By Aleisha Roberts ’22
On October 20th, the Brace Center for Gender Studies hosted discussions with the class of ’24 centered around The Mask You Live In. The 2015 documentary highlighted the harmful effect of society’s narrow definition of masculinity on people who identify as male as well as on their relationships with each other and people who do not identify as male. Juniors were expected to watch the film with their dorm pods before attending the program and student leaders from the classes of ’23 ’22, and ’21 facilitated discussions. Agnes Agosto ’24 expressed that she had never discussed masculinity as a potentially harmful construct before the programming.
“After watching the film, my first feeling was this deep sympathy for boys. I wasn’t aware of the majority of the issues mentioned in the film. When I was in middle school, my grade watched a documentary on female relationships and friendships. However, I never had seen something that focused on the struggles of boys rather than girls in our society and it was really eye-opening,” said Agosto.
The facilitators, most of whom watched the film in their own freshman years, rewatched the film to prepare for the discussion. Facilitator Sophie Glaser ’22 explained that the statistics shown regarding the prevalence of mental health issues and destructive behaviors caused by harmful masculinities shocked her each time she watched the film. She further expressed that her later encounters with the film were different as she was better able to connect the behavior on the screen to her male-identifying peers at Andover.
“Every time I’ve watched it, all the statistics that they show are still pretty shocking and I think in freshman year I was just starting to learn about toxic masculinity and what institutional sexism and rape culture and locker room culture were… I definitely think that now being a bit older and having experienced a highschool in America a bit more, I think I was able to understand a bit more of it. I’ve definitely, unfortunately, seen a lot of the behavior that it would talk about in The Mask You Live In in my peers and I was able to connect it more to my own life rather than just looking at abstract terms,” Glaser said.
Many facilitators expressed that they were impressed by the nuance the juniors brought to the discussion. Most were able to discuss the patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and gender identity through an intersectional lens. Some groups were even able to advance to criticisms of the film for an absence of queer narratives and an excessively heteronormative perspective. Glaser shared a hope that freshmen would continue the discussion beyond the programming.
Glaser said, “I definitely saw the freshmen that I was talking to in my leadership group and in my dorm engaging in conversations that they weren’t before. I hope that they will be able to take the lessons they learned from the film into their own lives and take the ideas into their own lives, but only time will tell. Hopefully, the rest of the grade engaged with the film as well, keeping an open mind.”
Unfortunately, some juniors were left disappointed with their group’s engagement. Agosto said that her class was not yet connected well enough to discuss these themes comfortably and that the discussion space was dominated by a handful of girls. In debriefing sessions, freshmen also pointed out that the majority of the facilitators were female-identifying, showing a need for persons identifying as male to engage with these discussions.
Agosto said, “While I think the idea of the discussion space was a good one, I didn’t think it exactly worked… In order for us to share our thoughts with others, we need to have a certain amount of trust that we are safe sharing these opinions with them… I also just especially felt that those who most needed the things said in the film were the ones who seemed not to care. In the discussion space, the main people who spoke were girls, and the majority of the boys remained silent.”