Trigger warning for rape and abuse.
Hugo Schwyzer has been very unpopular lately.
A quick summary for those of us who don’t follow giant Internet slapfights while giggling: it started with Feministe, where the fabulous Clarisse Thorn cross-posted her interview with Hugo Schwyzer from Role/Reboot. The Feministe commenters dislike him because of his history of abuse and consent violations and because he keeps talking about feminism while being a straight white male.
Then someone (I am unsure on the timeline on this, but both Tumblr and the Feministe comment section mentioned it) brought up that Hugo Schwyzer tried to kill his girlfriend.
Feministe’s consensus was roughly “what the fuck? Why is a confessed attempted murderer allowed to comment about feminism?” Comments were closed on the thread! Clarisse Thorn wrote smart things about change and accountability! Maia wrote other smart things about change and accountability, completely disagreeing with Clarisse! Feministe issued an apology and that thread spawned a thousand comments that I don’t have time to read, but I presume that if it turns out somewhere in there that Hugo secretly murders puppies someone will tell me!
Meanwhile! Hugo Schwyzer leaves the Good Men Project because Tom Matlack wrote some pieces critical of feminism and was apparently shitty at Amanda Marcotte on Twitter! I bring this up only to note that, through all of this drama, Hugo has managed to achieve a feat no one thought he could achieve before: MRAs and radfems, masculists and feminists, standing side by side, united in their hatred for Hugo Schwyzer. It’s almost Fred-Phelpsian.
I don’t have final conclusive thoughts about any of the issues the various Schwyzer-backlashes have wrought: a lot of it is me working through the various issues myself, so I fully expect to change my mind. (I mean, more than I already fully expect to change my mind. Because I’m not a Republican presidential candidate, my positions are allowed to evolve.)
One of the core issues, I think, that both Maia and Clarisse addressed, was “what is the role of abusers in gender egalitarianism?” A full assessment of Hugo Schwyzer must include that he has done some fascinating work: his “Of Never Feeling Hot: the missing narrative of desire in the lives of straight men” was foundational to my concept of the Myth Of Men Not Being Hot and Figleaf’s Two Rules of Desire.
Similarly, one doesn’t want to make an abusive history an automatic cause of exclusion from the feminist community. Recovering abusers have things to teach us about the process of ending abuse: the psychology of abusers, the causes of abuse, the best techniques for teaching abusers how to have healthy relationships. Worse, if ostracism is the consequence of admitting abuse, recovering abusers will be less likely to come forward, which will make it far more difficult to take precautions to make a safer space; survivors may even feel even more pressure not to say who abused them, because they don’t want to lose their abusers from the movement.
On the other hand, I believe firmly in the feminist community as a safe space for survivors of rape and abuse; I’ve tried my hardest (although I have failed before and will fail again) to make NSWATM a space with zero tolerance for victim-blaming bullshit. Given what we know of the abuse-apology cycle and the recidivism rate of abusers, is it really the message we want to send to have a former abuser as a major spokesperson of the movement? Maia discusses in her article– and is quite right about– the horrific pressure on abuse survivors to make nice with their abusers for the sake of the movement, because the abuser is a community leader, because the abuser has “reformed” and their contributions are so invaluable and we can’t live without them.
And are the abusers really irreplaceable? The nice thing about concepts is that they can be developed by multiple people: if Hugo Schwyzer hadn’t written about men not feeling hot, someone else would have. Is that contribution so invaluable that we’ll excuse his attempted murder?
It’s also interesting, in the light of Schwyzer’s abuse history, to look at a few of the tendencies people have criticized in his writing. The tendency to white-knight and pedestalize women. His pride in being RateMyProfessor.com’s hottest professor (particularly troubling given that his history includes (consensual) sex with students). His apparent belief that all professors want sex with students (troubling in the light of the studies that show that rapists vastly overrate the number of rapists in the population). The focus, in many of his stories about his recovery, on how his actions affected himself, and not on how his actions affected his victims. How many of these are consequences of his abusive personality? Having been an abuser may have made his gender analysis far worse than it could have been.
The other major issue around Schwyzer, as far as I can see, is his position in the feminist movement. He was the Straight Middle-Class Cis White Man who was here to explain feminism to everyone. To be clear: there are a lot of straight middle-class abled cis white men who are awesome feminists and have great insight into how gender works (hi Noah!). It is short-sighted in the extreme to say that straight middle-class cis white men shouldn’t talk about gender, just like it’s short-sighted in the extreme to say queer poor disabled trans women of color shouldn’t talk about gender.
In general, in our culture, we tend to view straight middle-class abled cis white men as knowing more than other people do. In particular, in gender issues, they tend to be viewed as more objective. Where a woman would be a man-hating feminazi, a man could be an outside observer who has seriously considered the issues. Tim Wise can say America is a racist society and still be considered a serious thinker; a person of color who says the same thing probably hates America and freedom and apple pie.
I’m not sure if there’s a solution to this, except ending the kyriarchy. However, Schwyzer’s fall does leave a vast gaping hole crying out for the Straight White Cis Abled Male Feminist Who Explains Things. I vote Noah in the position! While he is an atheist instead of a Christian, and hence less privileged than Schwyzer, he has many sterling qualifications. For instance, he is six feet tall! He’s a snarky bastard! He has schnazzy hats! He has never tried to murder any of his girlfriends!
There are some others who may be suited for the position: Charlie Glickman; Robert Jensen; David Futrelle. We will have to figure out how to decide which candidate is the most superior! I say a cagefight to the death. Typewriters at dawn!