Saying Yes to Seeing Things Differently

Posted on November 7, 2018

You know that feeling when you discover a new word and then you keep seeing and hearing it? A month or two ago I agreed to participate in a campaign for GenderAvenger. Sounds superheroic, doesn’t it? I’d learned about them from my friend Elan, from what I’d seen GenderAvenger identified missed opportunities for a balance of gender representation at things like conferences. What I discovered as I began using  GA Tally, an app to quickly log who is speaking or how long people are speaking is that things can be pretty lopsided.

A group of caucasian and black adults on a TV set.

During a recent shoot for a Today Show segment. The female producer achieved a great gender balance.

The early tallies came out better than I expected. The first event was a women’s luncheon and there was a woman of color on the panel. Yay, right? At first, yes, but as time went on and I spent more energy really seeing what society puts forth, I realized that lauding the presence of one black woman on a panel of four is setting the bar pretty low.

But Is it Really Balanced?

To my knowledge none of the women on the panel were non-binary, none were disabled. This isn’t to say that every event needs to satisfy every box imaginable, but it does bear considering why there isn’t an effort to more accurately create, in panels, a reflection of their audiences.

I’ve always paid attention to the way movies and advertising treat women, either as set dressing or as vehicles for the male fantasy at any expense. What I hadn’t seen was how when it’s not wrapped in violence or sex, women are often simply invisible. I didn’t get worked up about that because I’d been conditioned to expect to listen to men. I noticed that at large events women were falling into support roles, being thanked for organizing and “making this whole thing possible”, while being positioned slightly off stage as men spoke at length about their experiences. There was one instance when a man was called up to introduce a speaker, he said he’d be brief. He wasn’t.

Who Does the Talking?

The man spoke for ten minutes and each time he mentioned the woman’s name he would mispronounce it. She was an elected official whose name you hear frequently around here. It was incomprehensible to me that he cared so little about anything beyond his own air time that he didn’t even bother to get her name right.

I chuckled when I learned about the term “manels” for all male panels. There were other things I began to notice, like how often the pendulum would swing so far as to be all women. Those events usually had the word “empowering” as a part of the description. It reminds me of lady pens.

The spirit of GenderAvenger isn’t to separate, it’s to help engage an awareness of representation—women and men, visibility for non-binary individuals, and a mentality that people can and should speak on any topic. Go beyond the predictable pool, because it is in the layering of different perspectives and experiences that you get your money’s worth from a panel of experts. Otherwise, it tends to be many mouths spouting the same idea.

 

This post was sponsored by GenderAvenger, but I promise that everything written here is purely me. I am grateful for the experience because realizing what I don’t see is one of the most potent ways of identifying where I can help create change.

All Of It

Posted on November 5, 2018

I am feeling all of it—tired and motivated, satisfied and discouraged, angry and at ease.

There are moments when I imagine that I have parenting handled, marriage under control, and running a business mastered. Other times I think, “Damn, I’m a fake.”

The other day, riding home from Finley’s concert, each of us tired to the bone from a week of to-dos, I tried to figure out if I was succeeding or failing. Why I continue to try and gauge how I’m doing is beyond me. I’d managed to get to the store to buy Finley a concert shirt between late nights for work and rehearsal. Saturday morning we found a pair of Avery’s shoes that would work because “If I wear my black boot heels I’ll be too tall because I am not in the back row. Can you believe that? Me, not in the back row?”

Fin had popped out of bed at 6:55 am after going to bed close to midnight the night before after a trip to NYC. Her sisters had come to the event, all available grandparents were in attendance, and no one had fought. It was a small miracle.

 

Children's Choir

Feeling All of It Sometimes Means Losing Sight of the Good Stuff

I had a splitting headache, I was in a foul mood, and it felt like maybe we’d pushed the girls too far. Looking toward the rest of the month, I have a lot of days I have to be out of the office and others days when I have to leave early. Sean and I are together all the time, but we are never together just Sean and me. The girls want to have sleepovers and bake cakes, but I’m stepping in puppy pee, and I am craving time to do nothing but read a book like I have 6 hours to burn. It’s non-stop, and yet I feel like I never get to the end of my to-do list in a way that doesn’t feel just short of catastrophic.

The music was on, and I wanted to turn it off. I was hot and cold at the same time. Briar said, “So what’s the plan for today?” and  it took everything I had not to wail, “I have no plan.”

It’s Still There & You Are Ok

Then the rainbow appeared. It was massive and distinct. All the colors visible and both ends in sight. As the road curved, we oohed and ahhed, trying to pinpoint where it would be next. At one point we literally drove through one end. The raindrops on the windshield made it more beautiful, and the power lines and trees made it feel all the more like it was stretching beyond any obstacle to get to us.

 

A rainbow across a blue sky seen through the rainy windshield of a black car.

I took a deep breath and let it out without trying to muffle it. Sean squeezed my hand, “That sounded like a good one.” I smiled and nodded.

Briar said, “We don’t need a plan. Let’s just go home and be cozy together.”

The ramp up to the midterm elections have been a lot on top of a lot. I get it. The clash of hope and despair, regardless of your political affiliation, not to mention the toll of so much sadness.

I hope we can all be that rainbow. Push through the obstacles, set aside the measurements of how we’re doing. Go vote, participate in the process because you can, if you aren’t sure about candidates read up in private. Heck, this site even links to a place that says it’s “like the Tinder for voting.”

Then, when you’re done, go home and be cozy.

 

 

 

Vote Like Your Life Depends On It

Posted on October 28, 2018

The midterm elections are around the corner. Maybe you are sick of the ads, or you think your vote can’t possibly make a difference. I hope you will reconsider. I’ve looked back a lot since 2016. I made donations to candidates, I sent out tweets, and posted on Facebook. I wrote and spoke with friends.

Three women stand with the arms linkedI didn’t knock on doors.
I didn’t put a bumper sticker on my car.
I didn’t attend meetings or rallies.
I didn’t speak as plainly as I could have.
I thought it was going to turn out fine.

It did not turn out fine, and I am trying to change the way I participate to come out on the other side feeling like I gave it my all.

Last week I let Sean manage the girls’ after-school commitments so that I could attend a fundraiser for Tedra Cobb. I’ve been following her progress for over a year. I didn’t immediately choose to support her, but today she has my full support. I believe that she will honor the things I hold dear—protecting women’s health care and reproductive rights and ensuring that our neighbors have the resources they need—social services, mental health support, and healthcare.

Elise Stefanik has not been available to us, and her voting has been more about toeing the Republican line than providing for her constituents. For me, the adherence to party over progress has been an unforgivable error. My kids are growing up in a world vastly different than my own, I feel it’s my job to help shape the world to address these changes. That means gun control, it means making college campuses safer, and it means acknowledging the environment’s fragility.

 

I believe Tedra Cobb will work toward that change.

 

I met Emily Martz on another occasion when Sean freed up my schedule. It was an event for Planned Parenthood in Glens Falls. I attended with my mom and was eager to support Planned Parenthood publicly. I didn’t know that I would meet Emily, but I was immediately drawn to her. She listened and was unafraid to speak about issues that have been ignored by our current state senator. Unfortunately, I think many of us have been silent, making it possible for votes against marriage equality and the Reproductive Health Act to be touted as “what my constituents want.” Senator Little, as a Catholic, has views on victim rights related to abuse in the Catholic Church that protect the offenders more than the victims. Her religion also influences how she votes on issues related to women’s reproductive health.

I am wholeheartedly throwing my support behind Emily Martz.

Amanda Magee and Emily Martz stand on porch of Morgan & Company in Glens Falls, NY

 

I hope that you will look at the candidates in your area and see if there are things that matter to you. Don’t be afraid to vote for someone other than the incumbent, try not to be intimidated by the idea of publicly standing for something. I know it can be upsetting to be attacked or to have someone challenge what you believe, but if we never stand up or speak out, if we never support someone who is trying to change things, then do we really believe in the things that we say we do?

We can’t actively support causes if we don’t let people know we’re in it. A former boss of mine used to say, “The world is run by those who show up.” Showing up takes courage, but what I can promise you is that you will never regret having tried.

Please use your voice in the places that you can.

Please vote.

 

Your Disbelief Doesn’t Eliminate My Reality

Posted on September 23, 2018

Woman in black and white photo looks over shoulder at man walking behind her.

Walking down the street will never be the same.

Would you mind if we spent a little time here on context? I ask because just yesterday I bumped into someone and I watched it take a minute for her to place me. When it registered she smiled and blurted, “Amanda” triumphantly. We both laughed, there were no hurt feelings or judgment.

“Context matters,” I said.

It can be pretty easy to assume that everyone has the same perspective or familiarity with something—whether something is a person, an event, or an experience. Over the past several years there have been attempts to contextualize people’s perspectives on pain: Trigger warnings, #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo.

These hashtags and qualifiers are an effort to bring to the surface the pain or obstacles that people have and to honor them. If that seems impossible, even to consider them would be a step. As a culture that likes to make jokes to avoid discomfort, disparaging trigger warnings is a common phenomenon. The other thing we seem to do is celebrate the myth of strength, that people who push through pain without acknowledgment or help are better. As a result, the idea that someone could have enduring pain or trauma is a failure or a weakness.

Let’s talk about context

I want to try and give context and in all honesty, I am doing it for me too. When I was 17 I was raped. Between the ages of 8 and 10 neighborhood boys sexually abused the girls in the neighborhood. I was one of those girls. Today I am a 45-year old woman, married since 2003 to a man I have been with since 1999.

There was a time when my rape was a story I had used to avoid intimacy. Looking back I think I also used it to keep my dreams away, the ones where I didn’t have flashbacks of being held down, where my future was unencumbered by a past that elicited comments like, “I wouldn’t expect that from a person like you.” I’m telling you this because I want you to know that for me there came a moment when it stopped—no more flashbacks, no more terrors, no more weeping. I went so far that I judged other women who continued to lead with what had happened to them. I was “healed.”

It shattered one day during a family vacation on Cape Cod. My parents were footing the bill, my sister was with us, and the girls were happy basking in the attention of the entire family. It was a perfect time until I saw a clip on the news of Representative Todd Akin talking about what the body does with rape.

The walls closed in and every sound bite about victims of rape felt like a personal attack. The defense of accused men made me feel insignificant. A divide opened between my family and myself, I was on one side pummeled by all the things I didn’t do to prevent my rape, they were on the other side with just one more story on the news that they could tune out. I locked myself in a room and began typing. I’d like to tell you it was purposeful and considered, but the truth is closer to a violent episode—hurling facts at the screen in an attempt to have my reality be more than a blip.

I am a woman.
I was raped.
I was 17.
It was not my fault.

Getting Over It Isn’t a Thing

Writing helped, but it came at a cost. Revisiting what happened and trying to explain how my rape was “legitimate” and how I wasn’t drunk, wasn’t dressed provocatively sent me back into the obsession. I needed to participate in every discussion, every thread, defending women and explaining the intoxication shouldn’t matter, clothing shouldn’t matter, flirtation shouldn’t matter. The louder I argued, the more insignificant and unsupported I felt.

I wanted to get back to being me and feeling whole. The thing is traveling with the omnipresent specter of a trauma isn’t something people choose. When I used my rape as armor it was to get ahead of panic. If I made sex harder to get to the chances of being in the middle of making out and suddenly being back in a car with my pants around my ankles and a stranger forcing his crooked penis inside of me again and again shrank.

Once again I buckled down and “got over it”, pushing the memories back. I unlinked the post I wrote about my rape. I stepped back from the articles and the news. It’s been six years. It’s been 28 years. It’s been 35 years.

What I’d like to do is explain to someone who hasn’t been raped what it can feel like to have the memories dredged up against your will. People are talking about the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and the accusations that he attempted to rape Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were both in high school. It is on every screen when I am at the gym. Friends and acquaintances are weighing in on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Radio personalities are talking about it between songs. Magazines and newspapers plaster the story on their covers. News capsule emails fill my inbox. People talk about it on the train. Staying at home might be the only option, but then my daughters ask me what I think about the situation because it’s been talked about at school.

People Tell Us to Let It Go

It doesn’t matter that my story isn’t identical.

Dr. Ford was 15 at the time she was attacked.

I was 17.

Dr. Ford knew her assailants (or would-be assailants if we need to qualify it.)

I did not know mine.

Our stories aren’t identical, but the time since the trauma is similar.

Here is how I am feeling: I‘m crossing the street before I have to walk past a man on the sidewalk. Standing in line at the café I inch forward each time someone stands close to me. I wedge myself in the back door of my car as I pump gas to avoid being looked at. I’m looking over my shoulder, literally jumping at shadows. I can’t get clean enough in the shower. I look in the mirror and cannot stand how I look. I’m exhausted in a way that neither food nor sleep can touch.

I’m hiding from Sean, slipping away before he can touch me, meeting his loving gaze with blurted chores that need to be done. He asks me what’s wrong and I say nothing, drowning in the ways he can’t fix it.

It started with Kavanaugh and his defenders, but now it’s all of them. Who is them? I can’t tell you. It’s politicians and actors, it’s women who don’t stand up for women, it’s the articles mocking trigger warnings. All of it makes me feel smaller and unheard. I don’t know how to pull myself up.

When Can We All Move On

That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s been so many years. How can we ever know the truth? Why does it matter now? Move on.

Let me tell you, I’d give just about anything to do all of those things. I don’t want this. I don’t want these emotions any more than I wanted to be raped. I don’t like burdening people with my pain or my fury. I ache to have things be simple, but I don’t get to have that. I promise that I’ll do my best. I can work really hard on keeping my wounds from making other people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make them any less real.

I have no doubt that there will always be people who think that I could have been parented more strictly or with more love, could have made better decisions. They’ll think that something like this would never happen in their family because they are too smart, too-well trained in self-defense, and ‘not those kinds of people.’ I hope to hell it’s true for them. I promise not to spit “I told you so” when it touches their family. I’ll believe them and I’ll fight for them.

I can’t make people believe the individuals who are sharing their experiences, I can’t make it hurt less for those who have been assaulted, but I do hope that in some way this makes it possible to begin to understand how we feel.

And just like that, it’s normalized.

Posted on September 18, 2018

“Mom, why is there so much sexual harassing in the news all the time,” Finley said as she plopped down beside me holding one pink and one black rubber band for the picture-day braids she’d asked me to do.

“Well,” I started as I looked at the Today Show on TV. The kids like Al Roker and the Emmys were last night—there was sure to be coverage of the event and in turn, opportunities to see the Stranger Things kids on the screen.

As the commercial break ended and coverage of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh played, Orrin Hatch filled the screen and referred to the woman accusing Kavanaugh of attempted rape as “mixed up.” Another sound bite had the President lamenting such awful treatment of the nominee, “a man that does not deserve this.”

I considered my words, but found my head filling with the familiar echoes of, “She deserved it,” and “She asked for it” and “Why was she there?” There had to have been a moment when we collectively decided the responsibility rests with the woman.

The night before Finley had asked me, “What does ‘that’s what she said’ mean?” At first, I thought she was asking because the girls have discovered The Office.

“Why?” I asked her.

“The other day I was at school, and my chair made a noise and people looked at me. I said I was trying to push my chair in hard and a boy said, ‘that’s what she said.’ I said that I didn’t know what that meant and he repeated it. Then a classmate told me it’s inappropriate and I told the teacher.”

She looked at me, “So what does it mean?”

Now, this kid has experienced me explain how “live stream” can be a euphemism for a man ejaculating live on social media. I should be able to explain “That’s what she said,” and yet I was stumped. I have said it. I have a dear friend who says it all the time. It’s wildly inappropriate and one small speck in the bucket of things we have normalized.

Why is a ten-year-old saying it? Why are ten-year-old boys playing “Kiss, Marry, Kill” in the cafeteria? How is it that 12-year-old girls are saying, “Girls can’t wear spaghetti straps because boys get boners?”

I am not a prude, in fact talking candidly about bodies, public debates, sex, relationships, and regret is something I take great pride in as a mom and a human being. Where I get tripped up is in the moments when the prevailing mindset seems to be that boys will be boys and girls are confused. It’s not a few people, it’s not sick people, it’s a lot of people that have their heads on straight. When Sean and I talk about how we will prepare the girls for increasing independence, we cover people being mean and dishonest and we also discuss safety.

I want to let them know that I think many of the dress code rules and behavior guidelines are punitive toward girls, creating and reaffirming the wide berth we give boys as they become men and long after.

Sean has said to me, “I want to teach them to be safe, which can mean knowing how boys think.”

I responded with a rabidness that shocked us both. “No. No, no, no! Why are we adapting to work around boys? Why are we expecting so little of boys?”

“Because I can influence the girls, I can’t control what boys will do,” he said.

“You can. You can influence other men, you can stand up and speak out. You can nip locker room talk in the bud and lead by example.”

He looked at me stricken. “Manda.”

“Really, why are we all so afraid to try and fix this? How will boys ever reach their potential? How can they be anything more than brutes if we teach girls to compensate for boys’ weakness? If we don’t start somewhere, it will NEVER happen.”

“You’re right. I get it, I do. I just want to keep the girls safe.” We looked at each other across the kitchen. I was so angry, weighed down by defeat and a sense of betrayal.

“I know.”

He crossed the room to me. I buried my face in his shoulder, “If you aren’t brave enough to do it…” was a thought that trailed off unspoken because the truth is as a mom and an adult woman, this is the monster under my bed. I am afraid. I am obsessed. I am unsure how to conquer it.

The coddling and protecting of men and boys touches education, the workplace, working out, and healthcare.

The other day Gabrielle Blair posted from her perspective as a Mormon mother of 6 why she believes, “men actually have zero interest in stopping abortion.” It was brilliant and believable. I wish some men out there would do that.

Senator Mazie Hirono may have said it best to men, “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.”

 

 

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