What comes to mind when one thinks of a man? An image of Don Draper from Mad Man? Another role model — maybe a powerful and successful celebrity, influencer, performer, athlete or hero to look up to? It’s ironic that the idea of what it is to be a “man” is both broad and limited. It’s broad in that it can be used to describe about 3.5 billion people on Earth. But limited because we tend toward culturally accepted traits that brand a man as a success. Broadly speaking, those traits are often unwavering fortitude, brevity and often a stoicism that can be seen as emotional distance. Throughout history, men have been discouraged from exploring or expressing deep emotions. This is true today, as young men around the world grow up adhering to a false sense of masculinity. Virkin Jimenez ’22, co-founder of the Mankind initiative is working to change that.
Jimenez is working to address Mankind’s true enemy: Toxic Masculinity. The New York Times defines Toxic (or traditional) masculinity as a behavior which carries the following traits: suppressing emotions and masking distress; maintaining an appearance of hardness and; violence as an indicator of power. We see those traits across countries and cultures in modern times, as well as through history.
These traits of a ‘macho’ or masculine man inhibit a person from exploring his true self. This, according to the NYT, leads to psychological distress, not only for the person, but for those close to him.
Jimenez, who started Mankind his friend and fellow entrepreneur Justin Diaz ’23, aims to curb this attitude starting at a young age by way of creating content including videos and podcasts. “We are trying to redefine what it means to be masculine,” notes Jimenez. The podcasts, which serve to frequently share opinions of powerful speakers and figures regarding gender identities would also engage the audience and foster a “broader perspective.” Jimenez explains why introducing a new definition of manhood is important, especially at a young age. He notes how traditionally, “Young men don’t focus on their own introspections, and celebrating their own identities isn’t a normal thing.” All this makes it harder for these young men to form a healthy understanding of themselves, and also forces them to adhere to a toxic sense of masculinity on a subconscious level.
Jimenez, a computer engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University is currently a sophomore. He spent his childhood in a woman-led household where his mother and sister “always enforced the idea of being honest with yourself.” This ideology continued extensively. For example, it was a normal aspect of life to share emotions and be “generally vulnerable” around one another. Through those strong and empathetic women Jimenez also learned to get in touch with his emotions and realize the importance of doing so. He further realized the importance of a community of supportive men, when he took part in a six-week summer coding initiative called ‘Allstar code.’ Jimenez describes this initiative as a “program to expose young men of color to the tech industry and further enforce brotherhood.” He had been fascinated with tech growing up, but with a genuine lack of resources at his high school he viewed ‘Allstar Code’ as an opportunity to grow as a person. Moreover, the support that he received in the program, despite his modest skill-level, allowed him to rely on his peers in the program and form lasting relations with them. It was here, that he realized the importance of a strong network of men who were looking out for each other and being open with each other, instead of adhering to the traditional masculine attitude that one might witness on ‘Mad Men’.
Jimenez also believes that the Blackstone LaunchPad, powered by Techstars has benefitted him, and is one of those places that builds community, as well as skill sets. As a person who finds it hard to reach out to people, he found “genuine conversations with genuine people who want to help out with each other’s projects.” At the LaunchPad, Jimenez found a community centered around augmenting each other’s ideas, and in return fostering creativity and support to help individuals excel on their own.
Jimenez and Diaz are extremely smart, motivated and inspirational young leaders and role models. Exactly what mankind needs, in every sense of the word.
Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Krishna Pamidi ’21 Submitted photo