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 6 questions about what masculinity means to them. Read more about the project here.
Thrive Global: How would you define masculinity?
Jonathan Chu: I feel like I have two definitions of masculinity: one of them was inherited, and the other was conceived from the original. The first, the one that doesn’t personally apply to me, is the traditional male role model – breadwinner, physical specimen, stern, but fair, leader, stoic, but there when you need him, etc. When I found this doesn’t actually exist, or that even when it did it wasn’t a desirable position to be in, I tried to take the best of what I had been told a man should be and leave the rest behind. To me masculinity is being a leader without excluding others, supporting people (financial or otherwise), without putting them in compromising positions, and being stern, but only when necessary, and, most importantly, being as selfless as possible. Obviously, there’s a lot of wiggle room between these attributes, but this is the general cloud of “masculinity” that I’ve developed, always hanging above my head. Also, I like to cook. But that’s incidental.
TG: Who in your life shaped your view of masculinity?
JC: My mom, who showed me what masculinity is through absence and counterpoint. And Paul Newman, probably.
TG: Was there a particular moment when you felt you’d become a man?
JC: I don’t feel like I’ve become an adult, let alone a man.
TG: How has society’s view of men changed since you were a kid?
JC: Well I’m not sure I can speak for society, but I think men had more leeway as purveyors of political incorrectness and brashness when I was younger. The shift away from that was long overdue. I hope it sticks, but we’re currently seeing a reactionary force in action.
TG: Does masculinity influence your work? If so, how?
JC: It’s not a conscientious thought when I’m creating, but I’m sure the competitiveness I have with my male friends in other facets of my life seeps into my work. When you’re single you’re constantly in competition mode, and you can’t really shake that energy that easily. If anything though, if I feel I’m moving in a “masculine” direction with my work, I try and react against it. I want everyone to be able to enjoy what I do, and I think a noticeable gender lean would inhibit that. But, since I said earlier that inclusivity is part of my definition of masculinity, apparently in a roundabout way I actually do inject masculinity into my work. I should’ve just said “yes” to this question.
TG: What should children be taught about masculinity?
JC: Honestly, nothing. Raise kids to be good humans and then let them identify masculinity however they want. Expose them to nontraditional roles and relationships. Teach them to take life as it comes and address things case by case. Never generalize. Hopefully if they have experience with that sort of mentality, they can address the issues of masculine stereotypes as they see fit. They can be Paul Newman if they want. Or RuPaul. Okay with me!
Jonathan Chu is 1/3 of the band POP ETC, photographer, director, whatever you need.