Monday, April 24, 2017

Real Women, Real Stories

Matan Uziel
Matan Uziel is the curator of Real Women, Real Stories, a new filming miniseries with the goal of embracing women who are silent in their pain but want to speak out. Each episode focuses on a woman who has overcome subjugation and stigmatization in her given profession. While the first season's installments focus on overcoming verbal and sexual abuse and eating disorders in the entertainment and fashion industries, the series also plans to cover women in politics, journalism, and other industries. Here's his story:

Let's start with your story. What were your growing years like? 
My childhood memories are rich and varied. I cannot remember too MUCH from my young childhood, besides the warm feeling from sitting in a basket of laundry just come from the dryer, my dad teaching me how to ride a bike and how to bake from a very young age, how to fly a kite, and the days my mom would pick me up from school. All of these memories leave me with happy, warm feelings about my childhood. I also remember playing with my sisters. My sisters always protected me. I was raised in a rural location of Israel that provided me a wide natural habitat free of conflict and positively infected with freedom, love, peace and prosperity. If the whole of space-time up until now was a lottery to be awarded out randomly to humans, I won the largest jackpot available. We had pets. Lots and lots of pets. I have a loving family, and my parents are the best. We gathered regularly at a table every Shabbat at my grandparents' house to eat meals that nourished our minds as well as our bodies. I had many friends, but my best friends were and will always be my parents and of course my grandfather. My parents from my mother's side are Bulgarian. My grandfather is Moshe Gueron and he comes from a famous Aristocratic family (Castro). He is my guide and my confidant and as mentioned, my best friend, and my role model. My grandparents from my father's side were Greek, are Auschwitz survivors. I remember going with my grandfather Alberto to the sea (They lived in Tel-Aviv), and I loved the food of my grandmother. She taught me of many things. I remember absorbing her stories about Auschwitz and learnt, she taught me about modesty.

What got you into the work you do?
Working in the fashion industry as a 20-year-old millionaire, I engaged in the toxic masculinity that harmed many women's lives. I craved power and dominance and manipulated others to get my way. After much self-reflection, I found the courage to heal and to help others instead. Through Real Women, Real Stories, I have been able to elevate women instead of cut them down. I firmly believe that allowing women a platform to tell their own stories.

Let's talk about Real Women, Real Stories. How did that come about? 
I have decided to empower women for a myriad of reasons, but again – the main reason belongs to the fashion industry. It was during my years as a fashion agent that I witnessed the atrocities done to women, some of them were underage. Powerful people, some still working in the fashion industry today, abused hundreds of women. This abuse included anything from forcing them into anorexia or illicit drug use to trafficking and prostitution. Many were offered favors and promotion in return for sex or participation in orgies. One of these powerful people is still the owner of a large agency. Like many of these women who have faced these horrors and intimidation, I, too, have faced some. I was told to remain silent and to never share or tell, I was threatened, and if I did tell, I would be hurt and my loved ones would be hurt. Those same powerful people told me that I would be shamed and discredited if I ever revealed their injustices and exploitations. I was the "lesser of the evil" in the industry; although I was aware of all the abuse occurring, I never took on the roles of the abuser or the abused, never forcing anyone into anorexia, drug use, prostitution, "trade deals" or trafficking. Yet, I was part of the game.

Recently, you ran into a patch with YouTube. Can you talk about that? YouTube generally monetizes videos – that is to say, an advertisement is placed before of the video and whomever runs the channel receives a share of the proceeds. This is how Real Women Real Stories has paid for the productions of these important videos. But YouTube recently decided to demonetize Real Women Real Stories videos. YouTube has justified this by saying some videos, including ones we have published about sexual assault and rape but not only, are not "advertiser-friendly." Real Women Real Stories features real trauma survivors standing up for women's rights, yet we are punished. Some of our stories are painful. But all of them need to be heard. Some of the videos on our YouTube channel have received millions of views and thousands of comments. Most have been reposted on news sites around the world and shared countless times on social media. It has changed women's lives as their stories have received international attention. Their voices are being heard. And they are changing the world. YouTube's demonetization policy is also applied unevenly. I compiled a long list of videos on the site of the very same nature which are still being monetized. Most are related to abuse and rape, and many are clickbait.

On January 17th, 2017, a man whose voice I didn't recognize have called me from a restricted number. He sounded American. He told me that my appeal to YouTube to re-monetize our videos has brought to his attention in a way he refused to disclose, and that our stories about pedophiles and abusers could cost me my life. He added that people are trying to extort employees from inside YouTube in order to demonetize Real Women Real Stories' videos and thus handing down a "death sentence" to our source of income. The conversation lasted for about 1-2 minutes and as he hung up the phone, I have finally realized what I have thought about for a long time: Our videos have touched someone's nerves. This someone wants to sabotage us, to prevent us from reporting on things which some don't want reported. This conversation happened, and I realized I had unconsciously been waiting for it. This MondayI received a threatening phone call once again. An unidentified man – who sounded the same – has called me saying he is going to harm me and giving me all these kinds of threats, just screaming the top of his lungs like a lunatic. He said that my life is in jeopardy if I don't comply to his request to stop document stories about pedophilia and sex trafficking, and that "do not think of contacting the police or even tell anyone because people in YouTube are getting paid to eliminate your channel and it won't help you." It is scary, but I won't stop. I'm however appalled by Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube) failure to reply to my emails, and she considers herself to be a big feminist and a champion for gender equality. I'm disappointed by YouTube in general.
Here is my video about it: 

How are you responding to YouTube's decision? How can readers support you?
We are hoping to get patrons in order to make more videos and promote awareness of the often unseen hardships women face in different professions and places. Our vision is to produce much more compelling women-related content that empowers, enables, and sparks positive social change. (To learn more please go here.) 

What are some of the other challenges you've encountered in your work? How have you overcome them?
One thing that disturbs me a lot is hatred toward women by women. I am occasionally surprised by the degree of spite some women feel toward other women they don't know well. I'm working very hard to bring women together and change it. I am taken aback by the vitriol though. Based on my experience, I can assuredly report that women report more critical views of other women than the men do with their own male peers. I believe that there is much we can do and say to give our daughters the sense that their lives will be equally important to those of men, only by supporting – and not criticizing – other girls. The main goal of the project, though, is to form a network of overcomers and thrivers, not just survivors, who will support and encourage each other and begin to speak up and speak out about the destructive impact women's issues have on individuals, families, and our communities. It is my hope that all families and societies in the world will have instilled in the young minds of their sons a tradition of respecting women, of appreciating their worth, and of not promoting cultural values that dehumanize, brutalize, or disrespect women. This is the main goal of Real Women Real Stories, and it can be done only by raising awareness and educating our children. We will keep to embody the hard stories women experienced through life in order to elicit a reaction out of people by bringing together capturing stories in a way they've never seen.

What do you see as the overarching goals of the work you do? What do you hope to achieve with it?
I'm interested to give opportunity to as much crew members as I can and so my goal is to involve as much talents as possible in order for them to amplify their skills and potential. Real Women Real Stories is a very unique project. Real Women Real Stories at its core is an experience, it is a learning spectacle.