Violent media. Mass shootings. Pornography. Rape culture.

These are a few of the hot-button topics “The Mask You Live In,” a 2015 documentary directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, links to the damage the United States’ idea of masculinity can have on boys and young men.

Roughly 40 Elon University students and faculty members watched the documentary Sept. 4 in the Moseley Center as the first of a four-part series sponsored by Elon’s Women’s/Gender Studies, Health Promotion and Inclusive Community Council.

“There was a lot of great documentaries exploring similar issues that were released recently, so we thought it would be a good idea to show these to Elon and start some discussion,” said Becca Patterson, Elon’s coordinator for health promotion.

The “Mask You Live In” focuses on young men in the United States who are challenged by the traditional definition of masculinity where strength is valued, which can lead to emotional isolation and depression. In the film, therapists, medical doctors and activists question the merits of “acting tough.” A Kickstarter campaign raised more than $100,000 to fund the documentary’s creation.

A discussion on the film and masculinity in culture followed the 5 p.m. showing. Much of the initial focus and discussion was based around how popular media portrays masculinity.

“One thing that the movie pointed out was that no male characters in video games express emotion, which says a lot about what society thinks a man should be,” said senior Evan Gaskin.

Gaskin added he feels there are few male friend groups where it’s acceptable to say you’re hurt or not feeling 100 percent and that the U.S. view of masculinity plays a part in that.

To promote a more open society for men in which emotions can be shared, the positives of masculinity have to be looked at just as much as the negatives, according to James Marchant, professor of arts administration.

“Guys have a lot of testosterone, and that’s a part of what makes us who we are,” Marchant said. “You have to ask, ‘What are the strengths of masculinity?’ and promote that instead of what’s bad.”

The discussion shifted to a more Elon-focused conversation, including issues on how fraternity parties operate.

“A lot of frats won’t let just any guy into a party,” said freshman Max Pivonka. “They have to bring girls that are considered attractive, which can cause problems.”

Jack Smith, a professor of performing arts, said some male students don’t step outside the “bro code” and open up, even in classroom discussion.

“You can see it happen in the classroom, where a group of five guys will talk with each other and roll their eyes if there’s a subject that isn’t considered manly or challenges that,” he said.

Patterson said the hope is word will spread about the series and start discussions about masculinity, gender-based violence and activism.

“Getting people here aware about this is tough, because you can’t advertise this sort of thing in the traditional way,” Patterson said. “It’s a vulnerable subject. We need men to say, ‘Hey, I saw this and it spoke to me,’ and start conversations with friends that might ignore this or laugh it off.”

The documentary series continues with “The Hunting Ground” 7 p.m. Sept. 28 in LaRose Digital Theatre, “Private Violence” 4:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in Lakeside 214 and “My Masculinity Helps” 5 p.m. Nov. 9. in LaRose Digital Theatre. Discussion and a long-table dinner follow all screenings.


Please note All comments are eligible for publication by ENN.