Here is the full transcript of American actor Justin Baldoni’s TED Talk: Why I’m Done Trying to Be “Man Enough”.
Justin Baldoni – American actor
As an actor, I get scripts and it’s my job to stay on script, to say my lines and bring to life a character that someone else wrote. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the great honor playing some of the greatest male role models ever represented on television.
You might recognize me as “Male Escort #1”, “Photographer Date Rapist,” “Shirtless Date Rapist” from the award-winning “Spring Break Shark Attack.” “Shirtless Medical Student,” “Shirtless Steroid-Using Con Man” and, in my most well-known role, as Rafael. A brooding, reformed playboy who falls for, of all things, a virgin, and who is only occasionally shirtless.
Now, these roles don’t represent the kind of man I am in my real life, but that’s what I love about acting.
I get to live inside characters very different than myself. But every time I got one of these roles, I was surprised, because most of the men I play ooze machismo, charisma and power, and when I look in the mirror, that’s just not how I see myself.
But it was how Hollywood saw me, and over time, I noticed a parallel between the roles I would play as a man both on-screen and off. I’ve been pretending to be a man that I’m not my entire life. I’ve been pretending to be strong when I felt weak, confident when I felt insecure and tough when really I was hurting.
I think for the most part I’ve just been kind of putting on a show, but I’m tired of performing. And I can tell you right now that it is exhausting trying to be man enough for everyone all the time.
Now — right? My brother heard that.
Now, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told the kind of man that I should grow up to be. As a boy, all I wanted was to be accepted and liked by the other boys, but that acceptance meant I had to acquire this almost disgusted view of the feminine, and since we were told that feminine is the opposite of masculine, I either had to reject embodying any of these qualities or face rejection myself.
This is the script that we’ve been given. Right? Girls are weak, and boys are strong. This is what’s being subconsciously communicated to hundreds of millions of young boys and girls all over the world, just like it was with me.
Well, I came here today to say, as a man that this is wrong, this is toxic, and it has to end. Now, I’m not here to give a history lesson.
We likely all know how we got here, OK? But I’m just a guy that woke up after 30 years and realized that I was living in a state of conflict, conflict with who I feel I am in my core and conflict with who the world tells me as a man I should be.
But I don’t have a desire to fit into the current broken definition of masculinity, because I don’t just want to be a good man. I want to be a good human. And I believe the only way that can happen is if men learn to not only embrace the qualities that we were told are feminine in ourselves but to be willing to stand up, to champion and learn from the women who embody them.
Now, men — I am not saying that everything we have learned is toxic. OK? I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with you or me, and men, I’m not saying we have to stop being men. But we need balance, right? We need balance, and the only way things will change is if we take a real honest look at the scripts that have been passed down to us from generation to generation and the roles that, as men, we choose to take on in our everyday lives.
So speaking of scripts, the first script I ever got came from my dad. My dad is awesome. He’s loving, he’s kind, he’s sensitive, he’s nurturing, he’s here. He’s crying. But, sorry, Dad, as a kid I resented him for it, because I blamed him for making me soft, which wasn’t welcomed in the small town in Oregon that we had moved to.
Because being soft meant that I was bullied. See, my dad wasn’t traditionally masculine, so he didn’t teach me how to use my hands. He didn’t teach me how to hunt, how to fight, you know, man stuff.
Instead he taught me what he knew: that being a man was about sacrifice and doing whatever you can to take care of and provide for your family. But there was another role I learned how to play from my dad, who, I discovered, learned it from his dad, a state senator who later in life had to work nights as a janitor to support his family, and he never told a soul. That role was to suffer in secret.
And now three generations later, I find myself playing that role, too. So why couldn’t my grandfather just reach out to another man and ask for help? Why does my dad to this day still think he’s got to do it all on his own?
I know a man who would rather die than tell another man that they’re hurting. But it’s not because we’re just all, like, strong silent types. It’s not. A lot of us men are really good at making friends, and talking, just not about anything real.
If it’s about work or sports or politics or women, we have no problem sharing our opinions, but if it’s about our insecurities or our struggles, our fear of failure, then it’s almost like we become paralyzed. At least, I do.
So some of the ways that I have been practicing breaking free of this behavior are by creating experiences that force me to be vulnerable. So if there’s something I’m experiencing shame around in my life, I practice diving straight into it, no matter how scary it is — and sometimes, even publicly.
Because then in doing so I take away its power, and my display of vulnerability can in some cases give other men permission to do the same. As an example, a little while ago I was wrestling with an issue in my life that I knew I needed to talk to my guy friends about, but I was so paralyzed by fear that they would judge me and see me as weak. And I would lose my standing as a leader that I knew I had to take them out of town on a three-day guys trip — Just to open up.
And guess what? It wasn’t until the end of the third day that I finally found the strength to talk to them about what I was going through.
But when I did, something amazing happened. I realized that I wasn’t alone, because my guys had also been struggling. And as soon as I found the strength and the courage to share my shame, it was gone.
Now, I’ve learned over time that if I want to practice vulnerability, then I need to build myself a system of accountability. So I’ve been really blessed as an actor.
I’ve built a really wonderful fan base, really, really sweet and engaged, and so I decided to use my social platform as kind of this Trojan horse wherein I could create a daily practice of authenticity and vulnerability. The response has been incredible. It’s been affirming, it’s been heartwarming. I get tons of love and press and positive messages daily. But it’s all from a certain demographic: women.
This is real. Why are only women following me? Where are the men? About a year ago, I posted this photo. Now, afterwards, I was scrolling through some of the comments, and I noticed that one of my female fans had tagged her boyfriend in the picture, and her boyfriend responded by saying, “Please stop tagging me in gay shit. Thx.” As if being gay makes you less of a man, right?
So I took a deep breath, and I responded. I said, very politely, that I was just curious, because I’m on an exploration of masculinity, and I wanted to know why my love for my wife qualified as gay shit. And then I said, honestly I just wanted to learn.
Now, he immediately wrote me back I thought he was going to go off on me, but instead he apologized. He told me how, growing up, public displays of affection were looked down on. He told me that he was wrestling and struggling with his ego, and how much he loved his girlfriend and how thankful he was for her patience.
And then a few weeks later, he messaged me again. This time he sent me a photo of him on one knee proposing. And all he said was, “Thank you.” I’ve been this guy. I get it.
See, publicly, he was just playing his role, rejecting the feminine, right? But secretly he was waiting for permission to express himself, to be seen, to be heard, and all he needed was another man holding him accountable and creating a safe space for him to feel, and the transformation was instant.
I loved this experience, because it showed me that transformation is possible, even over direct messages. So I wanted to figure out how I could reach more men, but of course none of them were following me. So I tried an experiment.
I started posting more stereotypically masculine things — Like my challenging workouts, my meal plans, my journey to heal my body after an injury. And guess what happened? Men started to write me. And then, out of the blue, for the first time in my entire career, a male fitness magazine called me, and they said they wanted to honor me as one of their game-changers.
Was that really game-changing? Or is it just conforming? And see, that’s the problem. It’s totally cool for men to follow me when I talk about guy stuff and I conform to gender norms.
But if I talk about how much I love my wife or my daughter or my 10-day-old son, how I believe that marriage is challenging but beautiful, or how as a man I struggle with body dysmorphia, or if I promote gender equality, then only the women show up. Where are the men? So men, men, men, men!
I understand. Growing up, we tend to challenge each other. We’ve got to be the toughest, the strongest, the bravest men that we can be. And for many of us, myself included, our identities are wrapped up in whether or not at the end of the day we feel like we’re man enough.
But I’ve got a challenge for all the guys, because men love challenges. I challenge you to see if you can use the same qualities that you feel make you a man to go deeper into yourself. Your strength, your bravery, your toughness: Can we redefine what those mean and use them to explore our hearts? Are you brave enough to be vulnerable? To reach out to another man when you need help? To dive headfirst into your shame? Are you strong enough to be sensitive, to cry whether you are hurting or you’re happy, even if it makes you look weak? Are you confident enough to listen to the women in your life? To hear their ideas and their solutions? To hold their anguish and actually believe them, even if what they’re saying is against you?
And will you be man enough to stand up to other men when you hear “locker room talk,” when you hear stories of sexual harassment? When you hear your boys talking about grabbing ass or getting her drunk, will you actually stand up and do something so that one day we don’t have to live in a world where a woman has to risk everything and come forward to say the words “me too?” This is serious stuff.
I’ve had to take a real, honest look at the ways that I’ve unconsciously been hurting the women in my life, and it’s ugly. My wife told me that I had been acting in a certain way that hurt her and not correcting it.
Basically, sometimes when she would go to speak, at home or in public, I would just cut her off mid-sentence and finish her thought for her. It’s awful The worst part was that I was completely unaware when I was doing it. It was unconscious. So here I am doing my part, trying to be a feminist, amplifying the voices of women around the world, and yet at home, I am using my louder voice to silence the woman I love the most.
So I had to ask myself a tough question: am I man enough to just shut the hell up and listen? I’ve got to be honest I wish that didn’t get an applause. Guys, this is real. And I’m just scratching the surface here, because the deeper we go, the uglier it gets, I guarantee you. I don’t have time to get into porn and violence against women or the split of domestic duties or the gender pay gap.
But I believe that as men, it’s time we start to see past our privilege and recognize that we are not just part of the problem. Fellas, we are the problem. The glass ceiling exists because we put it there, and if we want to be a part of the solution, then words are no longer enough. There’s a quote that I love that I grew up with from the Bahá’í writings. It says that “the world of humanity is possessed of two wings, the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly.”
So women, on behalf of men all over the world who feel similar to me, please forgive us for all the ways that we have not relied on your strength. And now I would like to ask you to formally help us, because we cannot do this alone. We are men. We’re going to mess up.
We’re going to say the wrong thing. We’re going to be tone-deaf. We’re more than likely, probably, going to offend you. But don’t lose hope. We’re only here because of you, and like you, as men, we need to stand up and become your allies as you fight against pretty much everything.
We need your help in celebrating our vulnerability and being patient with us as we make this very, very long journey from our heads to our hearts.
And finally to parents: instead of teaching our children to be brave boys or pretty girls, can we maybe just teach them how to be good humans? So back to my dad growing up, yeah, like every boy, I had my fair share of issues, but now I realize that it was even thanks to his sensitivity and emotional intelligence that I am able to stand here right now talking to you in the first place.
The resentment I had for my dad I now realize had nothing to do with him. It had everything to do with me and my longing to be accepted and to play a role that was never meant for me.
So while my dad may have not taught me how to use my hands, he did teach me how to use my heart, and to me that makes him more a man than anything. Thank you.