Is Anyone Untouchable?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on February 5th, 2019.

Just under two weeks ago the 2019 Sundance Film Festival officially kicked off in Park City with its annual opening day press conference with Robert Redfordand festival programmers. This year, when festival Director John Cooper spoke, he noted that while the festival never consciously chooses a theme for the year, invariably a theme emerges from each year’s crop of submissions. This year, he noted, that theme was truth. By the end of the festival I had watched over 30 films and it was clear to me what he meant. Truth was everywhere at Sundance 2019, and sometimes it was hard to bear.

This was never more evident than when Untouchable, the new documentary by British
filmmaker Ursula MacFarlane, had its World Premiere a week ago Friday. The film charts the rise and fall of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and asks the question of how he got away with being a serial sexual predator for so long. Just how long? The film opens with an interview with a woman who alleges that Weinstein raped her back in the 1970s, meaning he likely got away with harassing, assaulting, threatening, and violating women for over four decades. All this while being heralded as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He was considered a maverick who built his fortune with Miramax, the studio he founded with his brother Bob in 1979, and went on to become the most infamous bully in modern Hollywood history. Weinstein’s reputation as a tyrant was legendary, and he is credited with changing the game with respect to the Academy Awards and how the industry approaches awards season and campaign tactics. In his eyes, Academy Awards were a tool to wield for power, and it seems he’s been thanked onstage more times than God by winners. Harvey Weinstein was untouchable. Until suddenly he wasn’t.

 

On October 5th, 2017, The New York Times published an exposé by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that reported on the widespread sexual abuse committed by Weinstein. Coincidentally, just a week before this year’s festival, I heard Ms. Kantor speak on her career and of course this watershed article live with the Park City Institute. She was incredible. Their piece was followed on October 10th by a report in The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow that alleged that Weinstein had raped three women and sexually assaulted dozens more. The reaction was swift and widespread.

For Weinstein, he was dismissed from the Weinstein Company by the Board of Directors (the company has since been dissolved), he was expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, and he is currently facing criminal charges in New York City. On a wider scale, this event kicked off a global reckoning on the issue of sexual harassment through the Me Too movement and the Times Up Initiative. To date, over 80 women have accused Harvey Weinstein of abuse. More importantly, incredibly brave men and women all over the world from every possible socioeconomic background are sharing their stories of abuse and harassment and making it clear that this kind of behaviour simply will not be tolerated any longer.

The far reaching impact of the now coined Weinstein Effect will likely be discussed, debated, and studied for years to come, as it should be, but those are stories on a global level. Untouchable is a film about just one man, and how one man was able to get away with his despicable actions for so long. The film interviews former employees who confess to feeling guilty over whether or not they were complicit in aiding his actions. For me, one of the most compelling accounts came from a former colleague of Weinstein who saw legal documents accusing Weinstein of assault, and in feeling that the accusations were absolutely true, she chose to quit on the spot. She said that there are points in your life when you have to choose between your values and your pocketbook, and that this was one of those moments for her.

Other former colleagues confessed that there was simply too much money at stake to face the reality of what they knew was happening. This was a textbook case of institutionalized complicity, and make no mistake, this was all about a catastrophic abuse of power. An extreme and vile misuse of power. Harvey Weinstein wielded his power like a weapon, and he got away with it for decades. Untouchable lays bare this reality in a way that we can no longer ignore. It is the truth, as awful and heartbreaking as that truth may be.

The thing that resonated with me the most while watching this film was the how and where Weinstein’s abuses occurred. This was not some sleazy guy hitting on women in a bar. This was a powerful Hollywood producer who invited women to his hotel rooms on the pretext of business meetings and auditions, and then exploited that situation for his own sexual gratification. The film is filled with powerful testimonies from many female actors, and I thank them all for their courage to come forward. Each of them shared similar stories in graphic and disturbing detail, but the interview that left me in a puddle on the theater floor was by an actress with total night blindness who said she was shoved into a dark stairwell and derisively told to find her own way out after refusing to bare her breasts to Weinstein.

Before the screening of the film the audience was warned that the film may be triggering, and indeed it was. Even now, as I type these words, my head is filled with memories of my own experiences of sexual harassment as a young professional. I remember his words, almost the exact same words that survivors in the film used, that made it clear that if I wanted his help with my career I had to indulge his actions. If this is in no way your lived experience, then I hope you see this film. If you are someone who thinks that this whole #MeToo thing has gone overboard then I hope you in particular see this film. The purpose of a great social issue documentary is to tell a story that needs to be told to create understanding, empathy, and action. Untouchable is a great documentary.

“When you watch something so visceral and it makes you feel something very deeply, I think that’s a very powerful way to get a conversation going. But it needs so much more than that. We need to change structures and change employment law and legislation. All those things take a long time. At Sundance, there are a lot more women filmmakers this year. I’d like to think that if you can get rid of people like [ex-CBS chief and accused abuser] Les Moonves and Harvey Weinstein, these people can be toppled. I’d like to think people aren’t going to dare behave like that, but human nature isn’t that simple.” – URSULA MACFARLANE

I’ve been thinking a lot about truth since this year’s festival began, and I keep coming back to the famous line from A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth”. There’s a lot of wisdom there. The truth is often ugly. It is often heartbreaking. It often involves all of us having to look inside ourselves and ask the hard questions. Am I complicit? Could I have done better? Now that I know, what do I do? The truth is a messy, dirty affair, and oftentimes it is so much easier to look away and allow the status quo to continue because it’s safe and comfortable. I will never forgive myself for not reporting my abuser because I know for a fact that he went on to abuse other women. But I also know that like many of the women who shared their stories in this film, I was the one without power, without status, and who lacked faith that appropriate action would be taken to protect me. What this film, and so many others that have debuted at this year’s festival show us, is that refusing to see the truth most often comes at the cost of those that are the most vulnerable. Maybe we can’t handle the truth, but we can’t ignore it any longer.

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Please consider reading this article on Democracy Now – here Amy Goodman interviews the director of Untouchable, URSULA MACFARLANE.

What do the new Gillette commercial and This is Us have in common?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 16th, 2019.

Yesterday I woke up to flurry of texts and emails that read, “Did you see it?!” These messages were followed by a link to an ad for, you guessed it, Gillette. I clicked. I watched, and I immediately teared up. I really did. Weird, I know. I mean, it’s only a corporate commercial, right? But for the record, whenever I watch an episode of This is Us, which I happened to do yesterday as well, I require a whole box of tissues. The reason I cry watching This is Us is often for the same reason that I teared up watching the Gillette ad. They are both displaying a fresh take on masculinity, and I love it.

Before we continue, take a moment to go and watch the Gillette ad. It’s less than two minutes long. I’ll wait. Now, take a moment to think how you feel about it. Honor that feeling. Now, ask yourself why you feel what you do. If you’re like me, and you loved it, perhaps it was because it was inspiring to hear male voices challenging the behaviors associated with toxic masculinity. Better yet, it put forth examples of what healthy masculinity looks like.

However, maybe you didn’t like the ad, and if you fall into this camp you are certainly not alone. A simple scroll through google news this morning include lots of headlines that read “anti-men”,”backlash”, and “boycott.” In addition, some public figures have denounced the brand, including professional troll Piers Morgan, who publicly declared that this ad is part of a war on masculinity. As of this writing the ad has over twice as many dislikes on YouTube in comparison to likes, so clearly it has touched a nerve. If it provoked a negative reaction, I invite you to share the reasons why below because I’m somewhat baffled as to why an ad urging men to abandon toxic behaviors and replace them with more positive ones is controversial. I did read through many of the negative comments on Youtube but struggled to find any that were either thoughtful, or helpful, in terms of articulating the objections.

In a fortuitous twist of timing, this ad comes on the heels of the American Psychology Association’s release of their first ever report on the harmful effects of toxic masculinity. Titled the APA Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Men and Boys, this report was 13 years in the making and drew on over 40 years of research. The conclusion? Toxic masculinity is killing men. Literally. The report outlines how traditional masculinity, which is marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression, is psychologically harming men to detrimental degrees. In the US, men commit 90% of homicides and represent 77% of the victims of homicide, including 85% of the victims of gun violence. Men are the group most likely to become the victims of violent crimes in general, and suicide rates among men are three times higher than that of women. Overall, men have a lower life expectancy than women, and this is true in every country in the world.

The data clearly shows that toxic masculinity is exactly that: toxic. However, once again, judging from the reactions online, it’s clear that a lot of people have missed that point. The goal here is not to take away men’s masculinity. The goal is to challenge men to recognize the toxic aspects and arrive at a better expression of masculinity. You know, one that isn’t literally killing them. That being said, we all know that change doesn’t happen overnight, so I can only hope that enough men are inspired by this ad, and indeed by all the conversations taking place in this new #MeToo era.

Because it is January, the Sundance Film Festival is just around the corner, and while I was watching the Gillette ad, I was reminded of being at the premier of The Mask You Live in 2015. This landmark film by the accomplished film-maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. These gender stereotypes interconnect with race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it. The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.” I cannot recommend this film more, so find out how to see it here.

While it is easy to get discouraged by the outrage the Gillette ad provoked, I find solace in the fact that popular culture seems to be making a positive shift. Last week, the New York Times profiled numerous musicians who are racking up hit albums and critical acclaim, all while specifically targeting toxic masculinity in their music. Earlier this month, the most lucrative franchise in Hollywood released a trailer for a superhero movie that featured zero action shots. Instead, it focused on the depression and grief of its overwhelmingly male cast, including a poignant shot of Captain America crying. And week after week, hit television shows, like This is Us, feature male characters who shy away from the stifling bonds of traditional masculinity. As Barbara Annis from Gender Intelligence Group notes in response to the ad, “We are entering a powerful paradigm shift, and I invite men and women to truly embrace these messages. I understand the inclination to react negatively when it lands as generalizing men or stereotyping male masculinity, but there are some beautiful messages in this ad that can inspire people to action. Think of this: women and girls all over the world have been hungering for men to engage and take action, and any boy who has been bullied will feel a sense of relief that there are men in the world ready to notice and take action. The critical approach is for us to move away from blame to a new kind of understanding.”

At the end of the day, Gillette knew this ad would provoke controversy, but so far they are not backing down. They released a statement saying that going forward they will be reviewing all public facing content to ensure that they “fully reflect the ideals of Respect, Accountability and Role Modeling.” Their website states that “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” They’re also putting their money where their mouth is by donating $3 million over the next year to nonprofits “designed to help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best'”, with the first recipient being the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Personally, I applaud this initiative, and I hope it paves the way for more corporations to examine the content and ideals their advertising is putting out into the world. I hope there is more media on the horizon, from every medium, that portrays men as awesome, complex, loving, kind, and emotionally vulnerable human beings. I think we all want to live in a world where treating each other with love, kindness, and respect is the new norm.

Below please find some resources focused on healthy masculinity.

Non-profit organizations

A Call to Men – is a violence prevention organization and respected leader on issues of manhood, male socialization and its intersection with violence, and preventing violence against all women and girls.

MenEngage Alliance – made up of dozens of countries, alliance members work collectively and individually toward advancing gender justice, human rights and social justice to achieve a world in which all can enjoy healthy, fulfilling and equitable relationships and their full potential.

Next Gen Men –  a nonprofit organization focused on building better men through youth and peer engagement, education, and empowerment.

Promundo – Center for Masculinity and Gender Equality – is a global leader in promoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.

The Center for Men and Masculinities – The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, established at Stony Brook University (SUNY) in 2013, is dedicated to engaged interdisciplinary research on boys, men, masculinities, and gender. Our mission is to bring together researchers, practitioners, and activists in conversation and collaboration to develop and enhance projects focusing on boys and men. This collaboration will generate and disseminate research that redefines gender relations to foster greater social justice.

Books

The Future of Men by Jack Myers

Guyland: The Perlious World Where Boys Become Men and Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era by Michael Kimmel

The Man They Wanted Me To Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of our Own Making by Jared Yates Sexton (April 2019)

TED Talks

A Call to Men – Tony Porter

Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone – Men Included – Michael Kimmel

Why I’m Done Trying to be ‘Man Enough’ – Justin Baldoni

What Are Your Resolutions For 2019? Here Are My Top Two.

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 1st, 2019.

It’s that time of year again. Yesterday the calendar came to a close on 2018, and today the new year begins. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a love/hate relationship with the tradition of new year’s resolutions. I love taking the time to reflect on the year in terms of goals achieved. I actually make a list in my journal every year, which is a wonderful thing to have because trust me, when you are as old as I am the years start to run together. I also love that January1st offers a clear date for a fresh start on the goals that may not have been realized. Now the hate part. When I see the same things creep back onto my list year after year, it can make me feel like, well, a bit of a loser. That being said, I do try to reflect on why certain behaviors, or lack there of, tend to repeat themselves, and all we can ever do is try to do better in the coming year.

This year my list is taking on a different tone and substance. There were a lot of changes in my life over these past 12 months, with the biggest change for me happening in September. After eight years of being All In for building Women Moving Millions, a non-profit organization whose mission is to mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls, I retired. Not only did I completely stop doing any of the day to day work of WMM, including member recruitment and fundraising, but I also left the board. That was hard, and weird, and I wrote way too much about it here. Now, with a few months past that landmark moment for me, I have a lot of learnings around it, but that is not what this article is about. However, I will say that my biggest take-away has been that the best way to let go is to just let go. You will never be able to land somewhere new if you are busy clinging to the old.

The other big life change for me was that my youngest child graduated from high school in June. She is currently in the middle of a gap year before going off to college in the fall of 2019, and I decided to take a gap year of sorts alongside her. I have traveled like a maniac this whole fall, with trips to places I have never visited before such as Ireland, Scotland, and Kenya. Though the travel will continue in 2019, I am also feeling a huge need to think about what is next for me professionally, and therefore many of my resolutions for this next year are oriented towards that objective. But before I jump into my list and invite you to share your top resolutions, where did this whole idea come from?

If you can believe it, setting new year’s resolutions is a tradition that dates back to Julius Caesar. In 46BC he decreed that January 1st would mark the start of a new calendar year, and he invited his subjects to use this changeover to reflect on how they could be better citizens in the year to come. Pretty cool, right? Over 2,000 years later, people all over the world still make new year’s resolutions, but research shows that only 46% of people manage to keep to their resolutions after just six months. Only 12% make it the full year. Some of the reasons behind this failure rate is a lack of planning, spur of the moment decisions made after three glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve, and/or not setting specific achievable goals. Social scientists also recommend keeping to just one or two resolutions in order to not dilute your motivation, and to avoid repeating past resolutions that have already proved to be frustrating.

So with that in mind, I will (partially) take the wonderful advice of those who know best and share my top two resolutions. I’m making them new ones, and I invite you to do the same. Social scientists also say that you are more likely to feel accountable for a behavior change if you write it down down and share it with others, so please share!

Number One

Practice daily meditation. This may sound like a simple task, but have you ever tried to focus on one thought, idea, or mantra for a sustained period of time? It is shockingly difficult to do, especially considering that in today’s digital age our brains have become accustomed to being bombarded with stimuli every waking minute of the day. However, recent research has shown that practicing daily meditation yields enormous benefits, including increased attention spans and concentration skills, decreased stress levels, and higher capacities for empathy. Even more amazing, studies have shown that meditation can actually physically improve our brains by helping to strengthen the connection between brain cells. Scientists have observed that meditation can lead to our brains being able to process information faster and more efficiently, make better decisions, and even help decrease sensitivity to pain. A good summary of this research can be found here. It’s also pretty telling that most incredibly successful people report practicing meditation, and so in light of all this, not to mention the fact that it costs nothing monetarily, why wouldn’t you at least give it try? For years I have been saying that I will start doing this one day, and now today is the day. Join me.

Number Two

Oh this is so hard. I really have 10 more, so trying to pick just one to share here is tough. However, I’m going to go with the one that keeps creeping to the top of my mind even though it is going to seem a little hokey.

Practice kindness. As much as you can, in every situation, practice kindness. I spent some time, just know, scrolling though definitions in an attempt to be super clear about what I mean, and as a result of this I actually changed the words from “be kind” to “practice kindness”. Similar to the idea above regarding meditation, to practice something is about developing it into a habit. I really want to be a person who naturally shows up in a way that is friendly, generous, and considerate. Think about how many interactions you have with others in a given day. This can be from the person you buy coffee from on the way to work, to your co-workers and clients, your online social engagements, as well as your time with family and friends. What if our default setting was to always show up with kindness, even in the most challenging of situations where strong action was required? To act with kindness is not to say you don’t let someone go if they are not doing their job, or that you don’t ask for proper service. It just means you do so in a way that is respectful. Our world is fraught with negativity, anger, and the normalization of aggressive interpersonal behavior. Enough. This new year I invite you, as I am inviting myself, to always try to show up with consideration, with friendliness, and with generosity. Practice kindness.

Happy New Year. Wishing you and yours the very best for 2019.