Today’s column is a departure from my usual tech-oriented topics, yet Tech still plays a key element. I’m talking about what it’s like to be a man dedicated to being in partnership with women in a world dominated by “Bro Culture” and flat-out toxic masculinity and misogyny as brazenly exemplified in Silicon Valley’s take-no-prisoners mantra of “disruption.”
This led me to an unusual place: being in a movie! More specifically, the feature-length documentary film Beauty Bites Beast; I’m also the film’s co-producer and music supervisor.
The documentary, based on Ellen Snortland’s ground-breaking book of the same name, flips ideas about female helplessness as women undertake the transformative experience of learning verbal, emotional and physical Empowerment Self-defense. Besides notable women such as Riane Eisler, Dolores Huerta, and Miss USA Nia Sanchez, the film also includes quite a few men and a male narrator.
When I was asked to be the on-camera representative of an Empowerment Self-defense Male Ally, I hesitated. I had no problem being the co-producer: as the Tech Daddy, the job required full use of my digital proficiency. And my 40 + years of film music knowledge and experience made me the perfect music supervisor. But on-camera? I’m not an in-front-of-the-camera guy AT ALL! I realized there was more at stake than my vanity: “Who am I to be a stand-in for the men who have partnered with women in the movement for Empowerment Self-defense? What are my credentials? Who do I think I am?”
I didn’t have to look too hard for the answer. Who I am is a male ally of women’s Empowerment Self-defense through and through, and other people need to know that we’re out there, so here I am.
I am also a straight white male over 60 with all the attendant privileges of that position… with a twist, which I’ll get to later.
Mainstream media and the Blogosphere would have you believe men who support feminism are a rarity, and often only in it for themselves. I’m here to say that simply isn’t true. Not only are there a lot of ardent male feminists, but they also understand the advantages of discarding rigid gender roles. Families suffer when the female half of a partnership brings home less than her male partner; men don’t benefit when women are under-represented in government; and, when women and girls are intimidated by the threat of force or actual force, we all lose. It’s to this last point that Beauty Bites Beast promotes female/male partnership as a major factor in ending the scourge of gender-based violence in America and around the world.
During audience testing for our film, we got some revealing comments like, “Why so many men in your movie?” (Because we’re here.) “Shouldn’t women find their own liberation without having to include men?” (Interdependence is a key value for freedom.) And my favorite: “Why would you have a stereotypical deep-voiced male narrator in a female empowerment movie?”
Our Ubiquitous Voice of Male Authority actually goes through a character arc. In the beginning, he’s revealed to be the “man behind the curtain,” ala Wizard of Oz, and grows intellectually throughout the film until at the end he “gets it.” Played by well-known and well-loved Hollywood voiceover guy Bob Joles, our “male authority” is capable of changing and growing as much as anyone else … because well-meaning and sometimes clueless men are human, just like everyone else.
To balance the scales, Gavin de Becker, the best-selling author of “The Gift of Fear,” is also in the film with his elegant and common-sense wisdom.
But what about my role?
I could be a stand-in for a stereotypical white male decision-maker: a boss; the guy in a corporation; a politician; on a non-profit board making decisions about who gets what grant. Or maybe I’m the father, grandfather or uncle who wields influence within a family. We want people to see the film and relate to me as that guy: the one they would NEVER dream of being in partnership with women and girls who are setting boundaries with men just like me.
Now here’s the twist I promised. I’m also the guy who shares similar experiences with girls and women being afraid of boys and men. Growing up, I was often on the business end of bullies’ fists and the source of their verbal derision; I never knew how to set a boundary. I had been swiftly kicked out of the “bro” club as a little boy with coke-bottle glasses and a strange view of life, called “Why are these guys being such a-holes to so many people?” Early on, I saw girls and women more as allies and friends than I saw them as a group to either be scared of or dominate through force.
My partnership worldview is the source of my politics, my marriage and my role in Beauty Bites Beast. We all have Beauty and Beast within us. And thank goodness we are all capable of partnership, which is the perfect antidote to “Bro Culture.” We need to put aside outdated notions of how we relate to each other — especially regarding gender — and embrace collaboration and cooperation big-time to take on the global problems we now face. That’s why I said “yes” to being on-camera at the Ending Violence table in Beauty Bites Beast. We need everyone, not just men in power, to solve our problems.