Recommended Viewing Situation:
With a box of tissues ready or in your basement with a Breitbart alt-righter, strapped into the Ludovico chair from Clockwork Orange.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Format: Digital Film on a Canon 5D.
Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom.
Writer: Jessica Congdon, Jennifer Siebel Newsom.
Cinematographer: John Behrens.
Awards: Las Vegas International Film Festival Won Best Achievement in Female Filmmaking.
The second documentary to be produced by the Representation Project, following 2011’s Miss Representation, The Mask You Live In sets its sights on deconstructing modern masculinity, with a focus on how we socialise boys and young men. Bringing together educators, sociologists, psychologists and a former NFL defensive tackle, among others, the documentary takes aim at a culture that teaches men to suppress their emotions, constantly seek to dominate and outperform other men, treat women as inferiors, and resort to violence as a catch-all solution to any problem.
The film itself oscillates between talking head segments against a plain white background, where the aforementioned experts discuss how masculinity is constructed and disseminated to young men through our media and parenting styles, the variety of social ills caused by this masculinity, including the endemic violence against women that permeates nearly all societies, and interviews with individual men about how this construct of masculinity impacts their lives. These interviews are often harrowing, containing details of the sexual violence that young men can experience at the hands of abusers. It’s this frankness that gives the film a therapeutic tone – it’s a rare example of men on film dropping the posturing inherent in masculinity and opening up. One small gripe I have with the film is the constant quoting of statistics with no references to any studies, but it’s one I can overlook in lieu of the film’s honesty.
The film doesn’t shy away from taking the media to task for their role in imposing this masculinity on men, including a segment where they discuss the impact that violent pornography has on the development of young men’s attitudes towards women. Admittedly, the topic of pornography is always a tricky one to navigate and, similarly, the documentary may lose some support amongst pro-cannabis advocates, as it suggests that men’s’ excessive relationship with substances like marijuana and alcohol is an attempt at self-medication. In general though, the film does an excellent job of critically examining many of the supposedly self-evident ‘truths’ surrounding modern men. One excellent move by the film-makers was getting Joe Ehrmann, the aforementioned NFL player, in the film, as it demonstrates even hyper-masculine men are being damaged by this toxic masculinity.
In summation, watch it. It will open your eyes, either about your own identity as a man or the extent to which gender stereotypes are damaging everyone.