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Masculinity in Our Society: A Reflection on The Mask You Live In

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Shelbie Patterson

on 1 August 2016

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Transcript of Masculinity in Our Society: A Reflection on The Mask You Live In

Masculinity in Our Society:
A Reflection on
The Mask You Live In

"Be a man."
Being told to "be a man" is one of the most destructive things that can be said to a young boy. There is this social construction of sexuality that tells boys that they must be tough because "that's just how men are." It can be so detrimental to how a young boy or man views himself and others. When a boy is told anything like "be a man" or is insulted with words like "sissy" or "gay" and is continuously told those things whenever he does something wrong or feminine, he is being told that no matter what he does, he is not good enough to be a "real man." Not only do these words destroy the confidence of men and boys, it skews the way they view women and homosexuals. Even at such a young age, if a boy is told he is a "sissy" or "gay" in a negative connotation, he will begin to see women and gay people as inferior. This leads to intolerance, sexism, homophobia, and bullying of women and people in the LGBT community. Throughout the man's life, he will continue to try to prove to everyone that he is masculine and not like a woman or a gay man, because he does not want to be seen in a negative way.
I would never want a man to feel less about himself because of his masculinity, or lack thereof. As a society in 2016, we should be encouraging our young boys to live in a way that will make themselves happy. We should be teaching the new generation of boys that expressing feelings is nothing to be ashamed of, but something to be embraced.
1) G. Varnum. 2014, May, 29.
National Report on Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Communities Released Today
, Retrieved from

Fast facts: statistics on violence against women and girls
, Retrieved from www.endvawnow.org

The Healthy Masculinity Project
, Retrieved from
Fearing Weakness
I believe that young boys are most definitely socialized to fear weakness. Boys are taught that if they are weak, they will be ridiculed. They are told that if they are weak, they will never live up to the status of a real man. Sons are abused for being weak in their father's eyes, and boys are bullied by their peers for dressing or acting a certain way that is seen as weak. Boys are taught at such a young age that they must be strong and powerful.
This is definitely something that should be changed in larger culture. By telling young boys that they cannot be weak, they try to become stronger than the next boy, and the next boy, and so on and so forth. These unsatisfied boys will eventually become unsatisfied men who will become depressed and angry because they never feel that they are good enough. We must teach our young boys to be constantly happy, not constantly dominant.

Below is a TED Talk that I highly recommend by Bill Pozzobon on breaking the "boy's code" on masculinity:
What I have Learned, continued
Initial Thoughts: What I Have Learned
A lot of the points made in the video I had a general idea about, but I did learn much more about the deeper roots of some of these problems. I knew that dehumanizing a young boy with insulting words can lead to the boy repressing feelings and emotions that should be released. However, I did not realize how destructive repressing these feelings can be. From this documentary, I have learned that dehumanzing a young boy leads to sexism, homophobia, and horrific crimes such as domestic violence, murders, and more. These hurtful ideas that are imbedded into the minds of young boys can be much more destructive than what people realize.

This documentary also opened my eyes to the fact that men go through a great deal of mental strain. As a society, I feel that we think that because men do not express their emotions, they do not have these internal struggles. The problem is, men are told that they cannot talk about these struggles and feelings that they have and they must bottle them up. To many men, being emotionless and expressionless equals masculinity, and that can be so detrimental to men's mental health. As a feminist in today's world, I must realize that many men also deal with sexism, just in a different way, and that repressing men's thoughts and emotions is a very real problem in our society.
Individuals from "The Mask You Live In"
One individual that really resonated with me was Tommy, one of the prisoners (seen at 1:11:20). At such a young age, he was abused by a man that should have been his role model: his father. He said his father "ruled with intimidation and fear," which must have been terrifying at such a young age. He stated that drugs seemed to take away the pain that he was suffering from, and that shooting and killing a man made him feel powerful for the first time. He said it was the first time he stood up for himself, but it came at such a great cost. His story resonated with me the most because it made me realize how detrimental repressing a boy's or man's feelings can be. Years of bottled up pain, anger and resentment resulted in him ending a man's life. The people in the society that he was in most likely just viewed him as a terrible guy. However, in reality, he started off as an innocent child just like the rest of us, and just ended up doing a horrific act because he couldn't contain his frustration anymore. Hearing his story really made me think and reevaluate my thoughts on men who commit crimes. If we evaluated criminals deeper, we may come to find that because society has told them that they cannot express their concerns to anyone, they feel that they can only release frustration through crime.
The Humanity of Women in the Eyes of Men
Men are subconsciously raised to see women as not fully human. Young boys are told that they should not be like women, and must be strong "manly men." Because of this, they eventually start viewing women as inferior. When they become young men, they see women as not fully human because they are not as strong as men. Women start to be viewed as objects, not human beings with real feelings.
Men are taught to devalue women in different ways. Most of the time, men devalue women based on a hierarchy in the household. Men are subconsciously taught that women cannot have much of a career, and should only be in the household. They are also taught that even if the woman has a career, she should still cater to the needs at home. This gives the man a sense of control no matter what.
Boys begin to devalue girls as early as elementary school. They do not play with the girls because they are told that the girls aren't tough enough to play with them. They are also told that if they like a girl, they should make fun of her and bully her. This is obviously not a good thing, because it can lead to boys believing that they can hurt girls regularly and not be ridiculed for it. This early exposure to dehumanizing girls can ultimately set up a path of sexism, and possibly violence towards women, in the future.
Individuals from "The Mask You Live In" continued
Another individual that resonated with me was Ian, the "sports guy" who also loved theatre (seen at 1:16:30). He resonated with me because despite what others thought of him, including his father, he pursued something that he loved, which was theatre. He stated that because he had realized that both his mother and a girlfriend he had had been raped, he really started to think about his own masculinity and the costs of not expressing himself enough. He quit sports to do theatre, and he stated that his dad was uncomfortable with his performances because he was not a "man's man" anymore. However, despite these statements, he continued to do what he loved. Ian's story can be so inspiring for all young men struggling with defining their masculinity. Ian decided that he was going to accept himself for who he was, not for what others wanted him to be. He did not repress himself; he acted on his unsatisfaction with his life and fixed what was wrong. I wish that more young men were like Ian, because if they were, they would be so much more confident in themselves and they would be able to start living their lives how they truly want.
Strategies for Healthy Masculinity
There are many ways that we can have healthier forms of masculinity in our society. Some ways are:
Showing young boys in elementary school that the girls can play along too.
Help eradicate rape culture through actions such as teaching men that rape is wrong, instead of teaching women to prevent themselves from getting raped.
Showing young boys and men that displaying emotion is healthy by not ridiculing them when they express feelings.
Teaching men that women can perform just as well as men in their careers.
Show boys and men that they can be strong without being violent.
All of these strategies must begin at very early age. We must somehow show teachers and parents that even before elementary school, they should teach the boys that they do not have to "be a man" to be important. Schools should implement programs to teach these aspects to boys and parents should be offered programs or counseling to learn how to implement these aspects into their parenting. If we could incorporate these ideas into our daily lives, we could create a much better society for future generations to come.
There are programs that have actually already been created to promote healthy masculinity. The
Healthy Masculinity Action Project
, for example, works to eradicate stereotypes and harmful expectations that society teaches boys about how to be men. (3)
Shelbie Patterson
Adam Lanza
Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting
Omar Mateen
Pulse Shooting
Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold
Columbine High School Shooting
The documentary stated that many men that continue to feel repressed of emotions thtoughout their lives tend to build up so much anger that they can lash out in very aggressive ways. It made me wonder if different mass shooters, such as the ones above, dealt with those struggles up until the shooting occured.
Statistics on Violence Against Women and LGBT
The NCVAP (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs) releases an annual report on hate violence. It stated that in 2013, there were 2,001 incidents of hate violence against people in the LGBT community. It also stated that LGBT undocumented people, transgender women/people, people of color, and gay men were at risk for the most severe violence. (1)
Women are victims of domestic violence across the globe. Most violence is from an intimate relationship. From available country data, each country ranges from 9% to 70% on violence against women where a husband or partner is the perpetrator. For example, in Chihuahua, Mexico, 66% of murders of women were committed by husbands, boyfriends, or other members of the woman's family. (2)
Because of hypermasculinity in all societies, the issues stated above are real all over the world. If we can stop the idea that all boys must be "manly men," many of these issues can be solved in time.
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