“We raise boys to become men whose very identity is based on rejecting the feminine and then we are surprised when they don’t see women as being fully human. So we set them up…to grow into men who disrespect women at the fundamental level and then we wonder why we have the culture that we have.” – Dr. Caroline Heldman, Political Scientist & Educator

Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s latest documentary, The Mask You Live In, sheds light on the damaging consequences of teaching boys to isolate their emotions from their identity. In our culture, they are encouraged to be violent and domineering, at an early age.

It is not surprising to learn that 1 in 4 boys report being bullied in school, but only thirty percent of those reporting to be bullied ever tell an adult. As boys, they are expected to fight back or be looked down upon as weak individuals. To think that these are their only two options in life explains why so many boys grow up into men who repress their feelings of sorrow.

I remember the time a seven-year old boy came home from school. The metal handle to his rolling backpack was bent in half. While the boy sat hunched over on the living room couch, his father scolded him for not defending himself and protecting his belongings. He assured his son (who was trying hard to contain his tears) that his bullies would not leave him alone until he took a stand. The boy’s demeanor revealed that he was sorry that he had disappointed his father. His father would never allow someone to disrespect him. It broke my heart to see this boy experience shame; it makes me think about the pressure for boys to wear a tough exterior.

In The Mask You Live In, a boy explained that if you open up about your feelings, then other kids could use that against you. They feel they have to be on the defensive and are forced to hide their troubles. To show a vulnerable side means potentially being compared to a girl.

Boys learn that phrases such as, “You play like a girl.” is meant as an insult. They are taught from today’s media to view girls as weak, emotional, objects that can be used and replaced. The way women are depicted in film, television, and video games is far from how they are meant to be viewed and valued.

Marcia Belsky, founder of the Headless Women of Hollywood, highlights how Hollywood objectifies women by displaying their bodies in movie posters. You see a woman’s leg, her chest or abdomen, but rarely her face. They are accessories, while the male character of the film is given precedence. Women in these ads are denied their identity. They are valued only by the attractiveness of their body.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a Psychologist and Educator, says that the “average boy spends 40 hours a week watching television, sports, movies, 15 hours a week playing videogames, and 2 hours in between those other things watching porn.” For this reason, parents and guardians must be aware of what their boys are consuming from the media. It’s ok to question the misrepresentations of men and women in today’s culture and propose new ways of thinking.

Discussing the qualities of what a man should represent and teaching it to the young men under our guidance is one step towards change. I asked a few people what it meant for them to be a man. Here are some of the responses that I collected.

“To be kind, respectful, and to know how to treat a woman. Masculinity is not about being a macho.” –Paola

“To be completely honest with yourself and others.” –Edgar

“To be caring and appreciative of the blessings he has and people who surround him.” –Tanya

Take the time today to write down three things about what it means to be a man. Make sure that these things are not related to physical strength or possessions.

To me, a man speaks his mind without yelling, gains respect without resorting to violence, and is sensitive to the suffering of others. Now, it’s your turn! Together let’s transform what it means to be a man!

Stephanie Sandoval

Contributing Writer, Two Wings