We hear it when fathers have pep talks with their sons, when hyper-masculine gym buffs try to out-do each other at the gym and when guys dare to be vulnerable with their male friends in public. Phrases like “be a man” and “man up” are thrown around as words of encouragement because they’re seen as harmless expressions that push men to be fearless. But unfortunately, those phrases also suggest that it’s okay for men to suppress their emotions and act like they’re invincible. Even more disturbing is the fact that it perpetuates the stereotype of feminine traits being a sign of weakness.
These unwritten rules of manhood are firmly ingrained from childhood. And as boys grow older, they learn to accept this pattern of behavior, passing it on from generation to generation. But now, Jane the Virgin’s Justin Baldoni is challenging all men to stop this cycle by rejecting society’s twisted definition of manhood.
In his web series, Man Enough, Justin has created a safe space for men to take off the mask of masculinity and simply be vulnerable. He sits down with other famous men from Hollywood as they share their own experiences, insecurities, and weaknesses when it comes to things like relationships, fatherhood, body image, and even the #MeToo movement. But what’s truly inspiring is that through these deep conversations, men involved are making a conscious effort to redefine what it means to “be a man.”
Justin once said: “I don’t have a desire to fit into the current broken definition of masculinity, because I don’t just want to be a good man. I want to be a good human. And I believe the only way that can happen is if men learn to not only embrace the qualities that we were told are feminine in ourselves but to be willing to stand up, to champion and learn from the women who embody them.”
So to be clear, the issue isn’t really with guys being told to “man up” or “be a man.” What’s problematic is how we choose to define those expressions, which are often thought of as the opposite of femininity and thus makes stereotypically “female” traits a sign of weakness. We all know that there’s a stigma attached to straight guys who get super emotional, but the truth is, there’s strength in vulnerability!
If it were up to us, watching Man Enough would be a requirement for all men. It would inspire even more guys to join the conversation, embrace all aspects of themselves and be completely transparent. But since we can’t have our way, the least we can do is encourage you to share the series with every guy that you know.
Looking Outward to See Inward
In watching this web series, men may start to recognize how their own toxic beliefs and habits could be a part of the problem. A lot of men are quick to call themselves the “Good Guys” because they don’t intentionally hurt anyone. But what about the offenses that they’ve been completely oblivious to? What about when they speak over women to finish their sentences or choose to stay silent when their best friend makes a sexist joke? It might not seem like a big deal because technically, these guys mean no harm. But if a man is dominating towards women or hesitant to stand up for them, then he’s not that much better than the guy who proudly embodies the toxic kind of masculinity.
According to Justin, the first step to making a change is actually acknowledging the problem. He said: “I think the best thing a man can do… is to pick up a phone and call five of the closest women in his life and ask them an honest question and say: ‘Hey, have I ever done anything that makes you feel this way?’ or ‘Have I said things that have been inappropriate?’ If we’re not aware of what we’re doing — or of our unconscious bias — if we’re not aware of these things, we can’t fix them.”
Challenging the Status Quo
Let’s be honest – it’s tough to unlearn years of toxic behavior and misogynistic thinking. When you’re constantly told to hide your feelings and be strong while being bombarded with sexist messages in the media, you start to think that traditional masculinity the norm. But thankfully, through this platform, men can break out of that mindset and learn to question what they’ve been taught. They can actually help create a new generation of men who refuse to blindly follow toxic standards.
Being an Ally to Women
Although the #MeToo movement was launched more than a decade ago, it’s recently picked up steam, and sexual assault allegations making headlines the past year have forced men to think twice about their own treatment of women. It challenged them to take a step back, reflect on their behavior and accept that they’re probably not as innocent as they might think. It’s unfortunate that it took so many scandals for men to finally self-reflect. But most importantly, this movement serves as an important reminder that all women are deserving of dignity and respect, and they deserve to be heard.
Justin posed an interesting question towards the end of his #MeToo episode, where he asked what men can do to help amplify the voices of women. Scooter Braun hit the nail on the head when he said: “I want to start from a place of just raising my hand and saying I’m ignorant, I want to listen, and I want to make an effort.”
Jump start a dialogue among men
We live in a world where women are encouraged to share their feelings, but guys aren’t usually afforded the same opportunity because they’re expected to use more physical approaches to frustration. Unfortunately, an inability to speak up often leads to internalizing very real concerns and traumas and leads to these issues boiling up and manifesting in pretty ugly ways. It’s something that most men have quietly accepted, and now its become so commonplace that the mere idea of guys being open with each other through thoughtful conversation sounds totally ridiculous.
Justin explained: “I know men who would rather die than tell another man that they’re hurting… if it’s about work or sports or politics or women, we have no problem sharing our opinions, but if it’s about our insecurities or struggles, our fear of failure, then it’s almost like we become paralyzed.”
A majority of men are terrified of opening up because they don’t want anyone to think that they’re “weak.” This comes as no surprise, given the binary that’s been forced upon us that puts men and women on opposite sides of a spectrum with physical and emotional strength attributed to men and emotionalism and weakness connected to women. But if this series has taught us anything, it’s that men are capable of having deep and emotional discussions without bursting into flames. Yes, it feels weird and it’s extremely uncomfortable at times, but feeling that discomfort is only a sign of growth.
Being held accountable – and holding other men accountable
It’s no secret that men are almost never held accountable for their actions. (See: Louis C.K. is already back performing comedy and the #MeToo redemption tour is already pretty much in full swing.) Former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama explained it perfectly when she said: “We love our boys and we raise our girls. We raise them to be strong, and sometimes we take care not to hurt men. And I think we pay for that a little bit… It’s powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean? Does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much so that they feel a little entitled and a little self-righteous sometimes?”
This is the key reason why guys tend to get away with so much more! And it’s why they took so long to even realize how their actions have been affecting women. But thankfully, the guys of Man Enough are setting an example by acknowledging their privilege and using it to hold one another accountable. Now, get the guys in your life to do the same.