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Be a Man Project - Jacob Gruber

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Be a Man

A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.

Jacob Gruber

When I first thought about joining this project, I questioned if I had enough experience to be a part of it. I felt as if I might be too young and that I wasn’t a “man” yet. Then I realized how important redefining masculinity has always been to me. I have been raised to be comfortable with who I am and have always been surrounded by mostly women in my family. This has helped me navigate my masculinity as it has allowed for me to be in touch with my femininity. I have learned how important understanding this concept is and I hope more young men read this and it helps them too. Growing up I’ve always wanted the social expectations that go along with being a man to change and this has been the driving force behind what sparked me to join this project.

The first time I felt that I was outside the typical vision of masculinity was later in middle school. The way we view women is rooted in our environment and starts at a young age. I quickly found out that I did not view women the same as the boys around me. Many boys were very comfortable making multiple sexual comments about the girls in our classes or school. We were thirteen. Thirteen years old and boys were already objectifying women because they believed that would result in them being “manly”. After middle school it only got worse. In high school and college is when boys started acting upon what they previously would just say. Having two sisters, a mother, and a girlfriend I could never wrap my head around the behavior and way that many boys speak about women. I have been taught to empower women and what these boys were doing is the exact opposite. The crazy part is, I have encountered boys that also have many women in their family and they still view women inferior to them or are very gross when talking about women or girls.

I have struggled with the concept of masculinity for a long time. How does one define masculinity? Does my definition sound the same as others? Why does it matter so much in our society how masculine a man is? There are not easy answers to questions like these, but they start conversation to help deconstruct stereotypical views on men. Where I struggle the most with masculinity is how society labels you as masculine or feminine. There’s not an in between, there is one extreme or the other. If you ever so slightly venture out of this man-box society has created, you immediately face backlash and people outlandishly throw names at you. I have a personal example of this.

I never dated anyone until I was 18. I was patient and found the right young woman for me. In high-school, it is ingrained into boys' heads that the more girls you get with the more “manly” you are. A lot of people would always be asking me to try and date girls or would try to set me up with them. I never wanted to, so people would always joke about me being gay and not even liking girls at all. When in reality, I wanted to focus on school and soccer while not wanting to balance a relationship as well. It has been ingrained into people's heads, though, that a masculine man is a straight man that is with lots of women. That’s sad.

The model I try to set for those around me is a model I have learned from family. I have been taught to take initiative when I see people mistreated for being themselves. I have been taught to speak up for those without a voice. I will not tolerate those that spew hatred towards others based on their sexuality, religion, race, creed etc. I am confident in my own skin and want to help others do the same. I firmly believe in leading by example.

Our society’s understanding of gender norms or terms like masculinity has evolved over time and has significantly progressed from where it used to be. Still though, we are not where we should be and in general masculinity is still portrayed in a very specific way. Where I see one of the biggest issues is in the entertainment industry, especially movies. Many movies portray the lead male role as independent, driven, emotionless, strong, and sexual. When people watch these movies their expectations of men become that. Why can’t more movies portray the lead male role as nurturing, respectful, gentle, and providing. If our environment does not change we will continue to have young boys growing up to shape themselves into their icons on the big screen. I feel that we need to incorporate more feminine men into lead roles and also more masculine women into lead roles. We need young kids to see that there is no face to masculinity and femininity.

The model that young kids need today when it comes to masculinity can be anyone. It can be a family member, neighbor, friend’s parent, or an educator. As long as they are someone who can positively influence them. They need a model who can be vulnerable to all types of emotions and someone who will actually listen to you. A model that will hold themselves accountable and not place blame on others for their own mistakes. Someone that respects you just as much as you respect them. Someone who is kind and loves everyone.

Jacob was a student of mine. He was in my class as a senior during the last period of the school day. What always impressed me about Jacob was how he would patiently wait to contribute to discussion. Others would wrestle with their thoughts or guess at a meaning, and then Jacob would join with the most apt, succinct, thoughtful comment. Essentially, any time Jacob spoke, it was a mic drop. Nothing further needed.

He was always so open-minded, which is why I knew he'd join this project. In class we did units on toxic masculinity, hazing, privilege, and honor, and Jacob was always willing to entertain a new thought or adjust his thinking based on new information. I was always impressed by how Jacob approached class.

Jacob is also a stellar athlete. He is playing soccer in college while he pursues his study of criminal justice. (Here's his fall schedule if you'd like to see him play!) I am not surprised one bit at the ease with which he balances the demands of collegiate sports and academics. Jacob is the kind of person who will set his mind to a slate of tasks and just get it all done.

Thank you, Jacob, for joining me for the project. You are exactly the kind of young man we need to show younger and older generations that men can be flexible, sensitive, and thoughtful while also being intelligent and strong. If more men are growing up like you have, then the future is bright for all of us.

If you know someone like Jacob who deserves to be part of this project, then I invite you to send me an email at and share with me the story of the man, young or old, who comes to mind.

To read more about the project and its mission, click here.

It's time that we shine a light on the men in your life--young and old--who are redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow, for it should be these men we think of when we say, "Be a man."

If you're looking for photographs like these for yourself, then you'll want to check out my Headshots and Personal Branding or my High School Senior page. Join me for your portrait session soon. Email me at for details and scheduling.

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