“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
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.