The Mask You Live In
Are we raising boys with a warped sense of what it means to be a man? This confronting US documentary raises serious questions about how society defines masculinity and teaches boys to behave.
The Mask You Live In, a documentary directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom sees US scientists, psychologists, educators and activists explain how boys face a narrow view of masculinity that is often violent, sexist, homophobic and sometimes misogynistic.
“To eradicate male violence toward women, we’ve got to raise up a healthier generation of boys that become men, that learn how to be emotionally connected and respect other human beings.”Joe Ehrmann, Founder, Coach for America
From a young age many are taught by parents, schools and the media to disconnect from their emotions, “man up”, see women as inferior and resolve conflict with violence.
Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom demonstrates how this narrow construct hurts boys and leads many into low self-esteem, substance abuse, crime, violence and suicide risk. This destructive culture continues despite 50 years of feminism, partly fuelled by the media and violent video games.
Former professional footballer and father of four, Joe Ehrmann, articulates the dilemma well. As a child, Ehrmann’s father told him to turn off his emotions and “be a man”. He is now working to redefine and reframe the social responsibility of sport, coaches, parents and players. Ehrmann believes the pressure on boys to be hyper-masculine, misogynistic and violent sets them up for failure, as none of that reflects genuine masculinity. He says “father wounds” like his are among the biggest problems boys and men face, especially those lacking strong male role models.
“He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it.”George Orwell
To help, Ehrmann encourages coaches to be life mentors and discourage hyper-masculinity. “In a win at all costs culture it’s strictly about the win at the expense of character development,” he says.
The figures are sobering. Among other things, Siebel Newsom reveals that in the US:
- Two in three young men use pornography weekly; 20 per cent use it daily
- By age 12, 34 per cent of boys have started drinking alcohol
- The average boy first tries drugs at 13
- One in four boys binge drink
- One in four boys report being bullied at school; just 30 per cent seek adult help
- Fewer than half of boys with mental health challenges seek help
- More than three people are killed by guns every hour in the US; mass shootings (four or more deaths) occur every two weeks.
- Suicide is the third biggest killer of boys.
Apart from the unparalleled US gun crisis, we face similar social problems in Australia. This makes The Mask You Live In is timely and eye-opening. But there is hope.
Siebel Newsom discovers support groups and education programs boosting the self-worth of at-risk young men. The likes of Ehrmann are helping to enlighten and young fathers such as Steven, whose dad never said he loved him, are exploring emotions with their sons. Closer to home more parents, schools, youth groups and sports clubs are teaching boys about respect and responsibility. Despite the gains, however, instilling in boys the confidence to resist the pressure to fit a potentially damaging stereotype is easier said than done.
*The educational version of The Mask You Live In contains the feature film, a youth version and customised footage for junior, middle and senior high school age groups.
Watch the trailer below.
See more at www.therepresentationproject.orgCheryl Crichley is a freelance Australian journalist. This article is about Film Review, Wellbeing
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