Masculinity, Media, and Josh Daniel Moving Everyone To Tears

Josh Daniel and his best friend, the late Tom Wolley.

Josh Daniel and his best friend, the late Tom Wolley.

I wish we saw more examples through media of men being human, being emotional (beyond variations of anger) and having vulnerable hearts. Because when we see it, it is beautiful. Josh Daniel, a 21-year-old contestant on the X-Factor, is one brave young man who shows us this beauty.

I know this is a silly reality tv show, but for so many kids the media plays a huge role in how they develop their understanding of gender. So I’m grateful Josh’s story is going viral, because in it we see his love for his best friend, as well as his love and respect for his mama. We better understand his connection to the beautiful lyrics and music of this song, “Jealous” by Labrinth, especially as interviews come out in which he talks about the depression he suffered after his friend – who five years prior had received a lung transplant – died from complications of pneumonia following a biking accident. Josh’s ability to expose himself raw, to bring an audience and three judges to their feet, tears streaming down their faces was remarkable. In today’s hyper-masculine culture, it is also rare.

One of my favorite parts of this clip, and it only lasts a brief few seconds, is when we see Josh take a bow and stay with his hands on his knees, overwhelmed with the feeling in that moment. He smiles for himself over a job well done, yet shows us his bittersweet emotions following the perfect tribute to the dear friend he said goodbye to all too soon.

And this kid’s voice. Oh my word, his voice.

I hope to raise my little boy in a way that he understands how our culture presents masculinity is far different than what is best for him. I hope my husband and I teach him that “to be a man” is to be human, with heartache and jubilation, love and grief, and everything in between.


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

The Mask You Live In Debuts at Sundance January 2015

mask you live in.2The Representation Project film will debut at Sundance Film Festival in January 2015.

“Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. The Mask You Live In asks: As a society, how are we failing our boys?”

“America’s narrow definition of masculinity is harming boys, men, and society at large.”

I’m very excited for this film and here’s why…..

Three years ago I made the decision to part from the norm of my large girl empowerment community and include boys in my work. It didn’t feel right to me to polish just one side of a coin, both sides needed attention. You aren’t pro-girl if you are also anti-boy. It doesn’t work that way.

I could see the boys behind the masks. Some of my fans and customers were very angry with me for making this decision, they strongly felt that girls had it so rough and boys were just fine with all their privilege and maleness. In a way, I understood how they felt betrayed by me. I also understood why they were so wrong.

The issues facing boys, while different from those facing girls, are no less important and no less impactful to our larger society.

At the time I made this change with my business my son was a preschooler and I saw how the world was rushing in on him, just as I had a few years prior with my daughter. I didn’t agree with the messages he was being taught by culture about his gender and how he should “be a man”. Just as I had been fighting for my daughter’s right not to be rushed through her girlhood, I understood I had to do the same for my son.

mask you live in

My son – and your son – do not need to be men……they need time and space to be a BOY. Allowing him the full human experience is what will grow him into a confident, intelligent, emotionally intelligent, empathetic, strong, moral, respectable and respectful man. All of this forced toughening up and performance of “being a man” makes boys and man nothing more than fragile and empty. We rob our boys of their humanity when we encourage this to define masculinity.

Our sons are under no obligation to be anything other than the human being they were born to be. That includes the freedom to feel and express uncertainty, vulnerability, fear, love, joy, silliness, and healthy outlets for anger.

Allowing boys the space to be full people is not only what is most fair to them, it improves things for girls. These boys then grow up to be better friends, peers throughout school, romantic partners, fathers/uncles/grandfathers, coworkers, and members of society. We need to decouple the idea that anger, aggression, and violence are inherent “male” qualities.

This mask we teach our boys to wear, needs to be no more.


From the Representation Project:

“With The Mask You Live In, we’re expanding the conversation to include how our culture is harming boys and men. Research shows boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives.


The Representation Project

Support new documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

The Mask You Live In

What about the boys? There is so much focus on how girls are treated by society and media, it is a valid question to stop and ask if we are giving the same considerations to boys and what that impact might be.

I notice it most with teens and young men, their movements are like a choreographed dance, their gait and posturing all mimicking each other. In college my girlfriends and I called it “The Man Dance”, as we sat there waiting for these boys to really figure out what it meant to be a man. But you’d look into their eyes, or have a long conversation with one of your guy friends, and realize they are just as confused, uncertain, excited, compassionate, and lonely as we were. We were allowed to show it, of course, because we were girls. The boys couldn’t because then the homophobic slurs would start, and our friend would be teased for having any human emotion beyond indifference and arrogance.

I was raised with brothers and am now raising a son. I’ve always had a close group of guy friends, even now, and I feel like I understand their insecurities and hopes and ambitions. My husband is the kind of man who says ‘I love you’ to all of us all of the time, who is affectionate and intelligent and thoughtful. He is a “man’s man”, but he is a man who respects women and is kind and gentle to children. He has emotions, we’ve seen him cry over more than just sports. Our son is allowed to dance and wear toe polish and love art with as much freedom as he is allowed to love racing down the street on his bike and mud stomping through creeks and catching bugs. He is allowed to be a human being, to laugh and cry and worry and whoop and shy away.

But not all boys have that right. Yesterday I heard a mother tell her eighteen month old son not to be “such a wuss” because he didn’t want to kill a bug. I heard a group of teen boys walking down the city street in front of my house, one boy being teased for being a “pussy”. He must have committed some indiscretion against the Man Code which immediately earned him the fate of being feminized and degraded.

And I wonder, will they be allowed the space to grow into their own manhood? What kind of men will they be? Or will they have to wear the mask?

My friend and colleague Jennifer Siebel Newsom has begun a new project looking at all of these issues facing our boys. Whether you have sons or daughters or no children, how our society treats its youngest members is impacting all of us. Jennifer and I have talked to each other about the hopes and dreams we have for our children and how the media and culture impacts our vision of the people our children can become. Jennifer is raising two daughters and a son.

Her new project, The Mask You Live In, will be a 75 minute documentary featuring powerful interviews with popular thought leaders and celebrities as well as academics and experts in neuroscience, biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, ethics, education, sports, media, and history. It will be an exploration of American masculinity, and what prices our boys pay to fill that role.

From the Kickstarter campaign page: “The Mask You Live In documentary will examine how gender stereotypes are interconnected with race, class, and circumstance, and how kids are further influenced by the education system, sports culture, and mass media- video games and pornography in particular. The film also highlights the importance of placing emphasis on the social and emotional needs of boys through healthy family communication, alternative teaching strategies, conscious media consumption, positive role modeling and innovative mentorship programs.”

I hope you join PPBB in supporting this much needed project. Jennifer has set to to continue the discussion and increase the comprehension of gender inequality in our country. Click HERE to visit the Kickstarter page to support this project, even a $25 or $50 donation will push the project forward.