The A Plus Interview

'Man Enough' Host Justin Baldoni On How Men Can Do Better For Women In The #MeToo Era

"We can no longer sacrifice being good men for the sake of being real men."

'Man Enough' Host Justin Baldoni On How Men Can Do Better For Women In The #MeToo Era

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others.

Ever since the bombshell report about Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct shook Hollywood to its core in October 2017, one phrase has dominated every realm of society: #MeToo. Now, nearly a year later, Jane the Virgin star Justin Baldoni — and his pals — are offering us a unique take on the topic.

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#MeToo, the social media campaign started nearly a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke and popularized by actress Alyssa Milano, has given voice to many women and men from all walks of life who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. The effects of the #MeToo movement are undeniable. We have seen awards shows tackle the issue, the entertainment industry has has many of its secrets unearthed, we've gotten the Time's Up initiative, and we have been asking how best to address sexual misconduct at large — most notably, perhaps, the way men can do better for women.

This question is at the center of what Baldoni and the fellow Man Enough contributors explore in the #MeToo-focused episode — out today. At the center of their discussion are how we need to redefine manhood, masculinity, and, essentially, what it means to be a man. A Plus spoke to Baldoni via email about all these topics in addition to why it was important to include female voices in this male-dominated episode and how he was affected by this conversation.

A PLUS: Despite this largely being a discussion between men, there is still input and stories from women. Why was it important to you to include that side as well in this episode?

For me, Man Enough has always been about engaging men in a unique conversation about manhood so they can be better allies for women. Throughout the release of episodes 1-3 of the show, we received lots of feedback from fans that they'd like to see the female perspective represented on the show. Once we started developing the #MeToo episode, my team and I all agreed that including the voices of female survivors was crucial to helping men at home understand why allyship with women is so crucial to our balance as a society and the healing of men from our collection socialization. 

I think it's important that men listen to women who have been oppressed in ways most of us men likely haven't even thought about. Reality is that some women don't even feel comfortable walking down the street alone — think about that — and this is in a country where freedom is supposedly one of our greatest values. The reality women face was not something that occurred to me until I started working on this project. Having women share their stories and lend their voices in this conversation helped me check my own privilege as a male.

Courtesy Man Enough

It's the overall message of your show, but how do you think men can specifically do better for women in regards to sexual assault or harassment?

We can start by recognizing the need for men to hold space for women. Being a true ally doesn't happen by asking "what am I going to get out of this?" Instead, we should focus on how we can actually be of service to someone other than ourselves. As men, we need to have empathy and recognize that women coming forward to share their stories takes tremendous courage. After all, they're reliving pain and trauma each time they speak about the experience. The bravery of that is astounding to me!

I also think that American men should recognize that from the age of 5 or 6 years old, we're socialized to think, act, and respond in certain ways based on a rigid definition of traditional masculinity. We're taught to see women as sexual objects and less than. We're taught to keep quiet when our "brothers" do something to hurt the opposite sex. We're taught to diminish the value of people in the LGBTQ community. As men, we need to step outside that cognitive framework and adjust how we approach the conversation in the first place. Once that happens, we can truly hold ourselves and each other accountable to be the best human being we can be. We can no longer sacrifice being good men for the sake of being real men. These two worlds must now find a way to become one.

Why do you think it's less common for men to have these discussions than women? After all, we find out in the episode it’s 1 in 6 men and 1 in 4 women who are directly affected.

I think it starts with our socialization as young boys. Tony Porter and Ted Bunch from A Call to Men refer to this as "The Man Box." I think this socialization is deeply rooted in silence. That silence cuts men off from one another and teaches them that sharing their feelings — especially when it comes to trauma — is the worst thing you can do. Especially if you're a man who has been sexually abused by another man. Not only will your "brothers" turn their back on you, but you'll be less of a man. 

This is so deeply programmed into our psyche as men that we will suppress their traumas and feelings and shut themselves away emotionally from their peers and the people who love them. If we cry, we're traditionally told in Western culture that it's not necessarily very manly. So, when we do, we subconsciously feel like we're lesser men. Instead, we push down our feelings because being tough is what we're told it's all about. The reality is that men can be tough, emotionally literate, and everything in between without needing to lose who we are as men.

Courtesy Man Enough

What's the best way we can make it OK for men to talk about this, whether it be about themselves or women?

I think it's important for men to see more and more of our brothers go against our programming and share our traumas with one another. Hearing someone share an experience that changed their life forever is incredible healing — and also difficult on both sides. I've received so many emails and DMs from men telling me they're in the military or police force and never imaged they could open up but felt compelled to do so after watching an episode of the show. We all have wounds. By sharing those wounds, we not only take the first step towards healing but also give others permission to do so. 

I think it's also important to challenge and redefine the word "masculinity." We should examine manhood and qualities that are incredible and wonderful as well as the qualities that aren't so great — the elements that have cut us off from our emotions or from the love of our families. When we're able to have an honest conversation about the latter, we'll need to find ways to rework our relationship with masculinity so being a "man" represents a definition that's true to who we are in our higher nature and not just the lowest common denominator.

Did you come away from the roundtable discussion with your male co-stars and the discussions with female guests a different person? In what way?

Absolutely. Speaking with Susan Brison, Jamey Heath, and Lewis House made a monumental impact on my life. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to be raped or sexually abused. And looking into their eyes while they shared their courageous stories flipped a lever in my heart. They're my heroes. And I want to do everything in my power to ensure that what happened to them doesn't happen to anyone else. 

Each person featured educated me and taught me something new. Specifically with my male co-stars, we ended up continuing to talk long after we wrapped. We just sat in my living room sharing stories, challenging one other, and talking through all of this. 

Watch a preview of the #MeToo-focused episode of "Man Enough" here:

Watch the #MeToo-focused episode here and be sure to follow Man Enough on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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