If you’ve read Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra’s “Y: The Last Man,” a comic series about the only man who survives the apparent simultaneous death of all other male mammals on Earth, I won’t have to explain much. If not, read on.
I wasn’t going to come to Cannes this year. I needed a break. But when Phil Thomas, CEO of Cannes, called and asked me to judge the Glass Lions which “celebrate work that sets out to positively impact ingrained gender inequality, imbalance or injustice,” I changed my mind.
I thought it would be an incredible learning experience. I was right. I learned a lot. The first thing I learned after accepting was that I was going to be the only male and that Phil was actually asking me to take part in his own wickedly devised social experiment.
As I walk through the door of our judging room, I am transported to an alternate reality. I meet Jury President Wendy Clark [DDB Worldwide North America President and CEO] and eight other top marketing executives and creators — [director and Free the Bid founder] Alma Har’el,Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, [Natura Cosmetics Chief Marketing, Innovation and Sustainability Officer] Andrea Alvares, [director] Bec Brideson, [Isobar EMEA and APAC Chief Experience Officer] Cheyney Robinson, [ColorComm President] Lauren Wilson, [Y&R North America Chief Creative Officer] Leslie Sims, and Nilufar Fowler [global client leader, Team Unilever at Mindshare]. Wendy Clark has suspiciously placed my chair closest to the door.
A little defensive being placed so close to the exit, I introduce myself and make sure to let everyone know that I have two beautiful daughters, one who is going to study engineering at Michigan next year and that STEM is awesome, go strong women. I receive simultaneous eyerolls from the room. I have stumbled into a classic male mistake, equating love for your daughters to respect for women.
Throughout the day, many thoughts go through my head: be careful how you speak, don’t come off as bossy. Do not explain mansplaining to the other jurors. Can I voice my opinion on the stupidity of one of the four vagina ideas entered or will it come off as me thinking vaginas are stupid? (I don’t, I have the utmost respect for vaginas.) Should I support my brothers and vote for the entry named “The Penis Seat”? No. Should I call my seat next to the door the penis seat? Yes.
A PSA called “Manterruptions,” an ever-growing trend where men feel it is okay to interrupt women when they are making a point, starts to play. I decide this is a good time not to interrupt anyone. So I sit back in my penis seat and let everyone else speak. Wendy baits me and says, “Gerry, you need to interject your opinion in this conversation.” I start to learn that Wendy is both very funny and devious. I come to full realization throughout the next few days when she constantly asks me and only me, the guy she sat closest to the door, to go out in the hall to wrangle the other jurors.
After a while I stop being so self-conscious and the jury just becomes like every other jury I’ve been on. We see tons of mediocre to bad ideas. Sometimes we start voting for the cause and not the actual idea. We get fooled by the liberal calculations of “impressions.”
We had wonderful talks about the importance of the impact of the work as opposed to just judging work on creative execution. I was made more aware of the countless acts of discrimination and true horrors that women and LGBTQ people face around the world. Overall, I am incredibly proud of the Grand Prix we awarded — Fearless Girl. No explanation needed. I was very happy with the two Gold Lions, some of the silver, some of the bronze. It was clear though that the world’s top creative people are not making work that addresses the problems Cannes is trying to award with the Glass Lions. I heard some slob in the Carlton rank the importance of the various medals. In his opinion: Grand Prix, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Glass. That comment brought me quickly back to the reality outside the jury room.
I spoke up about one entry that tried to teach men how to be better fathers. I think it’s bullshit that a corporation feels they have that right. Someone said it was good to get the man’s perspective. This really affected me because I was not speaking for all men. It was just my perspective. I flashed back to a meeting I had a few weeks ago when I said a similar thing to the only woman in the room. I then started recalling every meeting I have been in throughout my career when there was only one or two women. I started to maybe understand what women go through every day of their careers. And that’s when Phil’s social experiment started to work. I believe every male agency leader should sit in a room for two days with nine talented women and discuss what makes great work. Sit in the penis seat and you’ll see the world a lot differently.
Gerry Graf is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Barton F. Graf. If you missed him at Cannes, he’ll be speaking at Ad Age’s Small Agency Conference July 18-19.