Justin Baldoni is an actor, producer, director, and CEO of Wayfarer Entertainment. Best known for his role as Rafael Solano on the CW’s hit show, Jane the Virgin, he is also the moderator of the new show Man Enough, a weekly dinner party that brings together some of the most recognizable faces from Hollywood to have deep (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversations about what it means to be a man today.
In his talk, “Why I’m done trying to be ‘man enough’” (which can be viewed here), Justin invited men to reject traditional norms of masculinity, to be accountable for and conscious of their actions—and to be vulnerable, express emotions, and disrupt the patriarchy. He asks, “Men, are you brave enough to be vulnerable? Strong enough to be sensitive?”
I have to brave enough to be vulnerable and open up, and I think that we completely forget that bravery isn’t just something that is outside of us, it’s also inside of us and we can use it to go inside of ourselves. I think it takes a lot of strength to be sensitive, it takes strength to be willing to show your cards, to be willing to cry when you are hurting or when you are happy. Because it takes strength to be okay with not caring what someone is going to actually think of you, that they see you weak when someone in your family dies or when you are struggling with something.
It’s strong to be able to hold those things, but we don’t teach our children that and we don’t teach our boys that, we don’t teach our men that. We just teach our boys that girls cry and boys suck it up, and then all that happens is we don’t ever learn to express ourselves. I think there is this misconception and it starts when we are kids. And it’s ingrained in our psyche and in our culture, and I think that we just really need to be mindful of the way we talk about ourselves and our own qualities.
As boys we start repressing those things because that makes us weak, so what ends up happening is we start repressing all of those things and then one day it’s just the dam that has to explode and it either explodes in depression or it explodes in a breakdown emotionally or it explodes in rage. Because we all know that rage and anger are really the emotions that young boys are told they are allowed to feel.
I think men that come forward and talk about their struggles and their depression are brave, men that go see a therapist are brave, men that are willing to confess their fears to their wife are brave—there are different levels of bravery that I think it’s okay that we start talking about and rewarding and supporting and acknowledging in men.
On Redefining His Own Sense of Masculinity
I just remember feeling so much emotion as a young man and as a young boy from whatever situation I was in, whether it was hearing boys make fun of other boys or getting bullied myself. But I was taught that I shouldn’t feel those emotions, let alone express them, because those emotions made me “girly.” So at a very young age I had to kind of put on this tough exterior, this mask of masculinity. I mean, even the root word of masculinity means it’s like a mask. So I put that on as a young boy and then teenager, not allowing myself to feel or at least to show that I felt anything.
And when I hit my late twenties, I started to look at myself and ask, Who am I? Who am I really? I found that the behaviors that I had developed as a young man weren’t serving me anymore because I was doing and saying things that weren’t true to myself, to my core. I was treating women in the way that really wasn’t how I wanted to treat them but was how I was told that I should treat them if I want a certain results. And none of it was working for me. I found myself lonely, isolated, unable to express the things I wanted to express, my work suffered. So all of these behaviors and all these things, I just started recognizing them in myself. It just came down to, well, let me just start to figure out who I am and just kind of rebuild myself.
And then the more I learned about feminism, the more I realized, well I guess I’m a feminist because I believe in equality. In feminism, women are fighting for equality, but the reason they are fighting is because men are fighting back. So to me it was like, well then I need to talk to the men, and if I’m having these issues, I wonder if other boys and other men are having these issues and maybe there is a chance that if we can affect young boys and young men and create a new generation of men that are willing to talk about these things and open up and share their feelings, and by sheer by accident we can create a new generation.
On What Drives Him to keep doing this work
I’m just trying to figure out how I can keep going and how I’m going to affect the hearts of young boys and men and even women around the world by letting them all know that they are enough. They are enough as they are. They don’t have to be anybody else, they don’t have to be like that guy or like that woman, they don’t have to act that way if that’s not who they feel they are in their core. They don’t have to push away their emotions just because it makes them look weak. And in fact, if we can start to redefine what that means and teach young boys that their emotions are actually their strength, their vulnerability is their power, there is a really good chance that we can create a big difference in the world. That’s what drives me.