What the fuck with the men?!
My red carpet, and Facebook, and film festival friend, Rose McGowan, posted on Facebook recently her disappointment (which is putting it kindly) that 99% of her Facebook friends had not posted anything condemning Harvey Weinstein. This, of course, followed the “allegations” (I’m putting the quote signs around that word, because his abusive history – and specifically, his sexually abusive history has been a decades-long open “secret” in the film industry) were printed in the New York Times starting an avalanche of confirmations and affirmations from other press sources, and most importantly, the women he victimized.
And, in fact, I had not posted anything regarding the story or him. Yes, I’ve been “liking” every post she has made, I am fully on board with the Rose Army, and in fact, helped and worked with the Tallgrass International Film Festival to make it possible for her to come to Wichita and be honored with their Ad Astra Award in a couple weeks. Tallgrass and I wanted to do this (we first tried to do this last year) not just to give Rose her due officially as a filmmaker and an indelible presence on the independent filmmaking scene, but also to give her another forum – in a conservative state, to put her onstage and give her the microphone, to have her appear in-person in front of film fans that might not know what her take on all of this is yet – and frankly, REALLY need to hear her give them and us the time of day.
Still, I had not done what she was hoping so many of us – especially, men – would do. Officially, I hadn’t put my foot forward, added my voice formally to hers and the others condemning Weinstein, coming out and emphatically stating “This stops now. We won’t be silent regarding not just him, but the others that we all know is out there. The genie is most definitely out of the bottle and the party time for predators is coming to a close.”
And as someone that wants to be part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem – even if that is just being complicit or silent in the face of this crap, I felt I let her down. Certainly didn’t intend to, but fuck intentions, this is about action – concrete action. And as much as I think I’ve made my position and support clear via my actions and what I’ve written and said – I need to be more on point, Yes, I have written about the Alamo Drafthouse Tim League bullshit and yes, I had published my friend Ariel Schudson’s epic big picture takedown on the same subject here on Festworks, but I have the gut feeling that it’s still not enough. It’s not. Enough. I feel I can’t relax if I want to think of myself as being someone that women like Rose CAN look to as an ally, as part of a support system bolstering her and others while they try to make some monumental changes.
This morning, I read another Facebook post, from another film fest friend. Apparently, while riding the subway, this woman spoke up when seeing a male passenger verbally harassing other women, and when he instantly and aggressively came at her, threatening her now, only one other person on the subway intervened and stood up to the guy – another woman.
That’s a full subway car of men and women. No one else raises their voice. No one else puts themselves between a threatening man and the woman he is targeting.
Except for one other woman.
I mean, that is it in a nutshell (or a subway car), right? And, of course, I think (as I read her account of what happened) that I would have stepped up and taken on that asshole. But I wasn’t there. I didn’t have that moment to burnish my credentials as an ally. And that sucks because no one deserves to face up to that, certainly not someone as cool and brave enough as she is/was, to do so herself. She puts herself out there, goes out on the limb – and where are the men in the room? Or subway car? What the serious fuck, guys?! So now a bunch of people are commenting on her thread about how they would’ve stepped in and kicked serious ass had they been there. Sure. Sure they would have. Or maybe they actually would have. But it doesn’t matter. They weren’t there. I wasn’t there. No one – other than one other woman was there to stand up with my friend against an onslaught of hateful male aggression.
But here is where I fill in the corners of the picture I’m painting with the two personal learning moments that happened this weekend and is informing my feelings about Rose’s and my other friend’s declarations.
First, I was moderating a filmmaker panel on the subject of being a leader on your own set – not just being a director by working with actors and framing shots, but also leading a crew and being a good “boss.” And at one point, a woman on the panel was making a point about taking care of crew members by giving them profit “points.” Having made a film where I will likely not be delivering on any profit points for years, if ever, I found this idea kind of funny. She didn’t. And during the panel banter, I said she was “adorable” for thinking anyone was going to get profit points on the kinds of films we were making. She replied that she found that insulting. And that stuck with me. It froze me for a moment. And as I discussed with my wife, Justina Walford, later, we talked about the fact that I frequently – in moments like that – tell people, both male and female, that I find them “adorable.” It’s part of my familiar vernacular. It’s an easy go-to for me. But the woman isn’t a close friend of mine, so she would have no idea. To her, I’m sure it came out in a way that she has had to deal with countless times – a way that I would never direct with that intent. I instantly picked up on the sharpness that it wasn’t fun teasing banter between filmmaking colleagues. It WAS insulting. And while she didn’t spell it out, what I felt was being insinuated was that it was “male directed at female insulting.” Which would make it worse, worse, worse.
It was a big reminder that you can’t assume anything in those regards. Not everyone knows how you talk, not everyone is following your Facebook and Twitter feeds, not everyone is as involved with you and what you do and what you feel in your heart – as defensive conservatives love to say in teary “I want to make this about me” moments when they’ve been called on this shit . Your ego may lead you to believe that, but it is not the case. And I erred in that moment by relaxing and assuming everyone was on the same page and the same team on that panel. Was it a small thing? Maybe? Maybe not. But the bottom line was that I was wrong. I’m a wordsmith and I fumbled because I was too full of my entertaining panel moderating self. She may think I’m an ass now (and worse, she may be more than half right – but you know – and I’ll try to convince myself – that we’re all a work-in-progress). However, the greater point that was highlighted to me as I chewed over that moment the rest of the day is that I need to keep striving to be better. The very moment you (especially men) think that everyone is clear on where our support lies and what kind of person we are (i.e. can we be depended on to be a help and not a hindrance), and we relax into that self-satisfaction that we’ve got this shit wired – BOOM, we say or do something unfeeling, clumsy, tone-deaf, not helpful, and not the better version of ourselves. And we’re back to square one, at best, and in a hole, at worst.
The second thing was the unfathomable reveal that Justina had been raped in college.
You read that correctly. I’ve been with her for a decade and I didn’t know. My wife was the victim of a rape. She had never told me. And I only learned about it because Justina had sent me the first draft of something she had written for Festworks and wanted to get my opinion on it before she edited it further. She, both or either, thought I might know, but also maybe I didn’t. Either way, she had processed it or was processing it in her own way and that way didn’t necessitate (at least from what I was hearing) a “talk.” I mean, I spent three hours in between reading what she wrote (which will follow soon in a Festworks Guest Column), to getting her on the phone, since I was in Shreveport at the Louisiana Film Prize and she was in Sharonville, Ohio at the Inside the Loop Film Festival. And in that time, I was doubting myself (Had she told me at one point and I forgot about it or blocked it out? Was I that much of a dolt or forgetful idiot that was not even remotely the husband she deserved?), or wondering if she had kept it from me on purpose because it is obviously beyond devastating and she didn’t want to involve me somehow in what she was going through? Maybe because she didn’t trust me to handle it well and then dealing with me would just add to the problem. My mind was racing, I was working at the being pragmatic, not jumping to the worst variation or conclusion of what this reality was, coming up with different versions of a truly terrible “make your own adventure” situation.
So, I finally got her on the phone and we talked about it. And while her story is hers to tell (so I won’t go into it here), the lesson that was confirmed yet again, was that we can never assume anything when dealing with these subjects. Justina’s processing, her viewpoint – inward and outside, is hers and hers only, and while I will do everything to prioritize her above myself, to protect her, and care for her to the degree she wants that from me, even here – there is no “one size fits all” reaction or scenario or processing or dialogue or problem-solve. There just isn’t. How she has sized it up, or compartmentalized it, or placed it in context, or flat out dealt with it – is hers and hers alone. I can be there. I can make myself available to talk. I can also give space and be satisfied that she doesn’t require more discussion from me. Bottom line, is that I take her lead. And then step in with everything I have to give when she gives me the signal. That’s how I help and support.
And that’s the balance I think men need to strike, even when it (as it so often does) goes against every instinct to “fix things” and “problem solve.” We need to be ready to stand up and speak out when a loved one, or a friend like Rose or my other film fest friend, or in fact, a complete stranger needs us to do so. But we also, need to never assume we’ve got all of this gamed out, that we’ve got it down, we know the score.
Because we keep finding out that we don’t know the score even when we’ve been told what the score is. And it won’t ever be completely satisfying. There will never be a moment where we can be 100% secure that we’ve locked down how everyone is feeling and doing. That simply will not happen. But we can find solace in the idea that we are not resting on our laurels (deserved or not) and that we are being the support system that the women we love and care about and even the women that we will never know or ever meet – NEED.
If we can just achieve that, we’ll be doing great, because right now the bar is really fucking low for men to prove themselves as being decent…not just at the Weinstein Company..or Alamo Drafthouse..or Ain’t It Cool News…or Cinefamily…or Screen Junkies..or whatever cool film or film industry enclave will next belch out another predator. That decent dude bar is low EVERYWHERE.
So, guys.. Let’s actively try to raise it as much as we can now. Let’s raise our voices immediately. And then let’s put action to words.