Boys’ masculinity is shaped and influenced. At a young age, boys are taught to be tough, not to show emotion, and to reject any actions or feelings that are “feminine”. Even before a baby is born, parents are planning their nursery and getting clothes, toys, etc. for their unborn child. When you find out you are having a boy, you paint their room blue, buy fire trucks, and action figures. For some reason, gender reveal parties are popular this year. Their clothes are blue, bedding is blue, and you pick out names that are associated with males.
Before you are born, your parents are already instilling masculine qualities in you. These same ideas are ingrained in boys’ brains throughout their life. Masculinity is entirely a social construct as seen through parent influence and culture. A quote from George Orwell said, “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it” (“The Mask You Live In” 00:00:10 – 00:00:19). You are given this “mask” when your parents find out you are a boy or when you are born, and throughout your life, you are expected to form yourself to fit this mask. A mask of raging masculinity, no emotions, strength, power, and dominance. You are molded to be this manly man, whether you are that, or want that. Parents have the biggest influence on your life. They practically make you who you are; thus, they shape your masculinity. Take something as simple as the toys they buy you, for example.
Parents buy their sons toys like footballs and monster trucks, further instilling ideas of rough and tough qualities. They also put you in sports at early ages. Is it to get you involved, or is it to prove something else? Many young boys play football, arguably one of the most masculine sports, as early as ages five, six, and seven. Athletic ability is a more manly quality. The film highlights this through an interview with former NFL player, Joe Ehrmann. Football became a tremendous place to hide… you get to project this façade, this persona, the epitome of what it means to be a man in this culture. I thought if I could manifest this hyper-masculinity, somehow that would validate who and what I was. Certainly, my father would respect that, see how powerful, how strong, how tough I was, then give me the love and attention that I desperately wanted (“The Mask You Live In” 00:00:56 – 00:01:25).
Fathers feel responsibility for their sons’ masculinity and heterosexuality. Nicholas Solebello and Sinikka Elliott wrote, “(fathers) see themselves as pivotal in directing their sons’ future sexual preferences. This fits with much of the literature on the fragile and contested status of masculinity” (qtd. in Ferber et al.101). I have experienced many of those same pressures. My father was and still is, hard on me. He had me signed up for everything by the time I was in 4th grade – tennis, soccer, and football. Our parents might be damaging us without even knowing. The culture we live in has a great influence on boys’ masculinity. Bethany Coston and Michael Whether note that, ‘over time hegemonic masculinity has grown to encompass all aspects of social and cultural power, and the discrimination that arises from this can have an alarmingly negative effect on a man and his identity’ (qtd. in Ferber, et al. 24). Boys have to prove their strength and solve problems by physical confrontation for example.
The film brought up the point that you can start a fight on the playground by asking one simple question – “who is a sissy around here?” Boys feel the need to prove themselves. They feel the need to prove their masculinity and thus heterosexuality. Heterosexuality and masculinity go hand in hand. Bethany M. Coston and Michael Kimmel write, “The pathologization of male homosexuality in the early 20th century led to a rhetoric of de-masculinization. By the 1970s, a number of psychiatric theorists referred to male homosexuality as ‘impaired masculine self-image’, ‘a flight from masculinity’, ’a search for masculinity’, and ‘masculine failure’” (qtd. in Ferber, et al. 25). This is significant because it explains why men feel the need to overcompensate their masculine qualities. Being seen as feminine or weak, like in the instance of being called a sissy, further supports how strong these social pressures are. You cannot be sad and cry in this society. Masculinity is also seen simply through appearance. “I have always felt the pressure of ‘you need to be buff, you need to be masculine, you need to have a six pack” (“The Mask You Live In” 00:07:51 – 00:07:58). “I distanced myself from people who were less masculine than me” (“The Mask You Live In” 00:12:04 – 00:12:07). This shows the social pressures we, as men, endure in middle and high school, especially. No one wants to be made fun of or have their sexuality questioned.
Other guys pick on you and girls do not want to be with you. In high school, those issues can have a large impact on your self-esteem and identity. Jane Ward says that ‘straight men’s homosexual behaviors are marked by shame, secrecy, homophobia, and disavowal of queerness’ (qtd. in Ferber, et al. 81). Additionally, our culture has determined that masculinity can also be measured by sexual conquest. Things like, “this man is a legend with the ladies” (“The Mask You Live In” 00:09:51) are prevalent. Men are encouraged to have as many sexual partners as they can throughout their life. Take Hugh Hefner for example. Men consider him an idol – a legend. When you tell a male friend you went out with a woman, their first question is something along the lines of, “did you get some?” and “how was she?” Nicholas Solebello and Sinikka Elliott also noted, “men accomplish and ‘do’ masculine identities in large part by establishing themselves as heterosexual” (qtd. in Ferber et al. 101).
There are many more expectations placed on men than what society may realize. Whether it be pressures from your parents or from society, they are still prevalent. There are expectations that come from simply having a penis. You have to be strong and proud. You have to have big muscles and get all the ladies. You cannot cry – you cannot show emotions. I found the information in the film quite eye-opening to the issues myself and other men face growing up and throughout their life. The film made me realize how prevalent this issue is. From the select readings, there is support and evidence of said issues. We as young men, and grown men, experience so many pressures that most people may not have thought about. It is important to be aware of what ideas you are resonating within your young relatives or children. Lastly, we must be aware of how we speak to others. You have no idea how much words can affect others’ self-esteem and identities.
- Ferber, Abby L, et al. Sex, Gender, and Sexuality. 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2017.
- “The Mask You Live In”. Dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The Representation Project, 2015. Kanopy. Web. 7 Dec. 2018.