Hollywood has long been a driving force in defining gender roles. The mold of a man in western culture exonerates aggression and emotional supression. What does this masculinity look like?
Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL defensive lineman, started Coach for America, an organization that educates and encourages change on an individual and social level. In Erhmann’s TEDx talk ‘Be A Man‘ he explains that,
“…Boys are taught from a very early age that in order to be a man they’ve got to separate their hearts from their heads. Boys are taught that to have emotions, to show them, to share them, to emote them; somehow those things are considered signs of masculine failure. So we have a massive repression of what makes us human, of what makes us contributors in this world”
Ehrmann explains that in the US today the definition of manhood hinges on three factors: athletic ability, sexual conquest and economic success. These expectations begin as young as five or six years old when boys are told not to cry and to intimidate the more sensitive boys that are considered weak. Because of this narrow definition of masculinity boys are not given the tools to identify, process and express their emotions. And through this, a disconnect grows between the heart and the head to the point where one looses the ability to detect and identify inner emotional shifts.
This disconnect is at the biological level explains psychiatrist Dr. Ryan Kelley. In his TEDx talk Unmasking Masculinity Kelley states that “we can actually lose our ability to detect subtle changes in our emotions. And if we extend it one more layer we also then over time loose or impair our ability to detect and respond to those in others as well”. This kind of disconnect results in aggression, violence and isolation. It is clear that Western society is raising broken boys.
But all that is sundered can be mended again. Erhmann gives us a direction towards healing,
“We gotta rewire broken men that have separated their hearts from their heads and they’ve gotta get connected. And then we gotta do the preventive work as every young boy grows up we give them affirmation, we gotta give them some kind of validation about all of their emotions, all their feelings; all of their humanity”.
While filming the eye opening documentary, MissRepresentation, filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom became aware and interested in this unspoken issue. This curiosity and concern led to The Mask You Live In, a full length documentary exploring American masculinity. I leave you with its powerful trailer:
Header photo by Christian Hopkins