Conversations around positive masculinity have entered the mainstream consciousness. Whether it’s positive male role models speaking out publicly or mainstream advertising addressing toxic masculinity, there are more resources than ever for young men to learn about redefining masculinity. Each video on this list of Ted Talks about masculinity mix entertainment with engagement and champion introspection and vulnerability in men.
While the backgrounds that shaped these men are different, the result was the same: men who have had enough of stifling masculine gender norms and want to change the world. The following Ted Talks helped inspire the messaging behind Dudefluencer and the goals that this magazine hopes to achieve.
After watching these Ted Talks about masculinity, take a moment to reflect on your own life. Have I contributed to the promotion of unhealthy male ideals? How can I make a difference?
Star of television’s Jane The Virgin, Justin Baldoni, took the stage at the TEDWomen 2017 event to talk about his experiences with masculinity. Throughout the talk, Baldoni illustrates how the importance of “looking manly enough” held him back from fulfilling friendships with his guy friends.
Baldoni recalls a situation where he was struggling but didn’t know how to talk to his friends without the fear of looking weak, or like a poor leader. But after a few days, Baldoni gained the strength to speak to his buddies and was shocked when he realized all his worrying was for naught. “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.” Baldoni’s experience isn’t all that different from a lot of men who struggle developing healthy same-sex friendships.
I recently went through a similar experience. Working by myself has been difficult, and with my friend’s and I’s busy schedules, I hadn’t spent any quality time with them since my wedding. I hesitated to reach out. I made excuses that they were working and that I was fine on my own. The truth was, I wasn’t fine, I wasn’t okay.
Thankfully, Rachel pushed me to reach out to my friends, and after some time, I texted them: Hey, so I’ve been struggling a lot with my mental health recently. Like a lot a lot. It’s a bit hard for me to talk about honestly, but I’d love for us to find some time to see each other in the near future or at least chat some more soon.
Within minutes, every one of my friends stepped up. I talked to a few on the phone, went out to lunch with another, and made plans to visit them all. If I sat here trying to be “Man Enough,” I wouldn’t have reached out to my friends, and I would still be struggling with my mental health all alone.
My second-grade teacher wandered through the aisleways, carefully navigating the car-crash of glitter, glue, and cut up magazines. It was hero day, and everyone in the class needed to make a poster. Some of the boys chose Power Rangers, others picked action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sly Stallone. I chose Chuck Norris: the karate punch throwin’, ass-kickin’ machine from Walker Texas Ranger. I loved him because he didn’t need anyone else. Put him in a room with a bad guy and within seconds, Norris will have wiped the floor with him. I wanted to elicit the same fear because I didn’t know any better.
Colin Stokes’ Ted Talk about masculinity revolves around how the media portrays male characters. One of the critical points that Stokes makes is that there are a lot of problematic male characters in film, and not enough positive role models teaching young boys how to act. He proceeded to break this film trope down into just a few sentences: “I finished my quest, I got the girl. Why are you still standing there? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” Stokes wants movies to send a different message that teaches young men how to behave in a modern society that requires co-ed collaboration.
“And I think our job in the Netflix queue is to look out for those movies that pass the Bechdel Test, if we can find them, and to seek out the heroines who are there, who show real courage, who bring people together, and to nudge our sons to identify with those heroines and to say, ‘I want to be on their team,’ because they’re going to be on their team.”
It took me way too long to understand how problematic the romantic comedies I used to love were. They followed a similar construct where it’s boy meets girl, boys completes the quest, the boy wins the girl. For some time, I thought that was how romance was supposed to be. I didn’t understand that life is a collaborative, co-ed event, and going on “quests” by yourself is harmful.
I damn sure didn’t understand that women aren’t prizes or trophies.
And I wish I knew all of that sooner. I could have been a better partner in my relationships, a better friend, and a better human being.
Conor Beaton opens his Ted Talk about masculinity with a story: he was in Elementary school, and every Friday, a student would sing the national anthem over the loudspeaker. Inspired by the particularly lousy performance, Beaton practiced over and over in his room until one Friday, he worked up the nerve to perform himself. He killed his performance, or so he thought. Beaton walked out of the office, his head held high with pride when he bumps into the school bully. The bully immediately punched him the gut, and said to Beaton, “Don’t be such a bitch. Singing is for girls.” And it was that moment that Beaton realized that there is an entire generation of young men afraid that “emotional and creative expression is not what a real man does.”
One of the best parts of my job as an educator was working with all types of students to develop those creative muscles in their brains. And no matter how tough they thought they were, the students always came around when it came to nonfiction. A particular student, known amongst his classmates as “the scary one” due to his piercing eyes and angry outbursts, reminded me of the power of the mask of masculinity and how hard it can be to break. This student wasn’t academic, he had other life things for his family going on that were frequently more important than schoolwork. I understood. But I also knew that behind his angry outbursts that he had a story to tell.
After class one day, I pulled him off to the side, and we had a real conversation. He told me about the overnight shifts he worked to help put food on the table, and how when he “skipped school,” he really just needed to stay home with his sister. This student opened up to me because he knew that I cared about him more than just a standardized test goal. And the best part of our conversation, in the end, he asked if he could show me some of his poetry.
It was beautiful, authentic, and real. I asked him why he didn’t share this with the class, or at one of our open mics. He laughed to himself: he told me he didn’t want anyone to know about it because he was afraid of what they’d think.
The student and Beaton’s story isn’t unique. Far too often are boys taught that being creative makes them less than a man. Beaton said, “You see, the rise of the empowered woman is not a threat to masculinity. Feminism is not the death of men. Machoism and our idea that in order to be a successful man, we need to dominate others, we need to be a lone wolf, we need to figure it out by ourselves. That’s what is crushing men today.” Being a creative man requires you to push back on the ideas of dominance and individualism. It is only when we as a society tell young men that they can (and should) be creative will we be able to lift the mask of masculinity.
The narrative of manliness sold to Eldra Jackson as a young boy wasn’t much different than the stories others have told: believing that “big boys don’t cry and not knowing how to show any emotion other than anger confidently.” But that ideal pushed onto Jackson didn’t just harm him emotionally, it was part of the reason why he was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping, robbery, and attempted murder. But it was in prison that Jackson joined a group called “Inside Circle,” or known amongst the prisoners, the “hug a thug” program.
Jackson described the program as “men sitting with men and cutting through the bullshit, challenging structural ways of thinking.” Through these circle talks, men confronted why they acted the way that they did, and asked each other how they could change. The moment that Jackson broke free was when he revealed to his group mates that he had been molested by a babysitter; this revelation led him to understand why he believed that love put him in harm’s way, or the caring made him weak. And he realized because of that, Jackson did not know who he was.
Research shows that men’s groups provide and build therapeutic relationships with other men that foster emotional vulnerability. More groups like “Inside Circle” are popping up every day: from the men’s magazine The Good Men Project to wilderness community groups like Evryman that take men on camping trips to help foster emotional connectedness to others. A lot of this ties back into the idea of the importance of male friendship: men who have stronger heterosexual bonds with other men are more emotionally vulnerable, connected to the outside world, and live happier lives. These support groups are designed to help men become better men.
Jackson ends his Ted Talk about masculinity by saying, “Sitting in those circles saved my life.” Jackson was released on parole in 2014, after 24 years in prison. He’s now a husband and a father to two sons. As a father, Jackson wants to show his sons how to be a man: “My desire is for them to understand that being a man is not some machismo caricature and that characteristics usually defined as weaknesses are parts of the whole, healthy man.”
Ben Hurst runs a program titled “The Good Lad Initiative,” where they work with young men between the ages of 11 and 18. One of the activities that Hurst is particularly proud of is when the students participate in a word race: two teams of boys run with a dry-erase marker in a word association type game. The result for one group of trainees revealed that the stereotype around young men was that they all were “smelly, dirty, porn addicts, violent, lazy.” It was then that Hurst realized we are setting the bar too low for young men.
In his program, Hurst works with young men to talk about where their ideas of masculinity come from, about consent, and violence. When I was in school, there were no such groups as this. So I resorted to the same thing that I saw my friends doing: punching other kids in the face when there was conflict. I felt guilty, uncomfortable, unclean every time I’d wipe the blood off my knuckles. I never felt accomplished. But I didn’t know how to talk. Men weren’t supposed to anyway.
What Hurst, and so many of these Ted Talks about masculinity, are asking for is just to begin having real conversations about what it means to be a man, where our ideals come from and build safe spaces for younger men to have these types of talks. Hurst said, “Boys won’t just be boys. Boys will be what we teach them.” We have a responsibility as men to lead a generation of young boys towards a healthier lifestyle, where real conversations about masculinity exist, and we have space for them.
What Ted Talks about masculinity have you enjoyed? How best can we help teach young men about masculinity? Answer below in the comments.