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Redefining Masculinity with Justin Baldoni

By Helena Carlson

TEDWomen held their annual conference last year which occurred from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3, hosting a series of speakers whom presented creative visions relating to the increasing importance of women in professional fields.

Of the many speakers, Justin Baldoni — well known as an actor in “Jane the Virgin” — delivered a powerful speech that went viral, creating lasting impressions that raised questions on how the emotional wellbeing of men plays an inevitable role in women’s issues.

Baldoni presented his audience a challenge: he asked the men if they were strong enough to be vulnerable. Seemingly paradoxical at first, the strength Baldoni referred to was the courage to break traditional masculine norms of expression by exploring the empowering quality of compassion and sensitivity.

“I challenge you to see if you can use the same qualities that you feel make you a man to go deeper into yourself,” Baldoni said. “Your strength, your bravery, your toughness, can we redefine what those mean and use them to explore our hearts? Are you brave enough to be vulnerable? To reach out to another man when you need help? To dive headfirst into your shame?”

Uncomfortable questions like these are the main topics of discussion on Baldoni’s new talk show, titled “Man Enough,” where he invites a number of men from Hollywood to talk about what it means to be a man. The show is housed under Wayfarer Entertainment, Baldoni’s production company that seeks to promote positive social change with documentaries, and web-based shows like “Man Enough.” In an interview with Marie Claire magazine, Baldoni said that this series was inspired by his own struggles with his identity throughout childhood.

Throughout his talk, he broadened his focus from what masculinity meant for men to its implications for women as well. He asked men in the audience if they were strong enough to listen to the women in their lives and speak up for them. He urged men to stand against sexual harassment and “locker room talk,” pointing out that to defend those around them is indeed a quality of strength.

“When you hear stories of sexual harassment, when you hear your boys talking about grabbing ass or getting her drunk,” said Baldoni, “will you actually stand up and do something so that one day we don’t have to live in a world where a woman has to risk everything and come forward to say the words ‘me too’?”

By encouraging everyone to redefine what it means to be strong, to how this can reciprocally make it a safer world for women to live in, Baldoni drew a relationship between seemingly two different narratives that mutually affect each other. He pointed out that men who are emotionally healthy and able to form deep bonds with those around them are more likely to be compassionate and subsequently have a lesser tolerance to violence and assault they may witness day to day. Beyond that however, Baldoni’s words offered a greater implication of the necessary intersectionality between men’s and women’s issues, and that these two should be addressed collectively rather than in separation.

Baldoni has taken  such a strong stance on this prevalent issue, shown in having dedicated much of his organization to supporting feminist progress. Baldoni’s message comes at a time of significant change occuring in Hollywood and other industries, making it more relevant today than ever. It is one of the reasons his endeavors have been met with widespread support. Baldoni concluded his talk with citing his father and Bahá’í teachings as having instilled the values of equality and compassion in his upbringing. He tells parents that these values of humanity are important in the raising of their children, so that our future generations to come will not just be “brave boys” and “pretty girls,” but first and foremost, “good humans.”