BY NINA PATEL
More than 300 adults from the community came to watch “The Mask You Live In,” a film about the pressures on men in today’s society, when the Carmel Library Foundation partnered with Carmel High School to present the film and a speakers’ panel Jan. 30 in the Carmel High School performing arts center.
The film follows boys and young men as they struggle on the road to manhood while shedding light on various issues regarding the way boys are being raised in today’s society, explaining the tendency for boys to mask their emotions and not show any “unmasculine” emotions. According to psychologists and educators, the implications of this pattern lead to higher rates of depressions, suicide and violent behavior. It was found that this carried even further into life, with major effects, including school shootings.
The film’s writer, director and producer, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is a Stanford graduate and filmmaker. She launched The Representation Project, a nonprofit organization that uses film and media for cultural transformation. She was also the executive producer of Emmy Award-Winning and Academy Award-Nominated documentaries “The Invisible War” and “The Hunting Ground.”
“Be a man. Stop with the tears. Stop with the emotions,” Joe Ehrmann, a coach and former NFL player, recalls his father telling him as a child when he is interviewed in the film. “That’s one of the most destructive phrases in this culture, I believe,” Ehrmann says.
According to the film, boys have a higher chance than girls to flunk out of school and are four times more likely to be expelled. Every day, three or more boys commit suicide, the third leading cause of death among boys and also five times the suicide rate of girls.
“By the time a boy is 5 years old, he’s pretty much taught that it is not okay to cry in public,” explains Tony Porter, educator and activist in the film. “He may still do it, but the expectation that by the time he is ten, he has perfected it. And if he’s 12 and he’s still crying in public, there’s a problem.”
Psychologist Michael Thompson explains that drinking and drugs are often a way for boys to relax the tight “rules” which say they must be silent and strong. When boys gets drunk, they can hug their friends and tell them how much they love them.
According to experts, 34 percent of boys start drinking at the age of 13; the average boy also tries drugs at age 13.
Chief student service officer Casey O’Brien, the CUSD representative and main organizer of the event, explains that he decided to screen the film at CHS because he showed the film when he served as principal at Aptos High, and the event was so well received that they had over 800 people in attendance.
“The purpose was to effect change regarding how we as a community define masculinity,” O’Brien explains. “We also showed this one because we have already done a few presentations, specifically about issues with girls and women, including the predecessor of this film called ‘Miss-representation.’”
Alexandra Falloon, executive director of the Carmel Public Foundation, also played a large role in the organization of the event and explains that the Carmel Public Library Foundation and CUSD created a partnership to create programs like this film to help the community stay well-informed, connected and knowledgeable about important topics.
“It is important to teach boys how to express themselves in a healthy way without having to constantly edit their true feelings out of the equation,” she says. “Our culture promotes a lot of posturing—we see it in the media, we hear it in music.”
The film featured a panel of former Kansas City Chiefs football player ML Carter, former Eagles football player Ron Johnson, family therapist Julianne Leavy, Carmel Middle School principal Dan Morgan, and Tularcitos Elementary School principal Ryan Peterson.
During the panel, Leavy shared a story of a small boy who was riding his bike. When the boy fell, he looked like he wanted to cry, but his father looked at him and said, “Don’t you cry.” Leavy goes on to explain that this a huge pressure to carry, being unable to cry as a small child.
Carter echoed a story about the time he was 5 years old and was encouraged to defend himself through physical violence against bullies. Carter explains that his uncle thought he was teaching Carter to defend himself, but the things his uncle instilled in Carter stuck with him forever, teaching Carter to do whatever is necessary to win. It is you or them, Carter says he learned.
“We are making progress as a society, but there is more work to be done,” O’Brien says. “Many adults are products of an older generation, so we need to learn and pass on better habits to our young people.”