Gender Week’s The Mask You Live In Review

Where does you come from? I’m using the singular person intentionally because I’m treating you as something separate from yourself, something that’s a product of the world and the people around you. Everyone’s behaviors— especially those of us raised as boys and men—are drawn from the precedent set and judgment imposed by the peers/superiors around us.

The Mask You Live In, the documentary screened on Wednesday of Lick- Wilmerding’s Gender Week, made its mission to highlight the dangers of toxic, projected masculinity that saturates our culture. The movie, made by the same Representation Project responsible for the documentary Miss Representation, features personal accounts and talking heads from all manner of male (and female) experts relating their observations and conclusions about the state of masculinity today.

Stylistically, The Mask You Live In opts to speak for itself. It has no narrator outlining the flow of ideas, the opening, arguments and conclusion. Instead, it simply presents its facts and accounts without explicit introduction or structure. The result is a somewhat drifting river of ideas that can sometimes be hard to follow, but overall makes a well-stated case.

This movie is supremely well spoken and articulate; the case it’s making is not new, but its high production values and wide range of voices make it a very influential messenger. Personal accounts and candid footage mix nicely with color-unified graphics and occasional animations that demonstrate the movie’s point. Powerful shots include one boy quietly putting his arm around another, his head bowed, while educator Ashanti Branch explains to a group of classmates the dangers of internalized pain and emotion.

The movie combines anecdotes and statistics to attack the issues at hand and address in appropriate ways how toxic masculinity affects everyone on a societal, personal, and emotional scale. When discussing the effects of violent, hypermasculine media and easy access to pornography, chilling statistics flash onscreen to demonstrate the disproportionate rates at which boys and men commit violent or sexual crime. Other moments of the film follow the personal stories of males personally harmed by society’s expectations of masculinity.

The final frames of the movie urge the audience: “exert your influence.” This is the point of activism—that it’s an active participation. Now that the audience has learned of these issues, and is armed with this potentially new awareness and backing evidence, they can leave the theater and do the movie’s work in the spheres they live in. The extent of a documentary’s power stops with our heads; all the influence outside of that falls to us, and our imperative to act on what we’ve learned.

The influence—the power—everybody has is the ability to critique and even fight back against toxic masculinity in our culture. There’s no easy way to narrow your approach down; social constructs such as masculinity manifest in countless ways, which must be addressed in even more uncountable ways. But there are some good places to start. When you speak or act, avoid using emasculating language as if it were a bad thing, or using femininity to demean—the natural corollary to saying “man up” is “don’t be a pussy,” two of the phrases highlighted in the film as being psychologically destructive.

If you there are men in your life, which there probably are, think of small ways to encourage them to step outside their shells and drop the posturing. The most destructive forces of masculinity are built through the small acts and messages we receive every day; they must be dismantled in the same way. Exert your influence. There is no action too small.

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