Viral Photo Highlights Healthy Masculinity

Mar 28, 2018

Daniel Fred is a professor of addiction treatment studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s been getting a lot of attention lately for a photo that a student took of him during class. In the photo, Fred is carrying another student’s baby while performing a lecture. The picture has gone viral online, starting a larger conversation about masculinity. Our contributor Paolo Zialcita spoke with Fred to learn more.

KUNR: Daniel Fred, thanks for joining us.

Daniel Fred: Yeah, glad to be here, man.

So, last semester you were featured in a student's tweet, which actually went viral. Tell me about the tweet. Why do you think it went viral?

Yeah, the tweet was really just of me having one of our student's babies in a baby carrier. And it's a long story, but to give you the short version, is that I had a student who couldn't find care for her baby one day a week, so I offered to hold her and my arm got tired, so I said, 'Hey, next time bring the baby carrier'. So, I think it was just because of, you know, being out of place of a professor teaching with a baby in a carrier was what made it go viral.

Your response to that tweet is about an idea called healthy masculinity. Can you explain to me what that concept is?

I think in order to understand healthy masculinity, you have to understand toxic masculinity. I think toxic masculinity is this idea of males only being able to fit into this super macho grid of what males are supposed to be, so the only emotion we're allowed to express is anger, ya know, we don't like kids, we don't like babies. What healthy masculinity is, is kind of embracing feminine traits, being okay with it, that's part of masculinity, that's part of who we are.

On Instagram, your photo got about 95,000 likes and almost 300 comments. What did you learn from those comments?

A lot of them were around the context of not being able to fit a professor holding a baby into their vision of masculinity, so it's either, like, questioning my sexuality or questioning, if like, I was actually dating the student or something like that. So, I think having the conversation of healthy masculinity alleviates a lot of the social issues we have. We don't realize how much of what we experience socially can be because of toxic masculinity.

And you've been open about your history with substance abuse. Do you think toxic masculinity played a role in that situation or that it could have for other men?

For me, I do, in a sense of, I think most addiction and substance abuse disorders, a lot of it has to do with trauma. And that's one of the most common factors with people who are diagnosed with substance abuse disorders. For me, I have some specific traumatic events. Where I think that toxic masculinity played in to it was I had no way to really deal with it, so it was basically like, 'Be a man, push it down, don't deal with it.' But that stuff's got to get out somewhere, and for me, it was like alleviating the pain through alcohol and other drugs. It was kind of the only way for me to escape the pain of something I was supposed to be able to push down--and it'll go away--and it never kind of went away.

You have three daughters. How does this affect your parenting?

You know, I think, just being a dad with three daughters and a wife, obviously being the only guy in the house. You know, I think I`m setting the example if my daughters are going to choose males later on in life. Like, what healthy relationships looks like. So I try to be really aware of talking openly about my emotion, like admitting my mistakes. You know, just being communicating and being okay with being emotional and just those different things, like kind of being comfortable with who I am. With having daughters, it's kind of setting the example of what a healthy male is like.

And, my last question; how do you recommend men practice healthy masculinity.

You know, I think it starts with being able to question what we've always believed about masculinity. And finding ways that are comfortable to be able to talk about issues that we're facing or to be open and vulnerable--different things like that. But I think, really, honestly, is the first is kind of questioning what we believe about what makes us men, so to speak, and why we believe that and if that's really conducive to healthy for us and healthy for those around us.

Thank you for joining us.

Yeah, thanks man, appreciate it.

Paolo Zialcita is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism