"However sugar-coated and ambiguous, every form of authoritarianism must start with a belief in some group's greater right to power, whether that right is justified by sex, race, class, religion, or all four. However far it may expand, the progression inevitably rests on unequal power and airtight roles within the family." -- Gloria Steinem, Human Rights Leader
Beauty Bites Beast, my book and now my movie, is all about authoritarianism as expressed through violence against women, and by extension any underdog. If you'd told me decades ago that I would be presenting my work at the International Islamic University of Islamabad (IIUI) in Pakistan, I would have called you deluded. How could that possibly happen?
Friendship, my friends, friendship. In these uncertain and frightening times for many of us -- even Trump voters of whom I suspect some are now musing, "What have we done?" although loathe to admit it -- friendship is more important than ever.
So how did friendship land me, Beauty Bites Beast and husband and co-producer of same, Ken Gruberman, in Pakistan?
It started with local Altadena documentarian and friend Jennifer Lee's documentary Feminist: Stories of Women's Liberation, an important piece of "missing" history for the hugely foundational American women's rights era from 1963-1970. If you scratch your head and ponder, "What was so important about that patch of time for gender relations in the U.S.?" then there you have it: you're missing vital U.S. history whether you're female or male. In a covert authoritarian society -- white, straight, Judeo-Christian male -- the "authorities" have a monopoly on the history you get and DON'T get.
Ms. Lee and her movie were "discovered" by Dr. Munazza Yaqoob, the founder of the Critical Thinking Forum at IIUI, and invited to come to Islamabad to speak and screen Feminist: Stories from Women's Liberation. More than a few of my new Pakistani friends told me that what they are going through now regarding feminism in modern Pakistan is highly parallel to what we went through in the 60s.
Next thing we know, Jennifer is hosting a U.S. State Department-sponsored delegation of the Critical Thinking women from Islamabad in Los Angeles, and making sure that Dr. Yaqoob stayed with us in Altadena. We showed Dr. Yaqoob Beauty Bites Beast in our den, and voilá! She decided her students needed to see our film and would we come to Islamabad? Yes!
We launched a Generosity.com support campaign since the IIUI could not cover any of our expenses, nor did the State Department which co-sponsored the Conference where we would be screening our film. And thanks to the vision and imagination of over 50 friends and supporters, rallying behind "Imagine Pakistani women getting the message of setting appropriate boundaries, and what ripples that would send out into the world," we were able to pull it together to go.
We did it! We screened twice in two weeks. I'm proud to report that the message of Beauty Bites Beast is global. As we say in the film, "Think Globally, Act Locally -- there's nothing more local than one's own body." If we could help women stop violence AS it was occurring within a generation, families and societies could and would be transformed within one generation. It just takes one person to take that stand in each household. It takes the self-authority of someone who will say "Enough" to family or social violence.
Although there's controversy about the degree of violence in my late father's immediate family, my Dad told me that his grandfather used to beat the hell out of him. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" was not atypical in that generation. However, my Dad told me in one of our heart-to-hearts that he vowed from that experience to end violence in his family. I was never spanked and was spoken to with gentleness and respect. Not true for other families who pass on a "legacy" of violence, generation after generation. My Dad said, "It stops with me." Not accidentally, my mission in life is to go around teaching women the tools to set emotional, verbal and, and when push comes to shove, physical boundaries.
Pakistani audiences gasped, laughed and cried at the same places that American audiences do. As Randy Mamiaro, a former suited instructor for IMPACT Personal Safety says in our movie, "Women all over the world share basic needs. They want a safe life, and they want to be powerful in their own lives. I've done this class for movie stars. I've done this class for the average suburban soccer mom. And now I've done this class for Mexican factory workers, and they're all the same."
Yep. And now we add Pakistani women of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
We are now friends with women and men in Pakistan who share our vision of a world that works for everyone with no one and nothing left out. Our new friends include retired Col. Azam Qadri, the brother I never had; Saria Benazir, a young presidential hopeful; Kiran Khan, our spontaneous Lahore guide; and of course, our visionary friend Munazza Yaqoob who saw that Beauty Bites Beast's core message is the authority that is most important in women's lives is their own.
Happy New Year, locally and globally!
NOTE: This article is a slightly updated version of my column in the Pasadena Weekly that originally ran on December 29, 2016