Wisdom//

Blackbird CEO Ross Martin On “Wonder Woman” and Fatherhood

"Yes, I am emotional. I feel everything, and I care. That's not un-manful. That's exactly what makes me good at what I do."

Changing gender roles are key to accelerating the culture shift around changing the way we work and live. Redefining Masculinity is an editorial package that investigates what it means to be a man in 2017—and beyond. As part of it, we’re asking a wide range of men across industries, ages and background to answer questions about what masculinity means to them. Read more about the project here

Thrive Global: How would you define masculinity?
Ross Martin: Growing up, every time my mom tried to tell me how boys and girls are different, I argued with her about it. She would say, “Boys are more…” and “Girls are more…,” but I would insist there’s no absolute difference (besides the parts). Sometimes now I look at a guy and I’m like, “Wow, that’s a real man!” My sons have both identified our neighbor, Justin, as the masculine ideal. He’s a photographer, a rugged outdoorsman, and very handsome. He’s tough, sturdy, and dispassionate. I think he has a six pack. He knows how to go fishing…and actually catch one. He could wrestle a bear…and win. Women want him, and men want to be him. Right now, Justin’s entire back yard is upside down because he is personally — with his own hands — moving tons of earth to re-shape it. I don’t even know how to use a backhoe. And at home, if anything breaks, my wife and sons know I probably couldn’t fix it — but Justin could! I don’t know how I define masculinity, but I see how others often do.

TG: Who in your life shaped your view of masculinity?
RM: The Greek poet Olga Broumas, who was my professor and mentor in college. She’s the one who convinced me to go to get a graduate degree in poetry. The way she wrote about a woman’s beauty, strength and wisdom, the way she championed a Sapphic ideal, made me wonder what the world really wants or needs from a man. I’m still trying to figure that out.

TG: Was there a particular moment when you felt you’d become a man?
RM: I’d hoped it would be my Bar Mitzvah, but not really. Thirty-one years later, I hoped I’d feel like a man at my son’s Bar Mitzvah. Truth is, I’m just me. I’m only a man when I really need to be.

TG: How has society’s view of men changed since you were a kid?
RM: Stand outside the theater and ask all the men who just watched Wonder Woman.

TG: Does masculinity influence your work? If so, how?
RM: Years ago, I was making a passionate pitch for something at work, and my old boss told me I was being “too emotional,” and that I needed to “man up.” Fuck that! Yes, I am emotional. I feel everything, and I care. That’s not un-manful. That’s exactly what makes me good at what I do.

TG: What do you try to teach your sons about what it means to be a man?
RM: We’ve taught our sons to know exactly who they are, to believe in themselves and each other, and to never stop growing. Living in Brooklyn, they see and feel everything, life is right outside our front door, the joy and the pain, all of it, and it comes inside our house whenever it wants to. As Kipling says, I teach them to dream big, but “not make dreams your master,” and prepare themselves to “meet with Triumph and Disaster.”

Ross Martin is the CEO of Blackbird, a marketing and business innovation firm in New York City and Los Angeles. He has been named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40, The Adweek 50, and the Advertising Hall of Achievement. He has also been named an Advertising Age Media Maven and one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People In Business. 

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