The Fall of Schwyzer: How The Male Feminist Crumbled
Things aren’t going too well for Hugo Schwyzer.
Once a prominent and highly regarded male feminist blogger, Schwyzer has been tarnished by recent revelations of his history of abuse toward women.
The steady stream of Internet backlash from the feminist blogging community that followed the news prompted the Healthy is the New Skinny organization to “end all ties” with Schwyzer, who is also a professor of gender studies at Pasadena City College.
It all started with a cross-posted blog entry that ended up on the popular feminist blog, Feministe, in which Schwyzer aired out (but not for the first time) examples of his past predatory and abusive history toward women, including a scenario in which he engaged in sexual activities with some of his students. A virulent anti-Hugo thread was born in the post’s comments section and quickly spread across social networks.
Now, there’s even a Facebook and Tumblr solely dedicated to streamline a discussion educating other feminists on the details on Schwyzer’s checkered past in order to organize a ban on his influence on the Internet and beyond.
To date, Schwyzer’s content has been removed from a number of sites including Scarleteen, a progressive “sexuality” education site for young adults. He has also resigned from his role as faculty adviser to the Pasadena City College Feminist Club and stopped teaching women’s history, though he will still teach his “Men and Masculinity” course. He still has a friend in Jezebel, who has agreed to continue publishing his work despite the mounting controversy concerning his past.
There is much to tease out of this Schwyzer saga, but for now we can tackle some issues he’s acknowledged in a post on Feminism and Religion—“issues of atonement; restorative justice; privilege; the role of men in feminism.”
For an apology to matter, you have to mean it.
Schwyzer’s candid storytelling style is what got him noticed in the feminist blogosphere, but it’s also what got him into this mess.
His justification for using first-person narrative as a means to do some good in the feminist movement is seriously flawed—not because of the gruesome nature of his moral crimes, but because of his inability to genuinely reflect and examine the implications those acts have on the feminist ideology he touts.
Last year, Schwyzer publicly disclosed for the first time a murder-suicide plot that he attempted to carry out against his ex-girlfriend in 1998. Schwyzer’s original post titled What you need to Remember, What you Need to Forget: On Self-Acceptance After doing Something Truly Awful has been removed under “legal advice,” but Student Activism’s Angus Johnston posted an excerpt on his site:
I looked at her emaciated, broken body that I loved so much. I looked at my own, studying some of my more recent scars. (I’d had a binge of self-mutilation earlier in the week, and had cigarette burns on both arms and my torso.) And then it came to me: I needed to do for her and for myself the one thing I was strong enough still to do. I couldn’t save her, I couldn’t save me, but I could bring an end to our pain. My poor fragile ex would never have to wake up again, and we could be at peace in the next life. As drunk and high as I was, the thought came with incredible clarity. I remember it perfectly now.
As Johnston points out, Schwyzer confesses his thoughts but stops short of fully recognizing that it wasn’t an isolated incident.
“It’s not enough for a feminist to describe this crime as horrific, though it is,” Johnson writes. “It’s not enough to describe it as ‘something truly awful,’ as he does. This was an act of a very particular kind, and Schwyzer never calls it by its name…gendered violence”
The overindulgence of romanticism embedded in Schwyzer’s revelation should also raise some brows and, at the least, garner some sharp side-eyeing. The most common type of murder-suicide involves an intimate partner, with the victim nearly always being female [SOURCE?]. According to a study released in 2006 by the Violence Policy Center, of all intimate partner murder-suicides, 96 percent were females killed by their male partners.
Knowing this, any self-proclaimed feminist would steer clear of comparing a plot to kill with an act of love or likening murder to an act of strength. Romanticizing murder-suicide (and violence against women in general) is an oft-used mechanism in mainstream media that lessens the degree of severity in which society judge men who kill women.
It’s difficult to understand how any self-proclaimed feminist, brought up in academia and entrenched in women’s studies, would fail to see how this sort of narrative reinforces patriarchal hierarchies and trivializes gendered violence.
Another noticeable trend in Schwyzer’s writing is his need to start or end his admissions with something like “I was high, drunk, and out of my mind.” In an attempt to provide context for his stories, Schwyzer attributes his transgressions to something beyond his control, otherworldly, even demonic. While drug abuse can certainly influence actions, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for them and his incessant reminders—while he apologizes—smacks of an innate inability to take full responsibility for his behavior. He also goes to great length to remind his readers that he was never charged with anything, as if not being considered unlawful makes his actions less harmful.
As a former addict and profoundly religious man, Schwyzer might understandably feel more compelled and obligated to sin-share. But he should note that the sort of unrelenting candidness in which he indulges has its roots in selfishness. Schwyzer’s unfettered confessions, and emphatic explanations for his bad behavior, expose the very problematic nature of his brand of feminism.
As long as Schwyzer continues to run on what Johnston calls, a “patriarchal impulse,” there will be no atonement for him in feminist circles. As Feministe reminds us, no person is beyond redemption, but the road there is best travelled alone.
Privilege and the Roles of Allies
In the past, movement building took time even among those who shared fictive kinships. For ally building, it took even longer because safe spaces were limited and the stakes were high.
As an outsider, you often had to be vouched for by other members of the community before the initial skepticism and recollections of past betrayals could subside. Once in, you were still constantly scrutinized. and if your behavior didn’t make the cut you were casted out. (Ironically, Schwyzer wrote a post on this problem with male feminists.)
The Internet has made it somewhat easier for male feminists to gain legitimacy, sometimes without necessarily deserving it and at an expedited rate. The movement may be too eager to latch onto men who “get it” in hopes that they will serve as spokesmen to the rest of the world.
Legitimate male feminists will always have a valuable place in the movement so long as they serve as a bridge between men and prominent feminist thinkers and provide access to certain platform that feminists would otherwise find difficult obtaining. But the minute they position themselves as a voice of feminism, rather than the introduction, trouble isn’t too far behind.
Male feminists must strive to avoid patriarchal tendencies within the movement, but Schwyzer has built his career on feminism. He is a co-founder of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a “herder of sluts” in Los Angeles’ SlutWalk, and was a featured columnist of The Good Men Project, a well-intentioned “We suffer too!” blog aimed at exploring modern manhood and beating back gender myths on masculinity. For the former faculty adviser to the Pasadena City College Feminist Club, it’s clear he doesn’t just want to contribute—he wants to be a focal point, reinforcing the very structures of dominance a male feminist must strive to deconstruct.
A true ally participates in the movement and, more importantly, listens when told they’re doing it wrong. Schwyzer should consider this recent backlash as a personal “mic check.” He says he’s listening.
Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress.