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Upcoming Film Challenges ‘Be a Man’ Message

Boy Wearing Wrestling Mask

Just as women wrestle with widespread messages of objectification and stereotypes of being fundamentally weaker than their male counterparts, men contend with their own onslaught of messaging. From the time they are young, the majority of men are told to be tough, or to “man up,” a trend that often leaves them with no outlet for emotional expression when they’re feeling sad, scared, or in need of help.

“The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man,’” says Joe Ehrmann, a coach and former NFL player who shares his insight in the soon-to-be-released film The Mask You Live In (trailer below).

Created by The Representation Project (therepresentationproject.org), whose mission is “to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes” and inspire change, the upcoming documentary explores the plight of the modern man and how these messages mold and influence the people they become.

The general issue is that young boys are told repeatedly that to show emotional sensitivity is to act like a girl, and so they learn to stuff their tears rather than let them flow. Over the years, these layers of emotion repressed in the name of ‘being a man’ may lead to a host of mental health issues. Isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behavior are just a few of the ways these unacknowledged feelings manifest.

And although both boys and girls attempt suicide as teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boys between the ages of 10 and 24 are far more likely to commit suicide than girls. Aggression and violence are also believed to result from a lack of empathic understanding in the early years of life.

“If we’re in a culture that doesn’t value caring, that doesn’t value relationships, doesn’t value empathy, you are going to have boys and girls, men and women, go crazy,” says Dr. Niobe Way, a psychologist and educator interviewed in the film.

The film’s director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is also responsible for the 2011 film Miss Representation, which examined the effects of gender stereotyping and sexism on women.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Suicide prevention: youth suicide. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html

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  • lloyd January 3rd, 2014 at 4:09 AM #1

    All my life I was made fun of by my father and uncles for being too much “like a little girl” and told to be more of a man and lose my girly ways. Didn’t they know how much this caused me to die a little inside every time that they said this?

    I am a gay man, a proud gay man, and I think that I knew that for a long time and they knew it too they just tried to shame it out of me I suppose. I don’t have any regular contact with any of them anymore because the comments have never stopped and I just don’t feel the need to allow myself to be criticized for something that I am not ashamed of anmore.

  • AudreY January 3rd, 2014 at 10:48 AM #2

    Lloyd- I am so sorry that this happened to you as a child. I hope that you have started to make peace with this as an adult, and it sounds like you have. Adults often have no clue at all how much harm they are inflicting upon a child, or maybe they sometimes do and don’t care. In any case, it was so wrong how you were treated and I wish you very much peace and love in your future.

  • drew January 4th, 2014 at 9:00 AM #3

    This is a subject that we often just try to gloss over, boys will be boys and girls will be girls- but not for everyone! It is important that we get the message out that we don’t have to all conform to fit into this one little box of perfection, or this one standard of what society thinks that we should or should not be. I think that it is those sorts of stereotypes that do far more harm than they do good.

  • benji January 6th, 2014 at 3:56 AM #4

    wouldn’t it be nice to be able to move beyond the “be a man” and “act like a girl” to just “be a good person”?

  • Melissa January 9th, 2014 at 4:01 AM #5

    Is this going to have wide spread release or just very limited?

  • Goob February 28th, 2014 at 3:59 AM #6

    Parents should really be looking at both of their male and female children and should be encouraging them to “be a HUman!”. Strength and empathy are both equally important in anyone’s life, regardless of your gender.

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