Masculinity and The Mask You Live In

by Elie Doubleday

One of the most destructive phrases you can say to a young boy is “Be a man.” In our society, we’ve raised our boys to believe they can’t cry, the only emotion they can show is anger, they must dominate people and be on top.

There’s shame in not being able to defend yourself, in not being able to fight back. There’s a “just deal with it” mindset for boys who are being bullied and beat up, and what makes it even worse is 1 in 4 boys report being bullied in school.

That’s a lot of boys getting beat up and “just dealing with it” themselves. And if you can’t share the fact you’re being bullied, just forget about any other emotional baggage you might have.

Last night OES showed the movie The Mask You Live In (you can watch the trailer here) to the parents of middle and upper school students in the middle school commons.

The movie was created by The Representation Project, who, according to their website, use “film as a catalyst for cultural transformation,” and inspire “individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, or circumstance, can fulfill their human potential.”

Sex is what we’re born with, but gender is a social construct that falls on a spectrum, with masculine and feminine on the two ends. But what’s happened is television and movies display hypermasculine and hyperfeminine characters, simplifying the genders into the stereotypes we all know and thereby disallowing anything else.

According to the documentary, masculinity is presented as a rejection of everything feminine, and the three things that most show masculinity in boys and men is athletic prowess, economic success, and sexual conquest.

So many of the qualities we see as being masculine, like strength, power, and toughness, are exemplified in sports. Football is the epitome of men in our culture. The phrase “who’s being a sissy around here?” is the quickest way to start a fight as names start getting thrown, everyone wanting to be seen as the exact opposite.

And then the boys must prove they’re not a girl, must demonstrate their manliness. In the documentary, one man said, “Men use violence to solve problems.” And those who don’t are then are ostracized for not wanting to fight.

When they’re little, boys can be best friends with each other. They can show their love for each other and share intimate secrets with each other. But as they grow older, those actions are seen as feminine and are quickly dropped.

The phrases “He’s cool, no homo” or “I like him, no homo” are used frequently to demonstrate that you’re still a man.

That’s why drinking and drugs end up being so prevalent. Substances relax the rules of being a boy. They allow those feminine characteristics of hugging and being close with your friends. They treat loneliness, which many boys experience as they struggle to be seen as a man.

Masculinity is proving you’re not a girl, but yet girls don’t have to prove they’re not boys. The idea of being a tomboy is acceptable in our culture, but the idea of a boy emulating a strong female in his life is wrong.

In elementary school, being friends with girls gets boys excluded from the “Boys Club.” It destroys boys to hear they play like a girl from their coaches. Our culture doesn’t value what we’ve feminized, and then we wonder why our boys grow to disrespect women.

We teach them they must not show any feminine characteristic and then blame them for shunning women. We spend so much time focused on how to fix all of the problems for little girls, but they all come out of the problems for boys.

It’s because we’ve forced boys into such a tight box excluding women that we have issues respecting women. Therefore, if we want to empower women, we must also empower boys to be themselves, whoever that is. We must change our definition of masculinity before we can move forward with creating equality for all genders.