Justin Baldoni Is On A Mission To Understand What It Means To Be A Man
“You can’t begin to talk about gender equality unless you want to also talk about the things that are wrong with traditional masculinity. We have to acknowledge that we are part of the problem,” said Justin Baldoni, the actor best known for his role in Jane the Virgin.
On December 14, 2017, Baldoni launched Man Enough, a show that aims to tackle the issues surrounding traditional masculinity and gender equality. Baldoni describes the show as, "more of a dinner party, which encourages men to have deep (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversations about what it means to be a man today."
The show includes Baldoni and features the likes of Matt McGorry, Derek Hough, Javier Munoz, Prince Ea, Bassem Youssef, Aydian Dowling and Anderson Silva.
“I am not trying to teach anybody anything. I am just on a personal exploration of traditional masculinity. That is the core of our show. It is saying I don’t know that I don’t know… and in this case it means… what does it really mean to be a man today? And allowing other men to admit to each other that maybe, just possibly they don’t know either. I think that can only help us as bosses, as leaders, as men and more importantly as humans," said Baldoni.
In this interview, Baldoni shares why this topic is so important and why we all should rethink what it means to be a man, especially in today’s workplaces.
Michelle King: What do you think it means to be a man today?
Justin Baldoni: I don’t think I really know exactly what it means to be a man today, which is why I am on this journey to explore and hopefully start a conversation around the way we as men view and interpret our masculinity. I think it has changed a lot. The current definition of being strong, tough and that ‘lone man’ who rides off into the sunset on horseback may have worked for us because it was necessary at one time. But I don’t think we are living in a time when those gender stereotypes apply.
I think that Man Enough will be great for men because the whole point of the show is to get men to talk to each other, to be comfortable in the uncomfortable and get men to feel safe talking to other men, to open up, and to express themselves. I think it’s time we let go of the pressure we put on ourselves to be this perfect, powerful, strong, impervious image of what we have been told it means to be a man.
Michelle King: Where do you think this idea about being a ‘real man’ comes from?
Justin Baldoni: I think it starts on the playground. When we pick on other boys, and tell them they are not enough. We start telling boys they are not one of the guys if they are different or “feminine”. It makes me so sad to think that what we are actually telling boys is that if you have any qualities that could be perceived to be feminine, then you are weak. We are saying that being feminine is weak and being strong being masculine. If you are anything other than strong then you are not “man enough”.
For as long as I can remember the world has been telling me what kind of man I am supposed to be. I see it on television. I see it in every magazine article. The hero, the guy you never see cry. This is the stereotype. This is what the world is telling us to be. This is what we have to detach from.
King: Have you always been ‘woke’?
Baldoni: Ha-ha, no way. I definitely have not always been ‘woke’. In fact, I still don’t know if I would still consider myself woke. What I would say that I am a man who is conscious of my shortcomings.
One of the things that I’ve realized that has not been working for me not just as a man but as a human in the way I move through the world is my unconscious bias. For me, I’ve realized it comes down to the recognition of my privilege and the expectations that come with it. The hard part about privilege is that it is blind to the person that has it. I am someone that has it and I guarantee throughout my life no matter how well-intentioned I have been I have said and done things that have been absolutely sexist and chauvinistic.
What I am enjoying so much about my life right now is that I am asking the people that I love to give me feedback and to let me know when I cross a line or say something tone deaf or hurtful – because I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be the best human I can but I can’t do that without feedback and growth.
King: How does this impact men as leaders in the workplace and how they engage with women?
Baldoni: I personally think that the best leaders are the ones who seem the most human, the ones that seem the most humble and approachable. For so long we have attributed leadership to being someone who isn’t reachable. Who is emotionless. They are perfect and stoic in times of stress. You never see them as weak because, god forbid they should be weak, then we wouldn’t have any direction. But I also understand where it comes from. We need direction from our leaders but I don't think being strong and emotional or compassionate are mutually exclusive. I think it takes true strength to be both strong and emotional.
As someone who as my job title by definition means I have to be leader, whether it’s in my company or on a set where I am the director, I can tell you that when I am leading often times I feel the weakest. Of course, it is important to maintain direction and maintain where we are going, but I believe the bravest and strongest thing a leader can say is, ‘I don’t know. What do you think?’
King: This is really an important topic right now particularly with women in the workplace, isn’t it?
Baldoni: Women are finally having a chance to have their voices heard, and they are coming out bravely with their #MeToo stories. I am also seeing and hearing about whispering of men responding by saying things like, ‘Well, I need to be extra careful right now’ or ‘I need to walk on eggshells around women’ - I just don’t think that's the case.
I just think that we just need to be respectful of people’s boundaries. Whether it be a man or a women. Be human. That is all it is. It is about respecting another person for who they are and being mindful of the things you say and the jokes you make. And if you do something wrong, or say something wrong, just apologize. That’s it. I am wrong all the time and it is important for people to let me know that so that I can apologize if I am not aware. It’s the only way I can grow.
King: So how do you think men can champion women at work?
Baldoni: Just listen. Admit that we don’t know everything. Admit we have privilege and that we are really lucky – especially those of us that are straight, white males. Things are twice as hard for women. If you are a woman of color, the percentages are even more absurd in terms of how hard it is in a workplace.
I think it is really important for men to listen and to hear the stories of the women in their lives. At work, listen to women and understand what they are going through. Be an ally and be a voice for them if their voices aren’t being heard. It is so important for men to use their louder more privileged voices to amplify the voices of women who are not being heard.