Justin Baldoni advocates for a healthier concept of masculinity

and | Senior News Editors

Student Union and Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education hosted actor, director and activist Justin Baldoni as part of the Trending Topics Series Nov. 28.

Trending Topics speaker, activist and “Jane the Virgin” actor Justin Baldoni discusses his personal experience with the complexities of masculinity with Washington University students in Graham Chapel Wednesday, Nov. 28.Jiyoon Kang | Student Life

Trending Topics speaker, activist and “Jane the Virgin” actor Justin Baldoni discusses his personal experience with the complexities of masculinity with Washington University students in Graham Chapel Wednesday, Nov. 28.

Baldoni is most notably known for his role as Rafael on the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and his TED Talk on “Why I’m Done Trying to be Man Enough,” in which he discusses the ways that he has observed the complexities of masculinity in his personal life.

Over 500 people packed into Graham Chapel to hear Baldoni speak. Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education (LIVE) co-president senior Chloe Zack expected the event to be crowded because she believed that Baldoni catered to a large audience.

“I think that there are enough people that have seen ‘Jane the Virgin’ that even if they haven’t seen ‘Man Enough’ or haven’t heard his TED Talk, they might [have] come just to see Rafael,” Zack said.

According to Zack, the plan to host Baldoni on campus had been in the works for two years.

“About two years ago, I had the idea to bring him to campus and then I reached out to him [on LinkedIn] and he responded and said, ‘Hey, this sounds really interesting,’” Zack said.

The audience was mostly women with the number of men in attendance in the double digits.

“I think that it could’ve been a lot more productive if there had been a bigger group of men who were there to listen,” junior Anna Zarov said. “I hope that this can lead to in the future there being facilitations that would involve more men, but I think that this is a really good first step.”

Baldoni began by talking about his own experiences with masculinity in terms of his relationships with other men, as well as his marriage and relationships to women. He then presented a video produced by his company, The Wayfarer Foundation, in which a group of men discussed masculinity openly.

Baldoni incorporated an “experimental” activity into his talk in which he had seven male-identifying students and eight female-identifying students read thoughts that women and men wished they knew about each other.

“I think I really appreciated the opportunity to go up there,” one of the men invited onstage, Residential College Director, Brandon Cash said. “We don’t really take the time to stop and listen and to speak from an anonymous but a very real, rich, raw place in our hearts and in our beings, so I think providing a venue for that was really effective.”

Justin Baldoni interacts with students during his lecture on toxic masculinity at Graham Chapel Nov. 28.Jiyoon Kang | Student Life

Justin Baldoni interacts with students during his lecture on toxic masculinity at Graham Chapel Nov. 28.

Zarov was also one of the students chosen to participate and felt that the opportunity to engage in open dialogue was valuable.

“Women aren’t always given a chance, especially by men, to just say how they’re feeling about this entire issue and have a chance to have people listen and share their perspectives,” Zarov said. “So it was a very unique experience to be able to go up there in front of a big group of people and to be able to know that I was able to share my voice and have people listen.”

Junior Vidushri Mehrotra would have preferred if the event had focused more on Baldoni’s personal experiences.

“I thought it was really cool how he incorporated other people, but I think it would be even more interesting to hear about his experiences and how his experiences shaped his personal opinions about traditional masculinity,” Mehrotra said.

While some were positive about the discussion, others in attendance were frustrated that Baldoni interrupted some of the participants while they were speaking. Junior Nathaniel Bernstein believes that while Baldoni was passionate about advocating for healthy masculinity, the discussion could have gone differently.

“I think while Justin Baldoni had great intentions and definitely cares about masculinity, it was extremely frustrating to see someone talk about…how masculinity affects women and also continually interrupt women as they’re speaking,” Bernstein said. “It seems like there was kind of a disconnect there.”

Some attendees also felt that Baldoni should have included a wider spectrum of experiences from the LGBTQIA* community, specifically in regards to non-binary identities, as his talk and exercise specifically placed men and women into binary spaces. During the event, multiple audience members brought up the importance of including all experiences.

Senior Maverick Salyards acknowledged that this was a problem and that Baldoni should have included a wider range of experiences. However, he believes that Baldoni was trying to reach a demographic of men with a lower level of knowledge about the issues of masculinity.

“I recognize that a lot of people were upset about the way he spoke and some of the way he failed to listen to people. He was not particularly mindful of his gender-neutral pronouns and being inclusive,” Salyards said. “I think those are 100 percent valid concerns. I also think that the reality is that his message to men is where he has to start. Often times if you talk to men who have closed ears and the reality is that a lot of those men often stop listening…A lot of people who are coming at this are coming at this from a level 10 [knowledge of the topic] and have majors in this and minors in this…but he’s sort of starting at the very, very beginning.”

What Baldoni hoped that young men in attendance would walk away with was the sense that masculinity does not have to be derived from participating in a hyper-masculine culture; instead, he expressed that he believes that a “strong man” is one who is an ally to women.

“One of the things that I’m trying to figure out how to address with young men especially is how they can be active bystanders and realize that standing up for women and being an ally to women and not contributing and joining into this kind of hyper-masculine behavior is actually more masculine,” Baldoni said. “Because if you think about it, it takes a really, really strong guy to stand up to another guy and say that’s not cool. It takes a far weaker guy to pretend like it didn’t happen and to just go along with the status quo.”

Baldoni believes that the term “toxic masculinity” has been over-politicized in the media and instead prefers to use the term “traditional masculinity.”

“I’m not on a mission to end toxic masculinity,” Baldoni said. “And I want to be really clear about the phrase toxic masculinity because that phrase itself has been politicized…I stay away from the word ‘toxic’ masculinity and what I would rather say and use is the word ‘traditional’ masculinity. There’s a traditional version of masculinity that is hyper-masculine that I think does hurt women.”

When talking about his work in Hollywood, Baldoni explained that he doesn’t turn down roles that are traditionally masculine because he feels that it gives him a voice to speak to a larger audience.

“I think it’s actually quite interesting to be a guy in my situation using my platform the way that I’m using it and play more stereotypically masculine roles,” Baldoni said. “I’m really interested in reaching both sides. I’m interested in talking and reaching the men who don’t want to listen to the things that I’m saying or the things that a lot of women are saying because they don’t think it’s their issue. And the only way I can do that is if I’m okay playing roles or being the type of man that is projected to be a certain way.”

At the event, Salyards announced that The Men’s Project—a student group that last existed on campus in 2016—is being brought back by a number of students. The group provides a space for men to focus on having productive conversations around masculinity.

“I have been working with men and masculinities specifically in my in fraternity and a little bit through LIVE with friends,” Salyards said. “We’ve talked about toxic masculinity and the way it kind of permeates into much of our society and culture. I was inspired to bring [Men’s Project] back this fall…there is framework here. There is a moment for our campus to engage men in a healthy way for men to think about manhood.”

Representatives from LIVE hope that Baldoni’s talk will lead to a larger conversation about masculinity at the University. In correlation to Baldoni coming to talk, LIVE released a video addressing masculinity on the University campus Monday.

“We want it to be the start of a longer and larger conversation about masculinity on campus,” Zack said. “And so that’s why we have this video project to get people talking and then we’ll also next Tuesday, we’ll have an open facilitation which will just kind of talk some more about it in a very relaxed, low-key setting and talks some more about masculinities on campus.”

Read more about Baldoni’s talk from one of our Scene writers: Justin Baldoni speaks to sexual violence at Trending Topics event

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