On Monday April 20, 2015, Lesley Third Wave, Lesley Women’s Center, and graduate student Stephanie Rosario Rodriguez, co-sponsored a screening of the film The Mask You Live In at the University Hall Amphitheatre. The Mask You Live In (2015), presented by The Representation Project, addresses the issues of hypermasculinity in American culture. This film was a follow up to the 2011 film Miss Representation which addressed the issues of sexism in American culture and media. The Mask You Live In looks at the pressure many young boys in America feel to suppress their emotional side in an effort to always look “masculine” and to avoid representing anything “feminine.”
This film is an important piece that recognizes and acknowledges the harm that American media does in its portrayal of what it is to “be a man.” In American culture, a man is supposed to be seen as strong and unemotional; if a man has outward emotions, he is then seen as weak or a “sissy.” Boys are taught that it’s okay to be aggressive and a womanizer; it’s better to talk about being pissed off than it is to talk about being sad. This emphasis on being traditionally masculine actually ends up harming many young boys, as they feel like they have to shut off all their emotions and bury them rather than talking to friends or parents about what they’re going through.
Many of the boys who were interviewed throughout the film had similar experiences relating to their home life and the pressure they felt to be a “man.” There was a general lack of communication that boys had in relation to their feelings, whether it was with their parents, friends or other trusted adults; however, girls were always encouraged to talk about their feelings and emotions with others. Many researchers and social scientists believe that this lack of communication can lead to many men feeling as though they have nowhere to turn if they wish to talk about issues going on in their lives.
In popular culture and media, such as film, television and music, the hyper masculine attitudes are stressed on an even higher scale. Men are expected to be dominant, athletic, hypersexual, and many other traits that remove any sense of femininity from their personality. Boys as young as the age of five are taught that it’s not okay to cry in public or show emotions. Even mothers are warned against treating a son the same way they would treat a daughter. While girls who are known as “momma’s girls” or “daddy’s girls” are typically considered to be cute and approved in society, a boy who is a “momma’s girl” is considered weak and unable to act like a supposed real man.
When asked why she thought it was important to screen this film on the Lesley University campus, Third Wave Co-President Kimm Topping said, “many students have seen Miss Representation either in courses on or on their own. It’s essential that we extend the conversation to include men and trans*/non-binary folks, so that we’re acknowledging all of the factors that contribute to gender inequity. The film does an incredible job of discussing how harmful stereotypes and expectations about masculinity are perpetuating sexism and homophobia. And the film addresses issues of sexual assault and violence–which are essential conversations on college campuses.”
This pressure on boys and men to reject anything feminine and completely ignore their feelings is actually quite harmful. There’s a lack of people boys can turn to when they’re feeling low or lost, then making them internalize those worries. Instead of talking to an adult or friend about these problems, a high percentage of boys who are taught to keep quiet about their feelings turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. This societal view about what a “real man” looks and acts like is extremely harmful to young boys growing up today and can lead to dangerous decisions made later in life. This film takes a small look into the societal and media portrayal of men in America and what must be done in order to address these issues to create social change.
For more information on The Mask You Live In, visit www.therepresentationproject.org/films/the-mask-you-live-in/