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Gabrielle Union, Angela Rye, Lisa Ling lead town hall at NC A&T

Union: ‘We have to be brutally honest about what it is, what we live up to’

Beyoncé’s “Run the World” provided the biggest hint on how the night would go down to the capacity crowd at North Carolina A&T University. Bey’s 2011 ladies anthem played on a loop from 5:15 p.m., when the lines wrapped around Harrison Auditorium started moving, until 6:09, when NC A&T alumnus and town hall moderator Danya Bacchus riled up the crowd with chants of “AGGIE PRIDE!”

When CNN correspondent Lisa Ling, political strategist Angela Rye and actress and advocate Gabrielle Union took the stage, with Union getting the biggest ovation when she flashed her phone for an audience selfie, there was an openness to the conversation about some serious issues affecting women.

“Balance is a farce,” Union said when asked about how she keeps it together as a mother-wife-actress-social advocate.

“Women are supposed to be everything — a freak in the bedroom and a chef, too, apparently, with your own luxurious hair,” she went on, throwing her hair off her shoulders. “Let people off the hook. Stop expecting what’s not realistic.”

Thus the tone and feel was set for this Chancellor’s Town Hall, which covered a range of topics affecting women, including health and welfare, success, safety and survival, as well as the devaluing of women in pop culture.

Courtesy of North Carolina A&T

When asked about social media, Union, who had the largest following of the women on the panel, didn’t hold back.

“Nothing that you see is real,” said the star of BET’s Being Mary Jane, who is married to Chicago Bulls star Dwyane Wade. “There’s all sorts of things you can do to doctor photos, so what you think you’re comparing yourself to doesn’t actually exist. What’s making you anxious is a farce. The cars you see … those are leased, at best. The homes — rented. So many people I came up with in the industry are in bankruptcy. I left college in debt, mainly because I used my student loan money at the mall. So we have to be brutally honest about what it is, what we live up to.”

Ling, the former co-host of ABC’s The View who is currently the executive producer and host of This is Life on CNN, agreed. “Your social media profile is the life you want people to believe you live,” she said. “At a certain point as a mother, it scares me. Take a break from it. We are communicating with each other so much less that it’s starting to affect us a culture.

“You’re at a dinner party with friends watching other people’s life on Facebook — what does that say about your life? I’m as addicted to social media as anyone, but I sometimes feel bad to look at other people’s life because they’re posting seemingly perfect images of their life that isn’t reflective of their life.”

Of all the panelists, Rye kept it the realest, confessing:

“I know I’m sometimes too open and transparent. As women, I would say it’s important to have certain people around you who you can be honest with. What you realize is there is too much to bear. It’s not mine to carry alone. We’re not in this alone, even when we feel like that. Put the device down and look around, you’ll see that you’re not alone.”

Union agreed, referencing her Snapchat post at the gym earlier in the day in which she said, “I’m struggling today … I don’t have it today.”

She took a moment to explain, saying shortly after that post a tear fell down her cheek, revealing what she said was a moment: “You’re not weak for admitting that you have a mental health issue,” said Union, who mentioned that she was raped at 19, something she has spoken about many times. “It’s empowering to each other. You’re not alone. Everything you’re experiencing, we’ve all experienced it. Don’t look at the end result. Ask about the journey.”

When the topic was double standards, Ling didn’t hold back.

“Double standards exist because men are still running things, for the most part,” she said. “I don’t think it’s malicious; sometimes they just don’t see you. As an Asian woman, I was always told to be grateful and quiet. My agent has even said, ‘Let me do your negotiation because you will sell yourself short.’ ”

Rye tactfully disagreed with Ling, saying, “It may not have been malicious intent, but it was malicious impact,” she said, to audience applause. “I’m often called a race-baiter on social; the comments say I’m always playing the race card. What does that even mean? The point I’m raising is … it’s OK to call a fact a fact, but we have to ensure that we speak up. It may open a door for somebody else.”

Courtesy of North Carolina A&T

The level of honesty, and the rapport among the women, was real. Ling talked about how she had to learn to stand up for herself. Union — whose book, We’re Going To Need More Wine, is due out next month — boasted that she turns 45 next week and admitted to having seen a therapist. Rye acknowledged that she’s still a work in progress but is unabashed in her views.

Union made references to Insecure (“That’s my jam!”), recalling the episode when Molly found out that her male co-worker was making more than her. “What Molly went through,” Union said, “that’s real. It’s unfortunate that we can’t show passion for our jobs without it being held against us come evaluation time. Mastering the art of tongue … it’s not my strength, which is why Being Mary Jane has so many outbursts.”

When asked why pay disparities still exist today, Rye reminded the crowd why she’s a leading political strategist and advocate for social change. “It’s because of who runs the show,” she said. “When you hear people say, ‘black lives matter,’ they’re also saying black pay matters too. Not only do we matter, but our work is on par. Those are the types of stereotypes we can deal with. The president can say HBCUs are unconstitutional — not based on fact … ”

Rye stopped herself, as the audience groaned. “Oh, let me not go there.”

Courtesy of North Carolina A&T

When Bacchus read a statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college, it struck a chord with Union. “I was lucky because I was supported,” she said, “but it didn’t stop the question: What did you have on? But there was a rallying around me. When they say rape is the most unreported crime in the world, I can’t drive that home enough. We are in your dorms. We’re related to you. All I can say is you’re not alone. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t have it coming. You’re strong when you’re here. Strong when you’re having a breakdown. And the sooner that we recognize that, especially in communities of color, we have to give each other a break. Rape jokes should be nonexistent.”

Added Rye: “I try to put out positivity [on social]. My platform is to inform. To me, that’s empowering.”

Mark W. Wright is the director of special projects for The Undefeated. Born in England and raised in Jamaica, He sends referees running for the hills when they see the soccer dad (and Howard University alum) coming.