Monthly Archives: May 2013
I am [sort of] Woman, Hear Me Roar: How I became a Feminist, from my Grandmothers to “Meeting” Andrea Dworkin
By Tyler Schrichte
“Tremble, great enemy, for you now lie under the foot of a woman.”
– St. Margaret of Antioch, included in Dworkin’s Intercourse
Believe it or not, I was not born a feminist. I did not come forth from my mother’s womb espousing tales of how men use intercourse to oppress women; I did not analyze why it was not socially acceptable for me to be enthused over dolls and beauty; and I certainly did not consider the gendered implications of Disney movies. Feminism was something that grew inside of me, like a finely-pruned bonsai; it would later burst forth from inside, making the seemingly-angry radical you may be familiar with today. The seeds were planted by women; great and powerful women who raised me: my grandmothers, my aunt, and my mother. In my childhood, I was always around women who had such great strength, I often wondered how they raised me, held down a job, and kept the house clean. I was upset when people would suggest women couldn’t do anything meaningful; I must disagree, sir (it was usually a sir). I’ve seen them do it all! What have you done? Have a beer and contribute nothing? Dictate what is appropriate for others to do? I hated this. I hated men. However, let’s be clear, feminism is not about hating men. I am just an individual feminist who happens not to be the biggest fan of men, collectively. Perpetuating stereotypes is the last thing I want to do; this is a feminist essay, for god’s sake! Please don’t miss the point.
Looking back on my childhood and my “younger” years, if you will indulge that kind of rhetoric, I suppose I was a feminist from about the age of four, maybe five. My earliest “feminist” memory is that for as long as I can remember, I always worshiped powerful women in the television shows I watched. I worshiped the pink Power Ranger when I was young; I loved that a woman who was quite literally kicking ass was finally represented on television, and it made me realize that no matter how many times it was suggested that women couldn’t do anything, I’d think “What about Kimberly, the Pink Power Ranger? She could probably kick your ass!”
That was my feminist thought in its infancy, not yet put into practice. I truly think, however, that my love of strong women characters really kicked off when I started watching Sailor Moon. It came on in the afternoons, after I’d gotten home from school for the day. It was my afternoon treat: women standing up for themselves, and showing young girls that they could be strong and fight for justice too; that strength and substance wasn’t a just a boys club, no matter how much popular culture would have you believe that it is.
These fictional characters which I loved so much were really the best form of escapism I can imagine, as my childhood was not really a normal one, nor was it all sunshine and rainbows either. My earliest memories are of my parents, before they divorced when I was three or four. My father had a very bad methamphetamine problem, and while he never was physically violent (to my mother and I anyways) he would go on insane and frightening tirades due to the drug-induced paranoia. I saw how this affected my mother, and I realized that men had the power to do this sort of thing, physically and socially. I wondered how many other mommies had to go through things like this. I won’t lie, either: after my mother left my father, things didn’t really get better. She had a string of…let’s just say not so pleasant…boyfriends, but I never really had to stay around them that much, and I have my grandmothers to thank for that. My parents’ mothers are the best people in my life; they truly are my favorite women. Whenever something bad would happen, they would always swoop in and save me from it, if at all humanly possible. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly repay them for all they’ve done for me, but I hope I can do something equally as significant for them someday.
Eventually, my mother settled on a man whom she would marry, and that is probably the single worst thing that has ever happened to me and to her. This man, who does not even deserve to be referred to by name, as he is not human, was the worst. He seemed innocuous enough at first, just your “typical” male. However, it wasn’t long before the true and evil nature of this man came to the surface. He was a drug pusher, user, and addict. I don’t mean just one, either. It was pretty much all of them. No joke! He coerced my mother into using intravenously, and he used this to keep her weak. This wasn’t enough: for every perceived mistake, every slight “mistake,” just…everything, it didn’t matter the reason, he would beat my already weakened mother, and this was something I had to witness, for a long time. I’m not telling you this for pity; I’m telling you this because this happens to women all over the world, all day, every day. Statistically, a woman’s own home is the most dangerous place for her. A woman is more likely to be killed in her own home than anywhere else, and I know this is true. I know this is true because I’ve lived it. I know this is true because I had to hide in the closet while it was going on. I know this is true because I had to make up some colorful tale of why my mother looked like she had just lost a pro boxing match. I know this is true because it went on for four years, and I know this is true because even calling the police never stopped it. Now, I don’t want you to think there isn’t a bright spot in all this darkness, there is, I promise, and I’ll never, ever forget the day it happened. Notice I said day, not date. This was sometime in 2003, around late fall or early winter, and I know for a fact it was a Sunday evening. I have a grandmother, my father’s mother. Her name is Anita, and she saved me from everything. Every weekend, I would go to her house to escape the turmoil in the house where I did live. Well, one weekend I’d simply had enough; I was tired of being around junkies; I was sick to death of being verbally abused by a male on a daily basis; and I was sick and tired of seeing my mother either beaten up, in an opioid-induced haze, or in some cases both of those things were true.
One night, I remember it being clear and slightly windy, my grandmother pulled up to the apartment where I lived with my mother, and I simply refused to exit the car. My mother was called out to remedy the situation, but I have her stubbornness, and refused to budge an inch. Enough was enough, and I knew I couldn’t help my mother out of this situation unless I got out of it myself. Of course, this was met with resistance: my mother didn’t want to be separated from me, and my grandmother expressed concerns regarding not being able to balance myself and her job, but I stood my ground, and I have lived with my grandmother, Anita ever since, and let me tell you what this woman has done for me, and what she still continues to do for me today:
Since she lived in a different school district than the one I was in when I left my mother, she drove me back and forth, thirty minutes each way, every weekday so I wouldn’t have to switch schools. She did this while still making it to work by eight in the morning. She selflessly agreed to essentially raise a child for the second time. She tolerated my outrageous teenaged behavior, even when it was at its very worst. She put up with me when I was at literal rock bottom: when I was sixteen and very badly addicted to OTC cold medicine and chemical inhalants, among other things. She continues to help me financially, and if it weren’t for her help, I don’t know if I would be here at this university writing this essay right now. In fact, I can almost guarantee that I would not be here today if I had stayed with my mother. She has been the only stable and consistent person in my life; she gives the best advice out of anyone I know; she is always there for me when I need to talk about something, or just simply to vent. She was insistent that I would not end up like my parents, and always pushed me to study hard and do well in school. A list of the things this wonderful woman has done for me could take up this entire essay, but I believe I’ve made my point quite well. If it weren’t for my grandmother, Anita McCawley, I would not and could not be the person I am today, and I cannot express my gratitude to her in words, as she literally gave me my life. I cringe at the thought of what would have happened to me without her, and I vow to one day be able to repay her for all the kindness and love she has shown me.
To continue with this conversation of great women who influenced me, I’d like to tell you all about my hero, Andrea Dworkin. I was introduced to Andrea Dworkin and her work when I took Philosophies of Feminism here at ETSU. The selection I read was “Occupation/Collaboration,” which is chapter seven of her book titled “Intercourse,” I cannot describe the ephemeral surge of enlightenment that coursed through my veins, as I read every word; I devoured it; it produced a great hunger within me, and I had that moment. “This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for my entire life, and I didn’t even know it. I need this,” I thought as I put down the packet of scanned pages, crumpled from me clenching them and absolutely drenched in ink from my notations. I had to have more; I needed Andrea Dworkin to be a part of my life. I rushed to the first computer I saw and looked at her Wikipedia page. To my dismay, I saw that Andrea Dworkin had passed April 9, 2005. She passed away seven whole years before I discovered her work. To me, this is an injustice of cosmic proportions. Andrea was only fifty-eight when she passed, and I would give anything to have her still be here today. I weep because she was taken so soon. I weep because I will never meet her, and I weep because I will never see her speak. Most of all, I weep because she could still be here today. Fortunately, however, a handful of wonderful people preserved the audio recordings of her speeches, and to my surprise, there were several. For the past six or seven months, and even as I write this, I listen to those speeches. I listen to her passion; her eloquence, and the absolute sobering effect the speeches she gave had on me. I soaked up every word, and tears flowed down my face as every word, every passionate and powerful syllable struck my ear. Andrea Dworkin is most well known for her anti-pornography activism, but Andrea was a writer first and foremost, and she is a damn good writer. I cherish all of the books I have that are written by her, and in fact refer to Intercourse as “my feminist bible,” and in fact on the back of the edition of “Pornography: Men Possessing Women” that I own, there is a quote from Gloria Steinem, which makes my deeming of Dworkin’s literature a feminist bible all the more appropriate, the quote reads:
“If we were to have an Old Testament prophet for feminists, it would be Andrea. But even that is not a good comparison, because she offers not just a voice of anger and justice, but also of compassion and redemption,” –Gloria Steinem
I could not agree more with this statement. Reading Dworkin’s books of feminist theory gave me the foundation for all of my feminist stances, and Andrea Dworkin is another wonderful woman I owe a great deal of gratitude for shaping me into the person I am today. Although I’ll never be able to express this gratitude directly, I vow to crusade in Andrea Dworkin’s name in all of my feminist activism; my vow is to become this generation’s Andrea Dworkin, because I believe she was the first to name the problems of pornography and the sexual violence it produces, but discussing that is another essay entirely. In short, I am endlessly thankful to Dworkin and the work she did; she is my feminist prophet, and when I am teaching feminist theory classes myself one day, I will make sure all of my students know her, because Andrea Dworkin should be a household name. Thank you, Andrea Dworkin, I will always remember you.
So, why am I a feminist? I’m a feminist because my mother was beaten and she was told she shouldn’t make the man who beat her upset. I’m a feminist because I have seen violence against women firsthand. I’m a feminist because I watched my mother be kept prisoner. I’m a feminist because my grandmother told me she was deliberately left out at her job because she was a woman. I’m a feminist because I’ve experienced more homophobia than I can possibly list. I’m a feminist because I’ve heard too many stories of violence against women; some of those stories involving people who I am close friends with. I’m a feminist because I’ve heard of too many instances of women being coerced into sexual intercourse. I am a feminist because I want to fight for the rights of my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, my friends, and for all women to live in a world that is free from violence, objectification, and sexual coercion. I’m a feminist because I never want another woman to experience what my own mother experienced. I’m a feminist because no child should have to bear witness to their mother’s daily beatings. Most of all, I am a feminist because I have seen the oppression of women up close and personal, and I swear to you I am hell-bent on stopping it. I’m a feminist because it is the right thing to do, and I am a feminist because I believe it is the right of every human being, regardless of race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, body type, national origin, or anything else, to live in a world that is free from violence and discrimination. I am a feminist because the hate needs to stop; I am feminist because I want to make the hate stop. This is what I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to, and I never have been so passionate about something before. I’m a feminist because I know women suffer, and most importantly of all, I am a feminist because I am full of love, even though I may seem cold, I am full to the brim with love, and I want to make sure every woman knows there is love, there is hope, and despite the darkness that seems to overwhelm us at times, there are those who are fighting to make it better. We can make it better, and that’s what I’m here to do.
ETSUCon was this past Saturday and I’m very pleased to say that it was a success on many levels. It was my first convention experience, and in my opinion it couldn’t have been better. I had heard convention horror stories of cranky cosplayers cramped and cornered, and of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching of women who, admirably and painstakingly, created perfect facsimiles of the iconic outfits of their favorite characters (which are often portrayed in a hypersexualized way) only to be treated with disrespect. I have to admit I was worried about this prospect myself, since I went dressed as Lara Croft, one of the most well-known and infamously objectified characters of all time, especially since Lara Croft cosplayers have notoriously been harassed at cons in the past.
My version of Lara was from the newest game in the franchise in which she is portrayed in a much more realistic way, with a bit more practical clothing choice, but it’s important to remember that convention harassment typically happens regardless of how women are dressed or how conservative the attire of the characters that they dress up as are. To place the blame for sexual harassment on a woman for the clothes she is wearing as if it were an invitation to violate her personal space and safety, is to engage in sexist slut shaming and victim blaming. This sort of thing is also sadly common as a means to justify inappropriate behavior in a society with a horrifying rape culture.
At ETSUCon, however, I am proud to say that I felt quite safe and respected by the convention goers. Those in charge of the event had a firm grasp on things and exhibited adept organizational ability. The attendees, at least in my experience, were quite respectful of personal boundaries when engaging with me or asking to have their pictures taken with me. I didn’t feel ogled or vulnerable, and I was personally not made uncomfortable by anyone at any time. I would hope that my experience is reflective of the whole, but I obviously can’t speak for every attendee. All of the feedback that I have heard thus far has been incredibly positive.
Speaking of feedback, the feedback that I received about our two feminist gaming panels at ETSUCon, “Feminerds Unite!” and “Sexism in Video Games” has also been incredible and makes me feel extremely proud of all the panelists (Caroline Locke, Women’s Studies student and panel organizer for “Feminerds Unite!”, Jon Shell, Chloe Conner), and also a sense of pride and accomplishment myself for participating in both panels. I also want to give a shout-out to my Feminerds Unite! co-panelists mentioned above, who did a remarkable job (Caroline did an amazing job in particular with the panel organization and moderation), and my Sexism in Video Game co-panelists and good friends Jennifer Culp, Cameron Kunzelman and Samantha Allen. Their insight was powerful and brilliant, and I think that it’s a safe bet that not only are our attendees now more informed about the prevalence of sexism within the “nerd” community, but they feel more empowered to confront it and shape a positive, inclusive community where no one need feel threatened for their identity.
All in all, it was one of the best weekends of my life, and on a personal note it was rather interesting to see what people unfamiliar with the ETSU campus found appealing or interesting – Cameron and Samantha were particularly enthusiastic about how awesome our spinning globes in front of Gilbreath and Burgin Dossett are. They also found endless enjoyment in the name of the company that owns the bookstore, Neebo. My good friend Frederic Poag also deserves a lot of recognition for the admirable job that he did. He ran around the entire day making sure that everything went on as planned, personally assisting myself and my panelists to get ready for our panels and to get to where we needed to be. The panels both had a wonderful turnout and the crowd provided some awesome questions for us to answer. I hope to have audio of the panel up in the next few days.
The first annual ETSUCon was an experience that I feel privileged to have been part of. I cannot express enough how happy I am to have had the conversations that we did, or to have seen the way in which our audiences reacted to our message. It gives me hope not only for the future of this convention, which has a strong foundation on which to build, but also for our society, seeing these enthusiastic young leaders in the fight against oppression right here in Johnson City. We may not be known for very much, but rest assured, these gamers are not to be taken lightly.
Other special thanks to my friends Justin Mitchell for moderating the Sexism in Gaming Panel, my friends and adopted kin Joseph Culp and Haein Lee, Ben Schaller for all of his personal support and encouragement, and everyone in attendance at ETSUCon for such a great time.
You can find photos of both panels in this album on our facebook page.
Until next year, as Lara Croft would say, “Just Keep Moving”.