Redefining masculinity: Justin Baldoni and the fight to be vulnerable

Justin Baldoni, actor and director, uses his platform to amplify and encourage the voices of young men.

Wikipedia

Justin Baldoni, actor and director, uses his platform to amplify and encourage the voices of young men.

Sid Sharma, Feature Editor

Justin Baldoni may be known as the father of an artificially inseminated baby in the television series “Jane the Virgin,” but he is also an activist for redefining masculinity.

Baldoni is an American actor and director. He is best known for starring in “Jane the Virgin” and directing “Clouds” and “Five Feet Apart.” His projects value diversity and heartwarming stories that draw an emotional connection with the audience.

He has used his platform to bring meaningful change through charity and discussion. He is of the Bahá’í faith, and its “central theme and component [is] justice and social justice,” he explained at Penn State’s Student Programing Association (SPA) virtual lecture. 

His focus is to encourage men to redefine their masculinity. Masculinity has long been associated with a strong economic output, a strong body physique, the ability to attract women and the refusal to acknowledge vulnerability. Baldoni, however, stresses that men should embrace their vulnerability and appreciate and value the women in their lives.

Young boys are often taught to cope with their feelings of depression and anxiety alone. The expectation is they deal with it alone or lose their sense of masculinity by seeking care. The data, however, does not support this concept of bravery. 

Every day three or more boys commit suicide, [and] it is the leading cause of their death. Fewer than 50 percent of boys and men with mental health challenges seek help. 

Senior Ben Curran has found it difficult to acknowledge his vulnerabilities. “Emotions often end up getting built up and kept inside for the expectation to be ‘strong.’ It’s a common thing for guys to feel this pressure, even if we sometimes don’t realize it when it’s happening,” he expressed.

In 2017, Baldoni delivered an informative TED talk that challenges men to be ‘man enough.’ “I challenge you to see if you can use the same qualities that make you a man to go deeper into yourself,” he said. Society has conditioned men to be apathetic rather than empathetic; they have been taught to embrace their ego rather than empowering their peers.

Male role models are vital in creating a mentally healthy environment for young boys. Male high school athletes look up to their coaches to become better men. Former professional football player Joe Ehrmann is the president of the InSideOut Initiative that values emotional connection in sports. 

He believes that coaches should develop their players through their example. “Sports don’t build character unless a coach intentionally teaches and models it,” Ehrmann expressed.

In sports, there is a difference between perseverance and ignoring vulnerability. The act of persevering is to acknowledge weakness and take steps to become stronger while ignoring it only further weakens the mind. While sports present needed challenges that develop mental toughness, young athletes have been conditioned to believe that a good work ethic is a coping mechanism for vulnerability. 

Senior Ani Pradeep wants young men like himself to have conversations relating to masculinity. “Males should have these conversations because it is really important for mental health to be confident about the person they are,” he shared. “There should be no reason for you to hide your identity, and having these conversations would help that.”

Baldoni also hosts a web series called “Man Enough,” produced by his production company Wayfarer Studios, that has conversations about vulnerability, caretaking and toxic masculinity. It is structured like a round-table discussion with some of his own friends adding input.

Baldoni emphasizes that through communication and empathy in relationships and parenting, young boys and men will find it easier to reach out to one another. Curran hopes to broaden that message by defining what masculinity means to him. “To me, masculinity is extending kindness and empathy to everyone, and just being a genuinely good person,” he shared.

Expected to be released on April 27, Baldoni’s autobiography “Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity” will describe his own struggles with masculinity. His activism exemplifies the importance of connection with young boys and men looking to become the best version of themselves.