NYC Dads Group recently sponsored a screening of the documentary, The Mask You Live In. The film focuses on masculinity and how our often limited view of it can impact the lives of boys and men. It is a truly powerful film, one that is relevant for all. There is much to take away from The Mask You Live In, so I've decided against a traditional review.
What hit home for me was the data the film shared. Not all of it was entirely shocking. However, all of it provided potent reminders that our behavior can far too often be problematic, especially when we are perpetuating stereotypes. In addition, the words of former NFL player Joe Ehrmann will stay with me. He feels that "be a man" is one of the most destructive phrases a male can hear. As men, we are often asked to "man up" or "be a man" because of a stale, limited view of masculinity. The film shared stories about males who had to deal with consistent bullying in school just because they didn't represent the stereotype of manhood. We were reminded that 25% percent of boys are bullied. What is more shocking is that only 30% of the boys are willing to share this fact with parents. This is because they do not want to be perceived as weak. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to the most depressing fact shared by the film. Every single day, three or more boys commit suicide. I left the theater wondering am I doing enough to prevent this and what am I doing to prepare my daughter for a world where so many men feel the need to perpetuate these antiquated stereotypes. When you hear that every nine seconds a woman is sexually assaulted, it's difficult not to be concerned.
This film reminded me that for the most part, I am lucky. I wasn't bullied. I was allowed to create my own sense of masculinity. I had men in my life that were quite respectful, cared about me, and didn't question my manhood. Perhaps it was because I represented the masculine stereotype: straight, athletic, virile.
What is interesting is how my mother, who raised me by herself, had to endure ridicule about me. When I was young, I enjoyed going to playgrounds, but was not really interested in sports. This was perceived by some of the men my mother knew as a sign that I might be gay. Although my mother was not concerned about whether or not I was gay, what did anger her was the mentality that a woman could not raise a boy without a father. My mother was determined to prove them wrong. As I entered my middle school, which is all-boys, my mother and grandmother both had to deal with questions about why I was attending an all-boys school. "Aren't you afraid of Christopher becoming gay?" "No, I'm not," replied my mother.
Instead of justifying behavior by constantly saying "boys being boys", we should develop good, thoughtful human beings. Boys and men who value life and their actions. Men who look at how a woman is dressed not as an invitation and would not take advantage of someone intoxicated. Men who can play sports effectively and proudly and not be called out when they incur an injury. Men who are not afraid to show affection and emotion. Men who are happy to redefine the current definition of masculinity.
There's a section of The Mask You Live In where some teens discuss, "If you really knew me. . ." It's because so many of us wear masks to hide who we are and how we really feel. The tough question to consider is what can we do to help people be themselves. Because, as the film reminds us, everyone deserves to feel whole.
Further reading and viewing.
View the trailer for The Mask You Live In.
Joe Ehrmann's talk at Ted X
For more information about the documentary, click here.