Say "The Mask You Live In" quickly and it sounds a little bit like "masculine." That's a link filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom is hoping people make when they hear about her new project.
"My co-writer and editor Jessica Congdon came up with that," Newsom told HuffPost in an interview. Her aim, outlined on Kickstarter, is "[t]o make a film that sparks a national conversation around masculinity and ultimately creates a more balanced, equitable society for all." Boys and men may not suffer from imperfect media exposure in the same ways women do, but the messages we send them are severely restrictive, she argues.
Newsom's 2011 film, "Miss Representation," explored the limits women face -- particularly in terms of mainstream media exposure. So it's fitting that she's devoted her new documentary to addressing the flip side of this cultural deficit.
"I was inspired by this subject matter as I traveled the world talking about 'Miss Representation,' [and] people consistently asked me, what is going on with our boys?" Newsom says. "At the time I was pregnant with my son Hunter, and increasingly sensitive to the extremes of masculinity that would be imposed on my own son," she adds in the trailer for "The Mask You Live In." Hunter is 2 now -- "loving and empathic and joyful like so many boys are at this age," she tells HuffPost -- but she has concerns about the way he will respond to the expectations and stereotypes he's likely to encounter as he grows.
The film explores these issues with the help of expert commentators -- from academics to young boys and girls themselves -- some of whom appear in the trailer.
"We've constructed an idea of masculinity in the United States that doesn't give young boys a way to feel secure in their masculinity, so we make them go prove it all the time," sociologist Dr. Michael Kimmel explains. Psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson adds: "We have to give boys permission to experience a wide range of feelings. Masculinity is not never feeling scared; it's feeling scared, and then to know you can also surmount it."
Educator and youth advocate Ashanti Branch says, "Our kids get up every morning; they have to prepare their mask for how they're going to walk to get to school. Hopefully they can take the mask off so they can focus on learning. A lot of our students don't know how to take it off. The mask sticks with them all the time."
It is this mask -- "almost like a shield" -- to which the film's title refers, Newsom explains.
And psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan says the stakes are very high: "Whether it's homicidal violence or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behavior only when they are feeling shamed and humiliated or feel that they would be if they didn't prove that they were real men."
Newsom hopes to raise $80,000 through Kickstarter to finish filming and start editing the documentary.
"There are many phenomenal minds working everyday on this topic, but activism has not yet played a serious enough role in addressing the social and emotional well-being of our boys and therefore our men," she says. Clearly, that is something Newsom hopes to change.
At the time of this writing, "The Mask You Live In" has raised over $50,000 -- more than half of the target amount -- on Kickstarter, with 23 days to go. Click over to Kickstarter for more information.