The Mask You Live In What does it mean to be a man?

"He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it." George Orwell

In my opinion...

Transition from boyhood to manhood

Being a man means not showing emotion. A man is supposed to be able to lead his family and not allow anything to get him down. He is one who has genuine self-confidence and true masculinity. A man is one who knows what he wants in life and isn't afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He has the strength of character to be his own man in the world and to always stay true to himself. He focuses on being the best version of himself that is possible to be by developing the characteristics that help him to improve and become a better man at each new stage in his life. When a man has these qualities, I feel as though he has a natural self-assuredness that makes him stand out head and shoulders above other men.

But what does it mean to be a man?

At an early age, boys are often taught what is expected of them to be a man. As Joe Ehrmann recalls, his first experience with being taught what a man was supposed to be was an instance when his father took him to his mother's basement and told him, "In order to be a man, he has to stop with the tears and stop with the emotions. If he's going to be a man, he has to learn to dominate and control people and circumstances." Often times, being told to "be a man" is one of the most destructive phrases in this culture. Many boys are taught that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. They are often taught that men are supposed to be dominant and in control, that it is okay to be a womanizer. They are often taught that men use violence in order to solve their problems.

from the movie Moonlight


In many households, boys are taught at a young age that emotions should not be shown within the household nor in public. With this gesture, many boys start to feel alone and often begin to feel like an outcast amongst their peers. To many fathers, showing emotions does not fall under the umbrella of masculinity, therefore they are taught to externalize their pain. They are taught that when something bad happens to them, they have to do something bad to somebody else, avenge the humiliation they suffered, and rid themselves of the shame they experienced. Masculinity is also associated with athletic ability.Many boys play sports because they are taught that sports build character. But in actuality, character is built only if the coach teaches it and models it. Many boys think of masculinity as the lives that are portrayed on television. In reality, however, this is setting them up for failure and frustration in life. Masculinity is also associated with economic success and also sexual conquest. This allows them to be dehumanized. Many fathers think that this will keep boys silent and conformed to the construct.

Men vs. Women

man vs. woman

Men are often taught and brought up to believe that they are different creatures than women. This has become much more bifurcated in terms of hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity. Hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity in television and movies reflect a cultural tension and fear about the fact that gender is socially constructed. We respond to this by trying to organize and simplify the world that ends up simplifying it to a great extent that puts pressure on young men and women to fit into those boxes. Because men have been socialized into this norm, they are proven less likely to show empathy, vulnerability, and to bring up children in that way. These young boys are learning how to be in the world, engage in relationships, and behave in ways that are socially acceptable. They are continuously learning how to downplay and conceal qualities that are traditionally associated with girls and women. They are raised to become men whose identity is based on rejecting the feminine, which sets them up where they don't see women as being fully human. They tend to grow into men who disrespect women at a fundamental level.

Others on what defines a man

According to Michael Kimmel, an American sociologist who specializes in gender studies, "Young men say being nurturing, caring, and being a great dad us what being a man is about...Guys want support to balance work and family (Kimmel)." Kimmel says that young men expect wives will work outside home, they expect to be awesome dads...young people have become more comfortable with inter-personal gender equality than any other generation in the world. "The women's movement allowed women to come out as workers...enabled them to be ambitious, confident, and assertive as they wanted to be...what I'm seeing among men: being nurturing, caring, and loving to their masculinity.. (Kimmel)"

How do we help these boys become men?

Everyone deserves to be whole. And each of us can do our part in expanding what it means to be a man for ourselves and the boys in our lives. Many of us are operating from a place of tradition, just the way things have always been. We need to get men into their hearts and out of their heads. We have to get them to see that there's freedom outside of the rigid definitions of manhood. We need to redefine strength in men, not as the power over other people, but as forces for justice, meaning equality, fairness, working against poverty, and working against inequality and violence. We need more men who have the courage to stand up and speak out, even when it's men taking a risk. Go into men culture and say things that makes other men uncomfortable. It's not about teaching boys something new, or turning boys into girls or something that they're not already, but helping them to stay or return to what they already know. We have a responsibility to our sons to break down the systems of emotional construction that leads so many men to have lives of quiet desperation and depression and alcohol and substance abuse. We need to challenge boys and men to rise to better angles of their nature. To rise to better aspirations they have for themselves as human beings, and as men.


Kimmel, Michael. What Does It Mean To Be a Man? Jill Krasny. 9 September 2015. Web.

The Mask You Live In. Dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom. 2015. Electronic.

Wilson, Doug. What Does it Mean to be a Man? 15 June 2016. Web.

Created By
Sulzyche Pinnock


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