make it “maximally inclusive”, but to simply accept that those traits are a part of everyone and therefore when a black person engages in them he is asserting his black identity, not “acting white.”
Likewise, when a man cries or empathizes with someone, he is not getting in touch with his feminine side, but expressing an aspect of his masculinity he usually does not express.
However, Bove makes a broader mistake. The term “mangina” has nothing to do with questioning a man’s masculinity. The term refers to a man who is essentially a self-made sock-puppet for feminists. He acts as a white knight for feminists, agreeing with whatever positions they hold and disagreeing with anything men say. He adopts the common feminist tact of “woman good, man bad” and sticks to it no matter what.
But I don’t think the primary purpose of the “mangina” epithet is to place non-gender-conforming men in the same category as women: rather, the goal is to circumscribe the category of “real” men. This strategy still reinforces a binary, but the binary is not so much man/woman as it is man/not-man.
While one can understand Bove’s dislike of the binary, he appears to forget that the binary is the very nature of an identity. People create identities to differentiate one group from another. So there is American and not-American, Jewish and not-Jewish, gay and not-gay, male and not-male. There is no conspiracy there. It is simply the way identities work. People must define what traits make up the identity and which do not. This is not an issue unless a group of people who do not fit in that identity for some reason want in.
Yet it appears Bove’s actual problem is the criticism of feminist ideas. As he writes:
The worst thing about being a mangina, according to men’s rights advocates, is that it requires a man to mask his true identity, all because of feminism’s nefarious influence. As MRA Jack Donovan says in his critique of the Good Men Project:
if you let women dictate what kinds of male feelings are acceptable, you’re going to get a site that’s about what men think women want to hear — not a site about who men really are.
The proposition that “who men really are” is unacceptable to women is only true if we assume an essential (real) masculinity, from which all other masculinities (along with the entirety of female experience, of course) must be excluded.
True to feminist form, Bove misses Donovan’s point. Here is Donovan’s full remark:
Tom, if you want to hear men’s stories, you have to make it OK for them to say what they actually feel, without worrying what women want to hear. That’s the only way you’re going to make the website feel as “real” as your book felt. That’s how you’re going to involve average guys, and not just the gender studies crowd. If you let the Noah Brands and Jesse Kornbluths and Hugo Schwyzers run things, if you let women dictate what kinds of male feelings are acceptable, you’re going to get a site that’s about what men think women want to hear — not a site about who men really are.
Donovan objects to the idea that women, feminists in particular, should get to define masculinity and men’s experiences for men rather than allowing men to define those things themselves. His point holds true. Most feminist commentary about men and masculinity does not sound anything like what men express on their own. Rather than encouraging discussion, feminists shut it down by forcing everything through their ideology and opposing anyone who rejects that practice, as Bove illustrates:
It requires us to accept that all men are one specific thing. Since feminism embraces the theory that gender is constructed, and therefore provisional, it allows for the existence of more than one masculinity. A flexible notion of gender can be threatening, especially to those who believe that authenticity is the sine qua non of masculinity.
The notion does not require people to accept that all men are one specific thing. It simply requires us to accept that masculinity is specifically tied to being male, and therefore only men can define it.
Feminists reject what they term “traditional” masculinity. If masculinity is tied to being male, then it is inherent and biological in nature. This contradicts feminists’ politically motivated view that gender is a social construct, and as a result they object to the idea of men defining masculinity and manhood.
Bove tries to counter this argument:
Anti-feminists sometimes frame this threat as an existential one, but challenges to traditional masculinity only threaten masculine privilege. No one is suggesting that “manly” men ought not to be allowed in the club. What we are saying, however, is that we want to diversify the membership (to torture the metaphor).
There are no feminists who accept “manly” men in the club. Even Bove treats “manly” masculinity as little more than “privilege”. This is a clear code that behaving in a “traditional” masculine way is bad. If feminists took no issue with “manly” men there would be no need to constantly remind the reader of this “privilege.” If feminists took no issue with “traditional” masculinity there would be no problem with the majority of men choosing “manly” masculinity over other “forms.”
Yet we see that feminists do take issue with “traditional” masculinity, and do have a problem when men practice it or prefer it. This statement:
One way to view the “threat” of diversity is to see it as an incursion, and to imagine that the small, exclusive club of masculinity will become overcrowded (and we all know how much men like to stretch their legs and relax).
is an excellent example of that. It is nothing but a dig at the men who prefer “traditional” masculinity.
But another way to see it is as an opportunity for expansion, allowing everyone to have the same amount of space in a much bigger building.
Except that is not what it does. The “opportunity for expansion” seeks to define for men what masculinity and manhood is, most notably by allowing people who reject or oppose masculinity and manhood to define it in a way that best suits them. It favors the opinions of women, feminists, effeminate gay men, and trans men, arguing that this minority of people should be the purveyors of masculinity. This would be akin to allowing agnostics to define religion.
Bove goes on to state:
We must criticize elements of masculinity that may be harmful to both women and men, but doing so should not dehumanize men who identify with those traits. It’s possible (preferable, even) to discuss what has historically been “wrong” with masculinity without throwing out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.
Yet that is what he does:
I’m not suggesting that we take away hypermasculine men’s right to call themselves masculine. I also don’t think, as Jack Donovan does, that openly criticizing traditional masculinity is a form of “explaining to men what they are doing wrong, and what feminists think those men should be doing instead, so that women can be happier or feel safer in some way.”
Calling them “hypermasculine men” implies that there is something wrong with what they are doing (without ever specifying what that is). Criticism of a person’s identify will inevitably lead to dehumanizing and demonizing them because the foundation of the criticism is that people are doing something “wrong” by adopting that identity.
The mistake that feminists make is in ironically conforming to the very gender binary they claim they want to remove:
Ultimately, it would be wonderful to remove the gender binary altogether and to see gender expression as falling somewhere along a continuum (and as fluid, open to change throughout a person’s lifetime). Why should my vulnerability, compassion, and empathy be in conflict with my self-sufficiency, stoicism, and toughness? These things don’t feel contradictory to me.
They are not, and anyone who bothers to actually study historical expressions of masculinity throughout the world would know that plenty of cultures include vulnerability, compassion, and empathy as important parts of masculinity. Men are actually expected to do this because one cannot be a good protector if one does not care about those one protects.
Only feminists seem ignorant of this basic element of masculinity, and that appears to result from their assumption that they know all there is to know about masculinity. Instead of listening to men and gathering as much information as they can (as Tom Matlack attempted), feminists only want to hear from men who reject conforming to masculinity. They only want to hear from trans men or effeminate gay men. They only want to hear from the man mocked for crying or the boy who is not athletic.
They do not want to hear from men in general. They do not want to hear war stories. They do not want to hear prison stories. They do not want to hear the stories of male bonding or friendships, the stories of fathers and sons, or the stories of brotherhood.
They only want to hear the stories that support their narrow worldview.
As a result, they not only fail to understand why men behave as they do, but also fail to understand why having a separate identity is so important for men and boys.