Justin Baldoni speaks to sexual violence at Trending Topics event
Justin Baldoni walked onto Graham Chapel’s stage last night coffee in hand, wearing a denim jacket and classic flannel shirt, looking more like he was ready to join a friend for a “catch up at the cafe” rather than speak at an event. And that was definitely the vibe of Baldoni’s talk on traditional masculinity in which he frequently interacted with the audience, even bringing up several students to join him on stage for a “live” roundtable. By the end, audience members left with the sense that they had engaged with a real person and not just “that guy” who takes off his shirt on the CW’s “Jane the Virgin”.
Baldoni began his talk by acknowledging the campus climate he was walking into in regards to Title Mine and the continuing influence of the movement. As the creator and facilitator of “Man Enough” —a documentary series that creates a space for men to discuss topics like vulnerability, #MeToo and body image—Baldoni has committed himself to open and honest discussion between men. During his engagement with Washington University students Baldoni addressed a multitude of subjects ranging from personal mistakes made trying to be “man enough”, to raising his children to be free from gender stereotypes. Spending more time than the allotted one and a half hours, a large portion of the event actually focused on audience volunteers. Groups of people joined Baldoni on stage to listen and share thoughts on what men should talk about and why they currently do not talk about those things.
Prior to the event, Baldoni expressed a desire to address topics related to Title Mine during his talk saying that, “…the biggest thing that men, and that boys especially, don’t realize right now is that violence against women, as Jackson Katz says, is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue.”
After admitting he is still figuring out how to address the issue with young guys Baldoni said, “…we focus so much on the victim and not on the perpetrator. It’s just the language itself is broken. It’s the way we talk about women being assaulted or women being raped, we are not saying men are raping. And that kind of goes back to the fundamental core issue about the way that we view the problem. And until we change the perspective of the way we view the problem we can’t fix the problem.”
In an episode of “Man Enough” Baldoni addressed consent and how men are scared for themselves and their future when it comes to consent. Baldoni addressed consent saying, “You say ‘no’ not because you are afraid of your future, but because you respect the person that you are with. And that is huge. That is a big step. That is like asking men to jump into boiling hot water.”
It is hard to change a concept as highly socialized as masculinity and, like Baldoni said, it is definitely not going to happen overnight—but we can all do our part. As people we need to respect each other more and create a space where men are not afraid of speaking up. Too often men are completely shut down for asking genuine questions or making naive statements. By asking questions or attempting to start a conversation they are doing their part in becoming better. If we attack or ridicule them for doing so it helps no one.
Baldoni reflected, “This whole issue is very heated and politicized. One thing I will say is that men are very sensitive to it because men feel like their masculinity is attacked. And they directly correlate their masculinity with their self-worth…If we keep attacking men there is not going to be any work that is done.”
Men need to feel comfortable enough to speak to other people and that is the responsibility of everyone. All people need to be held accountable for respecting others. That is a tangible goal we can all work towards.
As Baldoni said, “It’s like calling men in versus calling men out. We have to call men in to show that they can be contributors and protectors and active bystanders and allies instead of calling them out and saying all of the things that are wrong with them.” Let us focus on that and go from there.
Read more about Baldoni’s talk and student reactions: Justin Baldoni advocates for a healthier concept of masculinity