The Mask You Live In – a review


When Miss Representation came out it was one of those must see movies, yet it was readily unavailable. It was a film you could only see in Australia through registered screenings. I reviewed it just before it had its public screenings here in Adelaide.

While it was very US focused it did deliver a succinct argument about the representation of women in the media and the historical context to how it came to be. The format was simple, talking head experts, statistics and the voices of young girls and women. The film was a huge success and The Mask You Live In is the producers follow up film.

This time the focus was on boys and men. Exploring the emotional and psychological pressures masculinity faces in the modern day it poses the question;

as a society, how are we failing our boys?

Through the same format – talking head experts, statistics and the voices of boys and men – there are a multitude of answers.

Less than 50% of boys and men mental health challenges seek help.

Every day 3 or more boys commit suicide in the US.

Messages from ‘man up’, ‘be a man’ and ‘boys don’t cry’ come through when talking about the impact of pornography, violence (through the media and video games) and general day to day management of their emotions. It is a lot to cram in to 1 hour and 37 minutes. But they try and it is exhaustive, so much so by the end of it, it depressed me.

Was I deflated because it all seemed hopeless?

Was I depressed because it was made by women, yet only skirted around the impact of men’s behaviour on them?

Or was it just such a dark subject to explore at 1:30 on a Wednesday afternoon?

Well I would say yes to all of the above.

As a journalist who writes about domestic violence and violence against women I become increasingly frustrated when the narrative focuses on women and not men. The statistics and anecdotes are there as to how violence perpetrated by men impacts on women. And here was an opportunity to start addressing this with men, and it does that, in a small dose.

Australia right now is talking more about violence against women than they have before. Homicides committed against women by men are front-page news. Perhaps they are still lagging behind in America, but for myself I am at the point where I want to know what are men going to do about this.

Women for decades have been talking about all the forms of violence women experience. And I’ll be honest, the men in my life have listened. But there are thousands if not millions of men in the world who do not understand how the power imbalance perpetuates violence. Perhaps they do not care.

So as a feminist watching this film, it fell short. As a mother of a son watching this film I listened tentatively to the messages my son is hearing outside his home and how that impacts on him. But c’mon, it’s not rocket science.

But I’m the converted. My son’s father is not a violent man battling with his masculinity and he won’t bring up a son like that. So ‘we’ are the converted. And this is what leads me to my greatest dilemma with this film.

For all its shortcomings The Mask You Live In has the power to enlighten those who have not been able to articulate or emotionally navigate the pressures of our society. The men who struggle with anger, pain, even crying.

Were they packed in to the little cinema in the heart of Adelaide in the middle of the week in the middle of a work day? No.

At the end of Miss Representation women – and men – were called to action. Sign up to the newsletter, not wear make-up for a day, call out sexism. When I left The Mask You Live In there was a real sense of emptiness, but then it is not up to me to change the behavior of men.