USF Takes Off the Masks, Investigates Masculinity

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Nureen Khadr
Staff Writer

The filmmakers that created the award-winning documentary “Miss Representation” on women in the United States and how the media impacts them, have been busy working on their new documentary “The Mask You Live In,” which was screened last Thursday evening at USF’s Presentation Theater. Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film follows boys and young men as they attempt to discover what it means to be a man in the United States. It explores heavy issues surrounding how young boys suffer in their friendships and relationships as a result of the imposed machismo values that are celebrated by American society.

The project was prompted when Newsom, having a son of her own, was asked: “What are you going to do about the boys?” Recognizing the danger of America’s narrow definition of masculinity, the film delves into what is generally associated with “being a man”, whether it is athletic ability, size, skill set, body, sexual conquest, or power. Men in San Quentin State Prison are asked to look back onto their upbringing and examine why they resorted to violence to solve their problems or in their circumstances. Throughout the documentary, it was impressed on viewers that the conversation of gender was one that needed to be had in order for our society as a whole to progress, and that the existing conversation already speaks to that progress.

Nigel Roger, a senior finance major, said the film made him consider when he began to take off his own mask: “As a mixed male and having suffered abusive relationships as a child and having these ideas of masculinity, this film spoke to me in so many ways that I would not have even thought it would’ve.

Statistics shocked the audience of students, faculty, and friends of USF, who learned that by the age of 12, 46 percent of boys regularly drink. Every day, three or more boys commit suicide, seven times that of the suicide rate of girls. Less than 50 percent of men and boys seek help for depression. Compared to girls, boys are more likely to flunk out of school. 94 percent of mass homicide perpetrators are men.

According to the filmmakers, these statistics represent the mask that society cannot see past, and the society that boys and men put on every day as they are taught: to suppress their emotions and hide their vulnerabilities, both seen as weak and strictly feminine qualities. The audience was asked to consider: what is society teaching boys about girls, when they are destroyed if they are told they play or throw like one? And how these ideas contribute to the dehumanizing of women: the 1 in 5 that report rapes on college campuses, and the 35 percent of college men who claimed they would rape if they knew they could get away with it.

The screening, organized by USF’s Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach, was followed by a standing ovation and a panel of leaders in the field that contributed to the making of the documentary. Dr. Joseph Marshall, co-founder and executive director of Alive & Free and The Prescription to End Violence, facilitated the conversation. It was noted when he was introduced that he is a USF alum of the class of 1968 and the founder of USF’s Black Student Union.

Cañada College student, Saul Alejandro Miranda Cardenas, tearfully spoke of his past of personal abuse and how the film made him pause to consider the ramifications of hypermasculinity and isolation. Youth educator and founder of the Ever Forward Club, Ashanti Branch, called out the audience for moving on to another question after such a powerful admission, for not recognizing the magnitude of a young man sharing such a raw experience.

Roger said, “I came here just to help out the Office of Diversity; I honestly received so much more by just coming here and watching the film. It is so powerful and so truthful in a way that speaks to how men are today.”

The call to action to the audience was clear: take the challenge, and create a healthier culture for men and women in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Talia Jade Sourkes/Foghorn

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