The Mask Boys Live In: Masculinity in America


Wounding Boys become Wounding Men.

Root Cause

It all starts in the home.

Everything a child is taught, what they observe and absorb from their surroundings, their relationships with parents, siblings and immediate family – are the foundation of how they learn love, how to form bonds with others, how to relate to themselves and others, and how to relate to the world.  

These very basic, yet crucial concepts are the clay that mold and construct the very idea of who they know themselves to be, how to behave, and their outlook on life.

Male victims are abused by non-spouse family members at a higher rate than female victims.  

– Bureau of Justice Statistics/National Crime Victimization Survey, 2003-2012



‘Be a MAN.’ One of the most destructive phrases in this culture.

Supplied with the collection of learnings gleaned from home, for example, seeing that violence and love are closely linked, children can then begin to see these very ideas and notions reflected back to them within their schools, among their peers, and especially, in the media and society, where it is obtrusively augmented and validated.

Many of our examples of American masculinity, be it in sports, military, law enforcement, the entertainment industry, the men that men look up to, a lot of what they’re teaching is domination, aggression. They’re the hyper-masculine figures that we try to adhere to.

– Tony Porter

Reinforcement & Perpetuation

We’ve constructed an idea of masculinity in the U.S. that doesn’t give young boys a way to feel secure in their masculinity, so we make them go prove it all the time.

Now boys are pinned in – forced into this box to behave in a certain way, look a certain way, to express in a certain way…

Masculinity is not organic. It’s reactive. It’s not something that just develops. It’s a rejection of everything that is feminine.”

– Dr. Caroline Heldman

Aren’t we literally beating into our boys the very notion to carry on the sick cycle of what power and control means in terms of masculinity according to American culture that plays out in their relationships, careers, lifestyle, and every other facet of a young boys life?

I call what we do to our little boys and men “the great setup.” We raise boys to become men whose very identity is based on rejecting the feminine and then we’re surprised when they don’t see women as being fully human. So we set them up. We set boys up to grow into men who disrespect women at a fundamental level and then we wonder why we have the culture that we have.

– Dr. Caroline Heldman

Breaking the Cycle

If you really knew me…

Raising Boys

We need to do better raising boys as whole men.

To appreciate all facets of themselves, including the feminine and the masculine.

Regarding the feminine aspect, we have to be okay and let our boys know that it is okay to express their feelings – their sadness, their hurt, their pain, whatever feeling is coming up for them inside of an embracing and safe environment.

We have to encourage them to love themselves and have pride in that it is healthy to do so, not arrogant or entitled.

Mentoring Boys

It is vital for boys to have positive male role models who exemplify masculinity in all of its wholeness.

We need to teach boys that power does not come from engaging in violence in order to prove you’re a “real man,” to avenge hurt or pain or humiliation, nor to gain respect.

True power comes from being the authentic person that you are – from connecting your ‘heart to your head’ and exerting strength “as forces for justice.”

There’s a choice. And many times the choice is rooted in our privilege. So while we as good men don’t perpetrate the violence, we are part of the collective socialization, the fertile ground that’s required for the violence to exist. We’re asking men to use that privilege to develop a voice, to speak out, to stand up. Become part of the solution.

– Tony Porter

We all have the responsibility to raise up our boys as the men – our sons, our brothers, our fathers – we’d like to see in our homes, our community, and our nation.

We need more men who have the courage to stand and speak out, even when it means taking a risk. To go into male culture and say some things that are going to make other men uncomfortable. Because this is about leadership.

If you can, watch the documentary “The Mask You Live In,” take notes, and begin to open the lines of communication with the boys and young men in your life.

If you want to watch the documentary together, even better!

(But just note that there is adult language and some indecent footage used to emphasize points made in the film, so you might want to preview it beforehand and see if it’s appropriate for your young boys/men to watch with you.)

There’s no time to waste!

Let’s start TODAY.

Let’s BREAK the sick cycle of power and control.

And let’s raise our boys up TOGETHER as the whole, complete men they are meant to be.

What steps are you vowing to take to raise the boys in your life to be whole and complete men?

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