When focusing on gender roles as constructed by our society, too often the focus is on women. Within feminism, so much attention is paid to how we treat women that we often overlook our social norms’ toxic effect on our young boys.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film-maker behind Miss Representation, the highly influential documentary which explored the media representation of women, has turned her sights on the other sex in the upcoming The Mask You Live In. During the making of Miss Representation, she was constantly asked about the male point of view. At the time she was also pregnant with her son, which made her even more attuned to the culture of hyper-masculinity in which we live.
The trailer for The Mask You Live In (which phonetically sounds like ‘masculine’, as pointed out by Siebel Newsom) is stirring. Too often we assume that men are more callous, more unfeeling, less susceptible to pain, anger or insecurity than women because we live in a culture that propagates the idea that the less affected a man is by what is surrounding him, the more of a man he is.
This stereotype leads to an atmosphere that does not equip young men with the tools they need to navigate the highs and lows of adulthood. Men have been proven more likely to commit suicide, fail of out school, turn to alcohol or drugs or be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder. A large part of this stems from the undue pressure put on men to suppress their emotions; the phrases ‘be a man’, ‘man up’, ‘crying like a girl’, or ‘grow some balls’ are all thrown around repeatedly. Even as women, we’ve heard them constantly throughout our lives, levied against our classmates, our friends and our family members.
Attached though we may be to the idea of a rugged, rough man who betrays no emotion, this stereotype is as unrealistic and as harmful to young boys as the brainless, submissive sex kitten is to young girls. As psychologist Michael Thompson says,
We have to give boys permission to experience a wide range of feelings. Masculinity is not never feeling scared; it’s feeling scared, and then to know you can also surmount it.
The other side of the coin of hypermasculinity is breeding misogyny. If men are defined by their careers, their roles, their inability to empathize, this will naturally lead to a disrespect and animosity towards women who try to establish themselves in traditionally-male roles. Our current and deeply flawed mentality cannot be corrected solely by insisting on treating women right, but also on fair and equal consideration for men.
In our everyday lives, we see examples of this: the parts of our male friends and family members that we cherish most – their ability to empathize with us, to be honest, to confront emotion, to show respect and consideration – being disdained by the society we live in. In our society, it is acceptable for a man to take a drunken girl home instead of escorting her to a taxi. It is more attractive for them to be football players than writers or scientists. How many sexual partners they have enhances their reputation. If they admit to feeling emotion or stress or fear, they are immediately labelled wimps. The very qualities we complain about in our relationships with men are the very characteristics we propagate in our society.
Siebel Newsom is attempting to start a global conversation – on Kickstarter, the project has already exceeded its $80,000 goal by over $10,000. To learn more and to view the trailer for the film, you can visit their fundraising page here.
*Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Martin_Vmorris, listed under Creative Commons share alike license.