Masculinity, in its most noxious, stifling forms, can hurt men. Suppressing emotions can lead to aggression and violence, make men less healthy both mentally and physically, and push them to be less accepting of others.
It can also hurt women. It can exacerbate rape culture, and subvert efforts (from both men and women) to promote gender equality. “Certain masculinities preserve and promote the inequalities experienced between men and women, and, in order to achieve gender equality, they must be dismantled,” reads one 2015 study.
But honest discussions and genuine camaraderie between men can counteract all that. Talking about how to be a man—a real man, one who is kind, who has freed himself of the pressures to be a worse man—can make all the difference.
We wanted to give prominent, high-powered men a place to do that. Quartz created How We’ll Win: The Other Half, a collection of 50 interviews with industry-leading men, to explore their thoughts on masculinity, feminism, and sexism. We spoke to US senator Cory Booker, comedian Travon Free, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Queer Eye star Karamo Brown, Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, DNC chair Tom Perez, Out Magazine editor-in-chief Phillip Picardi, AOL co-founder Steve Case, and dozens more—all men who are actively grappling with gender equality in their present work.
One of the most actionable questions we asked each participant was: What’s the best advice you’ve received from another man, and what’s your best advice for young men today?
Below are some of our favorite answers:
US senator Cory Booker:
“My best advice to young men today, which is advice I received from my dad, is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. We all have this choice in life, we can be like a thermometer, simply reflecting the environment we’re in, or we can be a thermostat and take responsibility for setting the temperature.”
Comedian Travon Free:
“This is a great question, as I’ve received advice from a host of great men and I could probably list a number of them. But what immediately comes to mind is from two men: Jon Stewart said to always trust your discomfort and it applies to many facets of life. When you feel uncomfortable, your body is trying to tell you something and you shouldn’t ignore it. The second is from a great man I’ve come to know, photographer Ruddy Roye, who reminds me constantly to act with intention and purpose. If you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it you can rarely go wrong.
My advice to young men today is to think critically about what it means to be a “man.” Are you moving, breathing, behaving, and being the person you want to be, the man you want to be, or are you performing manhood and masculinity as it’s been prescribed to you by society? The answers may surprise them. This is how we begin to create a new generation of men who see equity as beneficial and not detrimental to their advancement.”
Out Magazine editor-in-chief Phillip Picardi:
“My dad and I sure have a lot to disagree on these days, but I think in his older age he’s had a lot of time to reflect on his life and his values. One thing he said to me recently was, “Your job won’t love you back, so make sure you pay attention to and take care of the people in your life first.” He and my mom led a very traditional, gendered marriage—and he’s been open in sharing his regrets about that now that he’s a grandfather.
My best advice for young men is to identify a woman as your mentor or hero. It doesn’t make you any less of a man to have a mix of people as your heroes and role models. I look up to so many women—including my boss—who have taught me to be a better person, manager, friend, son, and partner. Why deny yourself all of that possibility for greatness and enlightenment solely on the basis of gender?”
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian:
“After we defeated the Stop Privacy Online Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Privacy Act (PIPA), I thought about running for office, and two of the most powerful men in the country told me (separately) that this country needs more women in positions of power, and that if I really wanted to make a difference, I should be working to help get the very best women into those roles.
Leadership means knowing when to lead and also when to follow. There are opportunities for us to be great leaders in our society by recognizing and empowering the best among us.”
Queer Eye star Karamo Brown:
“Understand that we all play a role in the fight for gender equality.”
Bridesmaids director Paul Feig:
“Well, my father was a very fair and very good man, but he just had absolute contempt for [any] married man who cheated on his wife. To him that was just completely inexcusable, and he really drummed it into my head. That is a very, that’s a terrible thing to do, he taught me, and no real man who’s worth anything would actually do that. So you need to be sure. You shouldn’t just jump into marriage lightly, and when you do, make sure it’s right. And stay with it.
And my best advice for young men today would be to be friends with women. You know, it’s not about trying to date everybody, if you’re into heterosexual relationships. Be friends with women, and that should really start when you’re kids.
If anything, I think this is advice for parents of boys, to make sure that their boys have female friends growing up. Because what happens when boys and girls aren’t friends with one another is it just becomes, you know, “Them versus us,” and girls are later thought of as a prize, or a conquest, or something to acquire sexually. But growing up, almost all my friends were girls. And because of that, I was always just in tune with what you should and shouldn’t do, or what upset them, or made them happy, or wasn’t cool. And once you have the groundwork for thinking of girls as equals, you can’t just shift that.”
AOL co-founder Steve Case:
“The best advice I’ve ever received was in the form of an African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Going together is about creating a more inclusive society. It’s an issue of equity and fairness, to be sure, but it’s also an issue of economic competitiveness. We shouldn’t just view this as a problem to solve—although it is—but also as an opportunity to seize, so we can be fully competitive as a nation.”
Penn professor Dagmawi Woubshet:
“My advice to young men today is to be of your generation and not get mired by the harmful worldview of prior generations, including the countless forms of sexism that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Why not be remembered as the generation that put extraordinary energy and pressure to end sexism? Not only that, [but] as an individual, as a human being who has a finite amount of time on this Earth, why not cultivate a sense of self-commitment to virtues like empathy, generosity, and courage, instead of one based on self-serving moral cowardice like sexism?”
Upfront Capital VC Mark Suster:
“My advice for young men: speak up. When you’re in a small group of men in a professional setting and you hear an obviously inappropriate comment, you need to speak up then—even when it’s just the guys. Showing other men that sexist comments are inappropriate and changing the norms of what is tolerable is an important step to stigmatizing sexism.”
DNC chair Tom Perez:
“My advice would be this: There is not one right way to be a man. Masculinity is not about physical strength, it’s about strength of character. It’s about how you treat others.”
New York Times reporter Walter Thompson-Hernandez:
“My advice for young men is to think about who we were as children. Who were we before society took a hold of us? We need to reflect on the people we were before many of us were forced to believing that masculinity and tenderness cannot coexist together. I’ve been on this path for quite some time now and I urge us all to think about the boy or child who was filled with immense light, softness, and joy and to do all that we can to reclaim him.”
Read all 50 industry-leading men’s advice and insights on masculinity here.