The Mask You Live In: Engaging the Masks Men Wear to Prove Themselves (Video)

Documentarian Jennifer Siebel Newsom sets out to discover  how the culture stereotypes of masculinity will affect her son. 

After Siebel Newsom had her son, Hunter, she asked her self: “who will he become as an adult man? A sensitive and compassionate human being? Or a depressed lonely and disconnected portrayal of masculinity?”

These are tough but important questions. How does societies’ expetantions of masculinity and manliness affect or young men? Are we men given a way to feel confident in our masculinity without resorting to homophobic and sexist  rituals of proof?

If you are passionate about these issues you can find out more and contribute to the The Mask You Live Kickstarter here.


About Ross Steinborn

Ross recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School, where he studied Christian theology and gender studies, with a focus on masculinity studies. From central IL, he now lives with his partner in South Boston.


  1. Am I the only one amused by the question “What definition of masculinity will be imposed on my son, whom I have called HUNTER”? lol

  2. Tom Brechlin says:

    Nice to see my responses re-appear.

    Now onto the subject at hand.

    “Anger” is a common thread with virtually every kid I work with. And as the saying goes, “anger is often a secondary emotion to something else.” Unfortunately, with a short window of opportunity, the three months we have with these guys is but a fraction of what’s actually needed. We are a drug treatment center and If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it dozens of times, we don’t have the luxury of time so accordingly, treatment plan is based on substance abuse and little more. Ignore the fact that a kid has experienced violence on the streets, in their home. Forget that some have seen their friends die in front of them and in some cases in their arms. Forget that he put on the street to sell drugs because it affords his family extra income to survive. Forget the fact that some kids see their “family” as gang members and not biological.

    The new healthcare reform has determined that mental illness is to be treated as any other illness. Now, on the surface, that looks pretty damn good for substance abuse facilities because substance abuse falls under that criteria. Not so fast Bunkey …. The caveat to this is the infamous “managed care.” That’s where some pseudo healthcare professional is sitting in front of a computer with a list of general ASAM criteria and if your client doesn’t match up … ding ding ding … Discharge him.

    Given that 98% of our clients are given to us through the juvenile the court system, clients who have in some cases, pretty substantial criminal charges …. All we’re doing is putting a band-aid on the problem. My Monday morning routine before I leave for work is that I pull up Red Eye and look at the list of men/boys who were murdered over the weekend. I take the list and check to see if they’re anyone I know and then I check to see if they are related to anyone on my unit. Pretty damn sad, don’t ya think?

    Yeah, something has to be done but in my 14 years I haven’t seen anything done but run these guys through the system like cattle. Once in a while we can tap into the mind of a kid and make a difference but overall it’s getting worse. Many of the guys are simply “doing time” because it’s better to be in our facility then locked up. They’re “doing time” because they feel hopeless and helpless and so no other possible life then what they have.

    Gender equality? Pffffft

  3. I don’t understand the differentiation between the author’s statement of sensitive/compassionate and depressed, lonely and disconnected. In the age we live today, I think the sensitive compassionate male is much more at risk to become depressed, lonely and disconnected. Like anger, sensitivity and compassion need constructive expression. I believe without expression, these traits lead to depression, loneliness and a sense of disconnection.

  4. Nice video.

    Though Tom makes a few good points – eg “When a women has a child where there is no expected active father, then she has already set that child up to fail”

    • Ross Steinborn says:

      If I could politely interject on this issue of fatherhood and raising healthy men. Certainly you and Tom don’t believe healthy and confident men have emerged from a childhood with an absent, abusing or negative father. My point being that if there is or ins’t a father in the picture isn’t to the point that men and boys often resort to homophobic and sexist attitudes and behaviors to prove to one another their own masculine status.

      • Tom Brechlin says:

        I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking?

        • Ross Steinborn says:

          I just think this statement — “When a women has a child where there is no expected active father, then she has already set that child up to fail” — overlooks a great number of men who grew up without a father for whatever reason.

          • Tom Brechlin says:

            Yes, there are men who have not been raised without an active dad who have turned out well, I’m not denying that but when you look at the stats of fatherless kids, the chances of his being successful and well adjusted is better to have an active dad.

            I guess what I was confused about was the “men and boys often resort to homophobic and sexist attitudes and behaviors to prove to one another their own masculine status.”

            • Ross Steinborn says:

              My point in that statement is a bit of a critical eye towards male bonding. I had a fairly active father as did all of my friends growing up and we would still call each other “fags” or “pussies”. When we would get older in fact this would get worse, we began to talk to each other about women in objectifying ways. We literally relied on homophobic and sexist attitudes to police each other’s masculinity and to prove our own, and I don’t think us 4 or 5 boys in rural IL were the only ones.

              • Ross Steinborn says:

                In fact, we pry learned much of that behavior, at least in part, from our fathers, or other male leaders—I don’t remember how many times I was told to “walk it off,” and “don’t be a sissy.” All these phrases are intricately connected to one’s sense of his own masculinity. The implicit threat in the statements is that if I don’t walk it off, or if I just am a sissy, I’m somehow no longer a man.

                • Johhny Everson says:

                  Ross, at least your honest, whereas Tom in the beginning of this thread automatically and dismissively was not interested in what Newsome had to say.
                  Then he goes “I guess what I was confused about was the “men and boys often resort to homophobic and sexist attitudes and behaviors to prove to one another their own masculine status.”” Yeah – school bullies preferred method of torturing other people is that same thing but in a different way- its all about mental health if you see other people as human beings then theres nothing to prove. Just be human, normal, comfortable in own skin, talking to anyone without preconceived ideas about how to push over on them. Thats what bullying in schools is like, egging other people on to say and do things that in the end are not good for every one involved. We hurt ourselves too when we try to hurt others, even snubbing someone just for being a fem, in this case Newsome, is a form of hurting ourselves if we cannot listen if only to learn new perspectives on things or how others see the effects we have on others. The down side is for these concepts to take hold though, realistically, it will take another 30 years before we see any real change because all the old way of pushiness and not listening would need to phase out.

  5. Tom Brechlin says:

    Sorry, not interested in what she has to say…

    She is the director, writer and producer of the film Miss Representation, which premiered in the documentary competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The film examines how the media have contributed to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power.

    In the News
    Newsom discusses state of female characters in TV in recent GLAAD Report.
    Newsom is honored with the Janice Mirikitani Legacy Award at GLIDE Gala.
    Fast Company includes Newsom in “The League of Extraordinary Women.”

  6. Tom Brechlin says:

    So I have to ask, what is her sons father like? What kind of man is he? It’s all about how SHE feels and what HER fears are for her son.

    Anger .., What exactly are they angry about? People are asking but most are not listening.

    There appeared to be a lot of onus on men and what men should be doing for other men and boys. Sounds good but we live in a society that is dominated by women, their feelings, their emotions. When a women has a child where there is no expected active father, then she has already set that child up to fail.

    We now have an adult generation of men who should be role models for boys but who themselves are struggling with their own identity.

    Final note, amazing how she squeezed in “gender equality” into this. Has nothing to do with gender equality but simply what boys and men need.

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