We’re living in strange days. Everyone, even men. Nobody’s exactly sure what to say or how to act. Everything’s recorded, no take-backs. But luckily, there are a few folks who aren’t afraid to address the massive elephant in the room and open the doors of communication on the conflict of masculinity for the modern man.
Enter Justin Baldoni.
“There are so many distractions keeping men from communicating with one another. I realized that it was always uncomfortable for me to connect with other men, even closest friends, but that it also was for other men, too,” Baldoni told Mandatory.
Be it watching a game, competing with each other or just sitting in a bar, there’s always something that keeps men from connecting with one another the way two women can over a cup of tea. That’s a sure sign of a broken system. That, and the haunting inability to hold eye contact or have a moment of sincerity without feeling awkward.
“Where does that stem from? Who decided that?” Baldoni asked. “We don’t ask because many of us have accepted our programming.”
Why should it be weird for men to be honest about themselves the way women can? Is it wrong for a guy to express his feelings or fears of failure or, heaven forbid, cry in front of him? Would it be better to keep it bottled up and make an irreversible mistake later? (Side note: 70 percent of suicides in 2017 were white men over the age of 35.) Why are so many men living with pain and anxiety under the assumption that asking for help is inexcusable?
Seriously, we’d like to who came up with these rules!
As an actor, it’s been easy for Baldoni to step into roles of suave men who carry endless self-confidence, but that’s not a reflection of how he feels inside. Like anyone else, he struggles with insecurity, anxiety and emotional pain. But unlike so many men, most likely millions, he’s done pretending. Pretending to be tough. Pretending to have it all together.
In 2018, Baldoni created Man Enough, a dinner party conversation with a diverse group of guys talking about their manhood without judgment, about what they were raised to believe a “real man” was and who informed their major life decisions.
“It’s an exploration of masculinity in a way I wish I had growing up. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told the kind of man I’m supposed to be,” Baldoni said in his 2018 Ted Talk. “And all I wanted was to be accepted by the other boys. But that acceptance always meant that I had to acquire a disgusted view of the feminine.”
By “feminine,” he’s referring to traits often associated with the opposite of masculine. Men who don’t think it’s weak to cry when they see a sad movie. Men who aren’t afraid to hug a puppy or carve a pumpkin. Rather, Baldoni encourages men to use their masculine qualities to embrace feminine traits. To be man enough to cry in front of your girlfriend, man enough to hug that sweet little pup, man enough to carve the shit of that pumpkin and then take a selfie with it. But most importantly, to be man enough to say something when you hear “locker room talk.”
It’s a new age of masculinity, and it’s about embracing femininity, rather than rejecting it. It’s balance. It’s a new locker room. And it’s people like Justin Baldoni who are the first through the door and holding it open for anyone who wants to walk through with him.
Now, this is not to say we’re going to tell you what masculinity is or should look like, as that kind of thinking seems to be part of the problem. Consider history: If your father told you to “man up” and never show fear, that creates a lasting toxic effect on a young mind. So who are we to say what kind of behavior will be frowned upon 30 years from now?
“I think one of the problems with defining masculinity is that if we do define it, then we’re creating a situation where everyone who falls outside that definition suddenly feels like they’re not “masculine,” which I believe perpetuates the problem,” Baldoni explained.
Although he’s gained some fame as the hunky actor on Jane the Virgin, which is starting to say its goodbyes, Justin’s been busy taking on new adventures, including directing the cystic fibrosis drama, Five Feet Apart, starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson, which was inspired by a story from his CW series, My Last Days (premiering its fourth season on May 22). But public service seems to be where he thrives, most likely because of his genuine passion for it.
In addition, he started the Wayfarer Foundation as a way to facilitate even broader issues, such as homelessness. For years, Baldoni has gathered his friends to help supply the homeless with necessities in Downtown Los Angeles on his birthday, which has grown larger with each passing year and now become an annual event called Skid Row Carnival of Love. Baldoni bans together with thousands of local volunteers and a number of government organizations, like the DMV, to provide grooming, clothing, job opportunities and toiletries to close to 5,000 people in need each year, but also to celebrate their humanity together with live music and dancing.
But the dance around the issue of manhood and masculinity is only just beginning, as many men are learning to face their emotions, as well as change the ways in which they treat others. To clarify, you’re not alone.
In his Ted Talk, he spoke about so many of the topics revolving around manhood and mental health, and the discussion continues to grow as we talk more about what it means to be a man that both our fathers and kids can respect, but most importantly, somebody we ourselves can live with.
The show must go on, as they say, but instead of pretending, why don’t we join Justin in living authentically with who we truly know we should be, rather than who we’ve been told to be? Now seems like as good a time as any to start.
Regardless of where you land on it, one thing became clear by the end of our talk: Showing up is no longer optional.
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Written & produced by Matt Branham. Filmed & edited by James T. Armstrong.
Cover Photo Courtesy of The CW Network
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