The Elephant in the Gender Equality Room: Masculinity

Just as women and girls are expected to follow ridiculous, degrading and constricting ideas of what it means to be feminine men and boys face, albeit different, but just as restricting expectations for what it means to be masculine.

So, let’s talk about it.

Miss Representation is at it again. Jennifer Seibel Newsom, the director of Miss Representation, is directing a new film called The Mask You Live In that asks the question: As a society, how are we failing our boys? 

We have created a culture where boys and men constantly have to prove their masculinity.

“They often feel compelled to abide by a rigid code of conduct that affects their relationships, narrows their definition of success and, in some cases, leads to acts of violence… Our society’s failure to recognize and care for the social and emotional well-being of our boys contributes to a nation of young men who navigate adversity and conflict with an incomplete emotional skill set,” according to the Kickstarter page.

So how are these dangerous narrow definitions of what it means to be masculine connected to this movement to advance women’s leadership? Well, for one thing, I think it has been well understood that the women’s movement and modern day feminism has progressed in a way that focuses on how we should be challenging both femininity and masculinity and how these socially constructed characteristics don’t really help anybody.

I also think that if there were more diversity within our leadership, i.e. an equal number of women to men, then men would have more examples of different leadership styles and strengths to inspire their own actions, behaviors, and approaches.

So what’s it going to take? For one thing, we need more women taking the lead and inviting men to embrace their emotions and convert their “Power Over” mentality to one of  “Power To”. As Jackson Katz says in the promo trailer for the film, “we need to redefine strength in men not as the power over other people, but as forces for justice… We’re teaching men how to be men in ways that integrate caring and compassion into strength.”

While women need to be more willing to embrace our power, men need to reframe what power actually means to them too.

Power is not proving your physical strength over others in order to get respect.

Power is not how many people you’ve slept with.

Power is not just about you looking out for your needs and interests.

Women need to be spreading these messages to the men and boys. And one way women can do this is if they are leading their company, community, and country.

There is not one way to be feminine just as there is not one way to be masculine. Our world is so much more diverse and intersectional than that. So let’s end the pretending shall we? All of this gender constrictiveness is exhausting.

I invite everyone to take off your mask (myself included). Because seriously? We’re not fooling anyone.

If you want to learn more about The Mask You Live In documentary check out and support the Kickstarter campaign. And for you social media enthusiasts, follow the movement #TheMaskYouLiveIn

About the Author

Kaitlin Rattigan is a recent graduate with an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in Gender and Peacebuilding. She is a firm believer in social media as an effective and meaningful tool to promote positive societal change. Never underestimate the power of 140 characters. Kaitlin is a voice for the Millennials, a constructive disruptionist, an advocate for women’s leadership, and is a believer in challenging and expanding the definitions of what it means to be a feminist. For gender-analytical fem-tastic commentary on current events, follow Kaitlin @KaitlinRattigan. Do you have an issue you want highlighted on The Movement Blog? Is there an area within women’s leadership that you feel passionate about and want to share with a wide audience? Feel free to send Kaitlin a DM or Tweet to @KaitlinRattigan with the hashtag #Women2025 and let’s keep the conversation going and work together to propel women into their equal share of leadership positions by 2025.