Thanks to my friend, Mary M. Dalton, Ph.D. (to my complete joy, she casually mentioned that the festival was happening), I was able to see three films last week at the Reynolda Film Festival. One of those films, The Mask You Live In, is one that I’d anticipated since it was announced that Jennifer Siebel Newsom (Miss Representation, The Representation Project) would be tackling the issue of masculinity and how the notions surrounding it are brutally damaging and crippling our boys. I shared with Mary a few of my own experiences with the one-dimensional expectations society places on men. (Don’t show emotions. Don’t cry. Never do anything associated with femininity) Unfortunately, not all males are in positions to deal with those challenges. They perpetuate violence and anger (one of the only “accepted” emotions boys can display). They end up in jail. They end up living the most inauthentic of lives.
The Mask You Live In explores the consequences boys face when, at an early age, they hear the most dangerous words a boy can hear: “Be a man.” I don’t know what that means, but if you are going to say, “Be a man,” you better also say, “Be a woman” because I am assuming you mean, “Be strong. Have integrity. Be open-minded. Stand up for what you believe in.” I know that is not what sexist and close-minded people mean when they say, “Be a man,” but I want to do what I can to change the meaning. Mine is much better. Everyone should see this film. Men need to see this film because they need to change their attitudes in order to change the world. It cannot be up to women alone. And it is an absolute necessity that (we) men recognize (our) their privilege and act accordingly. This narrow definition of “masculinity” is hurting and scarring, and the pathology spreads and spreads. It needs to stop.
Right after you see The Mask You Live In, please see The Hunting Ground (2-time Academy Award® nominee Kirby Dick). The very ideas of masculinity and the very culture we have that values men at the expense of women lead to the sexual violence that is constantly swept under the rug. Victims are blamed and perpetrators are protected. Anyone who does not see that this is happening because of the ubiquitous sexism that plagues society is, well, certainly delusional.
The film focuses on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and the appalling reality that administrators work extra hard not to help victims but to make accusations disappear in efforts to maintain a “clean” image of the school for marketing and financial purposes. The problem is so extremely prevalent that if all schools came out and did what is right, everything would change. However, no one is willing to do so, so the violence and victim-blaming continue. Statistics show that 8 percent of men are responsible for 90 percent of sexual assaults. The men in that 8 percent repeat their crimes because they know they can get away with them. This is depressingly disheartening, and this is a representation of our greater society. Women are not listened to, they are not believed, and they are devalued, all for the sake of this unhealthy need to put men on a pedestal. The Hunting Ground also presents men who have been sexually assaulted. These victims face ridicule for “not being a man” and “allowing” themselves to be attacked. It seems that society would rather have men attack and rape than have them learn to be vulnerable, experience and work through their pain in productive ways, and take a healthy place in the world. You’d think we would have evolved further than this.