In The Mask You Live In (2015), Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores what she perceives to be harmful notions about masculinity in American culture.
In American culture, men cannot release emotions. If they are depressed, then their symptoms are not recognized, and may even be misdiagnosed as some kind of behavioral disorder/personality. Moreover, they are told to put up with their depression. This causes more hurt and sadness to the point that men have a tendency to commit suicide than women. Because men tend to use more violent means to kill themselves, they often succeed in suicide.
Men may have intimate male buddies that they can talk to about serious concerns that are affecting their emotional health, but they have to be very cautious about the relationship. Signs of affection between two men can easily be interpreted as homosexuality by other people, and homosexuality is condemned, because homosexuals are believed to be gender traitors who refuse to follow the male social hierarchy.
Men cannot be soft and gentle. If they are soft and gentle, then they may be ostracized and bullied by their peers in the male pecking order.
Men are taught that violence can solve problems. If a young boy is beaten by another boy at school, then his parents would tell him to beat the other boy back or figure out some way to defend himself physically. Ironically as a girl, my mother encouraged me to fight back. When I did not fight back, she thought I was useless and went to the neighbor's kid and told him/her that I had an older brother that could beat up him/her. (I really don't know the kid's gender, because I was too young, and when my mom told me the story, she used her native language, which meant that there was no phonetic difference between "he" and "she", unlike English.)
Then, the neighbor told my mother that she should let kids be kids and deal with their own trivial problems and bickering. However, my family may be the exception here, because at that time, my family lived in a different society, where boys were more valued than girls, and the one-child policy was mandated by the government. When my mother had me, she wanted to raise me like a boy despite that I was a girl. She also gave me water guns that I used to play with my male cousin, who was about my age. As a result, I really didn't associate water guns with masculinity; instead, I associated them with having fun during the summer.
Men are taught that they should strive for extreme success: athletic ability, money, and women. A man who spends his days reading books and lives a quiet, celibate life is not interpreted as a manly man. Celibacy in a man is torture, because his peers will taunt him for being effeminate or imply that he's homosexual.
The film does portray unique families that address this societal problem. One man says that he was raised by his mother and other strong women, so he has great respect for his mother and other women. Because he was affectionately raised by a single mom, he was bullied in school. He was supposed to act tough, but he didn't. He was supposed to drink alcohol and sleep with many women, but he wasn't interested in that wild lifestyle. Another man says that he never had a father figure. His own father was always in prison. When he grew up, his son's mother didn't want to raise his son, so he became a single parent that was both father and mother.
This allowed him to raise his little boy differently than the norm. He allowed his son to share troubling feelings with him and taught that violence was not the answer. He knew his son was "sensitive", because his son told him so, and he listened. One woman sends her son to a Christian school, hoping that the school children would act Christian and be kind. The problem is, even Christian schoolboys manifest the same kind of behavior as everyone else, and the woman's son gets beaten at school by the schoolboys. Fortunately for her family, she allows her son to speak to her about his problems.
From an early age, men are socialized to act aggressively, play in sports, not be afraid, not show emotion, etc. If they do anything that implies femininity, then all of a sudden they are not "manly". So, they have to spend all their lives to "prove" their manliness to other men by suppressing any qualities in themselves that are deemed as feminine. It is this mindset that espouses hatred against women, ownership of women, and persecution of homosexual and effeminate men.
In a twisted world, high-achieving males that display the most masculine traits are applauded and respected by the low-achieving males. They have the most power and resources, and they embody hypermasculinity at the cost of their own well-being. The top male attracts the most women, and that is admired by the lower-ranking men in the pecking order. In the male social hierarchy, homosexual men are perceived to be at the very bottom, almost next to women. Women have no place in the hierarchy and are regarded as objects of sexual desire and reproduction. The oppressive nature of the hierarchy may lead to the persecution of effeminate or homosexual men and the total control of women.
Women's only acceptable role would be housework, childrearing, and childbearing; and their husbands would have control over their life and body. Women may be exchanged and discarded like commodities. Girls must be kept pure in order to be marriageable, because promiscuous women would be outside of the male control. If a man cheats the system and has sexual access to the girl, then the girl becomes irreversibly damaged and can never be replaced. Marriage would legitimately seal the transaction between the man and the woman's father, and the man would have exclusive access to that woman's reproductive capability.
I believe the film discusses the threats that American men face very well. Moreover, the rigid male gender role may be the cause of the problems that women face. Therefore, I believe that feminists and women should man up and stop thinking so much of themselves. If they want to promote women's rights, then they have to stop the hypermasculine expectations.
Hypermasculine expectations from women are just feeding into the dangerous stereotype (such as a woman who claims that she will only date/marry a man who earns more money than she does or has more education that she does, even though she is a graduate from a top university and earns a six-figure salary), thereby forcing men to aspire to be masculine but cannot due to the increasingly female-centric, female-powered world that feminists have engineered under the assumption that men are the enemy. Men are not the enemy. They are the victims of a rigid, oppressive male social hierarchy. I think feminists tend to ignore male problems too often, because they are too focused on women's issues.
In reality, I believe men's issues deserve higher priority, because tackling the male social hierarchy and helping men realize that there are many ways to be a man and gain acceptance from women may resolve the women's issues. Alas, men's issues aren't treated seriously, because they (which are focused on the manifestations of the rigid male gender role and male social hierarchy) are perceived as wanting to return to the "patriarchy", and the men are told to man up.