Justin Baldoni: What Does It Mean To Be A Man?

Jane Lu

Actor and director Justin Baldoni’s TED Talk, “Why I’m Done Trying to be ‘Man Enough,'” challenges traditional notions of “manliness.” On this episode of SHE Innovates, he talks with Michelle King, a leader in UN women’s gender innovation work, about the impact of his show, Man Enough, and how we can advance gender equality by rethinking commonly held views of masculinity.

What it means to be a real “man”

Baldoni believes the media has heavily shaped the meaning of being a man. He points out that the idea of a “real man” starts on the playground, where boys make fun of other boys who are perceived as “feminine.” Many are conditioned to think they aren’t “enough” as they are. “Complicit masculinity” starts with a “no girls allowed” mentality, which often becomes an unwritten rule of what it means to be a boy. This teaches young men that their allegiance should be to other men and encourages them to place themselves above women.

Baldoni says we must detach from these stereotypes while adding that he doesn’t consider himself qualified to define what it means to be a man. “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,” he notes. “But I don’t think we are living in a time when those gender stereotypes apply.”

Fighting against toxic masculinity

Baldoni is conscious of his shortcomings: “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 [who] has it.” Keen on asking for feedback from others to avoid being sexist or chauvinistic, the actor strives to align his deeds and words. He realized he needed to change his actions at one point in his life because he was hurting the ones he loved. Baldoni says he isn’t trying to teach people how to act—rather, he’s on a personal exploration of vulnerability and recommends a similar journey to others.

In the workplace, we often think of strong leaders being emotionless and stoic in stressful situations, but Baldoni counters that the best leaders are the most human—“humble, down to earth, and approachable”—because people work even harder when they feel respected. Baldoni has heard men say they don’t want to hire women because they are worried about saying the wrong thing. His response? “It’s simply a matter of respect and being mindful of your actions… If you do something wrong or say something wrong, just apologize… It’s the only way I can grow.”

Man Enough features men discussing traditional masculinity. Baldoni hopes to start conversations among men and work with them to tackle gender equality issues, pointing out that we can’t begin to talk about equality without discussing what’s wrong with masculinity. Men need to admit their privilege and listen to women in their lives. They need to use their louder voices to elicit responses and amplify the voices of the unheard women.

Listen to Justin Baldoni’s interview on the SHE Innovates podcast.

SHE Innovates is a podcast that shares the stories, challenges, and triumphs of women across innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Listen to all our podcasts on PodBean.

Jane Lu

About Jane Lu

Jane is a writer and marketing intern at SAP. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English at the University of Waterloo. While Jane is currently studying in Waterloo, she is originally from Toronto.