Working at Women AdvaNCe has been an eye-opening, at times challenging, ultimately rewarding experience. I started the summer eager to jump right in, energized by the prospect of working with others who share similar goals and values. More than anything, I wanted to make my mark and help affect real change. As an intern, I’ve organized fundraisers to aid in our mission of empowering women across the state, developed surveys to help our editorial cycle run more smoothly, conducted research to help educate women on policy issues, and more. I’m proud of the work I’ve done and the impact it’s made. I’ve been lucky to learn from some truly inspiring women who have been there to guide and support me every step of the way. Whether they realize it or not, they have taught me a great deal, including what I consider to be the most important lesson of all: finding—and learning to use—my voice.
Writing publicly is not something I’ve done before. I am (technically) on social media, but I rarely check my accounts or post status updates, let alone weigh in on current events and the important issues of our time. Some may mistake my lackluster online presence for apathy or perhaps think of it as lazy activism, but really it stems from a fierce desire to live in the present and spend more (actual) face time with the people around me. I’d be remiss if I did not also admit to having a certain skepticism of social media in general. There’s no denying the power of the Internet and its vast potential for good, particularly when it comes to awareness-raising, crowd-funding, and the like. Yet social media is often where nuance goes to die, misinformation spreads like wildfire, group think prevails, and allyship can be more performative than genuine. While it’s as good a place as any to get the conversation going (although I do tend to think face-to-face, in-person interaction leads to more constructive dialogue), I’m not convinced that complex, multi-causal issues can be solved over Twitter. So I hang back, hesitant to join the fray.
Working at Women AdvaNCe forced me to put such reservations aside and dive into a number of issues, ranging from women’s health and reproductive freedom to equal pay and family leave.
Some people find sharing their thoughts on such topics easy. Indeed, some find it hard not to voice their opinions. But for me, entering the public discourse on these issues was intimidating It felt like going out on a limb, especially given today’s fraught, polarized political landscape. But I also had more basic worries: What if I didn’t have anything important to say or was simply “no good?” What would people think of me? What if my opinion were to change down the road? Who did I think I was, anyway—why should people listen to me?
It was hard to find my voice, to believe in myself and trust that I had something meaningful to contribute. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how much of my fear came from me (who I am as a person, my personal preferences and proclivities) and how much could be attributed to social conditioning/gender norms. Talking to other women, I learned that I am not alone in my fear of speaking out. Far from it. We live in a culture that tells women and girls that, above all else, they must be nice, always and without exception. But how can one ever use their voice to challenge the status quo when they’re so preoccupied with not ruffling a few feathers along the way?
I’d like to say that I’ve overcome my fear and now feel fully confident speaking my mind, but honestly, I’m a work in progress. I do still worry about being misrepresented in my views. I worry about being called a “crazy feminist” and then proceed to berate myself for having that fear at all, for caring what other people think and not having the courage to say what I really believe. Maybe you’ve felt the same way. But I’ve come to the realization that in the end, people will see what they want to see. As people, we’re going to be labeled, judged, criticized, no matter what we do. So if that’s the case, we might as well put it all out there and be our most authentic selves.
It was an absolute pleasure spending the summer with such brave, intelligent women doing the work to create a more equitable world. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Women AdvaNCe and look forward to passing the torch onto the next Moxie cohort.
Brie McGhee was Women AdvaNCe’s 2019 UNC-Chapel Hill Moxie Summer Intern.
Women AdvaNCe bids Brie ado and wishes her much success!!!! Thanks for all you’ve done this summer for us, Brie!!!!!