Hugo Schwyzer Is Still a Feminist

“The interests of women — and particularly of abuse survivors — take precedence here. And a former abuser who has truly changed his ways will, I believe, understand why that line is drawn. End of story.” —Jill ”On the Hugo Business” on Feministe
This is the explanation given for why Hugo Schwyzer is no longer welcome on Feministe, after revealing the worst thing he ever did. It’s a good example of why I’m so much more involved in a project that is not nominally feminist these days, a project that is focused on men’s lives, even to the dismay of my feminist friends of all genders. I’m at The Good Men Project because I am a man, because I love men and always have, and because I care about men’s experiences. Not exclusively: I have also always loved girls and women, listened to and cared about their lives, though this was expected of me, having been born female. And being part of the trans community, of people moving across and around the gender spectrum, the most important lesson I have learned is that we are all human souls and can be hurt in precisely the same ways. The differences are subtle and pervasive, and so highly fetishized that gender can take center stage, as if it were the most important difference among us, or told us so much more about a person than it does.Though Jill seems to think that our society sidelines the experiences of women who have experienced abuse and violence so as not to harm the good men in our movements, that is not what I’ve seen in my more than a fifteen years as a feminist. The ones whose experiences are regularly sidelined within feminism are men’s, particularly when they don’t fit the intersection of traditional and feminist masculinity.Hugo continues to demonstrate through his humility that he will stay in that intersection of acceptable masculinity. He won’t rise to defend himself because he doesn’t think he deserves to; Jill certainly doesn’t. A good man doesn’t defend himself against a woman, and a good feminist man accepts that the victimized, female feminists get to decide who else has a valid feminist narrative.

I don’t know what to call this feminist movement that Jill is a part of, that doesn’t think Hugo’s experience is worth contributing or examining, that believes his experience has pushed its way to front and center of a conversation that is not about him, and gotten too much spotlight compared with the experiences of abuse survivors, on which at least Feministe is explicitly focused.

I’m sick of this other double yoke, too: the one for women that says they must be both empowered and victim-identified. Jill has a voice, and as she rightly points out, silence equals complicity. After the first disappointing excommunication of Hugo from Feministe, she had a responsibility to her community to say what she believes. I’ve defended Hugo publicly before, about a different matter, but I haven’t spoken out clearly and publicly about this before.

I know and have loved people who have done terrible things. I have done terrible things. Without forgiveness of one another and ourselves, there’s no way forward out of any of the evil in the world, no way for us to dismantle the patriarchy and build a better world for our children. We need to understand the pain that leads to tragedy, and have sympathy even for the Devil.

Satan was once of the Creator’s most beloved. And there is still horror, decadence, and torture in the world. We cannot hope to eradicate them by only understanding those who are righteous victims that uphold our most treasured beliefs about how utterly wrong crimes like rape and genocide are. In Rwanda, survivors of the genocide all live together. This is the model of justice and mercy I would prefer to follow, that understands there are other forces at work: that people don’t just roll out of bed and decide to murder their neighbors and girlfriends.

It isn’t a simple matter, but being good isn’t always simple. In this interview on Feministe, when asked about a time when he slept with his students, he says, “the key word is simply ‘unethical.’” Then, he doesn’t leave it at that. Being a feminist man and a professor of gender studies, he also says, “It’s made me mistrustful of the possibility of consent in those instances where one person has so much more experience and authority than the other.”

I have called myself a feminist for a long time, like Hugo has, and I say that no one can kick either one of us out of feminism, or any other ideology. If either of us wants to walk away, we may. But if I believe in feminism, even if my definition doesn’t match Hugo’s or Jill’s, and I believe that a man can be a feminist, then I will call myself one, and no one can take that identity from me. Hugo has said that he is going to move away from explicitly feminist spaces, and I wish he didn’t feel he had to go into exile. I understand, but the hate and anger that has come from feminists against Hugo, and saying that his voice is not welcome, not even safe to listen to, is misdirected. Telling his story opened him up to becoming a whipping boy, and he did; the example will not encourage others to share their stories, so we can only expect to find out about them when they’re cracked open as sex scandals. No humility, change, accountability, or learning, there.

There’s nothing in Hugo’s story that can hurt any of us. Being triggered by reading about it is not his fault: it’s the result of being a traumatized reader, and once the flashback has passed and you are grounded in the present again, you will know the difference between actually being helpless in the grasp of a dangerous person you trusted, and having the power to walk away from the page.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Hugo Schwyzer Is Still a Feminist

  1. Justin, I could not agree more. This is one of those situations where you can write three sentences or three pages, it is so complex, so I will leave it at three sentences. Sentence #3: Thank you and well done.

  2. “Though Jill seems to think that our society sidelines the experiences of women who have experienced abuse and violence so as not to harm the good men in our movements, that is not what I’ve seen in my more than a fifteen years as a feminist. The ones whose experiences are regularly sidelined within feminism are men’s, particularly when they don’t fit the intersection of traditional and feminist masculinity.”

    This says it all. If you believe that it is more important that feminism take on constructions of masculinity than to be protective of women who are abused by men, then you are not interested in prioritizing the liberation of women, and you are not a feminist.

    • It says that we have different definitions of feminism. Protecting women from abuse by men is a fine goal, but much too limited for my focus, and when that is all that feminism is about, it ignores every non-victim experience that women have, as well as the experiences of men.

      • Shoshie didn’t say feminism was about “protecting women from abuse by men,” they said it was about prioritizing the liberation of women. That is a much broader definition that includes male abuse but isn’t limited to it.

  3. My definition of feminism is work towards the liberation of women from patriarchy. The experiences of men are reflected everywhere and feminism is one space where the needs of women can and should be prioritized. That doesn’t mean that there is no space to discuss how patriarchy affects men or men’s experiences, just that it is not feminism’s #1 priority. Just as anti-racism’s #1 priority is not to discuss how racist society harms white people or how it is not the fat acceptance movement’s #1 priority to discuss how fatphobia harms thin people. They are worthy topics for discussion, but any movement that puts those needs ahead of the needs of the actual marginalized population is not working towards the liberation of that population. Do you see the distinction? Regarding the priority of victims of abuse, all women are victims of patriarchy, even if they haven’t experienced direct violence. Most women have had some experiences with threats of violence or actual violence against them, generally perpetrated by men. It is imperative that we don’t silence these victims, because the silencing of victims is a major tool of patriarchy. Victims of abuse are told that they deserved it, or they should have been more careful. Victims of abuse are told that they need to keep quiet about their experiences, for the sake of their abusers or because it makes people uncomfortable. Therefore, when we are faced with the choice of listening to abused women or their abusers, we must listen to the abused women first and foremost.

    • Michael

      Very melodramatic, Shoshie, but it ignores one tiny aspect of the story at hand: Hugo Schwyzer is not an “abuser,” much less an “abuser of women.” Not a “rapist,” not an “attempted murderer.” The only way to make his story fit your paradigm is to change the facts as they actually are, to slander, to distort, to create an entirely non-reality-based narrative. That’s what’s being done. If you want to be part of that dishonest narrative, that’s on you. Just makes sure to own it.

      • Except…he admitted to attempting to murder a woman. He admitted it in his own space. He admitted to having sex with students (yes, they were of legal age, yes, in his own words, it was still unethical). He continues to surround himself with young women and try to teach them what feminism really is? I call bullshit. Someone who was truly repentant would realize that they need to take a step back and let women talk about their own oppression, not try to pass themselves off as some enlightened guru.

    • Sara

      No one knows what you’re talking about. NO victims ‘of abuse’ are being silenced here.

      • That is just untrue. Women of color and victims of abuse are speaking out against Hugo’s prominence within feminism and they are being told that they are the abusers. They are being told that their opinions don’t count and that they’re damaging the movement. If you haven’t seen it, check out the threads on Feministe, particularly the original post and Clarisse’s follow-up. People, mostly women of color and victims of abuse, have written extensively about who Hugo Schwyzer should not have a prominent place within feminism and have been accused of being a mob, of launching a witch hunt, of being hysterical.

      • Linda

        That may be because there IS a mob, there IS a witch hunt and they ARE acting hysterical. Death threats cannot be excused Sho–they just can’t.

      • Michael

        He “admitted” that in a despondent, toxic, drug-drenched haze (after picking up his girlfriend from her pusher, herself just as high, and passed out) he thought that they would both be better off dead, so he turned on the gas so they would both die. When he came to in the hospital and told the police, they declined to prosecute either he or his girlfriend for the incident, and neither his girlfriend nor the family wished to pursue charges,

        He “admitted” to sleeping with some students, the age variance between he and them never more than two years, except in the case where he had a relationship with one of them who was much older than he was. Yes, unethical. Not predatory, nor illegal. You’re full of shit.

        You know perfectly well what imagery you are trying to conjure with words like “murder” and that you’re trying to make him sound like a predator because he slept with adult women his own age who were his students as though he were lurking behind a desk hitting on 16 year old Catholic schoolgirls. So I’M calling bullshit.

        Neither of those two incidents has anything to do with feminism, pro or con. One was a near tragedy that occurred during a devastating period in his life, the other was an non-illegal, ethical breach he’s lambasted himself for in print and has never repeated.

        You should be ashamed of yourself, exploiting the drug-dependent pain of two people, including one woman, because you don’t like Hugo Schwyzer and would like to have some part in faux-feminist sideshow of trying to destroying his life. If you think lying, slandering, and distorting in order to ruin a man’s life and career because he was once an addict in a codependent addictive relationship is “feminism,” God help you.

      • I’ve read most of the Feministe threads and haven’t seen any death threats, so I can’t really speak to that. But the reality is that Hugo Schwyzer actually *tried to kill someone*. Not wrote an angry letter over the Internet. Tried. to. kill. a. woman. And he gets a free pass and a significant platform in feminism. That is what is infuriating. And stating that it is infuriating is not being hysterical. It is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable stance.

      • Michael

        Really, Soshie? They’re now trying to link him to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Do keep telling us all about how the attacks on Hugo aren’t “hysterical” or pack-mentality driven.

      • H

        “And he gets a free pass and a significant platform in feminism. That is what is infuriating.”

        Not sure what this ‘free pass’ looks like. Oh Hate Sites and Lynch Mobs saying the same thing over & over over & overover & over over & overover & overover & overover & ove rover & ove rover & over–

        there it is…

      • Michael

        Yeah, Soshie, as H said, where’s the “free pass?” Is having your life and career torn to pieces by a ravening mob based on false information, distortion, lies, and slander in the name of “feminism” your idea of a “free pass?”

  4. H

    “There’s nothing in Hugo’s story that can hurt any of us. Being triggered by reading about it is not his fault: it’s the result of being a traumatized reader, and once the flashback has passed and you are grounded in the present again, you will know the difference between actually being helpless in the grasp of a dangerous person you trusted, and having the power to walk away from the page.”

    Boy truer words were never spoken!

    I resent being painted by this broad brush by this tiny, toxic, antagonistic, hateful minority—who says all women (& feminists) should be flying off the handle over the content in articles and essays. The implication that women are *that fragile* is beyond insulting.

    My mother was/is a rabid feminist—and yet she raised me to be strong. So strong, I’m evidently able to read various types of writing without rushing into a blind, sheer panic!

    They also have left their studies and schooling behind when they fail to discern the difference between ‘imply’ and ‘infer’. To be fair, I know scholars who cannot give the proper definition to those two words.

    In any case, all the vitriol, the hate, the hate speech, the death threats, the holier than thou pathetic attitudes—are painfully doing more harm than good. There is zero doubt to be had about that fact.

    One day they’ll perhaps look back with regret.

    In the meantime, those that are actively working to promote feminism and help women will continue to do so.

  5. Linda

    Very well said H.

  6. Yeah. No. No guy gets to say whether or not a man is still a member of a movement dedicated to justice for women. Christ, I can’t believe I have to point that out.

    • If your implication is that women are in charge of who may be a feminist, then we disagree. As for your definition of feminism as being a movement dedicated to justice for women, it is a good one, but I would add that real justice for women will be justice for everyone. Therefore, it’s not at all unnatural for men to be feminists. To the contrary, it’s in the best interests of men to support feminism.

  7. Michael

    Requirements to be part of movements “dedicated to justice for women” are not gate-kept by women, and whether or not a man is still a member of that movement isn’t dictated letter writers on the Internet, whatever their gender.

  8. Pingback: Just Doing My Job — The Good Men Project

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