It’s tough to be a man. Or you have to be tough to be a man.
The modern definition of masculinity is in dire need of revamping, according to ManTalks founder Connor Beaton. He has set about doing that by providing a space where men can openly share their emotions, admit to their deepest flaws and failings, and celebrate their ability to do good.
That is the core concept of ManTalks, a TED talk-style platform where men who are making a positive difference in the world share insights on what true manhood means to them through deeply personal stories.
Founded by Beaton in 2014, the movement has been growing. The first ManTalks event, held in Vancouver, drew 45 people, both men and women. Now, nearly 200 attend every month. The next event, to be held April 9, features author and former pro-athlete Lewis Howes and Hootsuite founder Ryan Holmes and is expected to draw a crowd of about 400.
This month, ManTalks events will also be launched in Toronto and Los Angeles for the first time.
The growing popularity of ManTalks seems to be meeting a need that typical male venues—golf courses, bars, locker rooms—aren’t fulfilling. Media representations of men have long tended to fall into tired stereotypes: the jock, the big shot, the strong silent type.
ManTalks promotes a more nuanced version of manhood based on the values of authenticity, community, purpose, and accountability.
“For a long time we’ve had a picture of masculinity. A narrow and broken one,” wrote author and “man coach” Mike Campbell, in an article on the ManTalks website.
“It goes like this: Be tough. Control your emotions. Sort things out yourself. Asking for help is weakness. Success is reflected in more money, sex, and power.”
But Campbell promotes a new version of modern manhood based on what he calls “Zeus Energy”—a strong male energy channelled into the needs of the community. The concept of Zeus Energy, named for the ancient Greek god, encompasses intelligence, robust health, compassionate decisiveness, goodwill, and generous leadership.
It’s a message that connects with Shea Emry, a former CFL linebacker. When Emry experienced a serious concussion in 2011, he struggled with depression and was left feeling unsure about who he was outside of sports. He began to rebuild his identity from scratch, and realized that the ultra-masculine culture he was surrounded by had convinced him that manliness meant being an aggressor, and blocked self-discovery and authenticity.
Now his mission is to break down social stereotypes around the definition of masculinity and help guide male youth. His message? Vulnerability does not expose weakness, but rather strength.
“As men, we need to let go of all these attachments that hold us back from really connecting with ourselves. When I think of the strongest men, I think of the uninhibited, who are able to reflect on their being without fear of failure or shame,” he said in a recent TEDx talk.
“Gone are the days where being a man means hunting for our food and protecting our villages. … Today’s survival looks different. We need emotional, physical, and spiritual ventilation to thrive.”
Striving to Be Better
ManTalks speakers are not your typical high-energy, high-fiving motivational types.
One speaker was a vegan fireman who meditates every day. Another was a Ugandan immigrant who honoured his late father’s legacy by becoming a great dad himself. Then there was the entrepreneur who found spirituality and self-mastery in golf.
These men speak with their hearts on their sleeves and egos in check. They talk about many things, but mostly about how they overcame adversity and strove to become better: better fathers, better husbands, better leaders, and better men.
“It’s kind of like the conversations men would have with their absolute closest friend—but giving them the space to do that onstage,” said Beaton.
Vancouver-based Beaton, 32, is no stranger to adversity himself. A former international opera singer, he got the idea for ManTalks after struggling with depression and isolation. When he opened up to his friends they told him about their own painful challenges—one even admitted to considering suicide.
That’s when Beaton realized that many men lacked a space to be vulnerable and share difficult feelings. Many were also struggling with their identities and what it means to be a man in the modern world.
“Our mission is to redefine what it means to be a self-aware, high-performing, and influential man in the world; the type of man who others look up to as a role model,” wrote Beaton on the ManTalks website.
Beaton envisions a future where ManTalks events are held in major cities worldwide and speakers foster a positive new culture for men in every corner of the world.