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In ongoing campaign to end sexual assault, VPVA screens 'The Mask You Live In'

<p>The Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) held a documentary screening of the film “The Mask You Live In” to focus on the harmful repercussions of toxic masculinity.</p>

The Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) held a documentary screening of the film “The Mask You Live In” to focus on the harmful repercussions of toxic masculinity.

As a part of their campaign to end sexual violence on campus, the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance screened the film "The Mask You Live In" at the Rutgers Academic Building this past Monday evening.

With a strong turnout of both men and women, the organization was able to introduce the audience to the way toxic masculinity plays a role in our society.

“The film does a really good job at following some of the problematic belief systems that boys are taught at a younger age of how to be a man. Which often, at times, falls in line with anti-feminine ideas,” said Jean Semelfort, the prevention education coordinator for the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.

The film identifies some of the effects of young boys having to suppress themselves and then what happens for boys who then transition into adulthood having not had a moment to actually be themselves, Semelfort said.

In opera theater, masks express the art or the content of the art, so the mask that men develop revolves around expressing the expectations that people have of them as male-identified individuals, Semelfort said.

Some of the activists in this work — particularly Byron Hurt, who is featured in the film and spoke at the event — talk about masculinity in the sense of a performance.

“The question then becomes, how do I perform?” Semelfort said.

Semelfort said he has seen Hurt’s work before and thinks Hurt is an extraordinary male-identified feminist and filmmaker who does a lot of great work challenging toxic masculinity, Semelfort said.

“I think the film really prompts people to think deeply about the culture of manhood and issues around toxic masculinity and it does it in a way that opens people up for conversations and it makes people think about things that they may not have thought about on their own, or maybe haven’t really been able to put it into words or language,” Hurt said. 

The screening is a part of the campaign to end sexual violence on campus, as well as having the community start to develop a sense of what toxic masculinity looks like but also how the community starts to think about how to create healthy masculinity, Semelfort said.

“A part of our campaign in ending sexual violence is also the preventative piece and I believe in addressing masculinity and specifically toxic masculinity, you inherently challenge rape culture and sexual violence,” he said.

“I think emotional repression for boys and men doesn't just come from men not creating a safe space. I think it comes from anyone that’s a part of that community — male, female, cisgender, trans male, trans female, whoever the person is,” he said.

Research has shown males in comparison to female counterparts tend to check with their gender much more frequently. 

They have to prove their gender over and over again, Semelfort said.

Semelfort said he would love for everybody on campus to see the film or come to the screening. He hopes that whoever feels validated within their masculine experience can walk away with identifying areas in their masculinity that can be changed.

“I think a young man coming to college, even the perspective of what his college experience will be, is shaped by toxic ideas of masculinity,” Semelfort said.

The idea that once men get on campus, they will have the opportunity to drink a lot and hook up a lot is one that becomes recruited in the cycle of proving masculinity, Semelfort said.

He said it is part of male privilege that they do not necessarily have to think about what is is to be a man but at the same time, they are expected to prove their gender constantly and it then becomes an act without thinking.

Semelfort said he would like men to think about how, as a community, they contribute to toxic masculinity and how they tend to look at male role models for accountability.

“I think a lot of times in our totality we adhere to some very toxic views of how men and boys should be,” he said.

Brielle Diskin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

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