I’m Alan Alda, and this is C+V…
What I heard over and over again from the folks I interviewed was, “I am a good man.” So if you really are a good man or you really are a good person, then get really clear on… Don’t you want to be contributing in a way that is making the playing field safe, healthy, balanced for all of us? If you know that it’s not balanced, something you’re saying is hurting someone’s feelings or worse, don’t you want to participate in a better way? I hope yes.
THAT’S CLEO STILLER, WHO’S HAD 75 INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS WITH MEN ABOUT THE ME-TOO MOVEMENT, AND SHE’S WRITTEN AN INTERESTING BOOK ABOUT IT. TIMES ARE CHANGING IN BIG WAYS AND SMALL IN THE WAYS MEN AND WOMEN RELATE TO EACH OTHER AS THEY INVENT NEW WAYS TO DO IT. AND CLEO STILLER HAS TAKEN A FFRANK LOOK AT HOW IT’S GOING.
Cleo, this is great to have you on the show. Thank you for coming in.
I’m thrilled to be here.
This is a special subject because it’s really current in everybody’s mind, everybody. You’ve done an interesting thing with this book you’ve written, which is called Conversations About the Complicated World of Being A Good Man Today, really the aftershocks of the Me Too Movement. What’s interesting about it to me is you didn’t write a book telling men how to behave, I don’t think.
I would not dare.
On the contrary, you wrote a book where you gave 75 men a chance to express themselves on the subject. How did you choose 75? Who were these people? Why are they in the book and not my doorman?
My background is as a national news reporter, I worked for Univision’s cable network fusion for five years. Before that, Bloomberg. I hosted a national news show for Univision called Sex Right Now with Cleo Stiller.
Well, actually, I chose the title even though it was quite provocative. It was a, I believe, intellectually rigorous television show that offered millennials, Gen Xers and anyone watching it, insight into how technology and shifting social attitudes are changing the ways that we’re relating, finding each other, staying connected in unprecedented ways. Through reporting that show, I developed a very vast network of folks all over the country who are tuned in, who are interested in not just living their daily lives unexamined, but really thinking about the impact of their relationships, whether it be in the personal sphere or in the work sphere.
Actually, how I decided who to include in the book is to tell you that I’ll… Can I explain how I came up with the idea for the book?
Sure. I was hosting this show, and we were about three seasons in.
In sex right now.
Sex Right Now with Cleo Stiller. I will say for those interested, it is still airing on television. We did get a Peabody award nomination for that one.
That’s a big deal.
It is a big deal, especially with a name like that. That’ll always be a feather in my cap. We’re hosting this show, and our audience is up split about 60% male-
Wait, hold on one second. Wait a second. I’m hearing the control booth. Okay, thank you. So I’m hosting that show [inaudible 00:03:22].
I thought you were going to host my television show now, Sex Right Now with Alan Alda.
No. No. Not a chance.
So we’re hosting the show, and the audience is split about 60% male, 40% female. Rewind to 2017, that’s when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and Me Too hit the mainstream. A lot of men who watched my show started writing into me on social media, “Are you going to do a season about this, because I have a lot to say about what’s happening right now, but I’m afraid to say anything because I don’t want to get in trouble?”
It’s all really confusing. Then inevitably, this comment would then be followed by a question. These were the kinds of questions that had you asked me maybe five years ago, they would have sounded really basic, something like, “I’m a single man, and I’m terrified to approach women right now. I feel like everything I was raised to do is now considered creepy,” or, “I’m a new parent and I’ve got a young son, and I feel like I’m reckoning with my own behavior. How am I supposed to raise a good son when I don’t even know what a good man is today?”
I also heard from a lot of people with a lot of hiring power, a lot of men with hiring power. “Listen, I wouldn’t cop to this in real life, but to be totally honest with everything going on, I don’t want to hire women. I don’t want to mentor my female staff.”
This is the most discouraging outcome that I’ve heard in the year or two since the movement started. It’s such a wonderful thing that women are finally saying, “No, you’re not going to do it, and you’re not going to keep me quiet about it if you do do it,” but one of the outcomes has been that men who might even otherwise be allies are now saying, “I’m not going to hire women. I’m not going to mentor women. I’m not going to be having business meetings at the dinner table with them in restaurants.”
What did you do when you got those kinds of questions? That’s when you decided to write the book?
That’s the impetus for the book, because I could not stand by and watch this opportunity that we have right now. As a reporter who’s reported on women’s health issues for years, I know that one of the silver linings of the whole Me Too movement is that we have people at the table, people who are interested, people who are more self-aware on topics that they had previously been oblivious to, and they want to show up as good guys. There’s a lot of fear and a lot of anger and confusion.
I did not want to just receive these messages privately and have these conversations on a very small one-on-one basis when I knew that if I was getting these messages, there were a lot of men who are feeling this way and at the same time what was happening, right? I was attending events and panels mostly for women or survivors, and they would have these incredibly profound conversations about their experiences and some ideas about what we could do moving forward.
Then inevitably at these events, someone would look around the room and say, “Where are the men? Where are our allies?” They don’t care. I knew because I was getting all of-
You were getting communications.
Yes, they do care. It’s just no one was talking to each other.
There’s this weird thing where people don’t know what to say. They don’t know what’s safe to say.
I read an article by a woman who was describing an encounter she had where there was one of her students, I think, or a colleague who showed up dressed unusually well for some event. She hadn’t seen her look like that. She said, “You look great in that dress,” or something like that. There was a male colleague standing there and she said, “Doesn’t she?” He felt paralyzed. He didn’t… Other people when they heard this story said, “That’s right. He would be damned if he didn’t, damned if he did.”
I’m not sure that’s true. I mean, especially if a woman initiates the compliment, it’s not hard to say, “I agree, or you said it,” or something positive. You don’t have to climb into a hole, but there is this fear of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, being accused of the wrong thing. Those statistics you quote in your book about false accusations are so interesting that…
Can you remember them, Mike? I’m not sure I remember them, something like… Do you want to reach for your book?
I don’t have a copy now.
I don’t either.
You can track that. You could track.
Here’s what I remember generally.
You say in the book that a pretty low percentage of false accusations occur but that’s even lower than that in reality because most rapes for instance never get reported.
So the false accusations with reference to the huge number that doesn’t get reported brings the percentage of false accusations down materially to something like a 10th of 1%, I think, you said.
What we know about statistics about sexual assault and false accusations are they are very hard to track for many reasons about reporting and the way that we keep these records, but yes, we know that most assaults are not reported. Of the assaults that are reported that are false, again, a very small percentage, but when you factor in that most assaults aren’t reported, your likelihood of being falsely accused is so negligible.
One thing we talk about in the book is if you’re afraid for men right now, numbers wise, you don’t be afraid for men being falsely accused. Be afraid from men who will also be assault victims because you’re, as a man, more likely to be a victim of assault than you are to be falsely accused.
That’s an interesting point to make. I think that it’s not a bad idea to help men realize they don’t… Excuse me. If I continue with that frog, it’d be the frog talking the whole show. I think it’s not a bad idea to let men know they don’t have to be so afraid of a false accusation, but nevertheless, those few who do suffer a false accusation deserve some compassion.
When I was interviewing for this book, what comes up over and over again is fear And fear of looking stupid, fear of being rejected, fear of a false accusation. I put that forward in the book. We deal with it head on. We look at the numbers, but then also, what really the mission of the book is to give the reader information and context about how we got here, what other people are saying, and what you can do to get really clear on your own behavior going forward so that you’re not so fearful.
Because what’s really coming up over and over again from folks is this idea of like, “I thought I was a good guy. What the hell is going on? It’s like the world is tipped upside down. What? Can I not open a door for a person anymore? Can I not compliment you on a dress? Can I not take my coworkers out for drinks now?” We can dive in and break in on-
Well, it seems to me almost all of those things can be done with the right intention, the right respect for the other person. I mean, if I lunged for a door to open it, and I see my wife for instance has already got it open, I’m fine with that. One of the great things about the feminist movement is I open fewer doors now.
Well, let me… Alan, I’m going to push back on you a little bit about that.
What I offer to folks and the door situation, I can’t tell you how many times that came up in interviews.
Yeah. Let’s talk about the door. What I heard over and over again is it’s like, “I was raised a good man holds the door open for the woman coming behind him,” but now, I’m thinking, “If we’re all equal, why am I holding the door for you? And if I do hold the door for you, are you going to yell at me?” People have stories about women yelling at someone for holding the door open for them. Here’s what I offer, and this is pretty much the overarching takeaway of the book in general.
This question of, “Does a good man hold a door for the woman coming up behind him, or what does a good woman do?” That, I think, is really a distraction to the question at hand, which is forget all of that. Forget the gender roles. What does a good person do? Does the good person hold the door for the person coming up behind them? I think yes.
I think so too. I hold the door open for men as well as women if I’m there first.
Hold the door for the person coming up behind you. If you don’t want to hold the door for the person coming up behind you, that’s actually probably good information for you to have about yourself, right? Why are you the kind of person that doesn’t like to hold the door? I’ll let you take that one from there. That’s really in all of these micro situations of what does a good man, what does a good woman do?
These roles, these prescriptions that we had for people, some of it’s going to work for you. Some of it’s not going to work for you. What works for me might not work for you, right? What I offer is there’s a lot that can be left behind.
Well, I agree. There are also many different kinds of people who are going to be behind as you open the door.
There are some who expect you to hold it for them, both men and women. There are some people, you hold the door open and somebody’s coming through in the other direction, they don’t even look at you. They don’t say thank you. They just barge like you’re the doorman. What are the doorman for anyway? Can’t we open our own doors?
This reminds me, this is so funny. 40 years ago, I was trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed and very vocal and very vocal feminist, and I was being interviewed on television by a talk show guy. He said, “You don’t hold the door open for your wife?” I said, “Well yeah if she’s carrying something really heavy.” I got a huge laugh from that because they’re thinking, “The door. What about the heavy things she’s carrying?”
Oh my gosh, yeah. Wow. Well, I wish your wife [inaudible 00:15:53]. I don’t know. Maybe you should have helped her carry the box as well.
Well, sometimes, you pick something up, and then that’s what she’s doing.
In general, I find one of the things that’s causing the fear right now is this feeling of disempowerment, and people are looking to other people to just tell me what to do. I heard this a lot as well. I asked men, “What do you think of the Me Too Movement?” I heard responses ran the gamut of course, but the theme that kept coming up a lot was, “In the beginning, I was in favor for it with the Harvey Weinstein and the Bill Cosby stories. Of course, those men should not be empowered, but then it got out of control. Now, it’s gone too far.”
I’m glad women had their time to say their truth, but enough of that. Let’s move forward. If there’s something I got to do, just tell me what to do, and let’s move on. They want to fix it and just get it over with.
That’s one of the problems with all kinds of communication for me is you can’t just say, “Here are three tips, and from now on, you’ll be okay.” You really have to somehow transform yourself or get help getting transformed so that you think about the other person all the time.
yes. Well, and your audience can’t see me, but I’m nodding enthusiastically because I’m sure when you say that to someone, they’ll push back on you and say, “That’s a lot of work.”
Oh really, they say that to you?
I heard that a lot. It’s like things were simple before. Now, they’re very complicated.
Well, it’s not easy to do this all the time. I mean, I’m very interested in empathy, and we talk about it a lot on this show. I find my own empathy drains. I was talking to somebody who teaches doctors to be more empathic. She says that when you get stressed, the stress hormones get in the way of your empathy. We live, all of us, a stressful life, most of us, and I have to keep refilling the tank as much as I can. So it’s not such an easy thing to do. You can’t say to people have more empathy.
No, no. Also, that’s so vague and not-
Everybody has a different definition of [inaudible 00:18:27].
Yes, exactly. Exactly. It’s easier to break, I think, and what we try and do in this book is separate each chapter into a different area of your personal life. So there is dating, work, parenting, friendship, because these conversations are infiltrating every space of our life, and it’s impacting it in different ways. So we break it down by space in your life and then give you historical context, scientific context.
We talked about hormones. We’ve talked about neurology, and then we hear from other people, “Okay, so you get the context. Then you hear what other people are doing, and then we offer a couple practical tips, things that you can personally do that empower you to get really clear on your own behavior and your own motivation, because we don’t do a lot of self inquiry. We’re raised to do a certain thing, and then we just go on autopilot in our day to day lives and-
Have you done that? Have you done that with yourself to question your autopilot?
Sometimes, it can get a little overwhelming, and if you’re not careful, then you just don’t say anything at all or do anything at all because you’re just questioning like, “How is this going to land? Why am I saying this?”
Why am I doing this?
What is this going to go? Then you don’t want to take it too far. I do that all the time now. Then I had to do it to do these interviews because… So every chapter, we try and answer a question that had been asked to me multiple times, so these reoccurring questions that are on everyone in our country’s mind.
You seem to start with a personal experience that a man has had.
Exactly. So we lead with a story from a man, and every single one of those stories, when word got out that I was writing this book, those people came to me. So they wanted to share these stories, and I heard this a lot, “Thank you for writing this book. I had been wanting to get this off my chest for so long.” Then they would share a story, and I had to really become extremely empathetic.
You really listen. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but we’re driving toward more.
No, that was it.
Okay. I was impressed how empathic you were because there was one story by a guy who was, I think, his name was Alejandro. He had what could be described as a really frustrating experience and he didn’t know what to do. You told his story in a way that reflected your understanding of what he must’ve been going through.
Yes, and actually, he’s a great case to bring up because this was a person who came to me to share a story about… This is the story that leaves the work chapter. Shall we give a little summary for the audience?
That’d be great.
So Alejandro is in his mid 40s. I’ve changed his name and obscured some identifying detail, but he’s in his mid 40s. He created a company that does data analytics for massive media companies, and his company got acquired. He has a lot of stake in the company’s future. He’s worked very hard on this, and he’s pretty high up at this company. At a certain point, he got called by the CEO to grab coffee off-site, totally fine.
So he goes there and meets with the CEO. When he gets there, the head of HR is there, never a good sign. He sits down and proceeds to be told by the HR that he is receiving his first and final warning that he has been dinged with two separate verbal sexual harassment with innuendo files, basically incidents. This is being written up. It’s going in his permanent file, and one more mistake like this, and he’s out.
What did they tell him he did?
They would not tell him what he did.
That’s the frustrating part.
This is why I… Listen, there are more stories in this chapter that are so black and white where you hear them and you think, “Come on man. Come on,” but this all Alejandro story is very gray, and it’s why I led the chapter with it because the HR team would not tell him what he had done. They would not tell him who he had offended, citing protection for the person he had offended, which is understandable, but they also would not give him any training.
So he’s terrified. He doesn’t know what he did. He got his first and final warning in the same time. One more thing, and his whole career is-
And his stake in the company will disappear.
His stake in the company is gone.
It’s interesting. It’s a very complicated scene, because for instance, telling him the name of the woman who filed the complaint would put perhaps her in jeopardy. They might’ve had another reason not to say what he said because that might identify her as well.
Exactly. From an HR perspective, I think everyone can agree that this was botched, but-
How could they have improved it?
There are multiple… I spoke to obviously multiple professionals on this side, other people who are developing HR curriculum to get ahead of this. I spoke to an employment lawyer, employment discrimination lawyer, Proskauer Rose. It’s a complicated time because things are not black and white, and what we’re dealing with in work situations in particular is hard because people want rules, right? This is what you do. This is what you don’t do.
Companies need to get ahead of the game, and put programs and policies in place that protect their employees from as many gray situations as possible. For example, in a situation like this, Alejandro really should have been trained, given some kind of experience that he could have had afterwards where they’re giving him sensitivity training around whatever he has said.
They could give him a range of training so he doesn’t know which one [crosstalk 00:25:21] what he said to the woman.
There is curriculum being developed that help folks so that companies are doing the dirty work, so employees don’t have to step in it, so to say. That being said, I will tell you about Alejandro, the person, was difficult to interview and made a lot of stipulations that were unusual.
Tell me about that. So it’s not to be identified?
Yes. That was the thing, because he was coming to me with a lot of fear. I understood that, and because the reason we’re talking about Alejandro specifically is how did I build my own empathy?
How did you even accept his story?
So I did not end up including in full what Alejandro told me because he was worried that some of his story would help identify him. I really did want to include more, but I put on my empathy cap and really saw this from his perspective, where he was coming to me hoping… Well, first of all, he wanted to get this story off of his chest. He said that several times, but also, he felt, and this comes up in the book, he was raised by a single mom.
He feels that he really values women, and that his situation in particular is a great example that we all discuss because in his mind, it’s turning good men like him off of helping and supporting women in the workplace.
If that’s true to any extent or to any appreciable extent, that’s not a good thing.
It’s a terrible thing.
Should we just say men need to apply themselves harder?
Can we get the help of women who want and can use allies to make sure that at least they give them a chance not to get scared off? I mean, it’s so easy to get scared off if your manager is to be in charge.
So wnhat I offer is a little bit of historical context on the workplace, because I think that there is this feeling that everything was fine before, and now it’s crazy, and we should just go back to the way it was.
That’s not a good starting point.
That’s not great, and that’s not accurate. So the way that the workplace, the corporate work setting in America was first developed, it was never made for women to begin with. It was made for men, and then when men went to war, then women did join the workforce. Then they came back, and in these corporate settings, women were originally in support positions for men. That’s how the American corporate workspace developed.
So a lot of the “locker room talk” is how we bond, is how many men in the workspace bond, this idea of drinks after work, drinks far away from the office, stuff on the weekends. This is developed originally in the context of a single gender experience when one gender has a lot more power than the other, and we never corrected for that. We never corrected for that. We’ve been fumbling our way through for the last couple of decades.
So this feeling of like, “What the hell is going on?” It’s okay that you’re uncomfortable. It’s okay that this is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable, but we need a change. Like I said, the subtitle of this book is conversations about the complicated world of being a good man today. What I heard over and over again from the folks I interviewed was, “I am a good man.”
So if you really are a good man or you really are a good person, then get really clear on… Don’t you want to be contributing in a way that is making the playing field safe, healthy, balanced for all of us? If you know that it’s not balanced, something you’re saying is hurting someone’s feelings or worse, don’t you want to participate in a better way? I hope yes. Then here are some tips for making the workplace a little bit more equitable. First to the question of, because I heard this over and over again, it’s like…
Alejandro’s CEO said to him after this whole meeting, he said, “Listen, I’m sorry, man, it’s…” Can I swear on this?
I don’t know. He said, the CEO who is a man said to Alejandro, “It’s a really shitty time to be a guy right now. I have to watch every word that comes out of my mouth,” and that sentiment of, “It’s like I’m walking on eggshells. It’s like I have to watch every word that comes out of my mouth.” First, I want to say I empathize with how frustrating that is because it might have felt before like your work team was so fun, and you guys were buddies, and you could say everything you wanted.
What I will offer is that it’s going to take a little bit of time and of course thinking and fumbling, and it’s uncomfortable and not as fun, but it’s work. You probably should watch words that come out of your mouth at work. If you’re used to just loving things off without thinking about the repercussions and the professional setting, it might be time for a little bit of a upgrade in the-
I can imagine that it must feel disruptive and inconvenient, surprising if you’ve been able to say what you wanted to say to a woman or in front of a woman, and now you’re required to think about the effect it might have on that person before you say it. You think it’s easy to think, “Well, what’s this? What? Why do I have to go to this extra trouble?”
Yes, and why I ask, or you should call your own behavior into question is do you want to be the person that just walks through life not thinking about how their behavior is impacting others?
What I heard over and over again from the folks I interviewed was, “I am a good man.”
So if you really are a good man or you really are a good person, then get really clear on… Don’t you want to be contributing in a way that is making the playing field safe, healthy, balanced for all of us? If you know that it’s not balanced, something you’re saying is hurting someone’s feelings or worse, don’t you want to participate in a better way? I hope yes.
SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A “GOOD MAN?” ESPECIALLY IF WE’RE PRETTY SURE. WE ALREADY ARE ONE. CLEO REFLECTS ON THAT RIGHT AFTER THIS…
The interesting is, and you remind me of a thought I had when I was thinking about your title, where you talk about a good man to be a good man. The book really concerns itself with being a good man with regard to the women that you come in contact with, but the funny thing is I think if you learn to deal with the women in your life in a cooperative, respectful way, it makes you a better person, a better man dealing with other men.
We have a whole chapter on friendship because that’s huge actually. We asked or I asked folks, “What does it mean to be “a good man?” Our definition of that really runs the gamut but tends to be noble, chivalrous, a leader, provides. These are things that mostly happen in the context of a partnership, but not so much a friendship. One thing that we talk about…
I’ll tell you, the friendship chapter is led by a sentiment that came up a lot, which was, “All right, we’ve all got this friend who says stuff that they shouldn’t say, a little sexist, a little racist. And we used to let them get away with it, but with everything going on, it just feels like we shouldn’t. I gotta put my foot down, but I don’t want to lose the friend. So what do I do?”
Of course, the question there is really like, “How do I call my friend out for a locker room talk?” Then the question under that is, “Why do men use locker room talk to bond?”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard locker room talk. I keep hearing about it.
I haven’t spent much time in locker rooms.
Well, it doesn’t exist merely in locker rooms, it turns out.
I know. Maybe it’s the people I know. Give me the flavor and example of the kind of talk you mean.
Here is how it happens. We know now from research, I interviewed a woman named Dr. Niobe Way who’s been researching adolescent boys for over 30 years. She talks about how when little girls and little boys are very, very young, they form friendship bonds in the same exact way. They’re hugging their friends. They’re kissing their friends. They’re telling their friends everything. They’re very, very emotionally and physically close.
Then quite early, young boys get separated, and they get told, “Don’t touch your friend like that. Don’t hug your friend. Don’t kiss your friend. You’re on your own. You don’t need anyone. You are on your own. Only girls hug their friends, kiss their friends, need their friends like that.” That’s messaging that boys get very, very early and very, very often. She also talks about this just trial that she does when boys hit high school, she’ll talk to them as leaving eighth grade, entering ninth grade.
She’ll ask them, “Who’s your best friend?” They can point to their best friend immediately. She’ll ask them, “What do you guys talk about?” They talk about everything. They talk about their divorce, their parents’ divorce, their relationships with their siblings, the stress that they’re having with teachers and school and grades and girls. Then she checks in with these same boys every year and asks them that question again.
As they move through high school, that bond, that closeness starts to dissolve. So by the time that they hit their senior year, that best friend that they were super close with, now they’re buds, and they’d talk about sports or the weather, but they’re not really having that really deep emotional conversations that women are often having through their entire lives. The question of why do men use locker room talk to bond is because we as a society have taught them that that kind of surface level talk, that’s their capital. That’s their main communication mode.
So when you take away… I interviewed some men. For example, one interview that came up was in a law firm, one associate was showing another associate porn. The guy I was interviewing said, “That makes me really uncomfortable. I don’t want to see that in the workplace. I don’t want this guy showing me that, but I don’t know how to tell him no without looking like a “pussy,” or…” What’s underlying that behavior though of the other guy showing the first porn, he’s probably just looking to bond.
He just wants to build that relationship.
That’s so funny.
One of the few ways that we’ve made it okay for men to have closeness is… I mean, well, you would know. Well, you are really a special communicator, Alan, there’s cars, commutes to work, weather, sports, surface porn.
Well, the researcher you spoke with that you just were talking about, did she examine why it seems that boys are confronted early on with not hugging, not being emotionally open? What’s the reason for that? Why do they get that message and girls don’t?
Well, I mean, that one is so clear. That’s because we have this idea, and this is what comes up in the book a lot as well, that there is a predominant cultural narrative we have that the way we police women hurts women, and it’s problematic, but we never talk about how we in any way police men. Many have said this before me and what I personally was very surprised, I had no conception of this as a woman or as a reporter, because how many men I spoke to that this traditional notion of masculinity, where, again, we can list these qualities.
It’s never ask… Has all the answers, doesn’t need anybody else, is always right, takes charge of everything, lone wolf, gosh, that’s a really isolating way to be. It puts a lot of pressure on one person to never emote any emotion, really, except for anger, to never ask for help, to not rely on anyone, to not talk to anyone about how they feel and thus not really feel or acknowledge that they feel anything. That’s how we think of what a good man is.
Do you suppose just the propagation of stereotype? Why does it have so much currency?
Why does it have so much currency? I can’t answer that. I don’t know. I would let… I mean, what I offer at the end of the book is that younger generations, some of them, are doing away with this gender binary as we know it. Men are like this and women are like this. While that might feel too progressive, too radical for many, there are some pieces of that that I do recommend people take, which is that this idea that men act like this and women act like this, and that’s how it should be if not checked against how you actually feel is very harmful to us. There’s a concept-
Do you mean… [inaudible 00:40:38] if I understand it.
You mean the idea that you’re let’s say mainly a man and you are up against the stereotype, and you don’t know that you feel a different way. You don’t want to be the stereotype or the stereotype of a woman. I mean, in fact, stereotype represents some mythical average or typical thing you find, whereas in fact I always felt Billie Jean King would have made a better soldier [crosstalk 00:41:14].
Of course, it depends on whose research you look at, but one neuroscientist that I looked at who studies the brains of young boys and young girls said that young boys and young girls tend to be much more similar. It’s differences in personalities and where they’re raised and the conditions they’re raised in that separate behavior. Does that make sense? It’s not along gender lines, but it’s along personality lines.
For me, it really is, “Who is this person I’m talking to?” I get more clues out of how they behave and what they say and what they seem to be feeling and thinking than I get out of their external appearance or their secondary sexual characteristics. It doesn’t tell me enough to know that this is mostly a woman.
Mostly a woman. That’s making me think of this idea that we talk about in modern manhood that many men who’ve read the book responded to. Having covered gender and sexuality conversations for a long time, it surprised me that this surprised them. There is a concept in men’s health theorist circles called the Man Box. It was developed in the ’70s by a men’s group out in Oakland, but has since been brought into the modern time by a man named Tony Porter who works with the NFL, the NBA, the National Baseball League.
He works with top sports leagues and does a lot of amazing men’s work right now. He’s updated the concepts of the Man Box, but essentially what it is, I wish I had it right in front of me.
When I was reading your book, I saw the picture of the Man Box, but there were all these words in the outside of the box, and I couldn’t read the words.
I was reading them on the computer. The screen wasn’t big enough, so the words keep you in the box?
What are the words like?
These qualities on the Man Box, and I’ll just have to say… Sorry. For post team, you might want to just have Alan read this on track or something because I don’t have them memorized. The qualities of the Man Box are along the lines of doesn’t ask, doesn’t ask for help, stoic, does not express emotion unless anger, does not need anyone or anything, is always right, is a leader, takes risks, is not gay, is not weak, sees women as less than and mostly in terms of sexual objects.
You remind me of when I was a young actor, and I had an agent who was a woman who said to me about another man, “He’s the kind of man who likes a strong woman, meaning that he wasn’t a real man.” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t challenge her, but I was a kid. I was in my 20s. I thought, “I like a strong woman.”
Why would I waste my time with a weak woman?
With a weak woman. Here’s the interesting thing about the Man Box. There is this perception generally that people had about… I interviewed men that range in age from 62 to 18, and there was a general thought that the younger folks would be more progressive and more open to these new ideas than the older folks. I did not find that to be true. Here I think is why, because this idea of the Man Box, whether you fit within that box or not, that is hardly new.
I interviewed a lot of men in their 60s and 50s and 40s who were saying, listen, “Listen, I don’t have the terminology that you all are using, but I never felt like a “man.” That identity never worked for me. I was shy or I was introverted, or I was sensitive, and I had a lot of shamer on that because my father told me to man up,” but this feeling of not fitting in that box, that’s not new and that impacts so many of us. Again, it was partly why reporting this book was really heart opening for me because I see there’s a long history of pain and isolation happening, and I just offer this conversation about, So what do we do from here?”
I do really think that one of the beautiful opportunities we have is to… People are voicing their vulnerability in ways and at a scale that we previously haven’t seen before. If we listened to these stories and also take time to reflect on our own behavior and really think about, “Okay, this thing that I do that I always did because that’s what my dad told me to do, do I want to bring that forward? Does that feel good? Does that hurt other people?” If not, leave that behind.
When you were talking about feeling like a man, that interested me because decades ago, I was reading this magazine, writing for this mag. Very often, there would be an article talking about asking you what makes you feel like a man? Nothing makes me feel like a man. Does anything make you feel like a woman?
The job that I have, I can never answer that in a way that’s straight forward. I think about that all the time. Why do I personally put on makeup? What does that mean to me? What does that signal to the world? I am quite grateful to have written this book I can say actually, because it’s helped me step back from expectations that society, the world puts on me because of how I look and really think, “If that doesn’t fit for me, if that doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t feel authentic.”
I’m 33, so probably a good time for me to just not do that anymore.
So there isn’t any behavior that you would do that if you’re not allowed to do it or you aren’t engaged in it, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re not being a woman or something. If you don’t get to do that, then you’re denied being a woman or something like that.
Well, I thought of that. I mean, I think about these things a lot. Actually, I end the book talking about my own experiences, I would quote unquote Me Too incidents. One was that I worked in investment firms straight out of college for four and a half years. I had a boss at that time explain to me the concept of depreciating value in terms of how men have appreciating value, because as they get older, they make more money and they have more power, which makes them more valuable.
Whereas women, and then he pointed to me, like myself, had depreciating value-
… because I would get older and uglier and fatter. He drew the graph for me. He was like… He thought…
This is an ugly, old, fat woman.
He’s like, “What are you, 22?” You’re right. You’re on your way down already.
I guess that made him feel like a man.
That probably made him feel like a man. That made me feel terrible. Sorry, but there have been… Well, [inaudible 00:50:02].
That’s a good Me Too Movement moment. You were 22 talking to a guy who was more powerful than you.
Well, and that was my first job out of college, so I thought that was normal, but when I-
It turned out it was.
It was normal, but the CEO of that firm has resigned amid allegations of misconduct.
Misconduct with somebody of high value, no doubt.
Right. One can only imagine where he got that person in their chart.
Along the lines of depreciation.
Oh my gosh, what a world. Additionally, I also told the story of when I was more junior reporter and I met with an executive producer of a big show on my network. He was in town, asked if I wanted to grab a drink while he was in town to discuss an international assignment, which would’ve been my first international assignment. I jumped at the chance and met him for a drink. We talked about the story. I thought I was going to get it, and I was thrilled.
Then he kissed me. I was shocked.
Shocked. I was shocked.
You were in a restaurant?
We were at the bar.
He just leaned in.
Yeah. I got a little awkward, and I was like, “Oh, Whoa.” He invited me up to his room, and I said, “Absolutely not.” I hightailed it out of there. I waited a couple days for things to blow over. Then I sent a followup email as if nothing had happened, “Hey, just checking in about Japan. Do you still want to do the story?” I never heard back.
That’s to me the most depressing news that’s coming out over and over.
I make an advance on you. You turned me down. I don’t just take it as a turn down the way I would in business. In business, I try to sell you something. You’re not buying. Okay, I’ll sell to somebody else. Now, you either cave into me or I fire you or end your career.
Here is what I will say. I’m not saying what that person did was okay. It’s not, but I am almost certain that that person does not think of that night as how he could possibly have impacted the future of my career.
But he was able to get upset that you turned him down.
Right. What I’m saying is these incidents are very prevalent. We know from the stories, this happens all the time. For me, I don’t even consider myself. I wasn’t consciously… When Me Too happened, I didn’t think, “Oh, I have a voice to contribute to that,” until I started realizing, “Oh, back to back, all of my employment situations have had incidents like this.” So when people hear these stories, I offer to them instead of getting really defensive because we can’t move forward if people just clam up and get defensive, but if you were-
Are you talking about the men or the women?
They get defensive in what way?
Well, I would-
You mean the men getting defensive about being turned down.
Right. Before you have that instinct, I offer what’s done has been done, but going forward, really think about how your behavior is impacting others. That’s the takeaway of this whole book, because what Me Too is doing is throwing a wrench in business as usual. Some people are, “Wait, this happened all the time. This was such a mass scale problem.” Yes. Yes. Welcome to ground control, Major Tom. This is a large scale problem.
There is this problem that I hear women talking about, and this is women of various ages. Of course, not every woman brings this up, but many women have brought it up to me in conversation that the punishment doesn’t always fit the crime. It’s very hard to expect it too because this is not the legislation. This is a movement. In a movement, there is no formal organization. You can’t expect there to be.
This is a spearhead of a new direction led by brave people, but sometimes, somebody will do something very minor and lose his or her, his in this case, his entire career, and other people who do something really bad and because they had the money to defend themselves can get away with it.
What do you see as… Is that going to stay that way, or is something going to make that better or shouldn’t anybody worry about it?
In the book Modern Manhood, we deal exclusively in gray areas. There was nothing in the book that we brought up that there is a law about really that will get you locked up or that is violent. I want to preface that by saying acts of violence are not what I’m talking about here. The reason I focused-
I’m not either, except that the person who does an act of violence to get the same or lesser punishment than someone who makes an off-color joke [inaudible 00:56:03], that’s something that didn’t seem helpful about that to the movement because the movement then gets blamed for inconsistency and wild swings.
A couple of things come to mind when I hear that. I will actually say that I heard from women in their 50s and 60s surprised me. They seemed to… For example, this one woman in her mid 60s said to me, “Listen, I can tell that you don’t take any crap, but I’ll just say you guys don’t know how lucky you have. Back in my day, every boss I had tried to put his hand up my skirt.”
I heard that too from women of that age. I also have a good friend who’s in her 80s who says, “So let the men get hurt for a while.”
Well, I have… I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but what I do say is first of all, a sentiment like that, that it’s gotten better, I agree, but it can still get much better. I think this feeling of sometimes the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, you could sit here, and many people do. When this conversation comes up with me, many people will fire off at me some incident that they knew where their friend was falsely accused, where the punishment did not fit the crime.
You can lob those in my direction till the day is over. That is not the point of this. I hear that completely and I hold space for all of those stories, but that is not the majority. What comes to mind, for example, is we do a chapter on media like, “Can you still binge watch Louis C.K.? Can you play R. Kelly at a family barbecue?” I spoke to one woman whose name is Brittany Oliver. She founded the organization Not Without Black Women. She told me that in her family, R. Kelly is one of the greats.
Up there with Michael Jackson, he’s huge in her family, and they play him at all their family barbecues. Brittany is a survivor herself and also does a lot of work with other domestic abuse victims and sexual assault victims. For her personally, she cannot listen to R. Kelly’s music without feeling triggered, but even her mom and her grandma still play him in her home. So she gets this question a lot like, “Can I listen to R. Kelly or blah, blah?”
She says, “That question, we can talk about it. You can think about it.” Good. You should think about it, but that’s not really the question at hand. The question is not whether you can play R. Kelly or not. The question is, in the rest of your time, what are you doing to support survivors? That’s the real question. That’s the real work to be done. So this feeling of the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, “Okay, but what are you actually doing in your day-to-day to make your behavior better and make sure that if you had done something in the past that you’ve apologized, that you’ve owned your behavior?”
That’s the real work.
I agree with you. Also, I would add to that that if you bring up the question of the punishment often or occasionally not fitting the crime, if you’re bringing that up in order to put down the whole effort of the Me Too Movement, that’s a sneaky tactic. That’s not exemplary-
… because the main focus ought to be on the thousands of years old problem that we’ve had that we don’t know how to live together. If we don’t learn soon, we’re going to be in trouble.
Well, I’ve enjoyed living together with you for the last hour. Graham, do you have any complaints? Kudos. Good. Good. Good.
Thank you, Graham.
That was good. Thank you.
Well, thank Alan for that, for leading me to that.
I didn’t even remember we said that. I’m really curious. Do you think there’s anything that we didn’t touch on that we ought to, because this is one of the most important questions of our time? I was talking to Cleo, but you can [inaudible 01:01:18] too.
Gosh, I don’t know. We talked for an hour. Well, if we miss something, you can bring me back.
Good. Graham, what will you guys say? I know. We may decide not to use this, the next thing I’m going to launch into because it gets political, but Graham, mute yourself for a minute. I know a lot of women who are upset with Senator Gillibrand because they felt for something that they felt, and this is women I’m talking about, they felt was a minor infraction that they lost a senator they admired and felt that there was a national repercussion to the punishment not fitting the crime.
It wasn’t, “Oh, the poor guy. He doesn’t get to work anymore.” They felt they lost something. Well, just personally, what was your reaction to that whole thing? Really? I thought… Let me ask you about something that a lot of women have mentioned to me. It’s about Al Franken. They seem to be really peeved that Senator Gillibrand for what they feel was an overreaction too of a very minor offense in their opinion. What was your reaction to all of that?
I’m conflicted. I’m conflicted. I do know that losing that seat has a national repercussion. I understand the feeling that it wasn’t worth that, but having now come out of eight years on reporting on women’s health and now just spending a year and a half intensively speaking with men and women about these issues, it is such a knee jerk reaction in our country and maybe our world to downplay men’s poor behavior that I can’t really get behind it even in the slightest understanding that it’s so complex, so I’m-
It’s so complex.
Yes, but I will say that’s our comfort zone. It’s our comfort zone to say, “Oh, it didn’t matter. What’s the big deal?” I can be a little bit of a politician [inaudible 01:04:35] just redirect the conversation. It’s not about these specific cases where you can point to of Al Franken or R. Kelly, playing R. Kelly at the barbecue. That’s the distraction. There’s so much real work to be done.
It’s those distractions though that real people have to live through and make our lives so complicated. It seems to me… I mean, I don’t mind things being complicated because there isn’t anything we face in life that doesn’t have a complex nature too, and doesn’t make it hard to make the right decision. Very hard to make any decision that does everybody good. I mean, just exploring it intellectually for a minute, if you knock out a senator who could help pass laws and help defeat the overt institutional sexism that is regulated and put into law to lose that ally, maybe loss greater one could say, then punishing someone for what in all by itself may not be a minor infraction, but compared to institutional sexism seems to not be so powerful. That’s the case you could make.
It’s a case you can make. It’s a case you could make that is not happening this year. It didn’t happen last year. Any time again that someone brings that up, I’m going to counter with five stories that just happened this year about how we can hold ourselves accountable now. Again, I appreciate intellectual exercises, and I said people have been lobbing them at me all year, but what I offer again is that’s our comfort zone. That’s over. That is over.
Every time that you want to point to that, can you personally instead invoke another conversation that puts women first or that puts a survivor first? Do you see what I’m saying?
I don’t know. Tell me more.
What happens when you’re talking about shaking up power structures that have long been in place is it’s our comfort zone to point to the stories and situations where that has gone awry, where we’ve pushed too far. Another story that comes up a lot in the book is what happened with Aziz Ansari, where he went home with a girl. The story goes, he went home with a girl. He initiated physical contact.
She said, “I don’t really want to do that.” He said, “No, that’s totally fine.” He went again. She said, “No, should I leave? I thought we were just going to watch a movie.” He’s like, “No, no, no, it’s fine.” He goes again. She relents. They have oral sex. She leaves.
I forget what characterization was to get it over with or to [inaudible 01:08:13].
Yes. She goes home in an Uber. He texts her, “Hey, thank you so much. I had a great time.” She’s like, “Listen, I think you need to know you really upset me. This is not right and you shouldn’t do this again.” He was taken aback. He didn’t realize, and of course the media coverage, the way that that was handled spun this whole thing out of control, but the story of a man going home with a woman and a woman leaving crying is very common and to the point where when I would ask people what they thought of that, and it came up a lot, it was almost like a war shock test because how you felt about that situation, that story of Aziz Ansari tended to represent how you felt about more insidious aspects of Me Too.
It wasn’t across gender lines. I’d had plenty of men who was like, “He was in the wrong. He shouldn’t have done that.” I had plenty of women who said, “That’s everyday I had in my 20s. That’s just a bad day.”
Well, it also goes back to the man in the box that you were talking about, because if men are brought up to think persistence pays off and persistence is expected, and if you don’t wait until demand is persistent enough, you’re not playing the game.
That’s the script we’ve set for men. That’s why that situation is so common. What I put forward all the time when people say, “That’s not a Ne Too thing. That’s just a bad date,” is we can do better than that. We can do better than having it be so common for people to leave crying in an Uber. We can actually have great sex. This whole, and to tell it all back to Al Franken, I completely understand why that conversation comes up.
I personally can’t share my feeling about it, but I understand it. However, what I would offer is that’s also a distraction. That’s one situation. That’s one case, and it’s over.
I think what you’re saying when you say that, tell me if I’m wrong, I think you’re saying there are cases where a man gets the short end of the stick. That’s no reason to deny the whole [crosstalk 01:10:50].
Right. Let’s actually talk about that. Let’s talk about where we can do the work. That’s the thing also with Aziz Ansari.
I would add this other thing that I also hear you saying, and tell me if I’m wrong, I think you’re taking such an empathic approach here that you wouldn’t mind at all or probably like it if men who are abused by a punishment that is so extreme that their lives are essentially over professionally for something that is viewed on by many women as ordinary or not that bad, that a little bit of empathy in that individual case doesn’t hurt, doesn’t hold things back. Am I not hearing that?
The reason I brought that up is because I would say the fact that it’s so common doesn’t make it okay.
I agree. No question.
There’s so much work to be done.
That’s why if somebody robs a bank is everybody robs a bank. What’s wrong with that?
Well, there’s so much work to be done. That’s what I’m saying. There’s so much work to be done. I’m less interested, although I hear them all the time, but I’m less interested in the, “But then it wasn’t fair because then he got…”
Well, I have the feeling that you’re less interested because you hear it as an objection to the whole movement.
I don’t hear it as an objection to the whole movement.
Unlike when you hear it from me [inaudible 01:12:35] concern for equity, for punishment fitting the crime, I specifically don’t want that to be an impairment to the movement. I want the movement to overcome that. I’m looking for a way for it to be able to do it. I want Me Too to lead to the most effective kind of relations between the two main sexes as possible.
That’s why in the book, we don’t deal with what I call these red herrings. We put the work back on the individual. Get really clear on your own behavior, and think about, “Okay, are there things that I do that people have told me hurt their feelings, make them feel uncomfortable, seem inappropriate? If there is some incidents of that, why do you do that? Why were you trying to… Were you trying to get something around somebody? Were you fulfilling a script that you had been taught since you were a kid?”
Get really, really clear on that. You might change your behavior. Then also, I offer, “Get comfortable with listening and even maybe saying I’m sorry.”
What a concept.
It’s a wild thing, but I’m sorry goes a long way.
The meaning it goes even further.
It really does. I heard from men who told me about… Sorry, I know we’re running over, but one example of an apology that I thought was really special was this man who reached out to me when he heard that I was writing this book. He says, the Kavanaugh hearing actually, while he was watching the Kavanaugh hearing and judging John Kavanaugh for what he had been purported to do, this man thought back to his own past, and he also had gone to Yale as an undergrad. As a first generation Mexican American, he was first in his family to go to college and at Yale, an incredible achievement.
He got in very young. He felt really isolated there. He felt like he did not belong. To cope with those feelings of isolation, he drank a lot, and he says he’s 99% sure he never did anything really bad, but there’s 1% of him that’s not totally sure. That’s because when he would drink, he would black out, and that there was one girl in particular who he would only have relations with when he was really drunk. He felt like he had treated her badly.
They were friends on Facebook. They hadn’t spoken in years, but while he was watching everything play out with Kavanaugh, he was thinking to himself, “I can’t be judging this man when I still have my own shit that I may not have come correct with.” So he agonized over this and ended up messaging her on Facebook and said, “Listen, this is totally out of the blue. You might not even remember this, or I’m not sure how this is going to land, but I just want to let you know I’ve been watching everything that’s happening in this country right now. And it’s just got me thinking if I ever made you feel less than, I am sorry.”
I didn’t talk to her, so again, this is just his side, but he said that she was really surprised to receive that, but that she thanked him.
Did he find out if he had done anything wrong?
They didn’t keep it. They didn’t go into it. She just said, “Wow, I really had never expected this, but it really means a lot. Thank you.”
That’s a nice story.
I’d offer that the big thing that came up for me in listening to these interviews was that this saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” As someone that’s reported online of women’s health stories over the years, I’ve heard many stories from women being hurt, but when I was listening to these stories, these deeply intimate, vulnerable stories from the men I interviewed, feeling not listened to, unable to express themselves, all alone, everything on their shoulders, I just thought, “Oh my God, this hurt people hurt people. This is how we got here.”
When you’re thinking to loop this back, what can you do in your day to day? But to really listen, apologize if you’ve done something wrong, and also know that this is not a personal attack on you. The structure, the power systems that we’re all operating in were set up way before us. If you want to be that kind of person that’s helping make things more equitable, more safe for everyone around you, it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to be uncomfortable, and strap in your seatbelt.
I’ve found from my own personal experience that if you want to be an ally, you have to occasionally accept a harsh judgment.
Yes. It’s not always going to go well for you.
No. No. That’s a little bit of the price you pay for getting accepted as an ally.
You don’t just say, “I’m your ally.” You ought to celebrate.
Yes. I do nothing wrong because I’m not… That is big. I also offer to women and survivors that when someone comes to you with genuine… As many men came to me like, “Listen, I am a good guy. What do I need to do?” I completely understand that it’s not on survivors to teach men what they need to do.
That’s the hard… When you have a history of not just abuse but being put down by being put up on a pedestal, various kinds of abuse, benign [inaudible 01:19:22], when you’re the victim of all of that, and then you’re asked to help the other side understand that it’s your job to help them understand, that must be a double hurt.
And some people very understandably are not wanting to come from a place of compassion because they have been hurt for so long. I understand that, and that’s why send them to me. I can come from that place of understanding and compassion, and if you can, you should, because, like I said, where I see it as a unprecedented moment of having people’s ears and interest and awareness that we’re not before.
Well, this has been fun. We always end our show with seven quick questions. Do you mind?
Oh my gosh. Oh yes.
What do you wish you really understood?
Oh my gosh, I really wish I understood how to have a quiet mind.
Your mind is very active.
It’s a loud.
Talking to you all the time.
It’s so loud.
How do you tell someone they have their facts wrong?
I’m pretty blunt about it. I’m a reporter, so I’ll just say, “Well, according to X, Y, and Z, and I have this right here, that’s, that’s not what the facts show.”
You must have a big notebook. You’re going to have a lot of people getting their facts wrong during the usual day. What’s the strangest question anyone has ever raised?
Alan, how much time do you have? Oh my God. Strangest question. I mean, what did my parents do so wrong that turned me out the way I was?
Sometimes the internet can be a cruel place.
All right. How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Oh my gosh. Brilliant. Actually, I have advice on this. If you get a compulsive talker, wait till they make even the slightest joke and then laugh like, “Oh my gosh, that is so amazing. That reminds me of the time,” and then you just jump right in there and you redirect the concept.
Sometimes, I don’t wait for the joke. I stop them right in the middle. You know what that reminds me of? You really put this thought in my head.
I think you said that exact phrase to me.
I think I did, but it wasn’t because you were compulsively talking, but because you really did put a thought in my head. I swear to God.
Is he lying to me?
No. You’re at a dinner table, and you’re sitting next to someone you don’t know. How do you start up a real conversation with that person?
Oh, you know what? It’s not that I have a line. I don’t have a pre-package line to tell you, but be genuinely curious. If you’re sitting next to someone you don’t know, I think our inclination is to wait to figure out when you can say something in a conversation, but if you’re genuinely curious about something about this person, that’s all you need.
Go ahead. Sounds good to me. What gives you confidence?
What gives me confidence? At this point, I think I used to be very unsure of myself, and I felt like every good thing I did, that was only as good as I was.
When you didn’t do such good things, you felt less good about yourself?
No, it was just that I always thought it was a one off.
Every achievement I had was just a one-off and the whole-
You’re starting from scratch again.
Exactly. The house could crumble at any moment. I would say that at this point what gives me confidence, and I have so much gratitude to this, is that I at some point, maybe even within the past couple of years, started to see, “Oh no, these things have… You’ve accrued a good set here. You know what you’re doing.”
That’s great. Last question, what book changed your life?
Oh my goodness.
It’s no fair if you say Modern Manhood.
I know. God, it really did change my life though. What book changed my life? The Nine.
The Nine. What’s The Nine? I don’t know that.
Oh, yes, the supreme court one.
Why did that change your life?
That changed my life because I think that it really woke me up to the power of the courts in a way that I previously just had not taken full stock of. I think that given the last five years, that was a really important lesson to learn.
I’ve enjoyed talking with you so much, Cleo. Thank you. Thanks for a really interesting conversation.
Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.
Cleo Stiller’s recent book, Modern Manhood: Conversations About the Complicated World of Being a Man Today, debuted at #1 on Amazon’s new releases.
Her book is based on the stories of the many men out there who are trying to reconcile what it means to be “a good man” in the #MeToo era. The book is an excellent read for both men and women and I encourage you to pick up a copy.
To learn more about Cleo and her journalism background, which includes both a Peabody and an Emmy Award nomination, please visit her web site at: CleoStiller.net
And you can follow her on Twitter @cleomsf