Redefining what it means to be ‘Man Enough’

Redefining what it means to be ‘Man Enough’

In recent years, the statistics surrounding male suicide rates have shocked us all. The Samaritans website states that men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women, and The Mental Health Foundation revealed last year that suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49 years old. It isn’t news to hear that mental health is one of our biggest killers, but understanding why suicide claims more men than women may be the key to reducing these devastating numbers. The toxicity of the pressure that men are under to maintain an air of ‘masculinity’ has also come to the forefront of the public’s attention recently, and with this, many men have spoken out about how hard it is to speak out. 

Actor turned director Justin Baldoni, best known for his portrayal of Rafael in Jane the Virgin, has stepped up to this challenge. In November 2017, inspired by his father and their intimate conversations in Justin’s youth, he launched the website and talk show ‘Man Enough’. The show is available online and is accessible for free. His intention for the show was to encourage men to ‘come together to express their thoughts and feelings freely – something men have been socialized to shut off’, and also to ‘challenge the unwritten rules of traditional masculinity.’ 

The format of the episodes is as follows: a small group of men from varying walks of life. Men such as ex-professional footballer Lewis Howes, actor Matt McGorry, and dancer/choreographer Derek Hough gather around in a ‘dinner party’ set up with Justin Baldoni and a camera crew to speak openly and honestly about current issues surrounding what it means to be a man.

 This in itself is incredibly refreshing to see; I can only imagine how inspiring it must be for male viewers to see admirable men discussing their fears, worries and joys without judgement. So far, the website contains four hour-long episodes, including an episode on the #metoo movement, one entitled ‘Why Don’t Men Talk’, and another concerning male body image – an issue that is arguably neglected in many conversations surrounding the media and the fashion industry’s impact on mental health. 

Baldoni himself is the father to two children, a three-year-old daughter and a ten-month-old son. Many of the conversations in ‘Man Enough’ revolve around him wanting to create a future society for his children that views gender and masculinity in a very different way to how it does currently. In an interview with Bustle, Baldoni states that ‘we need men to be vulnerable. We need men to make the journey from their head to their hearts.’ This theme of vulnerability- along with the notion that such vulnerability is not shameful – is prevalent throughout Baldoni’s work. 

The website accompanying the talk show contains a huge variety of resources to support and help men of all ages. There are links to TED Talks concerning masculinity, documentaries such as Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s ‘The Mask You Live In’ and several articles are written by guests from the show, concerning issues such as male affection and how young boys are constantly encouraged to be brave and strong. Alongside book recommendations and links to charities such as Help4Guys and The National Association for Men with Eating Disorders, there is also a PDF Conversation Guide that users can download and use as a template for beginning difficult conversations with their peers or family. With counselling and therapy waiting times at an all-time high, these conversations with loved ones are essential for bridging the gap between dealing with things alone and receiving professional help. 

I can warn you now, ‘Man Enough’ is not easy viewing at times. The men do not shy away from the difficult questions surrounding sexual assault, consent, body image and homophobia, to name but a few. Their responses and reactions are all genuine and (sometimes brutally) honest. Yet it is clear that these honest and emotional male voices are exactly what the media and news industries so desperately need, in order to break the silence around male mental health. 

‘Man Enough’ emphasises that ‘good men’ are also responsible for upholding the ‘collective socialisation of manhood.’ The show encourages viewers to challenge what they believe to be ‘masculine’ behaviour and instead seek to have integrity, honesty, and open conversations. When it comes to men using their platforms to create safe spaces for other men or new ways to express themselves, Justin Baldoni is doing an incredible job. 

As a woman, I cannot fully comprehend the pressures of masculinity, but hopefully shows like ‘Man Enough’ can encourage men to share their experiences, speak openly, and feel supported in their discovery that it is ‘man enough’ to just be themselves.

[Photo Credits: Sander van der Wel, CC BY-SA 2.0.]

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