Film review – The Mask You Live In

I recently attended a screening of this documentary directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom on boys and young men in America.


The film was brought to Melbourne by the Wake up Project and was introduced by founder Jono Fisher. Jono reflected on how he had previously benefitted from attending a Rite of Passage training course and how, as a result, this film resonated particularly with him. Looking around the theatre of around 300 people, it was good to see a mix of men and women and a number of teenage boys too.

The film started by examining  the social influences driving young males to reject everything feminine in order to maintain a narrow definition of maleness. Sociologist Michael Kimmel suggested an easy way to start a fight between boys in a playground is to ask “Who is the sissy here?”. The documentary drew the distinction between sex and gender and how the concept of male gender was largely socially constructed, while psychologically, boys and girls were in fact not that different.

The concept of how young men wear masks was illustrated through a group exercise in which the young people wrote on the front of a mask what emotions they showed to the outside world and on the inside of the mask what they kept hidden.

Through interviews with young males, expert speakers and statistics, The Mask You Live In went on to examine masculinity in relation to drinking, homophobia, depression, bullying, male intimacy, crime, video games, porn and campus sexual assault.

For me it was too much. It seemed a long 97 minutes. The film tried to cover too much ground and ended up loosing potency as a result. A highlight was watching some young men leading group sessions with young males in school, youth and prison settings where the concepts of stereotypical maleness where challenged through openness and support.

I commented to someone after the film that the challenge was to get more people to be aware of these issues. But on reflection, I think the challenge is greater than that. It is to do more about it. The film raised many issues but offered few solutions.

I felt an underlying message in the film was that if only boys and young men were allowed, socially, to express more of their feminine side the world would be a better place. I reject this as a solution and suggest that if only boys and young men were allowed, socially, to express more of their true maleness, the world would be a better place.

It is the role of men to demonstrate what being a real man means and one of the best ways to do that is for real, sincere men to induct our boys into the world of men through Rites of Passage and to mentor them as they find their own place in the world.

The solutions to the issues raised in the film have been with us for hundreds of years, we only need to act.

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