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‘Man Enough’ Host Justin Baldoni on Educating Men About #MeToo

“Jane The Virgin” star Justin Baldoni premiered his roundtable-style talk show “Man Enough” in December 2017, just two months after sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein emerged and launched the #MeToo movement. The show, which Baldoni had been working on for about five years, originally planned to launch episodes every Thursday in January, but the fourth installment, titled “#MeToo,” dropped July 24.

“What we wanted to do was take time,” Baldoni tells Variety. “We didn’t want to release it until it was ready — until we had it seen and watched and vetted by the most amazing and powerful women at the top of this movement. It was very important for us that from top to bottom it was looked at and seen as a way to be helpful.”

The episode was one he had in the making for a long time, even pre-Weinstein, he says. But it wasn’t until accusations against Weinstein came out that the pieces finally came together.

“When everything blew up and the world started talking about it and people started finally listening to the women who had been, unfortunately, talking into an echo chamber for years, it made it a little easier to get some men together,” Baldoni explains.

The episode features: Tony Porter, a fellow TED speaker and founder of A Call To Men; musician Jamey Heath; actor and activist Matt McGorry; podcaster, author and former football player Lewis Howes; and talent manager Scooter Braun. The six opened up about everything from instances of sexual abuse in their own lives to misogynistic views on women that were ingrained in them at young ages.

But he still had his work cut out for him. Because “there is no training book for what you can say…sometimes when you speak from the heart, you say the wrong thing,” he admits. With such laser focus on the men of Hollywood, he says it can be “very tricky” to have a truly open, candid and honest conversation about some very hard topics.

“What I was looking for from the men at the table was sincerity, and a boldness to share stories that can be very painful, and true vulnerability,” Baldoni says. “It’s been proven time and time again, and as an example why #MeToo is only coming around now as opposed to having been around for 20 or 30 years, is because historically men don’t listen to women. So the whole point is, let’s get men together so men can talk to the men, and let’s intersperse women into the conversation so they can see what happens to women and has been happening under their nose the whole time.”

As with earlier episodes of “Man Enough,” Baldoni also cut in interviews with other people — in this case, women who had experienced sexual harassment and assault. While he wanted to continue to shine a light on the “honest vulnerability and bravery” that it takes for a woman to share such a story, he felt he had to keep their stories separate from the discussion with the men.

“You’ve got to dip your toes in the warm water before you jump in to make sure it feels good … and this is an example of a topic where it’s like jumping into an ice bath,” Baldoni says. “You’re not ready for it.”

Baldoni also notes that young boys are often taught that “sharing equals weakness” because exposing a vulnerability or a truth about one’s self allows someone else to have power over them.

“We’re not used to sharing our stories or the admittance of defeat or talking about what it was like to not say anything when we saw someone do that thing,” he says. “We have decades of repressed feelings that we’ve never been able to share, sitting there ready to go. … Thank God the women have finally pushed this door down, but as men, let’s have a conversation about what we can do to support the women in our lives.”

The most important thing men can do, Baldoni says, is listen: listen to women and each other. But he also feels that parenting and the “collective socialization of young boys in America” is key. He points out that his daughter, who is 3, likes to dance and sing “Frozen” and watch “Moana” — as do some of her male friends.

“They turn seven and suddenly [they] can’t do that anymore because they want to be accepted by their friends, and if they’re not, there’s nothing more lonely than that,” he says. “We need to be creating programs that teaches our children at a very young age that there is no difference between a boy and a girl. Boys can like pink and girls can like blue. We shouldn’t be calling little girls who like sports tomboys because what does that say?

“We have to be thinking about the world differently. The safety and the help of our future generations requires a different kind of education.”

“Man Enough” episodes stream on Facebook.

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