Redefining Masculinity Through the Eyes of an Influencer

Justin Baldoni's TED Talk Speech, Image source: ted.com


MEN’S DAY SPECIAL


Mehnaaz Pervin Tuli


Are you brave enough to be vulnerable? Are you strong enough to be sensitive? Are you confident enough to listen to the women in your life?”

These are some of the questions that need to be asked to the men in our lives, in our family, and in our society. 

Men don’t always question the problematic and toxic aspects of hegemonic masculinity in our patriarchal social structure. That is partially why it comes as a (positive) shock when you find a man with a popular face breaking the stereotypes of male entities by questioning the ideals of masculinity and by redefining strength and power in men. The quotes mentioned above were verbalised by Justin Baldoni, a man with charm, physique, and charismatic flair. 

Baldoni delivered a much needed speech in Ted Talks: Why am I done trying to be man enough? He is widely recognised as a director, filmmaker, and actor; best known for directing the films Five Feet Apart and Clouds, and playing the character Rafael in CW’s award winning phenomenon, Jane the Virgin. The widely-acclaimed director and actor turned out to be an inspirational social activist and entrepreneur who is willing to use his appealing persona and privileged position to unmask the hypocrisy laid under the ideal notions about masculinity.

He has worked to reach a multitude of audiences and readers by shaping a book that demonstrates a personal and societal exploration of masculinity. The book is deemed interesting and authentic, as the discussions and situational cases come from a famous actor, director, and an attractive male personage. The book is titled Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity. As exemplified by the author in his interviews, this book can infuse thoughts in typical men to give a recheck upon the ingrained prevalent narrative of male power, strength, and personality. It enforces the fact that men can and should give ample amount of thoughts on compassionate expression and accountability and that should be considered humane qualities. Baldoni gave utmost importance to the fact that it is much more important to put effort into becoming a better human than just complying with stereotypical norms or attributes of masculinity. 

Additionally, toxic masculinity equates with extreme gender stereotypes that are suffocating and not salubrious in any way. For instance, men are conditioned to feel they are not allowed to cry or express sensitive emotions. On the contrary, it is deleterious for women to feel they are not allowed to be independent, smart, and assertive. While masculinity obviously is not inherently toxic, people who effectuate toxic traits often refer masculinity strictly to machismo. As “toxic” is the modifier here, the term toxic masculinity in no way implicates all men are abusers, harassers, or terrorisers.

In his book, Justin put in some insightful consultations abiding by raw feelings about the subjects of real strength, expressing vulnerability, connection to women empowerment, relationships, marriage, sex and sexuality, bullying, gender equality, body image, work-life balance, and fatherhood. As demonstrated by the author himself about the book:

“From the playground to movie sets, from classrooms to board rooms, I learned what it takes to be considered man enough in our world and this book is an — at times painfully — honest look into those messages and the journey I’m on to unlearn them; the journey I’m on to not just undefine my masculinity, but to embrace my humanity.”

 

Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity was inspired by Baldoni’s 2017 TEDWomen Talk, titled Why I’m Done Trying to Be Man Enough. It prospected upon redefining masculinity, embracing insecurities, and debunking societal norms for those who identify as men. The TEDTalk hoarded more than two million views overnight, and currently has more than 56 million views across TED’s social platforms.

Baldoni could portray these with raw honesty because of his attachment and fondness for his family, conjugal life, and parenthood. Being a proud father of two, he could stir emotions in the male community by providing with personal insights into his own journey with masculinity in the viral Ted Talk.

Baldon spoke up and posted pictures on social platforms concerning familial love, expression of love towards his wife, moments of vulnerability, understanding women, and trying to be sensitive. However, he received support from a very few number of female followers back then, who appreciated his different yet normal attitude as a man. It was an experimental gesture from Baldoni to bring out the factors that interest men the most, and the reasons behind men giving less importance on tender feelings, conjugal understanding, softness of heart, and challenges in parenthood. 

Remarkably enough, his male followers rose in his Instagram and social platforms from the point he started uploading photos and videos of fitness, “manly” physical activities, body-building, and other socially-acclaimed male traits. Earlier, he was not appreciated by his male followers for showing blatant love towards his wife, exhibiting softness, vulnerability, and passion for his conjugal relationship but this time, his prominence rose higher amongst male fans. While delivering his speech in the Ted Talk session, Baldoni even cried out sarcastically to men enquiring about their silence and non-participation in the real issues of life — emotions, tenderness, and relationships.

Baldoni tried to deconstruct the deep rooted problems by influencing men to go deep inside themselves and recognise the power that exists in their non-stereotypical qualities. He even pointed out his mistakes stemming from the hegemonic masculinity that disturbed the balance in his own post-marital life. He was bold enough to talk about his prudence while leading life with his better half. 

He mentioned how he used to interrupt his wife publicly by not letting her opinion be spoken out completely. He is displeased with his earlier gestures of barging into his wife’s sentences and conversations subconsciously, which stemmed from habituated patterns of thinking as a man. It was implanted in him that as a man, his voice should be louder and clearer and he should be the one giving opinions. It was a proud step from Baldoni to share scrutinised behavioural patterns of himself and the unsmooth dealings with his better half some years earlier. This revelation and acceptance can indeed create a healthier platform for other men to recognise and the preconceived norms harmful for both genders. He refers to how men can change themselves and take feedback from women in their lives in time of need. A man should listen to the untold, ambiguous painful stories of the women in their lives and family. Suppressing emotions and issues generates anger and insensitiveness towards other genders. 

Justin proudly says how his father focused on teaching him how to use mind; how to let go of the inhibitions; and speak from the heart. Encouraging our sons to be good and productive men do not essentially mean they should suffer in silence by busting up a face with zero emotion. To be heroic, sons do not need to be tough and sturdy at all situations. As human beings, both men and women can feel the need to conceal basic emotions depending on the characteristics and situation. 

I would conclude this article by quoting Justin Baldoni as he suggested something so beautiful, so empowering — the “band-aid” to toxic masculinity:

I know men who would rather die than tell another man that they’re hurt…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 paralysed.

 


Tuli likes to have small talks with people of various cultures, religions, and races. She can’t sit at home and would prefer living out of a suitcase at any time.

 

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