Monday, April 1, 2019

What is your mask?

The Joker Mask. The Aggressor Mask. The Athlete Mask. The Know-It-All Mask.

These are four of the nine masks that Lewis Howes describes in his important book The Mask of Masculinity. I recommend the book to all, especially males, and I recommend the documentary The Mask You Live In by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Masculinity is an under-discussed, under-examined topic in the United States, and twisted masculinity norms are the root of numerous societal problems. I ask our readers today to be open-minded as we briefly contemplate masculinity in 2019.

First off, examinations of masculinity often are confined to college campuses in gender studies courses. I would vote for gender studies and discussions of masculinity as early as elementary school.

Other reasons why I believe masculinity isn't pondered is that 1) masculinity is so fragile, that any discussion threatens males, and 2) women's issues garner more attention because of the covert and overt sexism in our systemically troubled nation. However, upon further examination, men's and women's issues are inextricably linked.

Now, I am no particular expert of gender studies. But I have written a book with the working title Advice to Your Man: Navigating Relationships in the 21st Century. I quickly realized that an examination of masculinity was critical to the book's focus on marriage.

The "man box" is an important concept that I see as a first step with understanding modern masculinity. The man box shows the limitations of what a man is supposed to be and what he believes. In the man box, men "are supposed to be powerful and dominating, fearless and in control, strong and emotionless and successful in the boardroom, bedroom and on the ball field," as is explained by the organization A Call to Men.

In the film The Mask You Live In, we see that boys put on a masculine mask, which is not what any human being can or should be. The masks enable violence and the dehumanization of women and the self. As the boy wears a particular mask, he contorts his true self to fit the mask.
In the introduction in his 2017 book, Howes gives credit to The Mask You Live In (2015) to spurring his own study on masculinity. What I respond to most in Howes' book is his distinctions of different masks. One mask does not fit all. I see men who obviously wear the Stoic Mask or Invincible Mask. But I see others who wear the Material Mask, or finding one's self-worth through money and work.

Once the truths of masculinity are accepted in males, I see the next step as "reclaiming emotions." This is not easy for many reasons. Many guys are used to stifling emotions or replacing all emotions with what they see as socially acceptable emotions for a man, such as anger.

Another reason "reclaiming emotions" is difficult is that many men flat-out don't know how they feel. They have gone years and years without looking at their actual feelings. It takes a lot of honest introspection to understand one's emotions. Once emotions are reclaimed, or at least understood better, then life improves for the individual and those around him.

My sincere hope is that the topic of masculinity becomes more in the mainstream, and we look back at Siebel Newsom and Howes as trailblazers with giving this topic the crucial attention it deserves.

One celebration through my journey will be the eventual publication of Advice to Your Man. This is the first full length book I have written, and it will be a part of a series, or "franchise" if you will. I have allowed a couple friends to look at my current draft and will be developing a platform in the next year before agents eventually find me.

I must say that I learned a lot during the writing of the book. Not only marriage stuff and topics linked to it, but I learned a lot about myself, how I write, how I work and how I love. It turns out that love is an action, not a mere idea.

Writing a book is one more wrinkle in my life, and I do not consider it an individual accomplishment. I feel it is a testament to those who have nurtured me on my way — my mom, my family, friends and mentors. Especially, it is a testament to my wife, Dina, and my girls, who share a loving household with me. I sincerely hope ladies and their guys read Advice to Your Man.