By David Michael Newstead.
I’ve wanted to see this documentary for a while now. And last week, I finally got the chance. After watching it though, I felt like I needed to think about the material for a few days. The Mask You Live In touches on a wide variety of issues surrounding masculinity in America. In my view, this ends up being the film’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness since it covers so much territory. But that overview format also means the audience can identify with a specific issue that might resonate the most. These include insights on sports culture, socialization, education, violence against women, hook-up culture, suicide, mass shootings, and more. For me, some observations were applicable to my own life, while many others were not. However, that’s not a criticism so much as it’s a recognition of the vast differences that are possible within American masculinity.
For example, one segment focused on a kind of round table discussion by prison inmates who were all violent offenders, serving life sentences. Their perspectives on how they were raised, what manhood means to them, and how a man solves problems were incredibly interesting, because they embodied where negative forms of masculinity can lead. Related to that, Jackson Katz explained how mass shooters and sex offenders are essentially being manufactured and that they aren’t aliens that grow up separately from the rest of American culture.
And it’s that same culture that’s under scrutiny throughout the film. The basic takeaway being that a hyper-aggressive, emotionally atrophied form of manhood is the root of many of these problems or at least a major contributing factor. One way the film underlines this is by pointing to the significant jump in boys’ rates of suicide as they enter adolescence, which occur at five times the rate of girls’ suicides and are the third leading cause of death among boys.
But far from just discussing the extent of the problem, The Mask You Live In also advocates for a better kind of manhood and shows how we might get there. But for me to really reflect on that, I want to watch the film a second time.