An Insider to Masculinity Stereotypes
“He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.”― George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant”
The question of what is people’s true identity has been around for a long time. The movie “The Mask You Live In” screened by Students Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE) on Dec. 6 raised a lot of questions about society and its role in identity formation. Even though the movie focused on male stereotypes and their role in the male development, everyone can relate to it. Girls like dolls because they are girls, or because most of the toy products, advertisements, and movies insinuate they should. The same applies to masculinity. This question has bothered philosophers, social scientists and normal people, trying to find who they are.
By sharing this movie to a wider audience, SAGE introduced some of the complex issues related to gender assumptions. The screening and its elaboration of some of the problems presented in it showed the diversity of strong opinions about stereotypes existing in the AUBG community, according to the club members.
The movie covered a variety of problems, studies, and statistics, trying to reveal the full multitude and complexity of the issue. “The Mask You Live In” is an example of an advocacy movie which raises questions about the role of culture, social relationships, and stereotypes in personal development instead of seeking to offer solutions. Furthermore, it emphasized on the fact to the extent to which people use masks in front of the society is emotionally destructive.
The documentary examined the role of masculinity stereotypes in male development. It presented statistical data, showing some of the negative consequences of imposed roles on emotions. The movie made it clear that emotions in the male part of the population in the U.S. are not completely absent, but rather suppressed so that males can live up to the commonly perceived image of a man. The latter stated that the “alpha male” always keeps his composure in public and smiles even when he is in pain. But all people feel pain. It is part of human nature to be hurt by rejection, insult or loss, and men are not much different. The lesson that this movie drew is that hiding one’s true emotions and not being able to share them with others, might have destructive effects on people’s emotional development. Some of the negative effects discussed in the movie included drinking, depression, bullying, aggression, fear of male intimacy, and others.
The movie does not argue that all people who experience difficulty in sharing their feelings will turn into vodka-loving emotionally destructed people if they do not open up and share. It emphasized on the fact that people are so focused on their own catastrophic problems that they often disregard the healing effects of sharing with another human being. But being able to express their emotions is one thing. Having someone willing to hear them is another.
“The documentary asked more questions than it answered. One of those questions precisely is that people are more interested in their own problems and so they are not willing to listen. This movie was tailored for people who have a problem expressing themselves. For men who cannot truly be themselves because they are constricted by social construct. This is a problem of communicating,” shared Louis Toussaint, a fourth-year student in AUBG. “But there is a bigger problem and that is the listening part. Yes, you have someone who has a problem and he wished to speak to someone. But around that person, you have 10 people who are unable to listen. It does not matter if that person suddenly found put that he can express himself if there is no one to listen,” he then added.
The documentary featured an exercise in which teenage boys were tough to express their true emotions. The participants had to describe their true selves and what they show on the outside with a few simple words. Once the exercise concluded, the difference between happiness-pain, joy-anger opposites and other emotions that people hide from each other was striking. The roots of this problem lay in commutation. If people ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers of others, they will experience some of their true emotions. Asking people to share could have a great impact on their emotional state, fostering more emotional communication in return.
One of the major drawbacks of the movie was that it discussed “masculinity” as a socially constructed phenomenon. However, there are major studies in biology showing that boys exhibit behaviors such as playing more physically aggressive games and having an interest in toy gadgets, which result from genetics. To strengthen this view, the University of Turin and the University of Manchester conducted a joined study that investigated global sex differences in personality. It showed that there are some typical gender traits that are different for man and women. Women tend to be more sensitive, intuitive and tender, while men tend to be more unsentimental, objective and harm-minded. In fact, many of those traits have been translated to the “masculinity” stereotypes present nowadays and often imposed by society. And there is nothing wrong with boys having those traits. The movie depicts masculinity as a social construct but disregards some of the studies that include biological predisposition to the complexity of the issue. Various studies prove that there are certain genetic characteristics that are displayed differently in boys and girls. Society, in this case, reinforces and expands those characteristics to a whole new level, creating the “hyper-masculine” stereotype that many boys have a hard time fitting in.
The ‘macho man’ image is also supported by male visual representation in advertisements, video games, movies and others. Such men are emotionally detached, aggressive, sexually attractive to women, and extremely successful. An example of such character is portrayed in the “The Wolf of Wall Street” . The movie makes it evident that new child superheroes are emerging in popular culture. Not surprisingly “The Mask We Live In” shares a study conducted by psychologist Madeline Levine, saying that she has seen 8-year-old boys dreaming of becoming venture capitalists when they grow up.
The movie “The Mask We Live In” pointed out multiple problems in society that need to be scrutinized. Although the movie did not elaborate on many of the discussed issues, it fulfilled its main purpose. It raised many questions about the role of society in imposing stereotypes. This is important not only to the issue of masculinity but also to personal development in general. What is the true nature of human beings and to what extent they are programmed to display a certain identity and character, and to what extent they can change, is a question that has been discussed by biologists, social scientists, and philosophers. The issue becomes even more complex when they include the role of society to the equation. Even though, “The Mask We Live In” did not offer a universal explanation for those underlining specifics, it brought forward stereotypes as a factor-influencing identity formation.
The documentary is written, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. She is a founder of The Representation Project, a non-profit organization, that seeks to create cultural transformation. Other movies by the Representation project include “Miss Representation” and “The Hunting Ground.” The next project on which the Newson is currently working is called “The Great American Dream.”