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. matthew d says:

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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