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 (https://www.facebook.com/Equality4Women), Twitter, (Charles Clymer@cmclymer) or by reading his blog (http://charlesclymer.blogspot.com/).