What does it mean to be a man today? If I* lined up one hundred guys and asked that question to them all at once, I would probably get 10 or so answers that are all pretty similar: “Providing for my family,” “working hard,” “making the tough decisions,” etc. But If I were to pull them all aside individually and ask them in private, I wonder if their answers would stay the same?
When my daughter was born, I got the chance to witness my wife become a superhero. Moments later I got to stare into the soul of the new love of my life … my daughter, Maiya. I will never forget that experience — everything that I thought mattered in life suddenly became irrelevant and my whole world shifted. If I was at all interested in the advancement and empowerment of women before my little Maiya came into this world, I was going to turn it up to hyper-speed now.
I grew up in the Bahai faith and in our faith, ‘Abdu’l-Baha teaches, “The world of humanity has two wings — one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.”
There is nothing I want more than for my daughter to grow up in a world where anything is possible. I want her to have a support system and be able to know that she can succeed, no matter what society tells her, and that her beauty is far deeper than anything a mirror could reflect.
As her father, a lot of this will become my responsibility … but I can’t do it alone. I need the help of my brothers to show my daughter through their actions that she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to.
Recently I have been on a mission to help change the perceived definition of “manhood” because I believe it’s necessary for our survival. Yes, as overly dramatic as that sounds, I mean it. I’m also not talking about just the survival of men, I’m talking about the survival of the entire human race.
So what does this mean to me as a man today? It means I need to open my eyes and look for opportunities to be of service to this very specific and important cause. This might be controversial, but there is no way that our planet would have a fraction of the death and destruction it faces on a daily basis if more women were in positions of power around the world. But yet some men worry that they will lose their power if they empower women, which makes absolutely no sense to me. C’mon fellas! It’s like skipping leg day — you don’t want to be off balance, it’s not a good look.
You still with me? See, I really believe that as men we have a much heavier load to carry than we realize, but that load probably doesn’t look the way you think it looks. That old saying, “He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders,” could not be truer in 2016.
The difference is that I don’t believe the weight that men need to carry has anything to do with work, or providing, or even decision making. I believe that the weight of the world that men need to shoulder today is the advancement and relentless empowerment of women.
I believe that now more than ever it’s the man’s job to champion and be a voice for their female counterpart, just as I believe it’s the responsibility of a white person to stand up and fight for his or her brothers and sisters weighed down by the chains of racial prejudice and inequality. (But I’ll save that for a different blog post.) Recently I was introduced to an organization comprised of a few of the most bad-ass, intelligent, loving and kind-hearted change-makers who started a grass-roots movement to empower young women and girls all over the world.
The organization is called “I Am That Girl” and they are phenomenal.
I Am That Girl, is a community, a support system and a movement inspiring girls to LOVE, EXPRESS, and BE who they are. They help girls speak their truth and discover their power, not only through media, but also through community. They focus on an education that teaches emotional intelligence, professional skills, and personal growth and they do it all through love and kindness. My wife and I recently had the chance to speak to a bunch of these incredible 14-22 year-olds at one of their retreats, and I swear it gave me hope for our planet. If you can support these amazing girls please do!
So, what does it mean to be a man? It means to lift up our women and instead of talking about making things better, actually doing something. It means being honest and open and vulnerable. It means being present fathers and husbands and making sure that we celebrate the women in our lives instead of inadvertently holding them back because we refuse to change our definition of what a woman should be. It means loving in a way that may seem foreign to us, and if we happen to be in positions of power, leading by example and going out of our way to educate and provide opportunities for our sisters wherever we can.
And if you’re a man, and you are still reading this, then kudos, brother. Let’s be friends and change our world together. To sponsor the amazing girls “I Am That Girl” is helping, please visit their website and contribute whatever you can.
*When not working with organizations like I Am That Girl and LA’s Midnight Mission, Justin Baldoni is an actor. He currently stars on The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and has previously appeared on “Everwood,” “Heroes” and “Happy Endings.” Follow him on Twitter @justinbaldoni.