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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ladies: Hugo Schwyzer's Life Is Not Your Fault

Have you heard about Hugo Schwyzer taking a break from the feminist internet? If you're anyone who has eyes, you've read about it. He made sure of it. He posted on his own blog about it, gave an interview immediately with New York Magazine about it, and his pals over at The Atlantic did a nice little tribute, too.

Hugo Schwyzer is not one to go gentle into that good night.

He's leaving, and he wants you all to know that it's because you're such meanie heads. Yes, you. Posting your snarky tweets about his freelance gigs, commenting your agitated words underneath his writing. Can't a man speak for women and just be left alone?

He also mentions his fragile mental health and his marital problems, most likely stemming from his recent affair (with someone super important in feminist circles, guys. But, shh! Don't be interested in that. But if you hear about who he banged, don't be surprised. Tee hee.) as reasons for his departure.

I'd like to take these issues one by one, and explain to you that Hugo Schwyzer's life is not your fault, regardless of what he implies.

First, though, let's get through the most important point: This is not about whether or not men can be feminist leaders, or outspoken in feminist spaces.

This is not about whether or not men can be feminist leaders, or outspoken in feminist spaces.

It's not about that.

Don't get confused. Everyone seems to get confused. For the purpose of this piece, I am fully on the side of men being able to speak out on feminist issues if they so choose. I do not want to debate the intricacies of men leading women in their own movement right now. Because it's not about that.

This is about personal responsibility and accountability, and honestly, about personality, full stop.

Don't cloud the issue or make it more important than it is by including the overarching theme of men in women's spaces. This is about Hugo Schwyzer in women's spaces, and whether or not he personally should be looked at as a leading male voice in the feminist movement. It doesn't have to do with what he is (a man). It has to do with what he does.

Okay, let's start with his personal goodbye letter, shall we?

His first sentence casts blame on the online world for his departure. "The toxicity of take-down culture is exhausting and dispiriting. The cheapest and easiest tweets and articles to compose are snarky and clever dismantlings of what someone else has worked hard to create. The defenders of this culture of fierceness call it intellectual honesty, but it is an honesty too often edged in cruelty."

You know what the problem is? It's that the snarky tweeters aren't thinking about what happens on the other end of their writing. Much like Schwyzer didn't think about the consequences of his essay coming out as a character in a murder-suicide plot to those who were working with him at the time. Funding was lost, reputations out the window, as these people who spent long, hard hours erecting safe spaces for women (like Scarlateen, for example) became aware of a violent past that had been previously and deviously hidden from them standing by them, holding their hands. That's what honesty edged in cruelty looks like.

However, in his NY Mag interview, Schwyzer has apparently forgotten the comfort he called for, saying, "There is this false notion in feminism that the Internet is supposed to be a safe space. There's this confusion of the therapeutic and the public space. Is the Internet a safe space? No."

Bingo. This is not your safe space. When you write something publicly, you open yourself up to criticism. Period. I expect to be criticized for this piece. I'm not going to whine about it, though. Because I understand that the internet is not a safe space. Not like, say, my therapist's office or my local women's center (thanks, by the way, for helping me find my woman safe spaces, Hugo.)

Here's another issue with that: While the internet itself is not a safe space, there are safe spaces within the internet. There are women who band together in more private groupings to discuss issues pertinent to them without expecting to be attacked or exposed. We need to keep those distinctions drawn.

And since the interview for NY Mag is definitely not a safe space, let's take a look at this gem:

"If you look at the men who are writing about feminism, they toe the line very carefully. It's almost like they take their cues from the women around them."

Huzzah! This is exactly as it should be, as the oppressed group is probably the group that knows what's going on. But, please, continue.

"Men are afraid of women's anger. It's very hard for men to stand up to women's anger."

And this is where I officially lost it. Do I even exist in the same universe as Hugo Schwyzer? In what realm of reality is that even close to a true statement? Honestly, I can't, because reasons, so I won't. But wow. For someone who has marked a prolific and successful career in women's studies and feminism, this unveils a huge problem in feminism today. When even the most entrenched of advocates go the "you women are too angry" route, it blatantly emphasizes how very easy it is to miss the point.

The point being twofold. 1) Women have very good reason to be angry, if they even are. 2) It's not about you, dude. Feminism is not about Hugo Schwyzer. It just isn't. And had he backed away in a respectable manner, having realized that maybe it wasn't his words on the matter or his position in the space that was the issue but instead his insatiable need to self-aggrandize, well, then, I wouldn't be writing this piece. But instead, he chose the most vocal of ways to exit the stage. And I take issue with that.

This is not a movie in which Hugo Schwyzer is the leading actor. Everything about this man is showy. Who is paying attention to him? Who is tweeting about him? Who is publishing him (or not)?

What happened to the content of the writing? That's what's important here, the messages being sent, not the producer of those messages.

And it's important to note that I like Schwyzer's writing. But no matter how many times people confuse the two, his talents are not himself.

You can be a man in feminism. You can be a man who slept with his students in feminism. You can be a man who cheated on his wife in feminism. You can be a man who was addicted to drugs and alcohol and be in feminism. You can be a man who once tried to murder his girlfriend and be in feminism. You can be a man who uses all of these experiences as freelance fodder and be in feminism.

I firmly believe in all of those statements.

But you cannot be a man who slept with his students, cheated on his wife, was addicted to drugs and alcohol, tried to murder his girlfriend, and used all those things as freelance fodder, who also cannot extrapolate himself from the feminist messages, which, by virtue of their nature call for the spotlight to be on women and their issues, not on Hugo Schwyzer.

There is nothing meek here, nothing apologetic, and nothing learned. The educational value of writing through "the lens of his experiences" is tarnished by his self-centered ambition.

When you use a message to further your own self, and your own ambitions, regardless of whom it hurts (those people usually being women), you are not a feminist leader. When you further come at your critics by muddying the issues and making their reasonable dissent about you being a man, and not your actions as that man, you are not even an advocate anymore.

Schwyzer is "sad and hurt by a culture in which what we say online is policed by clever cynicism masquerading as progressive outrage."

I am sad and hurt that my clever cynicism is looked at as something that is not deserved. I'm sad and hurt that women cannot be outraged at actions without being told they're too angry and they should take it to their local women's shelters. I'm sad and hurt that in an age where we need to be talking about the feminist movement in terms of where we go from here, and when we especially need to make the new battles of women known (such as rape-culture, slut-shaming, etc. -- see, I also took Feminism 101, HS) we're stuck writing essays about men who are leaving the feminist space because we're all too mean. I'm sad and hurt that yet again it comes back to the men.

But I didn't spend my whole post on that. Because feminism is not about me. And it's certainly not about Hugo Schwyzer.

**If you'd like to know more about why you just had to read all that, click here.


  1. Thank you. And thanks for the link at the end. Within that link are links to other links. All, some very good writing on the subject.

  2. Darlena,

    I understand the anger going around right now and the multiple spin-off discussions this whole thing has created (e.g. the #solidarity discussion on Twitter).
    I think your article and others like it are missing an essential piece of context.
    Hugo Schwyzer was under the influence of a great deal of prescription medication when he gave the interview you quoted. All of those comments are from a person who admitted that he had little idea what he was saying at the time. He was woken out of a medication-induced sleep when he gave that interview.

    If you want to maintain that it's irrelevant and those quotes reflect his true inner thoughts (a comment I'm seeing in a number of spaces), it denies everything we know about the condition of the mind during a psychiatric break while under heavy medication.

    I've worked with many people in this state. Not only do they often not recall what they said, they are often horrified at the bizarreness of their statements. They are not the accurate reflections of a person's ideas at that time.

    I am not saying people aren't entitled to their hurt and that there isn't value in these discussions of feminism. Anything that promotes solid feminist discussion is good. I simply make a call for good context.

    Thank you.



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