MOUNT VERNON — The challenges in showing American masculinity in a positive way to boys of preteen age to young men in their early 20s served as the late Friday afternoon topic brought by New Directions in the Kenyon Wright Center auditorium.
Audience members viewed the film, “The Mask You Live in,” and then engaged in a discussion with New Direction co-facilitators Jordan Shremshock, outreach coordinator, and Laurie Thompson, educator. “The Mask You Live In” comes from The Representation Project, an organization which studies gender roles in an increasingly complex society.
Shremshock offered that “The Mask You Live In,” which interviews boys and young men, was shown on First Friday in part as a way to offer important take-away messages on a societal topic while giving First Fridays visitors somewhere to go before the Main Street-focused event kicked off officially at 6 p.m.
The film makes many “take-away” points involving masculinity and young men, Shremshock offered. And although the topic of male masculinity at a young age has numerous complexities and issues associated with it, these important points — or messages — are easy to understand. Acting on them, as a way of being, becomes the ongoing challenge.
Shremshock offered one of those take-aways herself, in her own words. “Respect costs you nothing. Respect is free,” she said.
Shremshock offered how important respect is with a hypothetical scenario in mind. She said if a group of young men were placed in a room, and the person in charge asked participants to point out who the “sissy is,” the boy single out — in today’s society — likely perceives he has a choice.
“You can get in a fight to defend your honor, or go home crying,” she said.
Shremshock added those choices are made because young men as a whole are asked to determine who “fits in their box” of young male acceptance — and if a peer does not fit in that “masculinity box” — unfortunate circumstances follow. Those things may include bullying and social media ridicule. Girls, on the other hand, are taught when entering a room to get along with other girls in the room and extend courtesy and inclusiveness, she said.
“How do we expand the definition of male masculinity to make empathy an OK thing?” Shremshock asked.
It’s a daunting subject because boys and young men today are pressured into disconnecting from their emotions, a dangerous thing to do, the film documents. They are also confronted with devaluing authentic friendships under peer pressure, navigating around others who objectify and degrade women, and resisting the resolution of conflict through violence. Issues of race, class, religion, and other circumstances add to an abundance of identity issues that affect young male attempts to become “real men,” according to the film.
Locally, Shremshock said, New Directions has offered a program within the past few years called “Coaching Boys Into Men,” which has gained a a positive foothold on the topic of male masculinity. Funded by United Way, it provides training to men such as athletic coaches and also other trained facilitators. They hold discussions with middle school-, and high school-age boys, to emphasize how males can show masculinity in a healthy way — such as athletics or becoming involved in a service project that benefits others. Centerburg Middle School and High School have been participants, she said.
Shremshock said “The Mask You Live In” is a film she would definitely be willing to offer for viewing to groups such as parent-teacher organizations and in-service teacher trainings. The number of people in such a group should not exceed 30 so that in-depth discussions can follow film viewing and facilitation. Its debut on the first Final Fridays was a way to capture attention.
“This was, for lack of better words, a soft landing,” she said.
Any group serving youths is welcome to contact New Directions for more information, (740) 397-4357.
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