Our boys and their fathers are fighting a generations-old narrative about expectations of manhood. Natalie Moutafis discovers a new book that allows them to truly believe that they are enough, just as they are.
We know Justin Baldoni as a talented director and actor, best known for his role as Rafael on the popular television show Jane the Virgin. Then there is his other side – a social activist and advocate who is setting out to change the narrative of what masculinity means.
His new book Man Enough: Undefining my Masculinity is his latest contribution. The ‘Man Enough’ in the title refers to society’s traditions and stories of masculinity, and expectations of what it means to be a man, which often hurt men and women. The result is what we’ve come to know as ‘toxic masculinity‘.
It’s an expression that’s used to shame boys and men from being all the things they want and need to be.
This is a book that will resonate with many, parents included, providing an insight into what our sons are thinking with their ever-evolving physical and emotional needs, wants and turmoils. Importantly, it examines and challenges the way society continues to pass down through the generations a script of what it means to be a man, and how this is impacting and influencing our children.
Not claiming to be an expert on the matter, Justin writes from personal experience, opening up honestly about what it means to be brave, body image, relationships, gender equality, raising children – and being enough.
Justin helps to unpack how this set of so-called rules are leading to feelings of inadequacy. Rather, he writes that children should feel ‘enough’ just as they are.
“If anything, my parents built me up so much and at times gave me an unrealistic idea that I could do anything (which I now realise isn’t totally true) and tried to reinforce the ideas that I just needed to apply myself. Instead of this message, I wish they had just told me that I was enough no matter whether I succeeded or failed.’
- Man Enough, Justin Baldoni
The book follows on from his wildly popular Ted Talk from 2018, Why I’m done trying to be ‘Man Enough’, which has had over 7.5 million views. You can watch it below.
He dedicates a chapter of Man Enough to body image, exploring how this relates to masculinity and how just as we see in girls, it often begins from quite an early age.
We know from speaking to body-positive advocates like Dr Zali Yager that body image is a big issue for adolescent boys, who equate being more muscular to being more masculine, in turn linking it to success and self-esteem.
Justin suggests that a more positive message, coming from a place of ‘why?’. Why do you feel you need to be masculine? Why do you feel the need to be stronger? Why do you want to work out?
Eventually, his hope is that this will lead to an understanding that everyone has a body, but your body doesn’t determine your worth as a man, or a person.Related article: Supporting positive body image in boys
When The Man Cave asked 500 boys a few questions after a series of workshops in their schools to find out what they were thinking, the boys found the confidence to share a few things they wanted adults to know.
One topic the boys said they wished they could talk more about was their mental health, personal challenges, problems in life and personal struggles.
This is what Justin Baldoni is aiming for, too.
Boys, and men, want to share with their peers, but many don’t have the confidence. They are confronted with the stereotypical culture that has evolved over time of men not being emotional, of not sharing their feelings. It means that most go through life without opening up to even their closest allies – their parents and family.
Man Enough is a powerful contribution to redefining expectations of boys and men. It’s an invitation to learn to unpack what it means to be a man, to have the courage to truly be who you are, without feeling the need to prove anything about manhood.
It’s about challenging societal norms on what it means to be masculine, inviting men, and women, to understand that we’re not so different, we’re all human, and we are all enough.
Justin’s book (and podcast) allows our boys to be whole. It gives them permission to discover what healthy, positive masculinity looks like. If you have a teenager (aged 16 or older due to some mature concepts and language), consider putting this book on their bookshelf.
Instead of teaching our children to be brave boys and pretty girls; can we maybe just teach them how to be good humans?
- Justin Baldoni, Ted Talk