The Permeating Effects of 'Man Up'

March 30, 2015

MLP Mask You Live In

The Men’s Leadership Project, sponsored by the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, presented Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s latest film, The Mask You Live In last month. While this film has still not been officially released, Claire Kaplan, Director of the Gender Violence and Social Change program at the Women’s Center, was able to secure an early copy, giving members of the community the opportunity to watch the film and engage in a follow-up conversation.

The Mask You Live In is the second film created for Newsom’s nonprofit organization, The Representation Project. After her first powerful documentary Miss Representation demonstrated the ways that mainstream media creates largely popular, distorted images of women that further the power inequality between men and women, she and her crew embarked to raise consciousness of society’s treatment of “masculinity” and the consequences of this treatment. The Mask You Live In detailed the ways media, parents, peers, etc. create limiting and dangerous understandings of what it means to “be a man."

According to the many experts highlighted in the film, society encourages men to behave as if they are emotionally detached, highly sexual characters that embody strength. In many ways, boys are taught to reject any stereotypically feminine behaviors that are often associated with emotions, relationships and weakness. As societal forces like popular media work to police this gender binary and these understandings of masculine and feminine, many children feel pressure to adopt the more extreme depictions of their presented gender.

As the film demonstrates, this process socializes many men to act violently, to abuse drugs and alcohol and to view women as objects. The effects of this socialization are disastrous. The film flashed many appalling statistics, including that “suicide is the third leading cause of death for boys” and that “compared to girls, boys are two times more likely to flunk or drop out of school.” These statistics demonstrate the unfortunate ways that society’s gender expectations are failing our boys.

The Men’s Leadership Project is one of our own community’s attempts to combat these pervasive and limiting ideas of masculinity. This mentoring program gives young boys the opportunity to have a “big brother” mentor that will help them develop themselves through physical and mental group activities and challenges.

MLP Big Brother application deadline is fast approaching: All who are interested in being mentors or supporting the goals of The Representation Project should apply to be a part of the program to help better our community. To apply to be an MLP Big Brother for the 2015-2016 school, please download and complete the application by April 10, 2015.

However, our efforts cannot be limited by the boundaries of our immediate community. The Mask You Live In crafted a moving message, demonstrating that our society’s boys and men need help to reframe the concept of masculinity.

As the documentary featured more and more painful stories and statistics, one portion stood out to me in particular:  “Ninety percent of homicide perpetrators are male.” To be candid, I have always accepted this “truth”, that men are more likely to be perpetrators, as if there was something inherently more violent about men than women. Until this documentary highlighted this statistic, I had been accepting what I thought to be a “natural” understanding of men, which is entirely unfair.

I reflect on the many ways I argue against the very limiting “natural” understandings of females and yet, I have never questioned the reasons for why men are more likely to commit these atrocities. Men are not just more violent beings; our society socializes them to be.

I thank The Mask You Live In for showing me the ways I am personally inhibiting progression away from the harmful understandings of masculinity and I would urge all to keep questioning these normally accepted truths, or natural understandings of socially constructed genders. The Mask You Live In provided necessary insight and will hopefully encourage more discourse on our understandings of masculinity.

In fact, I encourage anyone who is interested in viewing the documentary to go and speak to Claire Kaplan, who concluded the presentation by offering the documentary for public viewings. This film is very important and relevant for our troubled community.

As we struggle to discuss the hard truths of racial and gender bias in our very own school, it would be beneficial to reject these “natural states,” analyze unnecessary violence, and redefine our understandings of what it means to be a human being.

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