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Opinion: It’s the end of masculinity as we know it (and I feel fine)

Men have it all, right? They have all the privileges and rights in this patriarchal society. It’s a man’s world and the rest of us just live in it.

Men are encouraged more than women to participate at the classroom level. In a 2004 study of Harvard Law School classrooms, research showed that men were 50 percent more likely than women to make at least one comment during class. Additionally, men were 144 percent more likely to speak voluntarily at least three times. Although the study was conducted 14 years ago, the findings still hold true today.

And it’s true for parenting, too. Amanda Haire and Christi McGeorge conducted research titled Negative Perceptions of Never-Married Custodial Single Mothers and Fathers: Applications of a Gender Analysis for Family Therapists, in which they discovered that subjects see single fathers as having risen to the challenge of parenting admirably and by choice. But single mothers are seen as parents as a result of bad judgment.

These are just two examples of the privilege that men get to live with every day. However, there is much more to being a man than what shows on the surface. As it turns out, men don’t have it all. Men can feel fragile and emotional and powerless just like woman can. But people don’t talk about that side of masculinity, nor do they really talk about masculinity at all.

This is where Justin Baldoni steps in. He’s an actor, director and entrepreneur famous for his role as Rafael Solano in the CW series Jane the Virgin. His Instagram bio reads, among other things, “on a journey to explore masculinity”— and he is doing just that. His recently launched talk show series, “Man Enough,” discusses redefining what it meant to be a man in the past and aims to inspire people to have their own conversations about it. Baldoni recently spoke at a TED Talk about his quest to explore the notion of “masculinity.” He told the audience about his decision to give up trying to be manly enough for society’s expectations.


 

I interviewed Baldoni when he came to speak at USC April 2 about this journey in exploring masculinity, which was changed since becoming the father of a boy and a girl.

For his son, Baldoni has big hopes for what his future will look like in terms of being a man. He said, “I’d like him to grow up in a world where he feels free to express himself in any way he wants and to really fully embody all of the characteristics that make him human… both the masculine and the feminine, as we define them. And I want him to grow up in a world where he is not policed by other boys about whether he’s man enough or tough enough or brave enough or strong enough or cool enough, and that he’s just accepted for who he is. And I think a lot of that can happen and should happen. It requires [people] in college and younger paving the way and hopefully creating a culture that’s more accepting and loving of humans.”

The definition of being a man needs to change. While it is important to not attack masculinity, we certainly need to consider the “feminine” attributes that some men may be scared of. However, there’s no doubt that delving into the problems with masculinity is a touchy subject for a number of reasons, and maybe that’s why people don’t talk about it. People don’t always discuss the issues that surround masculinity because men have certain privileges that women don’t have. Simply being a male automatically gives men advantages in the classroom and parenting levels as I mentioned. To add to the problem, men don’t always like to talk about their feelings or their problems. But that is exactly where the issue lies. When society decides that men need to bottle up their troubles and keep everything to themselves, that is when we need to have this conversation about redefining masculinity.

While it is important to not attack masculinity, we certainly need to consider the “feminine” attributes that some men may be scared of.

So what is masculinity anyway? And why should we redefine it? The norm of masculinity is that “real men” suppress their emotions, value sports, show physical strength, and don’t rely on others even if they need their help. Although men don’t realistically fit into this restrictive definition of masculinity, society still enforces rules and expectations for men to act a certain way, further perpetuating this toxic cycle of hiding their feelings from the rest of the world.

This distinct binary has been set up by society for years. Boys versus girls. Masculinity versus femininity. Strong versus weak. Blue versus pink. Everything is black and white (or blue and pink, rather) and there is no room for any other color. This problematic system teaches men that they should fear being seen as feminine and if they do like pink or playing with dolls, then they will be rejected. In such situations, we need to recognize that this is where we have an opportunity to redefine masculinity.

Baldoni explained briefly what it’s like for many boys while they grow up. “Boys… police each other growing up,” he said. “We don’t necessarily know why we do it, but it starts when we’re very young and that’s a bummer because I think long hair is really cool.”

Women also have a responsibility to help foster conversation and change the mindset of the next generation.

We have to continue the fight to end this cycle of making assumptions based on outer appearances. Men and women should do whatever makes them happy or look however they want to without being labeled a certain way. Instead of rejecting what is apparently feminine, men should embrace their feminine side and respect it rather than hate it. However, we cannot put the onus completely on men. Women also have a responsibility to help foster conversation and change the mindset of the next generation.

Baldoni said, “Generally, in the past, women have been the ones with long hair, so when [people] see a man with long hair, they automatically associate that with femininity.”

It’s important to see that times are changing. If a woman from an older generation calls a young boy with long hair a girl, it automatically sets that boy apart and marks him as different. Once there’s no need to label femininity and masculinity or female and male, society will have successfully contested hegemony. But let’s be realistic — that’s not going to happen instantly. However, by having these discussions and changing people’s mindsets about what manliness is, change can occur.

We can end the poisonous cycle and teach the next generation a new definition of masculinity and what it means to “be a man.” Being a man should be about respecting women and what is deemed feminine. If boys want to play with dolls, let them. Playing with dolls shouldn’t be a gendered activity. Playing with dolls shouldn’t be something that boys feel they need to hide or even stop because it’s not “boyish” or “manly” enough.


 

In 2015, the Italian fashion company Moschino released a “fauxmerical” of a boy playing with a Moschino Barbie doll, which is definitely taking a step in the correct direction. Twitter praised Mattel and Barbie for putting a mohawk-rocking boy in their commercial after being criticized for so long “for promoting gender stereotypes and impossible body image for girls” according to a BBC blog post.

 

 

 

Boys should not be forced to watch sports or play video games because those are activities better suited for boys. Another way that masculinity can be redefined is through representation on television. By putting men in roles where they have the opportunity to explore their emotions and putting vulnerable characters on the screen, men might feel more willing to have these conversations. Over the last four seasons of Jane the Virgin, Baldoni’s character Rafael has had a chance to evolve as a man and as a human.

Rafael has been on a long journey to redefine himself and get more in touch with his emotional side. Hopefully, he can inspire other men to do the same. “I hope Rafael continues to just learn,” Baldoni said. “He’s proven to be pretty good at learning and changing and adapting…. I want him to continue that journey and just keep going.”

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