When I first started this website, I described Tom as “weird.” At this point, I take that back. I do think he has some eccentricities, but I don’t think they are fatal. With his boyish good looks, and awkward presentation, Tom is certainly a character. He is an admitted (former?) alcoholic. Pearl S. Buck, author of “The Good Earth” and Nobel Laureate (literature) was his great-aunt. He describes having grown up in an nontraditional household, “I was raised by a mother who burned her bra and who instilled in me the importance of female equality.” In the same vein, he states, “My parents don’t like it when I call it this, but I basically grew up in a commune,” he says. “My mother had a strident form of feminism and it influenced me on a personal level – I found it scary.”
Tom Matlack is no dummy. He was a successful venture capitalist. It's kind of hard to argue that a "master of the universe" comes off as weak, but that is the punchline of this piece. He attended Yale for graduate school, and Wesleyan. This guy, by any man's defintion, is a success.
As much as I wanted to despise this guy, I can’t bring myself to dislike him. His commentary on men and masculinity doesn’t come off as prosecutorial or accusatory. He is more passive, with a kind of sad puppy dog air about him – like his picture. He seems like a guy seeking approval and acceptance. What I don’t like about Tom is that he comes off as weak. Is he a feminist? He doesn't tell us. His description of the break up of his marriage makes him sound pathetic, “That very day, my wife threw me out of the house for being a drunk and a cheat,” he says. “I had to sit in my car in a church parking lot with all my clothes and explain to myself how I’d gone from the guy on the cover of The Wall Street Journal to someone with nowhere to go.”
I don’t despise him for various reasons. The Good Men Project doesn’t censor their site. Quite frankly, I would totally understand if they took a more aggressive stance on reader comments. Unlike many ban-happy, totalitarian feminist websites, GMP allows the most critical, and dare I say, vicious comments to stand. The site attracts many MRAs, from the mainstream to the out-of-bounds fanatic. I also can’t dislike the guy because he comes across as genuinely interested in men and masculinity, without the usual attendant disdain and condescension you get from self-identified male feminists.
But, to read Tom’s canon, you realize that he actually never makes a strong argument. His writing seems to always state a question, and then refuses to answer it with authority. It’s like he is a victim of life, and he can’t quite understand what he’s doing. Some of his pieces suggest a proposition, and then he quotes people he’s interviewed to give him the answer. It's seemingly a way for him to avoid the responsibility of having an opinion. But, that may be changing. In a recent piece, "How the Wall Street Journal is Spreading Negative Stereotypes about Men," he makes his argument with authority. Dare I say it? He writes like a man.
He does acknowledges that men face challenges. For instance, he writes, albeit weakly, that men get screwed it divorce. He details some of those challenges, “Seventy percent of the jobs lost during the most recent recession were held by men. The vast majority of those fighting our wars in
Iraq and are men. Generations of boys are growing up without fathers. Boys are falling behind girls in school. Male incarceration and recidivism rates are higher than ever. Divorce laws in many states are grossly unfair to decent, loving dads who want to play a role in their children’s lives...[T]he media are still consumed with the old feminist battle cry, to the exclusion of the predicament of boys and men." Afghanistan
Unlike many self-identified pro-feminist men, his point of view is not; “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” On the other hand, like many pro-feminist men, he thinks that post-modern manhood needs to change. “We need to start thinking about manhood differently.” He invites women to help develop that change. “Women have just as much incentive to help guys to figure out the new rules of manhood as men have in supporting women in their quest to overcome the obstacles of overt sexual discrimination.” If you look at that last sentence you notice that it states that women have an active role to “help guys figure out the new rules of manhood,” whereas men will have a passive role in “supporting women in their quest to overcome the obstacles of overt sexual discrimination.” It seems Tom's passivity is to apply to all men.
Like many self-identified male feminists, Tom is anti-porn. Being that he is too weak to outright state his position, he doesn’t come right out and say he is anti-porn. But, the implication is strong. “We seem to have forgotten that along the way, and our brain-numbing intoxication by pornography in all its forms threatens to end us—not because it is morally wrong but just because it distracts us from the truth and scatters our power.” And, this, "Sexual exploitation in the form of pornography and prostitution is a serious problem, and it’s only getting worse."
In the end, I don’t think the ad hominem “Uncle Tom” is fair to Tom Matlack. I think he is genuinely interested in the subject of men and masculinity. He doesn't seem to come to the table in bad faith or with ulterior motives. He does approach the subject of manhood from an angle that makes me a little uncomfortable. I would have more respect for him if he would just come out and state what he means. But, maybe getting out of my comfort zone is a good thing.