As a feminist who believes strongly in equality, the mere idea of men gathering together to discuss what it means to “be a man” would classify as my literal nightmare. Images of repressed emotions, false bravado and exaggerated displays of aggression immediately flash before my eyes. However, Justin Boldoni’s series “Man Enough” is a beacon of light in a world otherwise dominated by the darkness of toxic masculinity.
According to Baldoni, Man Enough is a social movement that “invites all men to challenge the unwritten rules of traditional masculinity that have caused us to disconnect from one another, created the foundation of men’s violence against women and prevented us from taking the long journey from our heads to our hearts.” This series, which partially takes place around a dinner table, is informal, lighthearted and comprised of diverse voices. It enables the audience to feel like they’re an active participant in the discussion and not just a passive viewer. (Not to mention I’d like to hire Boldoni’s chef to make my food every day.)
Within the first few minutes of episode 1, “Why Don’t Men Talk”, Baldoni asks his guests what it means to be “man enough.” Without hesitation, Bassem Youssef, who is considered to be the Jon Stewart of the Arab World, summarizes the defining theme of the series by saying, “Man enough. Man up. Be a man. It’s all bullshit.”
Youssef goes on to express discomfort with even using the term masculinity in a positive light because of his experiences in the Middle East. He explains that some people in his native country define masculinity solely by how their women behave and the amount of power men exert over them. But as Derek Hough, a professional dancer known for his work on Broadway and Dancing with the Stars, interjects- that’s exactly what they’re trying to change.
The preceding conversations then shift to center on redefining and understanding modern masculinity.
However, as the actor Matt McGorry points out, masculinity is not even defined by your physical body. A person does not have to dress, present or act in a specific way to be labeled as a man. Instead, as he says, “what makes someone a man is if they identify as a man.”
This refreshingly progressive view of manhood just made McGorry the only man I’ll ever consider going straight for (…if the world depended on it.) It also made me more sympathetic to the societal pressures men face on a daily basis.
For instance, it’s not uncommon to see a group of women sitting together, having a few glasses (or let’s be real, a few bottles) of wine, venting their frustrations together. However, if men were to engage in that exact same activity they’d be viewed as weak, emotional or girly. It’s almost comical to think of men opening up, crying together or fostering a sense of community. But why? It’s proven that when men repress their emotions it negatively effects their mental health and yet society still mocks a man who cries.
According to Dr. Michael Kimmel, a gender studies professor who’s featured on the show, “anything that is associated with femininity is not only dangerous but could be devastating to our identities as men.” He goes on to explain that being called “a girl” is an insult because of the obsession men have with individualism. Women are allowed to exist in a community, rely on friends and ask for help. But, according to society, the man is supposed to be “better” than that. He’s never supposed to rely on anyone else, he always knows the right way to go and he can handle anything.
How awful is that? One of my favorite things to do when I’m feeling overwhelmed is to put on “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver and cry my eyes out. But this simply isn’t an option for men. They’re meant to be the Marlboro man-rugged, isolated, brooding and alone.
In a society where 1 in 4 women are victims of domestic violence, you’d think we’d encourage men to establish support systems and seek therapy for anger management but instead we’re expecting them to constantly swallow their pain. It’s no wonder men are statistically more likely to commit suicide than women. (A tragically sad fact, in 2010 79% of U.S. suicides were completed by men.)
What are we doing here?
Luckily, Man Enough is challenging these preconceived notions of masculinity by demonstrating that gender has no true influence over our traits. You can be a man who likes knitting, baking and NASCAR races. You can be a woman who loves make up and high heels without sacrificing your affinity for wings [ethically raised, of course] and beer. You can be gender nonconforming and deny identifying with either of these oppressive dichotomies. You can just be you. As Boldoni’s dinner guest and spoken word artist, Prince EA said, “they don’t call it gender roles for nothing. It’s a role, that we play.”
I have absolutely loved watching these episodes of Man Enough and can’t wait to continue exploring these issues in the upcoming installments. As someone who’s deeply involved in the gay rights movement, I sometimes lose sight of the difficulties others face. However, this web series has forced me to confront my own ignorance in regards to masculinity. It’s expanded my mind and made me more committed than ever to fighting for true equality.
Man Enough is a beautiful, raw and honest attempt to heal wounds that have been inflicted upon men for decades. For the sake of the world, I hope to God conversations like this can begin to alter our rigidly defined gender roles. I think it could truly make the world a better place.
Great job, Justin Boldoni!