Wharton Journal - Masculinity Under the Microscope

By The 22s Board

For several years, the MBA Program Office and WWIB have been screening Miss Representation, Jennifer Siebel Newsome’s 2011 film exploring the portrayal of women in mainstream media. Until this year, with the active participation of the 22s and others, male attendance at the screenings has been sparse at best. So when upwards of 120 registered attendees (including more than 50 men) packed Steiny-D 350 for the 22s inaugural screening of The Mask You Live In – Newsome’s follow-up exploration of masculinity – it was difficult not to sit up and take notice.

Through interviews and taped group discussions, interspersed with clips from news media and popular culture, Newsome explores the attitudes and social pressures that often push young men to adopt a ‘mask’ of masculinity and the ill-effects these forces have for both individuals and society at large.

While the film’s subjects at times constitute extreme examples of the consequences of hyper-masculinity – men facing life sentences at San Quentin prison for crimes committed as juveniles or at-risk youth in troubled communities – many of the points it raises about authenticity and the ways social forces constrain our expressions of gender can ring true even for Wharton MBAs.

Following the screening, Professor Stewart Friedman (founder of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project) moderated an open-discussion amongst attendees. Comments from the audience highlighted the inherently arbitrary assignment of particular character traits to the label of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, questioned why certain ‘masculine’ traits are assumed to be necessary for success in particular career fields, and shared personal experiences navigating the constraints of social gender expectations.

While there were few answers to the questions raised, the event succeeded in demonstrating that there are not only forums emerging for the discussion of these issues at Wharton, but a large population that is eager to engage as well.