Cameron Conaway is enlightened. He is a human rights activist and a concerned citizen. He is a prolific poet. And he is a good man. In fact, he is the perfect good man: Executive Director, behind The Good Men Project, an International online destination for conversations about what it means to be a good man in the 21st Century. Cameron and I spoke recently about this important opportunity for men, for women, and for all of us …
MKG: The Good Men Project was founded in 2009 by Tom Matlack. What did the site envision at the onset and why did your team believe the time was now for this vision to come true?
Cameron: Tom had an awakening. Here he was on the cover of magazines and being featured all over, and yet he was struggling personally. He was a successful businessman, but it wasn’t until a series of major personal struggles that he found the error of his ways: He’d confused being a successful businessman with being a successful man. How had this happened?, he wondered. Are there guys out there with similar struggles and stories to tell? This was the spark that launched the book: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Frontlines of Modern Manhood. Then Tom asked: How could these stories (and those countless untold) continue to be shared? The answer: through a website. But was there already a website doing something similar? Not even close. Stay-at-home dads were on the rise, men around the world continued to be trafficked for labor, the concept of masculinity was evolving and men everywhere were beginning to define themselves in new and different ways than in years past. The time was now to chart this progression through story, and to provide a safe place—GoodMenProject.com—where men (and women) could discuss these issues and truly have “the conversation no one else is having.”
MKG: What is the ongoing mission for The Good Men Project and where do you see it going?
Cameron: To collapse the harmful stereotypes that impact the lives of men, and to bolster the rise of a more authentic masculinity. Oh, and to end gender-based violence, environmental degradation and modern slavery. Oh, and to support LGBT rights, fair wages and people who are generally passionate about doing great work in the world. Our mission is endless and the only place we see it going is ongoing. Our About Page gives a fuller glimpse into where we’re headed and why.
MKG: As Executive Editor, what are the stories and the conversations that you like to tell?
Cameron: Prior to becoming an Executive Editor I spearheaded our Social Justice section. I was living in Thailand at the time and was hell-bent on learning as much as possible about the complexities of modern slavery. My first story was about the boys I’d seen—all with HIV as a result of being used as sex slaves—at a shelter in Northern Thailand. At my core I’m a human rights journalist who wants to awaken people by exposing them to the horrors to which they are a part, both directly and indirectly, and then to provide some practical ways that they can be a part of the solution. I don’t like to tell stories about the cruelties of the world; I like to tell stories that illuminate how the human spirit can shine even when surrounded by the cruelties of the world.
MKG: What is one common misconception that people may have about today’s modern men?
Cameron: That they all are what the commercials and most media outlets make them out to be: meat-eating, sex-crazed, wrench-wielding buffoons.
MKG: As the mother of two teenage sons, I am very concerned that we are not giving young men the same tools to live healthy, productive lives that we do with young women. What do you feel is missing for our boys to help them develop into solid and confident men?
Cameron: Mentors. Too often our boys are picking up messages about what it means to be a man from all the wrong places. At a recent urinal I saw a sign that read: Are you a real man? Real men drink _______ brand whiskey. Check our drink menu. I do enjoy whiskey, but what message is that sending? It was put there; correction, a company paid to put it there, because these types of messages lodge themselves deep into our subconscious and can eventually shape our behavior. Poet Allen Ginsberg once said, “Whoever control the images, the media, controls the culture.” We need to take back the wheel of culture, and this means we as a society need to serve as the media, and the images and the overall influencers of how our world’s boys are defining themselves. Boys and girls both need mentors, but I believe we as men and we as a society are especially failing boys in this regard.
MKG: I write about the connection between fashion and self-esteem, but I do not spend enough time investigating it from a man’s perspective. Do you feel that there is a connection? What do you notice in the world of men and fashion?
Cameron: Again, it comes down to authenticity. It doesn’t matter if a dude is a jeans and plain t-shirt-kind-of-guy (like me) or goes the top hat and blazer route. If an individual feels good in what he is wearing—feels that he is himself and not something boxed in and pressured—then good for him. Fashion is story. Who are you? Are you dressing according to who you are, or are you dressing the shadow of who you think you’re supposed to be?
MKG: What is your own experience with fashion and self-esteem?
Cameron: I’ve never talked about this, but it’s something I’ve certainly struggled with. On the surface and particularly when I was younger I’d always see how the world seemed to move for the “well-dressed man,” i.e., what I identified as the suit-and-tie look. So for quite some time, as a teacher, I went that route. But I never felt myself. My body felt stiff and because of that my thoughts couldn’t flow, either. The tie was flapping all over the place and the shiny black dress shoes … I was dressing the shadow and believing that in doing so I could build my own self-esteem. What I’ve come to find is that fashion for me (I’m talking about at-work fashion) means looking somewhat “put together” but feeling comfortable enough that I could drop and do 50 bodyweight squats and then take off for a sprint if need be. For an idea of what I mean, here are the kinds of shoes that allow me to do that!
Cameron Conaway is a A former MMA fighter, an NSCA-certified personal trainer, an award-winning poet and the 2014 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. Conaway is also the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet (Threed Press, 2011), Until You Make the Shore (Salmon Poetry, 2014) and Malaria, Poems (Michigan State University Press, 2014). Cameron currently serves on the Editorial Board at Slavery Today: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Human Trafficking Solutions.
You can follow Cameron on Twitter @CameronConaway