Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Mother's Rage. A Mother's Hope.

I am angry.
It feels like rage is literally burning my throat, I'm so angry.

I have this beautiful daughter. She just turned 18. Most people look at her and see someone much younger, which is annoying...but she'll love it when she's 40.

She loves to read. She loves to laugh. She's a great actress. An artist. An amazing teacher whose kids think she is the best thing since sliced cheese. She has a brother who loves her even when she annoys the crap out of him. Her puppy sleeps with her every night.

She's been working at her Aunt's shop on the Square. She's having a blast. Since it is so close to our house, she walks to and from work. She listens to music, practices her monologue, enjoys the weather.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday a man drove by my beautiful daughter and tried to engage her in conversation. He told her she was pretty and asked if she had a boyfriend. She took a deep breath, politely but firmly said "I'm not interested" and kept walking. She tried to remember all the things I told her about walking with purpose, head high...all those things that make you look like you wouldn't be a good victim for a predator. He started following her. Driving past her, coming back...all the way home. She forgot all the things she was supposed to be doing and panicked, called me crying. At one point the call dropped. I was terrified. Trying to call her back, my coworker on standby ready to call 911.

Last night I had to remind my daughter that instead of calling me she should have dialed 911 herself. That if he had done anything, I couldn't have gotten to her fast enough. We had to have a talk about safety. We had to have those conversations Mothers are forced to have with their daughters because we live in a rape culture. A culture where we spend more time teaching our girls how to not get raped than we do teaching our young men not to rape girls.

I want to find this guy. I want to beat him to a pulp. I want to gouge his eyes out so he can't ever leer at a young girl again. At some point I will have to let this go, work through forgiveness, pray for him. But not today. Today I'm in a rage and frustrated. This man took so much from my daughter yesterday. He didn't just mess up her day. He messed with her innocence. With her sense of who she is. He rendered her powerless. And he enjoyed it. It was a game to him. He kept coming back. He had to have seen the panic on her face. Bree is a great actress but utterly fails at hiding her emotions in real life (wonder where she gets that from?!). He got a kick out if it. It made him feel powerful.

Bet you anything he didn't think about her age. Bet you anything he didn't think about how she was going to sleep last night. About how we've had to make arrangements so she's not walking to and from work by herself. Bet if he knew how angry I was, he'd laugh it off.

Men like this. A culture like this. Explains how and why over 300 girls a month are sold for sex in Georgia. It's why studies show that one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Why-on average-a woman is beaten every nine seconds in the United States.

Enough is enough!

Culture must change. Parenting styles must change. Media that sales sex and portrays women as the playthings or servants of men must change. Songs that reflect misogynistic lyrics or devalue women are not freedom of speech! It should be considered a hate crime! And it's not just hip many country songs do you know that refer to a woman's body parts as her "money maker"? We shake our heads at fundamentalist Muslim countries that force a woman to wear a burqa but how is the US culture overall any different in the way it treats women?

It's time to take a stand. Men need to hold men accountable. Women need to understand their value and demand to be treated accordingly. I don't expect it to change overnight but I also know how you eat an elephant...

One bite at a time.

I believe this can happen. I believe it because I see it in my son. It's not only the way he was raised but in the decisions that he makes. When we turn off the Superbowl because the commercials make him uncomfortable. When he acknowledges that porn is a temptation and takes steps to fight it. When he treats girls around him with respect (including-most of the time-his sister).

I believe it because I've spent a lot of time recently hanging around college students and talking to guys who want to be leaders in the movement to change a culture and end slavery. Who know that part of that is doing their part to change culture. Who know that doing their part means treating women with respect and caring that other men do the same.

Every time I think about stories like Steubenville, I also have to think of the 40,000 plus college students at Passion 2013 standing in the cold, holding candles, singing worship songs and taking seriously their pledge to End It. The guys I met at Bryan College who are helping in the organization of a book drive for our girls.

I'm frustrated and I'm mad but I'm also hopeful. I hope I can hold on to that...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Where Do You Come In?

27 Million slaves in the world.
Over 300 girls under the age of 18 being sold for sex in Georgia every month.
The numbers get overwhelming. The stories are horrifying.
You feel powerless, uncomfortable, frustrated.
You know you should do "something" but what? And would it really make a difference?

Here's the deal...I can't promise you can change the world...but I can tell you you can make an impact. You aren't powerless. You can change the world for someone. And if everyone changed the world for someone, the world would be changed.

Let's talk about Casey. Not her real name. In fact, she's not a real person...but her story is very common to those we hear and see. Every story is different. Every girl is an individual. Whatever you do, don't forget that. But hopefully, in Casey's story, you'll understand your place.

When Casey was four, her Dad left. Her Mom started dating. Some of these men touched Casey in places they shouldn't. She tried to tell her Mom but her Mom didn't believe her. When Casey was ten, one of the boyfriends moved in with her and her Mom. Casey's Mom got pregnant and Casey had a little brother. Casey's Mom and the boyfriend got married. Casey thought things were going to be okay but then her Mom got a second shift job. Casey's step-dad started molesting her. Then he started letting his friends do things to her. Then he started selling her to his friends and friends of friends. He tells her if she tells her Mom, her Mom won't believe her. He tells her if she tells, he will hurt her Mom and her brother. Casey is constantly depressed. She doesn't do her school work. She doesn't play with the other kids. She used to love art but not anymore.

When Casey is twelve, she's had enough. She runs away.
Within 72 hours she has fallen into the hands of a trafficker. She was hungry. He fed her. Offered her a place to stay. He told her she was beautiful, that he wanted to be her boyfriend. He told her she had value, that she was valuable to him. That he loved her. And then he took her to a motel room and told her she had to have sex with every man that came into the room. When she refused, he beat her and let men rape her. The next day he told her he was sorry she made him do that...and that if she loves him, she won't make him do it again. So she does what he tells her to because he loves her, because she's valuable to him. She hates herself. She hates what is happening to her.

Months pass...

Casey decides to escape.
Casey is arrested.
Casey is hospitalized.

Casey is free. She is brought to a recovery program where she gets the chance to finish high school. She has group and individual therapy. She isn't crazy about all the life skill classes but she learns from them. She begins the road to recovery.

Where are you?

What if you volunteered a couple of hours one weekend to put posters up all around the city? The poster talks about trafficking and gives the National Trafficking Hotline number (888-373-7888)?

What if Casey's teacher saw the poster and called the number? Thanks to that call and Polaris Project, an investigation was launched, they found out what Casey's step-father had been doing and she was rescued before she ever ran away.

What if you were Casey's art teacher? What if you noticed that the colors she used had went from light to dark, that her painting depicted something dark? What if you talked to the guidance counselor?

What if you were an after-school mentor who spent time with Casey? What if you talked to her about how you valued her? About how special she was? About how she deserved to be treated? What if she felt safe to confide in you? What if she didn't but those words came back to her one night and gave her the courage to escape?

What if you were the guy who had created an accountability group that gave the guy who'd made an appointment to "meet" Casey someone to call and he didn't keep the appointment? As a result, he wasn't the guy that was with her when she was arrested. His marriage is saved and his kids don't have to grow up without their Dad.

What if you were the person who contacted their state Senator or Representative to tell them that you are in favor of HB 200 and so they support the bill that means when Casey is arrested she is treated as a victim instead of a criminal?

What if you were the group that helped remodel the program that is helping Casey? What if you were the women's group that did an in-kind donation drive and supplied the program with school supplies, toilet paper, and other necessities? What if you gave a financial donation that helps pay the counselors, teachers, the light bill, the school curriculum?

What if you are the volunteer who tutors her and helps her earn school credits? What if you teach a life skill class? What if you come on a Saturday and bake with her? What if you build a relationship with her and mentor her after she leaves the program?

What if you are the cashier who smiles at her one day when she buys a coke and you tell her "have a nice day" and she realizes that not everyone looks at her like she is filth?

What if you are the person who sits next to her at church and introduce her to your family, tell her you are glad she's there? What if you teach her to drive? What if you are the business that takes a chance on her to give her a job?

What if you take the time to help change her life? No matter where you come in, no matter what big or small part you play, we all need to do something. If we don't, children will continue to be victimized.

I'm just not okay with that.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Five Things I Learned From Spamalot

I have to tell you guys I have this thing for Monty Python. I don't know why...if I think about it, it really isn't that funny. Well, even when I think about it, Fawlty Towers is freaking awesome. But the Holy Grail is one of my favorite movies of all time. And when I found out that NTC was doing Spamalot and that Jennifer was directing it, I sort of secured my spot as stage manager a bit a year ago...while we were doing Dangerous Liaisons.

It was a challenging show. Partially because we'd done back to back shows for six months and I was tired, partly because we were rehearsing five days a week almost from the start...and because every show is a challenging show. But it will definitely go down in the books as one of my favorites.

Here is one of the things that I love about Spamalot...the songs are all pretty silly, and yet they are great music. I mean "Diva's Lament"! Chick has to have a dynamite voice (and Allison did!). And, if you really think about it, Spamalot can be educational.

Don't believe me? I'll prove it. Five things I learned from Spamalot (with some rehearsal shots and videos for the less fortunate that don't know the show)

#1 Use what you got.
What? Ridden on a horse?
You're using coconuts!
You've got two empty halves of coconut and you're bangin' 'em together.

Sure, we'd all like to have a horse. But what do you do if you don't have one? Mope? Refuse to go on the quest? Hide in your castle? NO! You find two halves of a coconut (possibly once carried by an African swallow) and you bang them together! It works even better if you have man servant like Patsy or Concorde to do it for you. Then you can pretend to hold on to the reins!

All I'm saying is, be happy with what you have! Or be inventive!

#2 You Aren't Dead Yet

Life is hard. You are feeling beaten. Either you've given up on yourself or others around you have given up on you. But you aren't dead. You're getting better. Dust yourself off. Get out there and dance! Seriously, don't let them put you on the cart! You can do this!

#3 Find Your Grail

Everyone has that something they are looking for...a cup, musical theatre or the perfect mate. Figure out what your passion is, what makes you tick...and go after it! And-if you can-bring along a few friends.

#4 Run Away!
Sometimes, running away is the best option. Especially if someone is hurling cattle at you. It's okay to get away from bad situations, toxic people, unhealthy relationships...or can can dancers.

#5 What you're looking for might be right under your feet...or bum.
Not to give anything away...if you've seen it, you know. If you didn't...well, shame on you. But so many times what we are looking for is right in front of us. We need to pay attention and open ourselves up to the possibilities. Look right beyond the Fourth Wall as it were.

So there ya' go. Life lessons from one of the most fun musicals of all times. And yes, I know I left some out, so feel free to share. Always look on the bright side of life? Make friends with Jews (so you can succeed on Broadway)? Be free to be yourself (AKA His Name Is Lancelot)

Or...make sure your son doesn't point his camera at you while you're singing along.

Next up for the Battles' theatre repertoire: Alice In Wonderland with the Henry Players! Auditions are April 15th and 16th. Visit the Henry Players website for info!