“Why is it so hard being a guy?”
“I don’t know, Ms. Gerla. It just is.”
This was a statement from one of my students in digital citizenship several years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. When I first began teaching the class, I had big plans to address media literacy, stereotypes and bias, and the myriad ways our behavior online is shaped by the culture around us. Social media, texting, sexting, media consumption, cyberbullying, gaming, easy access to online pornography… all of these are in my wheelhouse. They are complex and sometimes uncomfortable discussion topics.
The news is constantly filled with stories of all the things teenagers do wrong, which certainly shapes the way adults treat them and think about their behavior. That, in turn, shapes the way they think about themselves and their own behavior, and it is easy to get stuck in “that’s just the way it is” mode. The language of stereotypes and social constructions invades this space quickly and easily, and I really want to challenge my students to think differently about the messages they are sending and receiving on a regular basis. As we struggle to find our own identity, how do cultural perceptions of gender, and more specifically masculinity and femininity, shape who we are and how we behave? How do we treat each other?
If you are a parent of girls, like I am, you probably think a great deal about the messages they receive from our culture through advertising, films, popular music, and television. What about boys? What messages do they get about what it means to be a man in our culture? Where do these come from? How does it shape how they feel about themselves and each other? To help us explore these questions, we bring to our community a screening of The Mask You Live In, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, founder of the Representation Project. Through interviews with experts, stories from men and boys, and national statistics, this film seeks to enlighten us on the ways our culture’s narrow definition of masculinity places incredible pressure on our boys and young men. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Masterminds and Wingmen and Queen Bees and Wannabes, refers to this as the “man box,” and from within it comes the quote above from one of my students.
Who should come see the film and stay for the discussion? Everyone. Anyone. Though this might feel more relevant to families with boys, and it will most certainly resonate differently with males in the audience, all of us can engage and learn something here. To quote myself, “Frequently, when schools do workshops or classes on sex ed, puberty, or general social skills, we separate our students by sex. While in many cases that makes for a safer environment in which kids can ask honest questions without fear of embarrassment (which is a good thing), I worry sometimes that it removes boys and girls from the experience of really trying to understand each other (which is a hard thing). That’s why I would recommend all parents read books, like Wiseman’s, that outwardly appear to be for just one group, but can very powerfully teach us more about ourselves in the process—and help us teach our kids about things they don’t necessarily experience all the time.”
The Mask You Live In is about and for boys and men. But it can be equally powerful for those who don’t live that experience to see it through their eyes. Wouldn’t conflicts be easier to resolve if we simply took the time to understand each other better? I hope you’ll join us! We’ll be hosting a screening on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 6:30 p.m. Please click here to learn more about the film and register for the screening. And please stay after the film (runtime 97 minutes) for about 20 minutes of Q&A with three inspiring CWA faculty: Athletic Director Tyler Francis, eight grade team leader and English teacher Rob Scotlan, and Lower School science teacher Gabriel Newton.