Thursday of Bruin Consent Coalition’s annual Consent Week was titled “Man Up!” and centered around the concept of toxic masculinity. The event featured select scenes from the documentary The Mask You Live In, created by The Representation Project, and was followed by a discussion facilitated by Darius Kemp, Director of Mobilization for The Representation Project.
The Mask You Live In focuses on the culture of toxic masculinity that surrounds boys and young men in America today. The documentary explores the relationship toxic masculinity has with violence, repressed emotions, and mental health. American boys and men grow up in a culture that discourages expression of emotion and emotionally intimate friendships. The Mask You Live In argues that the lack of an emotional outlet can lead those who identify as male to find violent or unhealthy ways to express emotion in short bursts.
The documentary also examines hypermasculinity. Masculinity is often associated with violence, dominance, and aggression. Anything associated with femininity, on the other hand, is considered weak, and therefore is often rejected by men as strongly as possible. Masculine heroes embody these traits as well — media portrayal tends to focus on men who use violence to solve problems and who do not express emotions. This reverence for hypermasculinity is a strong example of toxic masculinity in daily life.
Rape culture is also tackled in The Mask You Live In. Men are taught to respect the so-called “bro code.” In doing so, they learn to care about the protection of other men more than acts of violence committed against women. Despite knowing that actions such as sexual assault and harassment are wrong, men often feel pressured not to speak up for fear of no longer being seen as “one of the guys.”
The discussion following the movie screening centered around toxic masculinity and a concept called the “three lies” — social constructs American men are told surrounding masculinity. First, financial security is masculine. Second, sexual prowess is masculine. Finally, athletic ability is masculine. If a man is missing one of these things, he becomes devalued as a man in American society. Kemp encouraged attendees to discuss these topics with each other and name specific times they had heard them.
Kemp then discussed gender constructs and rape culture in America. He closed with a hopeful message — despite the toxic masculinity that permeates American society, we carry the power to change it within us. Most people are unsure how to define toxic masculinity in a day-to-day context. Defining it and opening a conversation is the first step to change lives and break the cycle of toxic masculinity.