Justin Baldoni is an American actor, director, and filmmaker. He is perhaps best known for his role as Rafael in the romantic-comedy telenovela Jane the Virgin, in which he plays a detective who is engaged to Jane, supporting her decision to remain a virgin until marriage.
Baldoni is also well known for being ripped and his good looks. Yet while he may seem to epitomise manliness, he has actually struggled with trying to live up to expectations of what it means to be a man. In trying to bring the issue to light, he delivered an inspiring TED talk titled ‘Why I’m done trying to be “man enough”’.
The aim of Baldoni’s TED talk was to start a conversation about how we can redefine masculinity so that men don’t have to pretend to be something they’re not, which only ends up damaging your mental health in the process. The actor is turning the whole concept of masculinity on its head. He believes that traits men commonly think are masculine are actually not being fully and consistently applied in their life. Addressing men, he said:
“See if you can use the same qualities that you feel make you a man to go deeper. Your strength, your bravery, your toughness: 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?"
Indeed, many men – and society at large – will assume that strength, bravery, and toughness always have to translate to being macho, dominant and stoic. But why should it? It takes strength to do many things that may not traditionally be considered ‘manly’ – such as showing vulnerability and emotion – yet we all know that it takes a certain kind of strength to do exactly that.
Baldoni also came to see that the roles he was playing as an actor were built on masculine stereotypes that didn’t fit in with who he was. He said:
…every time I got one of these roles, I was surprised, because most of the men I play ooze machismo, charisma and power, and when I look in the mirror, that's just not how I see myself. But it was how Hollywood saw me, and over time, I noticed a parallel between the roles I would play as a man both on-screen and off.
If the concept of masculinity is to evolve in a way that allows men to be authentic and honest about their struggles, then certain barriers have to be broken down. These barriers are the expectations, pressures, and stereotypes about what a man is like. Of course, all men are different. There may be some characteristics that men tend to share in common, such as being less agreeable than women, on average, and being more things-oriented than people-oriented, on average. But this doesn’t mean men don’t experience emotional hardship or mental health issues. Deep down, we all want to be able to express ourselves without judgement and seek relief for our suffering.
What we need to do is challenge the stereotypes that stop men from seeking help in times of need, a sorry state of affairs that is fuelling the male suicide epidemic. We all need to realise the stupidity of thinking that men being open about their emotions and crying makes them a ‘wimp’, ‘weak’ or ‘pathetic’.
Breaking down barriers involves men being direct and honest about their lived experiences. And Baldoni has contributed to this worthy aim by discussing his struggle with living as an inauthentic man.
The Difficulty of Being an Authentic Man
In his TED talk, Baldoni said:
“I've been pretending to be a man that I'm not my entire life. I've been pretending to be strong when I felt weak, confident when I felt insecure and tough when really I was hurting. I think for the most part I've just been kind of putting on a show, but I'm tired of performing. And I can tell you right now that it is exhausting trying to be man enough for everyone all the time.”
Baldoni opened up about how he was bullied when he was younger for being soft and not traditionally masculine. The fact is, though, that many men (15-20%) are very sensitive by nature. The star of Jane the Virgin found it difficult to come to terms with the fact he was sensitive when the prevailing opinion was (and still is) that sensitivity is (and should be) a feminine trait.
Baldoni stands out because he is someone who has the appearance of someone we would stereotype as manly, both in terms of his physical appearance and his acting roles. However, by being honest about his sensitivity and his willingness to display vulnerability, he is challenging the notion that being a good man has anything to do with the shallowness of appearances and the backwardness of masculine norms.
Maybe some people will negatively judge Baldoni’s TED talk and think it shows his lack of manliness. But the fact is that he has also gained a great deal of respect – from both men and women – and he still has a loving a family and close friends. When we’re being authentic, we always run the risk of people harshly judging us. There is bound to be stigma attached to individuals who dare live in a truthful way outside of a simplistic and traditional mould. The men who most deserve our respect, nonetheless, are those who speak the truth of who they are regardless of the risk of judgement.
The people who really matter will not reject you for your authenticity.