The Mask We Live In


How much impact do you have over the men in your life?

I saw a thought-provoking Netflix documentary recently called The Mask You Live In.  It deconstructs the ideas of masculinity, and through interview and research shows the ways that boys are taught to be men, often with negative consequences.

This documentary made me realize that, in a lot of ways, being neat is not an ideal trait for men.  Boys are taught this from an early age.  Things like, men make the messes, women clean it up.  Men have a lot of hobbies scattered about.  Men leave dishes in the sink.  Men drink out of the milk carton.  Men aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.  Men aren’t bothered by clutter or chaos, because they’re tough, and to be bothered would mean they have feelings.  And everyone knows real men don’t have feelings and don’t believe in woo-woo stuff like how a space “feels”.

This is what we see, this is what we’re taught, both verbally, and through observation.  A neat man is at risk of having his manhood questioned.  Think about TV shows and movies.  When’s the last time you’ve seen a real “man’s man” be neat and orderly?

Boys model this and grown men have internalized it.

Most people who hire professional organizers are women with a husband and younger kids to care for.  They feel overwhelmed by everything on their plate, and they feel like they’re on an island when it comes to maintaining the house, because they don’t get much help.

But when you think about why the boys in your life might not be participating in staying organized, it probably goes beyond laziness or trouble focusing.

Most of us men don’t realize we have these beliefs about masculinity and neatness.  But we can feel when something conflicts with our identity, or who we think we’re supposed to be, and we avoid it.

Let’s take a totally separate example.  What if your son or husband was into poetry instead of, say, sports?  How would his male peers treat him or talk to him?  As men, we’re aware of the social danger of this, so the boy in question would probably try to forget about poetry and go play or watch sports with his friends instead.

It’s not much different with organizing or neatness.  Boys sense the social risk in that behavior and they follow the groove our culture has carved for them.

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that Jen and I own an organizing business, and that, yes, I really believe in being organized, and what we’re doing with the families we work with.

Some people even snicker a bit.  Most little boys don’t dream of one day getting into the field of home organizing.  Neither did I.  But I’ve never been someone to follow the beaten path.

The “so-what” here is two-fold.  One, be patient with your men.  They didn’t decide the “rules”, they’re just playing by them, and they might not even know that they are.  Be aware of how certain things you ask them to do might be conflicting deep down with how they see themselves and how they want to appear to other people.  That’s not an excuse to be a slob.  But it’s something to acknowledge.  Just as it helps me to remember that I’ll never truly understand the female perspective.

Second, challenge them not to just play the “role” of the guy who doesn’t really care what the house looks or feels like.  Encourage them to blaze their own trail of what it means to be a man.  That doesn’t mean abandoning who they are or what they love.  Instead it’s about opening up to new ideas outside the box.  Especially when those ideas are important to you and your peace of mind.

If you have Netflix, I highly recommend watching The Mask You Live In, possibly with the whole family.  You’ll have a whole new perspective on the men in your life.

Until next month,