In her new film The Mask You Live In, filmmaker and activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom is turning her focus to boys, and how a very narrow definition of what it means to be a man, is hurting them. The film explores how common phrases like be a man, be tough, don’t be a pussy, a win-at-all-costs sports culture, violent video games, and lack of emotional vocabulary, is encouraging boys to repress their emotions.
On a positive note, I am pleased that Newsom is paying attention to the alarming data about boys. She reminds us that boys are more likely to be prescribed prescription medications, commit suicide, drop out of school, or commit a violent crime. In previous blogs I have emphasized the difficulties that men, particularly those labeled millennial, generation X and those approaching adulthood, are facing in defining their masculinity in a world quickly moving to gender neutrality. However, I do take exception with the notion that she and her supporters advocate that the phrase, “Be A Man” and its variations are at the heart of the problem boys and men are dealing with. Telling men not to be a man or not to man up does not address the issue and frankly I believe it further exacerbates the problem. If a man is not to be a man then what is he to be? Telling men to be more feminine or to find another term for their Y chromosome is a huge turn off to most men and just adds to gender uncertainty and confusion.
The message should be, “Be A Man” in the light not the shadow. For example a man in the shadow will express his lover archetype by avoiding intimacy, manipulating and emotionally abusing women and avoiding emotional authenticity. A combination of John Wayne and Bill Cosby. On the other hand the lover in the light is compassionate, welcomes intimacy, seeks authentic connections and respects gender equality. The key is in the light he is still being a man. Telling a young father to “Man Up” and be a parent to his newborn instead of abandoning the child to single motherhood can be an effective way to communicate the best of masculinity. Newsome acknowledged one of the biggest tough guys out there, Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, talked how he wants to lead his life for his daughter. A great example of being a man in the best of masculinity but still being a man.