Sundance: ‘The Mask You Live In’ Examines America’s ‘Boy Crisis’

Mask You Live In Sundance

There’s a “boy crisis” gripping America, argues the provocative new documentary “The Mask You Live In.”

Society’s narrow definition of what it means to be a man is having a host of unintended consequences, ranging from substance abuse to violence to rape.

“We as a society are failing our boys and I wanted to delve into the concept of ‘how do we create a culture that doesn’t leave them so lonely, isolated and in pain?'” said director Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

“The statistics of boys compared to girls are frightening,” she added. “Boys are more likely to be expelled or kicked out of school, to binge drink, be prescribed drugs, engage in violent crime and to take their own lives.”

“The Mask You Live In” premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It marks a return to Park City for Siebel Newsom, who was previously at the indie gathering with 2011’s “Miss Representation,” which examined media representations of women.

“The Mask You Live In” maintains that many gender traits are a social construct and that the images of men that boys receive at home and from television, films, sports and video games encourages them to be stoic, dominant and to resolve conflicts with violence.

Siebel Newsom, who is married to California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, was inspired to dig into male culture after becoming pregnant with her son Hunter.

“This film is about my son and my husband and my father and all the men I love and admire,” she said. “It allows me to take a step back and reveal the culture that boys and men are fed and to inspire and encourage individuals to take action.”

The film does tackle some familiar sources of liberal outrage such as violent video games and pornography, but Siebel Newsom says she wants people to think about the images these entertainments present, rather than to demand wholesale institutional change.

“Our goal is not to decimate the violent video game industry,” she said. “Our goal is to inspire individuals to look at how they are socializing their sons.”

The hope, Siebel Newsom said, is that “The Mask You Live In” could be integrated into education curriculums. In her own life, she said that she and her husband have worked to encourage her son’s interest in cooking, a pursuit that historically has not been seen as a masculine one. They’ve also emphasized the importance of looking after other family members when they get hurt.

“We want to reinforce that caring is not just a feminine trait,” she said. “My son is always grabbing ice or getting Band Aids and taking care of our scraped knees and elbows. It’s about expanding him as a human being.”

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  1. Dan says:

    Excellent. It is good to see somebody discussing something that i have seen for a long time and i was wondering how people are repelled by the idea of discussing this issue. It is like a myth, that nobody can discuss the way boys are raised in America. The expectation that you must be tough, uber-masculine, or otherwise you are just a weakling that dont deserve to mate.

    Add to that the cult to physical strength that is making boys believe only athletes are deserving of attention. Intellectual achievements are looked down upon and people that cultivate them are called nerds and consider social pariahs. This makes boys unlikely to try to go to college, with all the terrible consequences that this brings them: unemployment, underemployment, lack of self esteem, men considering themselves a failure because they are stuck in an economic rut and addiction because of that. Of course, man, you dont have a college degree, you will be underemployed for the rest of your life. It is hard for them because they didn’t want to be nerds, remember? So they never prepared properly.

    Then in the other comments i immediately see why people are scared of this discussing this issue. The answer immediately is to say that if you are not hat uber masculine, violence ready, ubermale then you must be a femenine litlle flower.

    Guys: you can be strong, you can be masculine still, you just have to know that is not everything a man must be. You can be intellectual too, you can feel emotions too. In fact, for your information the science of emotional intelligence teaches us that the most successful men are those that are emotionally intelligent. They make the most money. Do you know what that means? they understand and rule their emotions and also are able to catch what the emotions or other people are and maneuver in accordance.

  2. matthew d says:

    …so what did he choose to call her son ? Flower ? Petal ?……no……HUNTER……..

  3. lynn oliver says:

    I hope you will see the problem as far deeper than the video games, movies, and other social media. I see them as escapes from the world they have been raised up in from infancy. I feel the differential, more harsh treatment they are receiving is creating higher aveage stress, very short reflection time, lack of achievement in society and disenfranchisement of many societal goals. I feel the problems you mention are simply avenues of escape from a senses hopelessness they are experiencing from day one to live in value system of the old physical world that has left them totally unable to compete in the information age. Unless “we are willing to look over our shoulder and see the more harsh differential treatment” boys, men receive from infancy, we will not correct the problem creating the Male Crisis.
    I developed a theory on the Male Crisis that shows how the treatment given Males to make them tough is really hurting development; academic growth as students, and holds them back in society. To understand how this differential treatment is creating problems for boys and men, we have to redefine our average stress as many layers of mental work that take up real mental energy from our lives. Try to picture an upright rectangle representing our full mental energy (Figure as attachment). Now, begin at the bottom drawing in narrowly spaced, horizontal lines to represent many layers of past, present, future experiences, problems, *aggressions (that create mental conflict), circumstances, values of self/others/society, etc that all are being dealt with as many layers; stop about half way. The space leftover shows our leftover ability to think, learn, and think long-term or reflection time. This kind of shows just how our individual environments and also differential treatment, greatly affect thinking, learning, motivation to learn, and our mental/emotional health.
    The problem involves two entirely different treatments of Males and Females as early as one year of age and increases in differential treatment. This is creating the growing Male Crisis. The belief Males should be strong allows more aggressive treatment of Males as early as one year. This is coupled with much “less” kind, stable, verbal interaction and less mental/emotional/social support, knowledge, and skills for fear of coddling. This increases over time and continued by society from peers, teachers and others in society. This creates more social/emotional distance from parents and other authority figures who have knowledge; also higher average stress that hurts learning and motivation to learn; also more activity due to need for stress relief; also more defensiveness and wariness of others further hindering emotional and social growth; and higher muscle tension (creating more pressure on pencil and tighter grip) that hurts writing and motivation to write. The social/emotional distance and much less verbal interaction creates a much lower social vocabulary that combined with higher average stress hurts both reading and writing – love of reading and writing. It creates much lag in development and less communication with adults creating a learned sense of helplessness in school. This differential treatment continues through adulthood, almost fixing many Males onto roads of failure and escape into more short-term areas of enjoyment. Also Males are given love and honor, the essentials of self-worth based on achievement, status, etc. This is done probably purposely to make boys, men try harder and also to be more willing to give their lives in time of war. When Males are not achieving, they are given more ridicule and discipline by parents, teachers, society to make them try harder (and also as a free excuse to exercise more abuse as a catharsis and ego, knowing society will not care). Support is not an option for fear of coddling Males. Many Males falling behind academics then turn their attention toward video games and sports to receive small measures of love/honor not received in the classroom. The much differential treatment is responsible. The lower the socioeconomic and time in that bracket the more set in place the knowledge and skills for physical skills, less knowledge for academics, much more anxiety then allowed upon Male children, and more continued rough treatment setting up an entire value system met with more aggressiveness from parents, teachers, and peers.
    I feel role models will not help as we need to revise completely our more harsh treatment of Males and also begin providing much more mental, emotional, social, verbal interaction and support from the first year of life onward. Note this problem would be affecting women if they were treated this way also.
    Since girls by differential treatment are given much more positive, continual, mental, emotional/social/ support verbal interaction and care from an early age onward this creates quite the opposite outcome for girls compared with boys. We enjoy lower average stress; higher social vocabulary; more social/emotional closeness, trust and care from parents, teachers, peers; and more ease of learning, reading, and writing. We are given love and honor simply for being girls. The lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in that bracket the much more amplified the differential treatment from a young age and increased and more differentiated over time.
    Please look at the Figure I sent as an attachment. I feel many Males are storing much anger and very high layers of average stress that are reaching toward their limit or into more irrational behavior without thought for fear. I feel unless we understand how layers of mental work can accumulate to create sufficient psychological suffering and a lost sense of self-worth, we will not be able to prevent many irrational actions by both boys and men who may react in the future to hurt all of us. My learning theory shows how we can more permanently reduce layers of mental work or average stress to continually improve our thinking, learning, motivation to learn, and our mental/emotional health. My learning theory explains how individual environments create large differences in learning over time and provides tools to improve our lives.

  4. Bob Munro says:

    There is a huge “boy crisis” in North America today and in other parts of the world. I personally think that it has little or nothing to do with the stereotypes that we hear about. I firmly believe that the bigger problem is Divorce and the absence of fathers and also the absence of GOOD Male role models. Good men and good fathers are not showing up and doing their job. When that happens it’s left to the women to decide how the boys should behave and how they should be.

    • lynn oliver says:

      Oh, the site is no longer in operation. However, will answer any questions. I hope we can see that society: parents, teachers, peers, others are providing the more aggressive treatment and much less care from infancy, creating very real differences in learning, academics, and hope over time. The escapes of the sports, video games, violence, drug/alcohol abuse, and suicide are just that escapes from not being able to compete adequately in other areas. This includes – much maintained, higher layers of mental work or average stress (from the continuous, aggressive, less supportive treatment); the higher muscle tension hurting handwriting/motivation (from more pressure/tighter grip on pencil/ pen); the more activity for stress relief; the probable 50% less social vocabulary and other less knowledge communication skills with others/adults (created by the social/emotional distance from the more aggressive treatment and much less mental/emotional/verbal support for fear of coddling) hurt academics for many boys, later men. Also a biggie, the combination of higher average stress preventing or limiting enjoying the complex or abstract skill of reading due to higher layers preventing the decoding, organizing, visualizing, reflecting, enjoying the process – and the lower social vocabulary along with much less knowledge of sentence structure also limits the ability to read and enjoy reading independently hurts boys achievement and reading. Another more subtle but just as hurtful aspect is the unconscious funneling of that higher average stress into improper pace and intensity in approaching newer mental work. In general, as our pace and intensity in approaching a new mental work exceeds our immediate knowledge and experience, we only intensify and further hurt our thinking, learning, and motivation to learn or enjoy the academic work. For boys this can be a killer for motivation both with Galton’s myth accepted by teachers “more effort” which only hurts their learning and motivation also. We must teach all students, especially boys in the most kind, helpful ways to slow down for newer, mental work and allow their mental frames to create more pace later with experience. As girls, the better treatment we receive creates lower average stress; more ease of learning; a much higher social vocabulary; and more support for any weaknesses. This better treatment also creates more ease of learning, reflection time, a more stable or deliberate (slower pace for newer mental work like academics); and this process begins very early with much more positive communication from infancy. This provides for much more development of mental frames for academic skills later. The providing for boy and men, love and respect only on condition of achievement along with more aggression, more ridicule, and other abuse to boys and men appearing weak or not achieving also drives those escapes even more. Boys and men not achieving are given more abuse by everyone under the guise of making them try harder but mainly because society allows it. This condition also shows why those very few supported boys are doing very well in the stem fields as the support those very few boys receive allows them to compete and achieve to receive love and honor from others. This becomes an ever-lasting drug for those few boys must keep achieving in order to keep receiving love and honor and not the ridicule and abuse the many many other boys are receiving. As girls, we are given love and honor for being girls. We can “choose to go into any field we desire” with much acquired knowledge, skills, and support from everyone. We may or may not choose to go into a stem, corporate, or other highly advanced field. Sense we are given love and honor for being girls or the essentials of self-worth, we can find fulfillment in many other fields. I feel as the middle class continues to drop, there will be fewer and fewer supported boys able to go into those more advanced fields, and more and more women “will simply choose to go into those fields”. Then yes, girls and women will begin to take over those few areas just as they have already taken over all of the other information age age fields. It is not genetics or effort; it is the difference between more continual care or more continual neglect by parents, teachers, peers, society according to gender.

  5. TEL says:

    I find it encouraging and exciting to see people of influence embracing a courage that is rare and much needed. Their willingness to ignore political correctness — by challenging our entrenched and narrow ideas as #genderequality — should be applauded. Society has embraced and strengthened this narrow definition of being a boy or man — a definition that damages every boy and man in obvious and subtle ways. Then they call that definition #maleprivilege.

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