Sunday, 23 November 2014

If You Don't Like What They're Saying, Change The Conversation

This has been quite a depressing week for me with our topic. Audrey Watters' presentation was hard to stomach. She did say it would be shocking, but I did not find it that shocking. I certainly have not been the victim of the type of abuse she and other's in our class such as Tammy Lee have experienced.

While I have not directly experienced it, that does not mean I can not relate or empathize to it. It was not shocking because I have heard so many people with similar stories. Shocking to me would be this was the first time I had heard of such a story and I would be shocked to believe that it could happen. Sadly, it does happen. I am not excusing it, but it makes me sad that it keeps happening to more and more people (both men and women as men in the class shared their own on-line harassment tales).

I was tempted to call my blog this week the same as the James Brown song, "This is A Man's World".

The chorus is, "This is a man world, but it would not mean nothing without a woman or a girl". James Brown was one of the truly great musicians of the last 100 years, but as a man he was deeply flawed including his treatment of women. Why should powerful men such as James Brown, Jian Gomeshi Bill Cosby, John Lennon, Rick James, Phil Spector or Ray Rice receive a free pass in terms of assault and abuse just because they are either great artists, athletes or entertainers? CBS sportscaster with the same name of James Brown gave a great commentary on the the message we a a society send out to kids in regard to the treatment of women:
His honest, insightful commentary was shocking in that it occurred during a pre-game show. I am so tuned out as I assumed pre-game shows were glorified commercials for products that I was not expecting that message. Brown talked about the impact of having a negative view on women is and that "attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion".

I mentioned Phil Spector and Phil Spector is responsible for making some of the greatest rock and roll records of all time in the 1960's. He was always known for being eccentric,a little crazy and was rumoured through the years as being violent towards women. In the 1960's he recorded a song with his group The Crystals called "He Hit Me and It Felt Like A Kiss", written by Gerry Goffin and Carol King. 
The husband and wife duo were inspired to write this song after a conversation with their babysitter, who recalled a story of an old abusive boyfriend. She was okay with it as she felt like that was a way to let her know how much he cared for her. The Crystals HATED the song and did not want to do it, but Phil Spector basically forced them to record it. Why he wanted to record it is a mystery but certainly could be interpreted as a red flag from long ago. Currently, Phil Spector is serving life in prison for the murder of a women he shot after going on a date. Perhaps this is the sort of thing James Brown meant when he said at some point it will manifest.

It is easy to start to paint with a pretty big brush after hearing a few stories (i.e All NFL players disrespect women, all musicians beat women) and we need to be careful about our assumptions. One of my favourite records is "Grandma's Hands" by Bill Withers.
The above link is great as it includes a short intro by Bill on why he wrote the song. The song is a love song about his grandma and all the good things she has done, including teaching him what love is all about. I felt inspired by this song and one song I am working on is about my grandma too. Keep in mind this song was written in the 1970's so we can't say men respecting women or showing positive messages is a new thing. That is the danger of painting with too big a brush.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, this has been a depressing week for me. While not shocking, it was still hard to read or hear Audrey's story and many people in the class including Tammy and Carmen Holata shared similar stories. I was especially impressed with the passion of Carmen's post and that she will continue to speak loudly in her blog titled, "Can You Hear Me Now".
It is depressing to think that in all of our progress, this still happens. I would hope that over time things would improve and judging from this week's discussion I don't feel like we as a society have progressed that much in terms of the treatment and status of women. I love the show Mad Men and to me two of the most interesting characters are Joan and Peggy. While the story is set in the 1960's, sadly many of the storylines involving those two characters seem like they could be happening in 2014 (ie. no one taking Peggy seriously as a boss or people assuming Joan "slept" her way to the top instead of rightfully earning partnership).

The issue is depressing for me as I tend to see myself as an optimistic person and after hearing these stories it really has made me question how far we have come. The allegations against Bill Cosby are especially troubling as while I don't know the man, I loved the Cosby show and idolized the man. How could Mr. Huxtable do such a thing? We in North America are quick to point a finger at other cultures in the world in their treatment or lack of opportunity for women, but what would those countries (or others) say about us? I also try to be respectful of anyone and I would hope to think that I am not part of the problem. Not as a man, but as an individual I have the responsibility to treat all people fairly and I hope that when people judge me as a person my actions reflect the sort of person I want others to view me as. This is not only true for how I treat women, but for all I do. It is important to me to treat all people fairly and with kindness and I would assume most people would try and live their life the same way. I also know that most "bad guys" don't view themselves as bad guys and in their head can justify their actions. Whether the issue is mansplaining or rationalizing violence towards women I would think most people who do those things sleep fine at night because in their mind they are right.  

One area that really made me think about Audrey's presentation was she mentioned she has a team in place that if there was something that blew up on social media or was too hurtful, she could walk way and her team could manage the site. I see bullying all the time on social media and sometimes the best thing to do is to disconnect from it. However, whether you are an adult or a high school kid those messages can be so hurtful it is hard to disconnect and protect ourselves. Amanda Todd is sadly an example of this. What sort of team did she have? What sort of protection or support do we give to anyone? If more people speak out that it is wrong to cyber-bully than maybe thing will get better. My friend Val wrote a terrific song about this and proceeds from the sales of the song go towards the Amanda Todd Foundation. The song is called, "I'm A Loser and I Like It".

This morning before I sat down to write my blog, I was working on an assignment in my songwriting class. Part of the class is evaluating the work of other students in the class. Of the five songs I listened  to today, two contained lyrics that were borderline criminal. One lyric was about having sex (I assume consensual) while being filmed by a webcam (I assume again consensual) and another was about hitting and pulling hair during sex as a thrilling act (kind of vague in if it was consensual in addition to other creepy lyrics like the man staring at her and making her feel uncomfortable). Did I miss something in the class that our songs were supposed to be creepy, violent, perverse and demeaning to women?  I did call to task the writers of those songs and whether it was their intention or not how inappropriate their lyrics were. In both cases, the songs were love songs written by men and they were trying to say how much they loved the women in the song. That is a pretty twisted way of thinking that is a positive way of expressing love. Maybe part of the problem is men knowing how to express themselves and show emotion?

Moving forward, I will try to follow Audrey's and Carmen's advice in speaking out against such things as they happen. I was told long ago, "when you say nothing you are saying something." While I proudly say I am not part of the problem if I stick my head in the sand and ignore it I feel I am part of the problem. Perhaps we are moving forward as more people are coming forward, both men and women, and saying this is not right or acceptable. While the voices did not seem to exist in Peggy Olson's 1960's they do seem to exist in 2014 and that is a sign of progress. With many of these issues, including gamer gate, getting attention I am starting to feel a bit more optimistic for our future. What is clear is we need strong voices like Audrey's, Carmen's, Tammy's and others to give courage to all out there who need some hope and leadership. To quote Peggy Olson, "If you don't like what they are saying, change the conversation."


  1. Good post Ryan. I like the statement, "when you say nothing you're saying something". Too often I fall into a saying nothing category as I'm not a very confrontational person, but I can do better.

  2. We all can, Andrew. I reflect back on my experiences and out of not wanting a confrontation saying nothing, when that person could have really used some support. I think we all try our best, but maybe we can do a bit better.

  3. Well said Ryan. Thank you for taking the time to articulate this. It is a deeply troubling subject that affects all of us.