Boys and Masculinity

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I recently had a conversation with a colleague about masculinity and what it means in American culture. She told me about her experience living in several African villages where she witnessed rituals that helped boys to transition into men. She observed that the boys never questioned their manhood after completing the initiation. They were confident in themselves and accepted as men in the society.

In American culture, boys and men are constantly trying to prove their masculinity – oftentimes through destructive means such as domination, violence, and sexual conquests.

I grew up in a neighborhood where boys were taught that only the strong survive. If we showed any signs of weakness, older boys and men would chide and intimidate us until we toughened up. As a consequence, I quickly learned how to mask my emotions and adopt a tough-guy persona.

This is the image of manhood, I grew up with – aggressive, hyper-masculine, and devoid of emotion. Although I played the role, I never felt comfortable with this definition of manhood. I spent many years trying to understand what it meant to be a real man.

The film, The Mask You Live In, tries to answer this question. It explores the many aspects of American masculinity and explores how boys are socialized to believe certain things about their gender.

This short clip resonated with me because I’ve dealt with many of the topics it addresses. I’m also cognizant that my two sons will have to deal with them also (Warning: The clip contains some strong language).

Stay Strong,

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Join the conversation: How can we teach our boys a healthy version of masculinity. 

For more information, watch this panel discussion – TAASA Mobilizing Men Task Force Meeting

About author

Frederick J. Goodall

Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at or on Twitter at