Some people are calling this year “The Year of Women”. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it certainly seems as though there is more awareness about the disrespect and dangers women must navigate than ever before. As a woman who grew up in the 50s and 60s, I was raised to accept a certain order. Women raised the children, and in addition, they were nurses, governesses, housekeepers, concubines and often bookkeepers, but not always. Sometimes they were on a meager allowance. By the time my mom stepped into that role, some married women also worked outside of the home, but they had to arrange their schedule around that of their families and were still responsible for the household and making their husbands happy. As a child, I never met a female doctor, but my mother and her friends were nurses. I didn’t see a male teacher until high school and, when I worked in a bank for three years, never saw a female bank manager. I was lucky enough to know a strong woman City Editor at the local newspaper, where my dad worked as Editor in Chief. So, I knew it was possible for women to excel.
Then came the Women’s Liberation Movement. Whew! What a relief. Finally, all the disparities I’d noticed and didn’t like, would be erased. I was sure of it. The National Organization of Women was started in 1966 by Betty Friedan and others. NOW stated that one of their goals was to bring women into the mainstream of society and to keep moving forward in an atmosphere of change. A lot has changed but a lot has not, and it’s been a much slower change than I anticipated. The idea of women working outside the home gained acceptance and brought on the birth of the “Supermom.” Now, more and more women worked outside of the home and still maintained the home, raised the kids, etc. Working mothers were burning out fast. Our liberation movement was backfiring on us. So, then came a change in the expectations of our male partners. As mothers, we raised our sons differently but were still drawing on our own warped experiences and didn’t quite hit the mark. Subsequent generations have done better. I’ve seen a huge shift in parenting roles in younger families, and I applaud both the men and the women who have taken on this huge set of changes. But that still leaves the ways that women are treated in the workplace and in the wider world. Women still make less money for the same work. Women still deal with catcalls and worse when walking down the street. We are still expected to behave certain ways, wear certain clothes and not make waves. But, we are making waves – tidal waves. We are tired of being denigrated. We are tired of being mistreated. We are tired of being afraid.
When I was 13-years old, I took a city bus downtown on a Saturday to do a little shopping. Many young teens did that on the weekend. On my ride home, a young man, probably in his mid-twenties, sat next to me and tried to strike up a conversation. I was very shy and didn’t say much. After a little while, he put his hand on my leg, leering at me. When I tried to get up to move to another seat, he tightened his grip and shifted his body to block me completely, grinning very boldly now. I was smart enough to get off a few stops earlier than my usual stop, but he hopped off and followed me, calling out that he wanted my number. I tried to ignore him until he caught up with me, grabbed my arm and asked for a kiss. I broke away, ran to the nearest house and called my mother who took me to the police station to file a report. The police gave me photos of sex offenders to look at, sneering at me and making rude remarks. My mother insisted on having me look at other books of mug shots where I soon recognized the same man. The officers refused to consider him since he had no previous record of sexual misconduct. They accused me of blowing the incident out of proportion and sent me home completely humiliated, and my mother furious. Years later, when I was attacked by a man and a year later another man, I didn’t bother to file reports.
When I was 38, living in Albany with two children and a third on the way, I got a job at an electronics shop. I had always been interested in electronics and had done my own easy repairs on my sound equipment. I was told that if I worked the front desk, the owner would teach me when things were slow. I was thrilled. I loved this kind of thing. People rarely came into the shop, so there was lots of down time. There were two other men working as technicians in the back. It was so slow that they often sat in the breakroom watching porn films and drinking beer. I had to walk through that room to get to the bathroom and the refrigerator, to get my food. I complained incessantly to the boss who did nothing but chuckled about “boys will be boys.” I finally quit.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. I have many more stories, some more harrowing than others, and I am not alone. Ask any woman to tell you her own story or stories. It’s been part of our existence for so long, it may be in our DNA. There has been foot binding, female circumcision, female infanticide and the list goes on. Yes, we have made progress, but the forward movement needs to keep going and pick up speed. And there are certain areas that still need to be looked at. Public figures are now being outed for sexual harassment. Women in show business have long been expected to give sexual favors to get ahead. Thankfully, that is out in the open now.
As a woman in the music business, I have often been discounted. How many female acts are booked into large venues and music festivals? How much publicity is given to your local female artists? How many of them do you support? These are important things to be aware of. Is it the fault of individual men? No, not really. Men have been entitled and confused. I don’t excuse their behavior, but just as women were raised to accept victimization, men were raised to be the perpetrators. Rather than demonizing men, we need to embrace and support them in trying to change. We need to speak out and stand up for ourselves and other women. Women have been taught to undermine each other. There was a time when our entire purpose was to find a husband. It was very competitive. But, we don’t need to behave that way anymore. We need to be allies to each other, helping each other out. If we give each other tips to get ahead, it helps us all. The more women there are in leadership roles, the more changes will happen for all women. The more women musicians perform, the easier it will be for all of us to get those gigs. The more we share our knowledge, the more knowledge we will all have. It is a double-sided coin. We can’t only change the way we want men to act towards us. We need to raise our own expectations, find our voices and support each other fully.
In that spirit, I have joined forces with another local female musician to start a local group for women musicians called WAMM (Women Are Making Music). The purpose of WAMM is to promote the professional development of female solo artists or women-led ensembles by providing education, networking and performance opportunities which embrace diverse perspectives and genres of women’s voices in music. We hope to have a series of concerts featuring women and woman led groups combined with networking opportunities and speakers sharing their knowledge about music related topics. In this way, we hope to strengthen the presence of women in the local music community and make us all more capable as individuals. The first concert will be an Open Mic at The Low Beat (335 Central, Albany, NY 12206) on Sunday, March 25th from 4:30 - 7:30 pm. I can't wait to meet and mingle with a variety of talented women in my community.
My long anticipated music video is finally finished. And, it was quite a journey. I used to feel very uncomfortable in front of a camera and avoided having photos taken, though I enjoyed being the photographer. Eventually, I became more comfortable with it. Then it was time to start doing videos. Standing in front of a green screen being filmed doing what seemed like ridiculous things was excruciating at first. When I was standing there on a rickety little lazy susan waving my arms around, I thought, "This guy is out of his mind. What could he possibly use this footage for?" It was even worse when I actually viewed it by itself. I even made him promise that I could have final say about what got used. Then, when I saw it, I was awed. All of those silly little pieces fit together into a cohesive video. Now it's out in the world. Of course, I want as many people to see it as possible, so the fun part is over, and the real work begins.
So, what was the fun part anyway? Well, writing the song was certainly fun. I started writing it the first winter I lived up here in the mountains. I was working a couple of evenings a week and had a 45 minute (or more, depending on the weather) drive home. Most of my original music comes to me when I'm driving, but thankfully, not all of it. As I drove down I-787 heading north, I saw the reflection of the moon on the Hudson River. Then, I started noticing that the constellation Orion was ahead of me the whole way. That has always been my favorite constellation and has shown up in some of my other songs as well. When I was traveling back and forth from coast to coast, it was often in the night sky, leading my way. I'm not very fond of his story, but he's so recognizable, he's usually one of the first constellations identified. Finally, because I was looking forward to being home with my new honey, it quickly became a love song.
The next fun part was arranging it and deciding on the musicians. I went back and forth about the instrumentation and finally decided that oboe and banjo would lend a beautiful ambiance and would blend nicely with mountain dulcimer. Finally, the song definitely needed electric guitar and a good solid bass. I was able to convince my friends to help me out, and they came up to the studio a couple at a time to do the recording. Big thanks go to Bob Donald (guitar), Brenda Fisher (bass guitar), Susan Gierthy (oboe) and Terri Lukačko (banjo). And, I can't forget Joel Patterson (recording engineer and videographer) who also created and produced the video.
Most of the filming was fun, too. We went to many sites including Hogback Mountain in Vermont and an abandoned log cabin in Stephentown. The log cabin was located on a busy highway with no place to park, so our neighbor dropped us off ready to whisk us away quickly, if necessary. Hence the "getaway car." I was amazed at the hours of filming it took to make a 5 minute video. And the process baffled me. But, I am so pleased with the outcome. Now on to the next project.
It's winter, a time of reflection and hibernation. After the death of my second partner just before my former husband's birthday in early November, I was lost in thought and wondered when I would find my way back out. I let myself go on that journey and learned a lot about myself. In looking through my stash of journals waiting to be written in, I stumbled across this quote today by Edith Sitwell (September 7, 1887 - December 9, 1964). "Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a table by the fire. It is the time for home."
I had never heard of Edith Sitwell until today, so when I found this quote, which resonated so deeply in me, I looked her up and found that I resonated with her as well. She felt unloved by her parents and, as a result of that and their abuse, had a stormy relationship with them, as did I with my own parents. She was encased in a metal back brace due to a diagnosed deformity. I have Kyphoscoliosis and spent four years in a brand new High School, knowing no one, encased in a steel and leather brace, taunted and bullied by many of my classmates and ostracized by most of the rest. Although, my experience was difficult at best, hers was far worse. Frida Kahlo, another woman that I admire and feel a connection to, also wore a back brace after a trolley accident and lived the rest of her life in pain. Like her, I have had to deal with pain of varying degrees for my entire adult life. These things have a profound effect on who we become.
Both of these women were emotionally guarded and thought to be stuck-up. Both were in the public eye and often criticized. I'm sure that part of that was due to the fact that they were very strong women, and that often scares people, but a lot of it was due to their eccentricity. They both had a public life and very different private life. I spent most of my life being brutally shy because I was afraid. However, my performing self is not at all shy. I have always been able to sing with much feeling and with little awareness of my surroundings while I sing. I get completely lost in my music. This makes a lot of sense when you realize that, growing up, music was my shield. No one ever bothered me when I was making music. I was safe and could be in touch with all of the raging emotions held locked inside. I think that music making may be my superpower.
I've been wondering lately how many of us keep our early lives hidden away. I've kept mine mostly hidden except for a handful of close friends. But, even those friends don't know the extent of the abuse I dealt with in my earlier life. And, my life continued to be hard in too many varied ways up until just a few years ago. A couple of times, in very specific circumstances, I shared a few of the disasters that befell me and noticed the listener's eyes start to glaze over. I realized that, as hard as it was to survive those things, it's also hard for people who have not experienced great difficulty to listen to the recap. So, I resigned myself to keeping my secrets to myself. But lately, I've been questioning the wisdom of that decision. I don't have many close friends but a multitude of acquaintances. I wonder if that's because people don't really know me or if I'm still wearing my "suit of armor." This past summer, at Summersongs East, I took a class on "Shadow Songs" led by a songwriter who makes his living as a psychologist. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it but decided to give it a try. In psychology “shadow” is a Jungian term referring to unknown, unsaid or unwanted aspects of the self. (Dr. Steven Prasinos) The song I wrote was "My Suit of Armor." I have never played in public, and probably never will, but it certainly gave me food for thought. What are your secrets, and who do you share them with?