I recently finished the book, The Mask of Masculinity. I’m a big Lewis Howes fan; his School of Greatness podcast is one of my favorites to listen to. When I listen I feel like I am constantly learning and thinking in ways I hadn’t previously. It’s very Tim Ferriss-eque, who is one of my other favorites. Why, you might we wondering would I be reading a book on masculinity? Because it’s relevant to anyone who interacts with men. When I heard about this latest book, I knew it was something I would love to read, as well as the pass on to men in my life. If I can have a better understanding of masculinity and it’s affect on relationships and interactions, I can learn to better relate to men I’m around.
I love the idea of this book. Oftentimes when we discuss the masks we wear in our society, it centers around women. The make-up, the clothes, the shoes, the bags, the way we carry ourselves; much of the time it focuses on women, and the desire to drop our masks and become our more authentic selves. This is great. BUT I love the concept of exploring the masks that men wear, because if we can understand the masks men wear, just like those women wear, we can cultivate more authentic, real relationships. Lewis opens the door in the book to the masks men wear and how these masks inhibit living a fulfilling life.
Through his research and interviews, Lewis describes 9 masks he uncovered:
- The Stoic Mask
- The Athlete Mask
- The Material Mask
- The Sexual Mask
- The Aggressive Mask
- The Joker Mask
- The Invincible Mask
- The Know-It-All Mask
- The Alpha Mask
As you look at the list, and go through the book, some of the meaning of the masks are very obvious. You can look at just the name and probably conjure up an image of a man in your life, or yourself, whom you instantly identify with one or more of these masks; I know I did. Each time I learned about a new mask, it became more apparent how men in my life, and men in general use these masks as defense mechanisms. And more often these masks were to hide vulnerability. These masks provide protection and help create a sense of acceptance and belonging; However, is this authentic? Is the acceptance authentic and real, if we aren’t also allowed to show the true self?
Once we see these masks on those around us, and even within ourselves we must also ask, how do we perpetuate these masks in the men around us? What is causing these masks to be worn and how can we help tear away these masks and how can this positively influence our relationships? In many ways our culture encourages stereotypes of masculinity, and what “makes a man.” And although these stereotypes are being challenged as in this viral Gillette Commercial, even the challenges are being challenged.
The problem isn’t “masculinity,” it’s inaccurate definitions of what makes a man. “Boys don’t cry” eventually turns into “men don’t cry;” implying that expressing emotions implies weakness; This is toxic. “Toxic Masculinity” is perpetuating stereotypes that inhibit men from living their most authentic selves. Within these masks of masculinity, men can be “either, or;” Men can be strong or weak; sensitive or stoic. This is where the problem lies, in perpetuating that men can only be one thing. In that men have to be one thing and not another. Yet in order to help tear away these masks we must encourage an “And” mentality. Men can be sensitive and strong; men can be all of these traits, they are not mutually exclusive. And when they are able to fully express the full spectrum of these, in their own way, the masks drop down.
Today as you go about your day, ask yourself, what mask am I wearing? What mask do I see in my family member, in my friend, and how can I help them remove that mask to live more authentically? Because as these masks are removed, they not only allow room for vulnerability, trust, and authenticity, they create space for real happiness; And that is what we are all ultimately searching for. We are all searching for happiness; that is the goal. In order to live our happiest lives, we have to be happy with ourselves; and that starts with removing masks.