Is hypermasculinity killing young men?
New documentary 'The Mask You Live In' suggests it is
‘Three of the most destructive words you can hear are… "be a man." So says the trailer for a new documentary, The Mask You Live In, which examines the damaging relationship that young boys have to a specific ideal of hypermasculinity that societies promote.
The film makes the case that this narrow and restricting concept of masculinity forces men to repress their true feelings and therefore not seek proper mental health care. It also argues that this repression can manifest in the form of expressions of violence.
The arguments are presented by various contributors, from scientists conducting mass studies of male behaviour to community workers engaged in projects with young men in disadvantaged communities. The film is directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who previously directed Miss Representation about the portrayal of women and female identity in media. She states she wanted to take a careful look at the "damage we're doing to our young boys and how they stay true to themselves while navigating these societal pressures."
For me personally, I find the thesis of the film compelling. Understanding that I didn’t have to conform to traditional gender stereotypes in order to be happy or fulfilled was hugely liberating. I now don’t feel nearly as much pressure to live up to the traditional idea of what a man should be as I used to, and I used to feel it a lot.
However, are the ideas of the film borne out by evidence? Well, there is a wealth of shocking statistics to suggest so. In the United States, boys in the US, compared to girls, are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. Here in the UK, suicide is the most common cause of death in men under 35. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. This is frequently attributed to men failing to seek counselling or mental health support. A recent report by The Hindu paper suggested that the high frequency of sexual violence was directly linked to toxic masculinity.
So clearly this a problem we should explore further--the lives of many young men depend on it.
If you live near London, you can watch "The Mask You Live In" at the Global Health Film Festival, 30-31 October 2015. Find out more here.