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Dear Men: This is How Trump and Sexual Abusers Weaponize Our Silence

Donald Trump, Billy Bush, Arianne Zucker

by Gabriel Valdez

I see a lot of people wondering why Donald Trump bragging about groping women is the instance that breaks his presidential campaign. Republicans already knew who he was. The recording of Trump bragging to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women is just as violent and misogynist as other things he’s said. So why are Conservatives only backing away from him now? Why not earlier?

A few weeks ago, before the first presidential debate, I was incredibly apprehensive about how it would go. I wrote this to a friend:

“I think Clinton may just win not because she acts human or suddenly becomes likeable to the masses, but because America will be deeply uncomfortable with a man beating up on a woman in that way…and not because America objects to the idea, but because America objects to acknowledging that it accepts the idea.”

Now, I already think Clinton acts human and is likeable, but I don’t think America perceives her that way. More to the point, the U.S….and much more to the point, men are too comfortable with the idea of other men boasting about assault.

The Republican party, the middle independents, the evangelical Right…they already knew who Trump was. This isn’t the objection of a Right wing that can’t accept what Trump said. This is the objection of a Right wing that doesn’t want to acknowledge how much it accepts every day what Trump said. Its Achilles heel is being forced to look in a mirror in front of the voting public.

But that’s how this operates. Billy Bush nervously laughed and added another few jokes for Trump to guffaw at. If Billy Bush had gotten off that bus with Trump and warned actress Arianne Zucker that Trump was contemplating sexually assaulting her, and done so in front of Trump, for all of his braggadocio, Trump might’ve thought twice the next time.

And if other men, over the years, had done that as a regular habit, for all his sociopathy and means, even Trump would have considered the environment hostile toward his groping and the multiple sexual assaults of which he’s been accused. It might not have changed who Trump was, but it might’ve changed the environment enough so that he didn’t feel he had others’ tacit approval when assaulting women. Maybe that means fewer women would have been assaulted.

But Billy Bush didn’t do those things because he doesn’t object to the idea or the act. He objects to acknowledging that he accepts the idea or the act. And if no one forces him to acknowledge that he accepts it, then he’s more comfortable endorsing it, and Trump and all the other sexually violent men who feel they are endorsed by the Billy Bushes of the world go on assaulting, knowing that they are protected by others being much more comfortable with endorsement than confrontation.

This thought has already been said elsewhere, but don’t be thankful you’re not Trump. Think of the times that you paused and chuckled nervously and gave tacit endorsement to someone who is like Trump. Because if you’re a man in the United States, there have been times when you’ve been Billy Bush. That’s because male society teaches us from youth to be quiet in those circumstances, to think of it simply as “the way men talk.”

We’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve been quiet, or laughed, and not stood up. I’ve done it. Every man has done it at some point. Don’t excuse it and don’t say you haven’t, because you have. Look at that as a failure in your life. Don’t excuse it. Don’t say, “Well, I was younger.”

Look at that as a time when you did not rise to the occasion, when you justified in your own head being a coward because it was more comfortable. That’s how I look at those moments in myself. It’s all right to have failed. It’s not all right to keep failing, and as men, on the whole, we keep failing spectacularly.

We cannot teach others that, “No, I never failed in that way,” because that is just passing on the same endorsement. That is just teaching other men how to justify silence within their own minds. We cannot teach, “Here’s how I can still excuse the moments I chose to be silent in the past.” We can’t always have a reason why we didn’t stand up. We can’t always say, “Well, I didn’t know better.” Because it doesn’t change the fact that we know better now and that we can teach out of our mistakes rather than excusing them.

I’m a man. That means there are points in my past where I should have said something, but didn’t. Yes, I was young. That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t change the fact that I was a coward and I failed.

As men, we have to teach out of ourselves, out of our mistakes. We cannot keep translating to other men that we are incapable of mistakes because that is what they will learn, too, that is what we will endorse in them, and that makes silence in the face of those like Trump easy.

There were times in my life when I was a coward and failed. There were times in your life when you were a coward and failed. Acknowledge it, admit it, and recognize the high cost that this kind of failure can have. Admit to other men how painful that failure can be, so they will know not to sit there and nervously chuckle, and tacitly endorse because it feels safe.

Trump isn’t the scariest part of this. The scariest part of this is how many men will look at Billy Bush’s position in this and feel sorry for him, because they’ve been him and they feel sorry for themselves because they’ve never figured out how to stop being him.

If we as men constantly justify and excuse the position he took, rather than looking at it and calling it a failure, then we excuse those moments when we’ve endorsed the violent through our silence, and we teach other men that it is excusable and to keep on doing it.

There are times in our lives when we were cowards and we failed in this exact situation. That is what being a man is. It is still cowardly and it is still a failure if we cannot admit that, if all we can do is justify our past mistakes. If we can’t acknowledge our own silences, our own nervous laughs, our own failures, then we are not the generation with whom it stops, we are not the generation that truly objects to the social endorsement of sexual assault. If we can’t admit our own failures, we are just translating to the next generation of men the best practices to avoid acknowledging that they accept the idea, too.

I am a man, and because of that, there have been moments in my life when I was a coward and I failed. Comments like Trump’s aren’t unique. We’ve all heard them, and we’ve all had moments when we were silent before them, or nervously laughed before them, or even added to them with the thought that others might accept us better. And with our silences, the Trumps of the world have all the permission they need to injure.

We might think our silences were fleeting, our endorsements at most implied, but the injuries they fuel last a lifetime. As men, we need to take ownership of our failures, individually and as a whole. Without doing so, we’re just side-stepping the problem and pretending we’re solving it better than we are. Doing better starts with admitting to ourselves when we have contributed to doing worse. Period.

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Polls and the Polling Pollsters Who Poll Them

I’m writing for Threat Quality Press as well now. I’ll be focusing on articles that deal with politics and social critique. Obviously, I write a lot about film, but I’ve also worked as a campaign manager, PAC fundraiser, poll model consultant, and legislative aide.

I like considering the implications of many kinds of storytelling, and too often we use polls to develop inaccurate storylines that are nothing but fables. These can be harmful and can train voters to look at politics from inauthentic angles. To me, that’s a danger. I explain why in my piece for Threat Quality Press.

Threat Quality Press

Polls and the Polling Pollsters Who Poll Them

One of many victories for the pollsters One of many victories for the pollsters

Hey, you! Stop believing polls. Stop it! Stop using them to argue for your candidate or against another. Stop using them to create underdog narratives about a candidate getting 20% of the vote, or stories about an insurmountable lead by a candidate getting 20% of the vote.

Why harp on creating narratives from polls when you could be talking about the issues your candidate supports instead?

Why should you ignore the polls? Because until it starts to matter, and actual voting is around the corner, polls don’t gauge any true reflection of reality. If they did, we’d be talking about the successor to President Herman Cain right now.

Increasingly, pollsters have created a cottage industry of building narratives for the publications and news networks to which they’re attached. Those publications and news networks ignore what’s…

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AC: The Best Dinosaur Fights in Movie History

I’ve let this blog sit quiet a while, but everyone decided we needed a little vacation. Which for me still means writing for several other places, and I apologize for not sharing what’s been published elsewhere here.

Let me make it up with some of the best dinosaur fights in movie history, which just came out today for Article Cats. Enjoy it here:

The Best Dinosaur Fights in Movie History

News Snapshot, November 11

News Snapshot lead

by Gabriel Valdez

This is a snapshot of what’s on the news 9:30-10:30 AM today. I flip back and forth to catalogue what each channel is showing and who they’re interviewing, and try to give equal time to each.

CNN: White people in Ferguson, MO are buying guns (sales up 50%) because they’re scared of black people, even though the only people shot in the town thus far are black. Here’s a random white person we scraped off the street to tell you why white people are so scared. Later, coverage on one doctor passing through his ebola quarantine.

Weather Channel: Investigative report into the number of deaths suffered by immigrants crossing the border, featuring interviews with relatives, experts, and immigrants themselves. Examines the root causes of illegal immigration, the history of migrant workers, and law enforcement’s response. Later, a report on a lava flow destroying property in Hawaii. Brief breaks for the weather.

FOX: Special report on Ronald Reagan, featuring newly released tapes of him being apologetic to Margaret Thatcher about having to meet foreign dignitaries. Followed by Lou Dobbs telling us why net neutrality would ruin America and Martha MacCallum (I believe) insisting that free internet in libraries is an evil that must be stopped. All interviews are with in-house personalities.

Al Jazeera: Roundtable discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and whether China is being excluded or will have a future role, followed by a report on Nigeria’s upcoming election in the face of terrorism. Later, an interview with a woman campaigning against forced sterilization of the poor in rural India.

MSNBC: Fairly nonstop coverage of one doctor in New York passing through his Ebola quarantine.

Comedy Central: Daily Show editorial on U.S. intelligence basing their assumption of killing the leader of ISIS on a tweet made by Jordanian intelligence pretending to be ISIS. Followed by editorial on President Obama’s placement of 3,000 troops in Iraq despite insisting there are no “boots on the ground.” Followed by an on-site investigative report comparing public uproar when dogs are shot by police to lesser uproar when minorities are shot by police, including three expert interviews and an opening panel discussion.

CNN, FOX, MSNBC
1 on-site report interviewing 1 expert and 1 man-on-the-street. At least 5 interviews with personalities who work for the same network.

Weather Channel, Comedy Central, Al Jazeera
5 on-site reports including interviews with at least 8 outside experts, as well as 2 roundtable discussions. Zero interviews with internal network personalities.

This is just a snapshot. Please draw your own conclusions.

National Geographic’s Photos of the Year

The Last Great Picture

by Olivia Smith

National Geographic announced their award for the year’s best wildlife photograph, seen above. It’s called “The Last Great Picture.” It isn’t called that because of photographer Michael Nichols’ ego. He’s fought to raise funds and establish 13 new national parks in lion territory. It’s called “The Last Great Picture” because pictures like these may no longer be possible in coming decades. The Serengeti, like so many natural wonders, becomes lesser every year.

Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year is Brent Stirton. National Geographic combines his award-winning photographs with Nichols’ to create a breathtaking photo series on lions and the strange culture that’s grown around their protection:

“Canned” lion hunts, in which trophy hunters pay for the chance to shoot a lion (and in which professional guides stand by to shoot in case the hunter misses) help raise funds for environmental protection. Is the cost worth it, sacrificing one species as a commodity to save the others in danger?

Local Sakuma dancers kill lions only if they threaten their villages or livestock, but they collect tribute for killing lions by going from village to village and dancing the story of their kill. This glorifies the killing, but for the Sakuma, three or more years of this dancing is required after killing a lion to keep from going mad. Meanwhile, Maasai “Lion Guardians” dedicate their entire lives to tracking and protecting the misunderstood predators.

Then there’s the mad photographers taking pictures of it all.

Finally, a lighter note: Nat Geo features Tim Laman’s portfolio: photographing all 39 species of bird of paradise. No one else has ever done this, because the feat took Laman 10 years of dedication to complete.

If you haven’t already, go check out the stunning photo-essay.

Timothy Laman birds of paradise

Readers and Writers are Healthier — Science Says!

Avid Reader

by Gabriel Valdez

As you read this, you are actively staving off Alzheimers, reducing your stress, and training yourself to comprehend the universe better. You’re welcome.

But don’t take our word for it. Mic’s Rachel Grate recently ran a pair of articles about the effect of reading books and the physical advantages of being a writer. Spoiler – being a writer can even help you heal from physical wounds faster. We’re like superheroes.

Even those who write in journals or diaries end up better off (unless you’re starring in Gone Girl) – reflective writing of any sort adds up to making both the body and mind healthier.

Now, one thing she points out is that reading comprehension is better with hard-copy books. We read in a more linear fashion and tend to speed-read less. The Kindle’s great and all, but remember to put it down and pick up a hard-copy if you want to keep your brain working at its peak.

But, you know, come back for us. We’re only on the computer (phone/tablet/brain implants).

Now go click those links and read Grate’s articles. If you’d like to read some of her other work, she’s archived on Mic and you can always check out her older work (like a fantastic article on Beyoncé) on the blog Austen Feminist.

A More Bechdel Blog — How and Why We’re Doing It

Ida Lupino directing

One of my most recent friends is a woman in her early 20s, whose hair hangs over one side of her face because of a scar that runs from the corner of her mouth halfway to her ear. We avoided the topic when we first met, but you could recognize two people under there.

We’ve since discussed that scar, the result of an angry ex-boyfriend who hooked a knife behind her cheek and pulled. His reasoning, as best she came to terms with it, is that if he couldn’t have her, he’d ruin her so no one else would ever want to. Every man from then on would know he’d taken a piece of her that day, had left a territorial marker.

Even after they’d broken up, her future was his to decide. Easy as that. A hand on the head, a knife in the mouth, a flex of the elbow.

She knows her hair doesn’t hide the scar, but it at least communicates to people that she doesn’t want it to be a focal point. Uncover it and we stare, cover it back up and we get the message.

Uncover it, though, and everything’s tilted. Every smile and frown and word only takes place on the side of her face she’s habituated to using. The other side stays still, frozen, trained over the years never to draw attention to itself.

In that way, he did claim a part of her that day. It’s a terrifying idea, to go through life with whole sections of your body and psyche taken away.

When I asked her if I could write this, she asked me why.

Because one of my friends last month wrote that she was given a temporary set of densures, to replace the teeth broken out of her mouth. She said she wept when she looked in the mirror and saw herself with teeth again.

Both these women are strong. Both these women are intelligent. Both these women are extraordinarily kind, despite what’s happened to them. They aren’t victims, they’re damn role models.

I can fill pages with the stories I haven’t asked permission for yet, but they’re not mine to tell. They speak of women who live daily with the evidence that men left a mark they thought they had the right to make.

The truth is, as a man, it’s difficult to figure out the right way to speak out. We’re not brought up – no one’s brought up – to view domestic violence as a regular part of our cultural heritage. It’s the exception. Even those who suffer it view it as an exception. It’s not to be talked about because it’s not normal: that’s the myth.

Several days before my friend had her teeth kicked in, jaw broken, hands stabbed, in addition to dozens of other injuries she sustained, I wrote down this phrase: “Be angry. But don’t just be angry.”

I have no idea what prompted me to write that down or what it pertained to in my head. But now it seems to hold special significance to me, as if the universe just knew I’d need that phrase a few days later. Because I am angry, and I’ve been livid since that day. But I’ve been angry before, and I know it’s greedy and self-serving. It’s a way for me to deal with feeling like I wasn’t there to protect someone I care about. It’s not a way to support and help.

I’m glad we have a voice here. At the beginning of the year, this site might have reached a few dozen people. Now, it reaches thousands. In the big scheme of things, we’re still a very modest blog, but I don’t want to have the biggest film site. I want to have the biggest film site that does things right, that has a social conscience, and that looks at its job as primarily one of creating art, not of tearing it down.

We can’t change something systemic just by being angry. We have to embody the change we want to see, and hope our own example changes the example others set.

With that in mind, we are making some changes to the site.

Nora Ephron directing

The Creative Director

First and foremost, Vanessa Tottle will be our first Creative Director. She’s essentially been moving toward that position for several weeks already while we’ve tested new features. I have final edit, but the idea is that Vanessa will control the direction of the content itself. We’ll still be movie-focused, but articles will be more varied, and features more regular. She’s still getting her PhD and travels abroad regularly, but we’re all so terrified of incurring her wrath, I’m confident we’ll stay on task when she’s away.

We don’t intend to change the pre-existing flavor of anything we do, but we do want to add detail and better realize opportunities for talking about issues like domestic and sexual violence, more open communication, and feminism as a whole. These have a role in art and the media that are drastically underplayed at the moment. If we’re not critics of that, what are we critics of?

We now have a rotating, very-part time staff of six writers including Vanessa and myself who volunteer their time and effort. They are writers S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, editor Eden O’Nuallain, and researcher Amanda Smith. This is in addition to more than 20 writers from whom we’ve featured exclusive content. More on our wonderful, newish staff in a later article, because I want to move onto the biggest format change:

Julie Taymor directing

More Bechdel

From now on, every new review posted on this site will have a critique based on the Bechdel Test added at the end. The Bechdel Test rates three simple fundamentals of a movie.

1. It has to have at least two women in it.

2. They have to talk to each other.

3. And that discussion has to be about something other than a man.

Those are fairly basic standards, and some films that pass the Bechdel Test still don’t present women in a good light. Sucker Punch, for instance. Similarly, some films that fail every step of the Bechdel Test feature superb female heroes. Just look at Gravity. The Bechdel Test is not an absolute; it is a tool of measure…so it won’t just be a straight yes/no to each of these questions. We’ll get into why and how each film does what it does.

We realize most people won’t make their viewing decisions based on the Bechdel Test, I often address the portrayal of women in my reviews without it, and there are already good resources for finding out if movies pass the test. It is our hope that visibly including the Bechdel Test at the end of every new review will serve as a reminder for how much work Hollywood still has to do. We also encounter that many still think of the Bechdel Test as a distasteful topic, as if somehow film is too much a creative act to be subject to reasonable social representation. We hope its inclusion will help to normalize the idea in people’s heads – not as some abstract talking point but rather as a useful and informative tool in how we assess film.

We won’t make a big deal of it after this – we don’t want to risk turning it into a gimmick. The review itself will still be the review. It’ll just have additional information for readers to consider.

Kathryn Bigelow directing

Realizing Opportunities for Change

We are also taking smaller steps, but hopefully these are no less impactful. For example:

When discussing music videos, we typically link the video and list its title, artist, and director. We’ve been frustrated that when choosing our top videos of the year, half-year, or month, most are directed by men.

This doesn’t mean they do a better job – our top video of 2013, Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife,” was directed by the phenomenally talented Emily Kai Bock, who notched three music videos on the countdown. Our top video for the first half of 2014, Sia’s “Chandelier” was co-directed (with Daniel Askill) by Sia herself.

Rather, it means that the industry – like filmmaking – is dominated by male directors. Vanessa and I made separate comments that inspired Amanda toward a bit of research. Lo and behold, she found that while the music videos we’ve sifted through (we watched more than 70 for August alone) are nearly all directed by men, the majority of producers are women.

For that reason, when we list a music video now, we will not only list the director, but also the producers. It makes sense – producers have the most important role after the artist and director. Most readers aren’t interested in who produces a music video – we realize that – but we hope highlighting the number of women involved in producing will help readers recognize the power and creativity women can and do wield in filmmaking of all kinds.

We were disappointed when we realized 90% of music video directors are men. We were overjoyed to find that about 60% of music video producers are women. While we realize there’s still a problem to be addressed in that disparity, we hope that readers, viewers, aspiring artists – men and women alike – will also notice that and feel that same joy. Perhaps, it will persuade someone down the road to buck the trend and hire a woman to direct.

This site’s been about melding criticism with social consciousness from Day One. These are the sorts of changes that don’t refocus what we do, but that let us better realize our goal of delivering a new brand of criticism, one that still tells you the basic “is this movie good or not,” but also seeks to make artistic and social statements of its own.

If there’s anything you notice we can do differently, or better, tell us. Thank you for reading.

The women in the photos throughout this article are directors who have each shown why we’d have a better entertainment industry if women had equal opportunity to direct. In order, they are: Ida Lupino, Nora Ephron, Julie Taymor, and Kathryn Bigelow.