Chapter Epigraphs from Unmasking: Toward Authentic Masculinity

Chapter Epigraphs

Before writing this book, I had no idea that the quotes some authors use at the beginning of a chapter are called epigraphs. In my book, Unmasking: Toward Authentic Masculinity, I start each chapter with a quote from a famous person and one from a participant in my research study. Here are the quotes, chapter by chapter.


Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.
-James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

[I was] putting my man face on.
-Chauncey, participant

1. What is a man?

Men do oppress women. People are hurt by rigid sexist role patterns. These two realities coexist. Male oppression of women cannot be excused by the recognition that there are ways men are hurt by rigid sexist roles. Feminist activists should acknowledge that hurt, and work to change it—it exists. It does not erase or lessen male responsibility for supporting and perpetuating their power under patriarchy to exploit and oppress women in a manner far more grievous than the serious psychological stress and emotional pain caused by male conformity to rigid sexist role patterns.
-bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Gender is socially constructed as a holistic entity that everybody just accepts as gender and the vast majority of people never examine it.
– Robert, participant

2. Expectations of Men

The three most destructive words every man receives when he’s a boy is when he is told to “be a man.“
Joe Ehrmann, former NFL player, football coach, & educator

If it would destroy [a 12-year-old boy] to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?
Tony Porter, educator and activist

You want to be the kid who beats your rival team in lacrosse and drinks that night to celebrate and has sex with a girl.
-Chet, participant

3. Why wear a mask?

Learning to wear a mask (that word already embedded in the term “masculinity”) is the first lesson in patriarchal masculinity that a boy learns. He learns that his core feelings cannot be expressed if they do not conform to the acceptable behaviors sexism defines as male. Asked to give up the true self in order to realize the patriarchal ideal, boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder.
― bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

I think behind it all, people who try to be overly masculine are somewhat insecure with themselves. I guess you could say they are lost in a sense, and they obviously turn toward societal norms for how they should be acting.
– Kumar, participant

4. Wearing Masks

There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.
– Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

I think people definitely put on a guise of some sort. People definitely put on a front a lot of the time, just to act tough. Just to act big.
– Noah, participant

5. Consequences

Choose your self-presentations carefully, for what starts out as a mask may become your face.
-Erving Goffman, sociologist

I like to listen to R&B music. So I will cut that on when I am in the room or whatever, and then when my roommates come back or my friends come over, I change the music.
-Jason, participant

6. Unmasking

This idea that we ask men to show up and to be vulnerable, to let themselves be seen, but that we really can’t tolerate it, was probably one of the most significant patterns that emerged from my work with men.
-Brené Brown, author, researcher, storyteller

Be yourself.

– Kumar, participant

7. Becoming

Becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.
-Michelle Obama, Becoming

[I’m] growing into myself and becoming more self-aware… being my authentic self not feeling the need anymore to try to be something different than I am. And I’m just going to be myself.
– Frank, participant

8. Exploring Identity

My youthful understanding of “Let your life speak” led me to conjure up the highest values I could imagine and then try to conform my life to them whether they were mine or not. If that sounds like what we are supposed to do with values, it is because that is what we are too often taught.
-Parker Palmer, Let My Life Speak

I want to be a man who is in touch with one’s emotions and to honestly be vulnerable. These are not solely manly qualities, but there is a certain strength I find in someone who is in touch with their emotions—who is not afraid to be vulnerable or who can admit their insecurities. So, someone who is very self-aware… I guess a lot of it goes against the stereotypes.
-Sean, participant

9. Aligning Actions

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Among my gay friends—and we all know we’re gay—it’s funny to think back about how we tried to out-mask the other… Why can’t we just be who we are? Getting involved in football or going to a sports bar and not really being interested in watching the game, but you know, drinking awful light beer and wondering why are we doing this… Why am I doing this?
– Daniel, participant

10. Engaging Men

As such, the path to a future in which humans can be in an authentic and accountable peace with each other is fractal—we must be willing to practice authenticity and accountability at the small scale of ourselves and our lives, both in ourselves and in our immediate relationships.
– adrienne maree brown, author, activist, & facilitator

It is just basically being able to trust that person enough to let down your guard in terms of showing emotion… not being afraid of homophobia… You are not trying to outdo each other… Fear of vulnerability, which is basically a fear of showing emotions or showing weakness.
-Nicholas, participant

11. Creating Change

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
-Lila Watson, aboriginal activist

When we live with secrets and lies, and we put this mask on, we never can experience true, genuine love because if you love me with the mask on, you’re not loving me truly.
-Sean, participant

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