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Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff on the importance of male vulnerability: 'You don't have to talk tough to be tough'

·4-min read

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff took to the MAKERS virtual stage for a conversation with actor and Man Enough author Justin Baldoni. The two discussed a range of topics including the meaning of manliness, strength and whether or not Emhoff's view of gender roles in a couple had to evolve when he left his work as a successful entertainment lawyer to support his wife Vice President Kamala Harris

"I'm always curious at men who have to thump their chest to show how big they are — that's pretty small to me," Emhoff said. "You've gotta be vulnerable, you've gotta be willing to let people see you, who you are, so they can trust you, so they you have their back and you're gonna be there for them." 

Emhoff credited his parents with that outlook and perspective. "That's kind of how I roll, that's how I've always rolled, and it didn't just happen because I met Kamala Harris," the second gentleman said of his belief that masculinity doesn't have to be brash or based in money and physical strength. "It was really put into my blood and soul by my father and my mother. Mom was a super strong woman, competitive athlete, she really just showed me what a strong woman could be. And my dad who just worked his tush off, traveled the world, was a women's shoe designer. So he was in a field of art and yet he was one of the strongest, toughest, most self-actualized men I know and taught me so much including the value of hard work and part of what makes you who you are is what you can do for your family. And not just by money though, by love, and by care, and by being there." 

Emhoff highlighted the importance of vulnerability in his conversation with Baldoni as well. "This whole thing about manliness and what it means to be a man ... are just so wrong. I mean, what is strength?" Emhoff asked. "To me it's strong to show someone you love them and show someone you will protect them and provide for them. And it's OK to show it. But that doesn't mean you're weak. I think it means you're strong. You don't have to talk tough to be tough."

Until recently, the 56-year-old worked as an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, but left his firm ahead of the presidential inauguration in January. But putting his wife's career first and being by her side doesn't impact his self-esteem in the slightest. 

"I have a very healthy ego, I'm confident, I was successful and I don't lack for any of that," he says. "I'm always curious at men who have to thump their chest to show how big they are. That's pretty small to me."

Emhoff has often talked about masculinity and what it means to him — well aware of the power of the new path he's blazing as the first second gentleman. Before the election he participated in Fatherly's "Ask a Grown Up" series, in which he fielded a question from Atticus, 9, asking what he would do if his wife Kamala Harris became vice president. His answer pretty much sums up how Emhoff has tackled his new position and taken seriously his status as a role model. 

"Well, first I'd say 'Yay!'" Emhoff responded. "And then I'm just gonna do what I always do, Atticus. I'm going to support her because it's really important for men and even young boys to support the strong and wonderful women in their life, and I'm going to do that, and I hope you do that too, Atticus." 

As Emhoff wrote in a January GQ article, "I am honored to be the first male spouse of an American president or vice president. But here’s the truth: generations of women before me have used this platform to advocate for causes they believe in and build trust in our institutions at home and abroad — often without much accolade or acknowledgment. It’s on their shoulders I stand. And it’s their legacy of progress I will try to build on as second gentleman." 

Emhoff added, "I may be the first second gentleman, but I know I won’t be the last."