Getting Inside of the Mask

  • Mike McCurry
  • 03/3/16
A handful of young men of high-school age sat around the circle while their teacher moderated a difficult issue: being true to themselves. In this exercise, they were each given a mask and asked to write words about how the world sees them on the outside of it. Then they were asked to write on the inside some things they were hiding from the world. The teacher pointed out that many had pain and anger written inside, while on the outside, they had written positive words like “funny” and “smart.”
This scene was being played out in a documentary movie called “The Mask You Live In” by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Its viewing at Hinsdale Central was part of the Community Speaker Series presented by District 181 FoundationThe Community House, and Hinsdale Township High School District 86. Sitting in the front row (and having two boys), I found myself intrigued to hear more about this mask and why our boys learn to keep their feelings inside it.
The film points out that boys often hear their role models and coaches using words and phrases that are initially confusing to them but quickly seem culturally commonplace. You’ve heard these phrases before: “Stop acting like a girl,” “mama’s boy,” “man up,” “boys don’t cry,” and of course, “be a man!” They feel the pressure to mask these feelings for fear of being rejected by their peer group, by their teammates, and by other students. Boys sometimes turn to violence to prove themselves and become numb to their true selves. The movie depicted this, showing how the process of socialization sometimes goes off the rails.
I have often said that my third-grade son’s class has a boy code similar to the movie “Fight Club.” Torturing them wouldn’t reveal any secrets. They are jousting and pounding their way, figuring out the dynamics, the hierarchy, the alpha dogs, and how they fit into it all. They run around town like a band of outlaws, playing sports, going to each other’s birthday parties — they are fairly raw and honest with each other at least for now, they haven’t put on the mask.
The movie explains, however, that some boys within the group dynamics fall into a false self role to survive — or they can be made to feel outcast for being different. As they get older, they tend to mask, medicate, stop communicating and disconnect from their emotions … and violence becomes the method for conflict resolution.
This film helped me reflect on my upbringing, my values, and my role as a dad and husband. Our involvement, especially in the early developing years of our children, makes a tremendous impact on them. We need to model and help them learn a healthy view of equality and differences between men and women. Our language should reflect a culture that values feelings and respect and care for each other. And we need to get underneath the mask and allow our children to be themselves and to thrive.
Mike is a Clarendon Hills resident; husband; Indian prince; Indian Guide Dad; a Coach; an “old” football player and a real estate broker. Mike’s columns are usually crafted about the buzz in and around the area. It sometimes has a spin on real estate or cultural information, highlights a new business, or announces school happenings. He might include a “get-to-know” about some of our interesting residents and even a little about history. Whatever it is, it is sure to be about the “Talk of the Town”.

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