The Mask You’re Forced To Wear
From the moment we are born, boys and girls are conditioned to act and behave in a certain way. Girls can be made to feel as if they’re the ones who must possess the feelings, and boys must be the one’s who never cry.
Carrying on into adulthood, women are viewed as the emotional nutcases and men are thought to be the tough, emotionless, fix-the-problem kind of person. No matter how much we try to pretend those expectations and stereotypes aren’t there, they are. It comes from a long history of ideal human behaviors that are determined by older values, and still stick around to this day. Boys are told to “be a man,” girls are told to “act like a lady.”
The Mask You Live In
A new documentary entitled The Mask You Live In directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015. It’s focus is on how we depict men in society, using quotes like “grow some balls” and “be a man” as great examples of how we expect boys to act.
Newsom and two other men were featured on the Today Show on March 4th to discuss the new documentary, as well as share their own stories to show us some of the pressures young men are put under. Stephen described how his father taught him any emotion other than tough is “weak,” and Louis briefly described his upbringing without a dad and among bad influences. Newsom described this issue as a “public health crisis,” and described the movie as a “call for hope.”
Changing It Up
It is exciting to finally see a documentary come out that focuses on the pressures that men face in this world. We frequently hear about campaigns to break common stereotypes that are associated with women (like Always’ #LikeAGirl), movements to help women feel more empowered about their body, and we are working hard to break down walls that prevent us from being treated the same as the men of the world. It’s great. Do not get me wrong. We’ve come a long way, and it’ll be a while until we can stop associating women with emotional breakdowns that are feared to jeopardize our ability to make logical decisions (which is obviously incorrect).
But it is true that we see far more motions to break the common standards placed on women than we do of men; specifically, young boys. Rarely are we told as young girls to not say “man up.” Teens and adults yell “grow some balls” to anyone that needs to complete a task that they fear, obviously implying that success comes from having something only a man can have. Metaphorically, of course. It’d be like saying “grow some boobs and cry about it.”
It’s less likely for us as a society to associate these common phrases and expectations to possible issues and inner battles within our boys of today. With a bunch of boys and men pretending to have a hard external shell, we cannot possibly observe how they truly feel about something. Thinking that you’re not allowed to cry (“like a girl”) is only telling someone to not express their emotions, not just telling a man to be tough.
A young boy in the preview of this film describes that feeling to be like bottling everything up and never being able to let them go. Boys interviewed then admitted to intentionally seeking trouble, which could be treated as an outlet to express themselves that may seem more “manly” than an emotional conversation.
The Importance of Letting It Out
Harboring emotions and stopping yourself from reacting naturally can be detrimental to your mental health and the relationships around you. Newsom describes that having a stronger connection to your inner self can be beneficial in preventing anxiety and depression, all of which are associated with boys undergoing the pressures of “being a man.” Being able to be honest with yourself is the only way to be 100% honest with others, and we all know that is the key to any functional relationship.
It is about time that this issue steps into the spotlight. This documentary is a great step towards improving men’s ability to access their emotions and feel more comfortable with embracing them.