This trailer is for The Mask You Live In, a 2015 documentary that explores American masculinity. From the creators of Miss Representation, a film that exposed and challenged the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, this film includes interviews of educators, researchers, and young men talking about how masculinity is constructed, represented, and policed from a young age and throughout adulthood. Contributors to the film discuss how harmful and damaging comments like, “Be a man!” “Grow some balls!” and “Get laid!” can be in shaping how boys and men learn to express or withhold expression of certain emotions like vulnerability, fear, and anger, and highlights the potential isolation and mental health issues that can arise from these gendered restrictions and expectations.
One of the men interviewed in the film, Joe Ehrmann, coach and former NFL player, said, “The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a young boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man.’” What do you think he means by this? What does it mean to “be a man” and why is it harmful to say?
What are societal norms about who gets to express emotions? Which emotions are more “acceptable” for men to express? Women? What happens when someone expresses an emotion not stereotypically associated with their gender?
The film highlights certain phrases that men and boys hear over and over again, like “Stop crying!” “Be a man!” “Grow some balls!” “Get laid!” “You’re a bitch!” and “You’re a fag!” which illustrates how these interactions shape and perpetuate gendered stereotypes and constantly reinforce a set of standards and norms about how men and boys should be expressing their masculinity. Who do you think is saying these things, men, women, or both? What expectations are actually being communicated in each of these phrases?
What are some ways to intervene when you hear someone use one of these damaging, problematic phrases? Are there moments that are inappropriate to intervene?