Doug Emhoff Talks Masculinity with Filmmaker Justin Baldoni: 'You Don't Have to Talk Tough to Be Tough'

"I'm always curious at men who have to thump their chest to show how big they are," the second gentleman says

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff says there's nothing weak about his role as a supportive spouse to a powerful woman — in fact, supporting your partner is more than a way to be romantic, it's a sign of masculinity.

Emhoff is appearing Thursday with actor and filmmaker Justin Baldoni as part of the 2021 Makers Conference. In an exclusive clip from their conversation (above), he speaks about what masculinity means to him, particularly as it relates to his marriage to Vice President Kamala Harris.

Noting that men are often socialized to be "the providers," or the "center of attention," Baldoni (who recently wrote a book on the subject, Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity) asks Emhoff if he ever wrestled with the notion of going from a high-powered job in law to serving as second gentleman after his wife's election.

"Was there ever a moment where you just had shed all that stuff and be like, 'Okay, I was a super-successful entertainment lawyer, I was the king of the household, and now I married this badass powerful woman and holy crap, she's the vice president' ... I'm just curious — did you wrestle with anything on this journey?" Baldoni, 37, asks.

"This whole thing about manliness and what it means to be a man ... are just so wrong. I mean, what is strength?" Emhoff says. "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 okay 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."

Emhoff, a 56-year-old entertainment attorney, has been practicing law for almost three decades and was formerly a partner at DLA Piper Law Firm in Los Angeles.

Kamala Harris
Center, from left: Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff pose for a picture with healthcare workers as they delivered baskets of cookies on Feb. 13. ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

He left the firm ahead of the presidential inauguration to focus on his official duties as second gentleman and, in December, he announced he was joining Georgetown University Law Center, to teach a course for the spring semester titled "Entertainment Law Disputes."

He also serves as "a Distinguished Fellow of the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy drawing on his expertise in entertainment and media law," according to an earlier release sent by the Biden-Harris team.

In his conversation with Baldoni, Emhoff says his support of his wife doesn't diminish his own accomplishments or have any impact on his own confidence.

"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."

In the clip, Emhoff also speaks about the importance of vulnerability in his new public role, saying, "You've got to be vulnerable. You've got to be willing to let people see you, who you are, so they trust you ... And that's kind of how I roll."

Emhoff adds that his outlook on masculinity wasn't purely the result of his relationship with his wife but a product of his own upbringing.

"It just didn't happen because I met Kamala Harris. It was really put into my blood and soul by my father and my mother, who was a super-strong woman, competitive athlete," Emhoff tells Baldoni. "She really showed me what a strong woman could be."

Emhoff says his dad, a woman's shoe designer, was "one of the strongest, toughest, most self-actualized men I know and taught me so much, including the value of hard work."

"Part of what makes you who you are is what you can do for your family, not just by money though," he adds — "by love and by care and by being there."

Baldoni and Emhoff's conversation airs Thursday as part of the 2021 Makers Conference, a three-day event that focuses on topics of equity, diversity and inclusion.

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