Sunday, March 24, 2013

Charles Clymer, Feminist and Superhero

Five for Fighting, "Superman"

The recent upsurge in Hollywood films featuring comic book superheroes indicates to me that the world is looking for a hero. I suppose that within all of us the potential for a superhero exists. For most of us our inner superhero is pretty dormant. Life is pretty comfortable, there is no need to put on that red cape and besides the latex suit is getting “kinda tight”. Then there are those whose inner superhero is awake and watchful. Like most renowned superheroes they were shaped by a traumatic misfortune which leads them to save others from the same fate. Charles Clymer’s inner superhero is wide-awake.

Early this year I discovered a Facebook Page called Equality for Women and began following it. Its posts would appear in my feed daily and I found myself nodding in agreement with each post. One day I realized that the posts were made by someone named, “Charles”. I found it interesting that a man would be the administrator of a women’s equality page but didn’t give it much thought except to concoct an image in my mind of a sixty year old man who took early retirement. I imagined Charles to be at home wearing sweaters from the closet of Mr. Rogers, blogging while his high-powered wife went off to work each day. I liked the idea that he might have grown-up daughters who were scattered around the earth doing work that lifted people from oppression but only after having accomplished the task of swimming upstream through male dominated fields of study. One day I scanned over the Equality for Women page looking for a photo of that perfect 60 year old dreamboat, and found a photo of 26 year old Charles. It was then that I knew that I needed to know how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit.

I twittered Charles to ask him if I could interview him for my blog. He responded that he would happily participate but asked that the interview take place through messaging. I rolled my eyes and silently contemplated how a future of tech savvy societies would carry on through their entire lives without any spoken conversation. I responded by agreeing to his terms and providing my mobile number- just in case. That evening on my way to pick up my son from soccer I received a call from an articulate, youthful voice that belonged to Charles.

I started by asking Charles how he became interested in advocating for women. He began by explaining that as a West Point “Plebe” (a first year student at a military academy) he’d seen women cadets endure demeaning behaviors that sickened him. In reality Charles’ path to advocacy began long before his days at West Point and the more that I learned about him the more I realized how remarkable his journey has been.

 Charles described himself as a poor white kid living in a trailer park in Texas. His mother and father divorced before Charles was 3 years old. Charles' mother took custody of Charles. He described a mother who didn’t have the bandwidth to recognize the need to provide him with clean clothes for school or the basic school supplies to begin the school year. He told me a story of leaving his backpack on the floor of the trailer. The dog lifted his leg on the young boy’s backpack, saturating it with the distinct odor of dog urine. Rather than trying to wash it or finding an alternative to the soiled backpack, his mother did nothing. Charles, out of necessity continued to carry the backpack.  I didn’t have to ask Charles to imagine that his situation might have placed him on the bottom of the schoolyard food-chain which offered him a view of the world from a place of repression. He said it was his female teachers that saw a bright articulate child full of potential and took him under their wings. It’s not hard to conceive of the idea that this is where his desire to protect others was born.

Unfortunately, there is more to this story and this knowledge makes my hands tremble and tears sting my eyes as I search my mind for the words to share with you. Charles was sexually abused by his mother from age 3 to age 13.  I don’t care to share details about this situation as it adds nothing to the story of Charles Clymer, the advocate for women’s equality. The facts of this matter however, add another layer of just how remarkable Charles Clymer is. Charles made the journey from impoverished Texas trailer park to West Point cadet to women’s right advocate. Nothing about this kid is average.

I acknowledge that Charles is not the only person to endure the horror of sexual abuse at the hands of a parent. Unfortunately that unnatural act seems to occur with more frequency than we would like to imagine. It’s just that it’s not difficult to imagine the path that Charles could have taken. He could have used his experience to become angry and hateful. He could have used his experience to justify a life of crime. He might have allowed himself to become an abuser of women or worse a rapist. He didn’t. He used his experience to protect and uplift others.

I asked Charles what he feels when he witnesses discrimination or violence toward women. He described something akin to the “Fight or Flight”, that primal instinct that we all have that kicks in when we are in danger. Charles described a sort of unease and anger that manifests in the need to step in and rescue. Although the main focus of Charles efforts is equality for women, Charles is also an advocate for racial discrimination and for gay rights.  His desire is to pursue a career that promotes equality.

My 9 year old son plays competitive soccer and the parents of the players make a huge commitment of their time to be taxi drivers and in attendance at each game. We all do a good job of encouraging one another’s kids. Occasionally one of our children has to play without his parent there to serve as a cheerleader. When that parentless child starts to wear the face of fatigue or loss of hope it always seems to be the voice of a mother who hollers out the words that helps that kid dig just a little bit deeper. 

Charles Clymer is a superhero for women’s equality. Many of us live with notable privilege, freedom and safety. We are comfortable. Meanwhile there are superheroes who are watching out for us, fighting battles and securing our safety. But please remember even superheroes need cheerleaders. They need to hear that voice from the sidelines calling to them to keep going, to keep digging deeper.

Please show your support for Charles by joining his cause on Facebook (, Twitter,  (Charles Clymer@cmclymer) or by reading his blog (

Thursday, March 21, 2013

PROM TIME, Tis the season for Alcohol, Drugs and Sex

My 16 year old daughter is preparing for her Junior Prom. Almost daily she mentions something related to prom. She talks about looking for a dress. She talks about shoes and asks me what she might so with her hair. It is exciting stuff and frankly besides the ridiculous price of all the items that she intends to purchase for one night, I can’t help but think about the fact that she will almost undoubtedly be exposed to a few things like, alcohol, drugs and sex.

I admit it, I probably would not be as vigilant to these concerns if not for the well-publicized Steubenville rape case but I think it was a true to life example of how high school students party in small town USA. I also have to admit that it is not too terribly different from how small town USA partied when I was a teen except now kids have the Jersey Shore folks and The Kardashians as role models. 

As a parent I can convince myself that my kid is going to make the right choices.  I carried them in my body. They are the same little people whose soft skin brushed against my cheek and whose sweet breath I inhaled euphorically. The reality is that my teen is an individual who desperately wants to experience the world independently. If she weren’t, I’d be worried. As she prepares to enter into the world I can only provide her with candid information, failing to do so would be a disservice to her. I cannot control the decisions that my daughter will make but I can talk to my daughter early and often.

 These are the things I will discuss with her:

1.) Your father and I will be willing to pay for a portion of a limousine service on the night of the prom. This is not so that you and your friends can pretend that you are the Kardashians but because we want to know that the person that is driving for the evening will be safe and sober.  The limo service will not allow minors to consume alcohol while you are passengers. We can opt for a package that offers sparkling cider and unlimited soda if you like.

2.) I will assume that alcohol and drugs will be offered to you at some point in the evening. If you consume alcohol or drugs you are surrendering your control.  You will be compromising your decision making process. I promise you that no matter how much you trust your friends, if they drink they too make the decision to drink they will not be available to “look after you”.  They might even make drunken decisions that could harm you.

3.) Teenage boys want to have sex and they are usually not very good at it. They also are not very selective.  When boys have casual sex some people view it as normal. Unfortunately, when a young woman has casual sex she is viewed as cheap. It’s ridiculous but it’s true.  I would prefer that you abstain from having sex at this time but I would rather you were safe than sorry. If you make the decision to have sex at least use a condom.  I also want to remind you that, “NO” means “NO”.  You have the right to say, “No” in any circumstance. It doesn’t matter how much you have had to drink, if you have consumed drugs, what you are wearing or if you are completely naked. NO means NO!

4.) If you see someone who seems like they are too drunk or out of it, ask for help. Do not leave them, unless it places you in danger.  Unfortunately there are people who will take advantage of a person in that position. Find an adult that you trust or call the police. If you are unsure, call me.

5.) I am more concerned about your safety and well-being than any trouble that you might get in. If you make the decision to drink or take drugs I will not approve but it will not change my love for you. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, out of control or afraid, call me. I’m there.

These are the things that I hope you will discuss with your son:

1.) Drinking and driving is unacceptable.  Drunk drivers can kill people.  If you drink and drive you are risking all of the lives in your car and those on the road.  If you ride with someone who has been drinking you are placing yourself in extreme danger.  Please call us (your parents) if you find yourself in a situation in which you cannot drive because you have been drinking or if you are a passenger in a car in which the driver has been drinking. I can deal with the knowledge that you drank illegally, I cannot deal with losing you to a senseless act.

2.) You will almost certainly be offered drugs or alcohol. I hope that you will have the sense to abstain. If you choose to drink or take drugs I want you to understand that decisions made under the influence are skewed. Sometimes people do things they might not normally do and those things can change your life forever. Please think about what I am saying to you and please remember that more than anything we love you and want you and your friends to be safe. If you need me, please call me.

3.) Having the desire to have sex is the most natural thing in the world but it really is something that should be respectful and should happen between two consenting, mature people. Expecting to have sex with someone that you barely know isn’t respectful of you or the other person.  Having sex with someone who is drunk, under the influence of drugs or who is unconscious is rape. Furthermore if a person says, “NO”, they mean, “NO”.  Having sex doesn’t make you a man.  The decision to have sex should be discussed, well thought out, safe and most importantly consensual. If you make the decision to have sex, please use a condom. Remember, NO means NO.

4.) If you see someone who is drunk or out of control find an adult you trust to help them. Do not leave them alone. If you see someone being sexually inappropriate with someone who is under the influence or who is rejecting the advances, intervene if it is safe to do so or get help. Do not walk away and pretend you didn’t see it. Do not take pictures. Do not take video and post it on the internet. It is against the law to do so.

5.) Your life is just beginning and there is so much in store for you. You truly have a lifetime to experience all of the things that seem so important right now. Many of the temptations that you are facing are really much more enjoyable as you experience them with more maturity. But please know that I love you and nothing will change that. If you make the wrong decision and find yourself in a situation that is dangerous, please call me.

 If your child is old enough to go to prom they are just short years away from entering into a world full of obstacles. If you aren’t having honest forthright conversations right now, your kid is starting their journey without any sort of map. Please, don’t assume that they know their way. 

 Undoubtedly playing at your nearest prom:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Could You Have Prevented The Steubenville Rape?

Today I read that 17 year old, Trent Mays and 16 year old Ma'lik Richmond were found guilty of raping a 16 year old drunk girl in Steubenville Ohio. Each boy was sentenced to the minimum sentence of one year in a youth facility. Mays was given an additional year for transmitting nude photos. For a few minutes as I looked over the photos of the sobbing boys I felt something that felt like sadness for the rapists. I realize that their victim will live with the disgusting way that she was violated for the rest of her life but these boys who brazenly carried out the revolting acts of abuse against an unconscious girl were victims too. They were victims of a society that demonstrates that such abuses go unpunished, a society that teaches young men that humiliating women is funny, that drunk girls are fair prey and that if you are an athlete there are coaches, school administrators and even entire towns that will rally behind you.

The details of the rape shared by the media offer me the perception that those boys carried out their crimes like little demigods, completely unafraid of any consequences even as photos and videos were taken and put on the internet. They stood before the court and tearfully made apologies to the victim, their parents and their coaches and I have to ask myself if they are really even capable of fully understanding the depth of the crime they committed against heir victim.

I wonder if after this sentencing, coaches will start having conversations with athletes about gender equality. I wonder if schools will implement zero tolerance policies for student athletes involved in sexual violence. I wonder if mothers and fathers will have conversations with their children about what to do if they see another child drinking, vomiting and vulnerable. I wonder if parents will start conversations about sex, rape and respect. I wonder if ministers and youth leaders will recognize their responsibility to talk to kids about the relationship between religion and equality. I wonder if people will realize that rape jokes, and stories that demean women lead young men like Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond to a lifetime on the sex offender registry. I know that no one wants to bear this responsibility but the truth is that Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond didn’t get where they did on their own, a lot of people helped them get there. The question is,"Who is going to protect other kids from the same fate?". Are you?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Letter to The New Pope or Just Click Your Heals 3 Times

Most Holy Father, 

Yesterday when the white smoke signaled to the world that a New Pope had been chosen I allowed myself a few optimistic thoughts. I am not Catholic and frankly in the last 20 years or so I have turned my back to all religion. When that white smoke began to billow I felt hopeful for the influence that the Church has on today’s world. I felt hope for those who desire a community of faith. I felt optimism for those who want to believe in a divine and fatherly entity that connects themselves to you. For a moment I actually allowed myself to want a faith system that I can share with my family, one that binds us together in a foundation of love. I wanted that “something” to turn to when my child is troubled and when or if my marriage falters. For a brief few moments yesterday I allowed myself to believe that by some beautiful miracle, the Catholic Church might begin to represent something that I can believe in. 

 I’ve begun to see religion more as a tool of manipulation than as a guide for life. In my mind, the Catholic Church that my mother held so dear began to represent an old male dominated entity that refused to acknowledge a changing world and remained anchored to beliefs that holds me as a woman in a position that is less than a man. The Catholic Church seemingly has refused to recognize my gay brothers and sisters although homosexuality has existed since the beginning of civilization. Perhaps most repellant of all is that at the Papal level, the church has seemingly ignored and avoided discussion on the sexual abuses that that have taken place at the hands of priests. It is devastating to believe that the church has failed to protect the most vulnerable of us all, our children.

It is my understanding that the membership in the Catholic Church is in decline, Your Holiness. Certainly it is no secret that people feel a “disconnect” from the church. It appears that the “powers that be” that have chosen you for your new role have looked into what you bring to the Vatican. You are not a European Pope, you will ignite excitement in Latin America and perhaps the financially emerging Latin America offers another obvious benefit. Some might perceive this choice as opportunistic, a chess move to gain power, not an attempt to gain a more spiritual connection to its followers. 

I’ve asked myself if the rigid dogma held by the Catholic Church is maintained in the belief that any flexibility might weaken its foundations. Like an unyieldingly strict parent who censors information their child receives, the Church leaves its followers unprepared for the challenges of real life. Some of your children are floundering in a world for which they are not prepared because the guidance that the Church has offered doesn’t apply to the world in which they live. 

This morning as the curtains were pulled back and the daylight streamed in, those dewy fantasies that I’d had yesterday evaporated. I laughed at my own childish idealism that is rooted in my na├»ve rural Kansas girl beginnings. It’s funny how even as a cynical adult, I too can get pulled into the excitement and begin to believe that a golden kingdom so far away from the life I know has a powerful man who can implement change.

Yours Truly,