Because what I’m going to share is long, let me give you the moral of the story right upfront.
To my white brothers and sisters in the world: when I ask that you stop trying to convince me I’m wrong about issues of racial inequality in this country, I can with all confidence say it’s not coming from a place of superiority or arrogance. And it sure as hell isn’t “reverse racism.” I can tell you that because, as Dustin Hoffman’s character Dorothy Michaels said to Dabney Coleman’s character in Tootsie: “I know you better than you think.”
I was you!
What you are to people of color, I was to women. As Ricky Ricardo used to say on I Love Lucy, “Let me ‘splain.”
Acting Like a Man
For two years I produced and hosted a podcast called Radio Film School. Think of it as This American Life for filmmakers. I did a mini-series on the show called “Breaking the Glass,” an in-depth look at addressing the issues of race and gender bias in Hollywood (but mostly gender bias). The impetus for the mini-series was a challenge to me from a dear friend and frequent co-host on the show, Yolanda Cochran (a producer in Hollywood).
She took exception to a comment I made on a previous “Women in Film” episode of the regular show where I summarized that one of the things women need to do in order to advance in Hollywood, is to “think and act like a man.” (In my defense, I was quoting a line from a TED talk Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave. But admittedly, I probably defended it a bit too aggressively. :)
Yolanda felt like a woman should not have to give up what it means to be a woman just to get ahead. As was often the case, comedic debates ensued and she came up with an idea to get her female friends from the biz together and film a roundtable. The roundtable grew into the aforementioned mini-series.
Over the course of a few months, I interviewed women from all aspects of the business. People like Tema Staig of Women N Media; NFFTY Executive Director Stefanie Malone; director and Film Powered founder Jen McGowan; “Insecure” writer/executive producer Dayna Lynne North; Hurlbut Visuals CEO Lydia Hurlbut; and many, many more.
I listened. And learned.
By the end of producing that series, I learned a valuable lesson—regardless of how progressive I was, or how sympathetic I was to the plight of women in the biz (or anywhere for that matter), I AM NOT A WOMAN. I cannot ever know what it’s like to walk in a woman’s shoes. And I can learn a lot from listening to what women have to say when they share their experiences of being a woman in this world (and especially in a male-dominated, often female-threatening world like Hollywood).
Breaking it Down
Producing that series was very eye-opening and humbling for me. Because of that series (as well as 16+ years of marriage to a woman I might add), I have a very different response when I read or listen to stories, or rants, from women on social media (or anywhere else for that matter).
If I see a woman on Facebook sharing/ranting about gender inequality, here is what I will NOT do:
- I will NOT try to beat her down and tell her why she’s all wrong
- I will NOT man-splain to her how to make her life better by doing a certain thing or acting a certain way
- I will NOT invalidate anything she says (even if I may disagree)
- And I sure as hell will NOT call her a reverse sexist (I can’t tell you how many times a white person has told me, a black man who had a white wife, that I’m a racist, just because I shared strong views about racial inequality in this country).
This is what I WILL do:
- Shut the f*** up and listen
- Ask questions
- If I have any kind of differing opinion, I will FIRST acknowledge her pain and the fact that she most likely has a more informed perspective than I. Then, with humility and respect, offer my ideas in a way that does not invalidate her experience.
- If I think her response to a topic is hyperbolic, I will realize that is probably because when you deal with 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years of cat-calls, p***y-grabbing, butt-pinching, job overlooking, and harassment, she’s entitled to feel however the hell she wants on that topic.
- But mostly, I will just shut the f**k and listen.
Dear White People…
So, my white brothers and sisters, I really do understand where you’re coming from. I have been there—in that defensive state to prove you’re not racist (or in my case, sexist) and wanting to make the other person listen to ME, when it should be the other way around.
If you’ve engaged with me or read my posts for any amount of time, you know that I can be a stubborn, combative, even defensive S.O.B. But if even I can learn to step back, and with humility and contrition, listen and learn from those whose shoes I have not walked in, then you can too.
The choice is yours.