In Defense of Hugo

To the average person, the recent blow-up about Hugo Schwyzer’s feminist involvement has registered on the pop culture spectrum somewhere below what I had for breakfast. But, if you run in the Facebook and Twitter circles I run in, the drama seems to never cease. In a nutshell, a number of feminist blogs (and Facebook groups) have decided that, for a variety of reasons, he should be disqualified from discussing, advocating, writing, and teaching about feminism and women’s history. Read his thoughts on the subject here.

There’s a difference between pointing out structural inequality and discrimination and giving voice to personal pain, discomfort, or injustice.

I can write a paper about housing discrimination in Chicago, or the Civil Rights movement, or Gwendolyn Brooks, or explore the political, sociological, cultural histories of race and racial discrimination. I can’t, however, write about the experience of being discriminated against for being black, nor can I claim to understand the implications of such an experience.

I would be wary of any male feminists who began sentences with phrases like:

Women feel like…

Women should feel like…

Women think that…

Women act like….

I would find such overgeneralization and presumption offensive and belittling, regardless of the intentions of the speaker. That is not, nor has ever been, the attitude I have read in Hugo’s writings at Jezebel and the Good Men Project. That some feminists are suggesting that Hugo’s gender, complicated history with addiction, or what they perceive as self-aggrandizing style disqualifies him from the conversation does not jibe well with what I want from feminist discourse.

Feminism, like any movement, is a large, ungainly, and often controversial umbrella. I have been frustrated before by women who refused the title, but believe in the ideas, but I understand that the connotations it carries (earned or not) can be hard to swallow.

My feminism is about allowing individual desires to take precedence over societally proscribed roles and assumptions. It’s about men being nurses and teachers, women being firefighters and executives, but it’s also about giving boys and girls (and men and women) the complete spectrum of ways to be successful and saying, “the world is open to you, treat it well and do with it as you will.” Being a boy, or a girl, or gay, or straight, or something that is not so easily labeled, should not determine your path or limit your options.

My feminism has room in it for people like Hugo, and also people that disagree with Hugo. It has room for argument and debate, and complicated personal histories. It has room for nuance and complexity, and empathy for the difficult decisions we all make every day.

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16 responses to “In Defense of Hugo

  1. H

    Well said.

    These events have been deeply disturbing. As a feminist I know they’re doing nothing but harm. Even if their intent were ‘pure’ and we all ‘needed to know’ their opinion of this one writer—it would have been done before it started because there’s no way not to know whatever we need to about this one individual writer because it’s all out there by his own hand!
    His past, his opinions—all of it.

    You can agree or disagree—but taking it fifty steps past that to running a full time 24 hour a day Hate Site and creating a vicious smear campaign and sending death threats. What does that accomplish exactly? One wonders.

    For my part I resent a tiny antagonist, toxic minority insinuating that women and feminists are so fragile that we cannot handle one writer’s opines.

  2. I’m so glad to see someone else also defending Hugo from within feminism today. Thank you, Rosie. My feminism is also large.

  3. Well said! Thank you for this article. I too have been saddened by the attacks on Hugo. It has always been my experience that he has been an important voice – one of compassion, understanding, kindness, & fresh new thinking that empowers both men and women. And I also believe that we ALL have a past…it’s just few of us who are brave enough to have total transparency about it. To judge someone so harshly for theirs smacks of hatred to me…and hate is NOT activism, nor is it helpful in moving us forward in a positive way.

  4. Matt

    Hugo tweeted earlier that it was disturbing to note the number of people who had done a Google search for “Hugo Schwyzer home address”.

    That’s not people interest in any kind of dialog. It’s just angry internet people and they’ll snap at pretty much anything.

    Great post.

    • I’ve written many different things on why I dislike Hugo Schwyzer’s paternalistic writing and his prominence as a feminist that seems to stem in large part from his maleness. I’m a member of the FB group “Feminists Against Hugo Schwyzer”, and I can assure you that I, and no one I’ve talked to, would dream of Googling that or trying to inflict any harm on his person.
      However, I take issue with being told that by speaking up in dissent about a man with a history of abuse of women that includes trying to murder a women and years of preying on students having such a prominent role feminism that I am doing “nothing but harm”. This isn’t just about not liking this one piece he wrote, or this one incident in his past. This is about an examination of what feminists should have to put up with to have men identify with the movement, and disagreeing that past abuse of women is one of those forgivable things.
      As was said in this post, feminism is a large, unwieldy umbrella. We don’t all agree on most things. But there are a lot of this that embarked on this engagement not as a witch hunt, but because we saw and continue to see it as a very problematic part of a movement we identify with and work in.

  5. Great post! I will be glad when people just move on. I can’t get over what a feeding frenzy this has been, and people need to deal with their anger management problems and redirect their energies in a positive direction. The lack of any sort of framework of redemption for viewing Hugo’s life is an indictment of the heartless, vengeful, self-righteous individuals who keep fanning these flames. They need to get off their soap boxes and back to work.

  6. I have been hanging onto the term “feminist” for a long time, against many who wished I would shed it. I know people hate feminists, and that the term itself conjures the image of an angry woman who is incapable of seeing men as individuals.

    Now I’m starting to understand that. But these are the Internet Feminists. These aren’t real-world feminists. No one could act like this in the real world! No one would set out to defame and ruin the career of someone whom they knew personally. These are the acts of sad women who want to feel powerful. *WHY* can’t they find authentic power in activism?

    Even if you disagree with Hugo’s politics, even if you think he’s a jerk (or whatever), to twist and manipulate and actively seek the destruction of another, you are not only bringing down another, you’re bringing down yourself.

    I imagine the angriest and most outspoken of these women as old ladies, shaking their heads in disbelief at their behaviors as young people.

    • I think that’s dismissive and a bit insulting, Joanna. I am one of those “Internet Feminists”, and I have also organized “real world” feminist events like the Philadelphia Walk for Choice last year. I have received messages from multiple women who worked with Hugo personally at the LA Slutwalk who found him very domineering, spotlight seeking, and in their words, creepy. Many of the women in the Facebook group have impressive resumes in “real world” feminism, and the vast majority of people within that group have posted nothing but thoughtful and reasonable comments.

      In my view, no one is “twisting” or “manipulating” anything that he’s said or done. But just as I’ve encouraged people to boycott companies for sexist marketing campaigns, I think it’s reasonable to encourage people to read a little more into Schwyzer’s particular brand of feminism, which I personally find to be all about him. How almost murdering an intimate partner makes him feel. How certain acts that may be degrading to women make him feel. I, and others that have taken up this argument, do not feel that he has acted like a good ally, and continues to make feminism all about him, perhaps to feed his own ego, and perhaps to make feminism more palatable to men. Either way, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I think the outcry has been reasonable.

      (And if you think some of the feminists speaking out against Hugo are horrible people who thrive on personal attacks, you should see some of the terrible things Hugo fans have said to me these last few days. Civil debate it has not been.)

      • ~H

        “In my view, no one is “twisting” or “manipulating” anything that he’s said or done”

        –That’s all and ONLY what you and the Hate Mob have done.

        Please read this to understand:
         “First he’d have to be a “rapist” and “attempted murderer.” You must have court documents to share attesting to his rapes? Police reports charging him with attempted rape? Yes? Please share.
        Otherwise we’re stuck with the uneasy suspicion that you’re lying, or, at best, cherry-picking from his essay about the relationship where he wasn’t always sure if his girlfriend wanted to have sex, but went along with it to please him, and are calling that “rape.”
        Or his essay about the night he and his girlfriend were in a drug-fuelled co-dependent relationship, and he was so fucked up that he left the gas on in his oven, but when the cops came to his hospital bed, they refused to charge him with anything but being fucked up on drugs, and his girlfriend and her family didn’t want to pursue any charges?
        Is that the “murder” you were talking about? The “attempted murder” that wasn’t, and the “rape” that he was the only one to even briefly consider a “rape,” which his girlfriend didn’t consider a rape in any sense of the word?
        I hope not, because that would mean that you’re libeling up a storm on the Internet, which (unlike the two things Hugo’s been accused of, but didn’t do) is actually a crime.”

        –Do you see now? Do you see why it’s so insulting to feminists that this tiny, toxic, hateful minority is lying to us and to the world at large? How do you think that makes us feel?

        And you’d like us to know & worry about your feelings is that it?

        So those coming to Hugo’s defense against a lynch mob—haven’t offered you tea and crumpets! Well golly gee! We best send them back to cotillion eh?

        ~Those that are engaged in public lynching perhaps not be too appalled when they’re not treated with kid gloves.

         “…the vast majority of people within that group have posted nothing but thoughtful and reasonable comments.”

        The comments have been (the vast majority at least) hate filled, vitriolic and *extremely* vulgar. Each and every time an actual feminist came in with a moderate, reasonable voice—she was attacked viciously and then unceremoniously banned.

        The banning of reason started from jump and was monitored every minute, every hour on the hour for 24 hours cycles.
         Here are some examples of the ‘thoughtful’ and ‘reasonable’ comments:
        • “It’s been a long day of man-hating, tires a girl out….”

        • “Can I ask the stupid question? Who the fuck is this guy?”

        • “He’s such a fucking creep.”

        • And

        • “Fuck the redemption narrative, I am sick of it.”

        • Placental Mammal

        Placental Mammal “I’ve dealt with psychopaths”—that one by the way threatened to torture animals since she knows Hugo is an animal activist—and you talk here about people not being CIVIL? You have nerve and then some.

        Claire Mart, ” I’m glad that you criticised the MLK shit…”– Claire Mart says that MLK is ‘shit’—GOT IT.

        So to review; not only is the Hate Site Lynch Mob doing nothing but twisting and manipulating; they’re doing it with vulgarity, racism and threats of violence.

        Then please understand how we can be none too concerned about the “terrible things” Hugo supporters have said to you these last few days. ‘Civil debate’ does not include hate mongering and threats against his family!

        For the ones who *started* this to now cry foul over them not being treated with kid gloves at every turn? I do not happen to know if there is a word in my native tongue for that level of hypocrisy. However I am friends with a great many writers and I may ask them.

        At the end of the day there’s been *nothing* remotely ‘reasonable’ about the ‘outcry’.

        There is a cyber-lynching, threats against women & animals, and blatant examples or racism and misogyny coming from (I have to insert this) so-called feminists!

        They’ve done more to hurt the movement and women with this—than Hugo or any one writer could ever do.

        They’ve given fodder to the MRAs (men’s rights activists) and fodder to our enemies better than they could have hoped for and more.

        Surely you take Joanna’s point; real world feminists would have approached this in a much more productive fashion.

        Anonymous Internet Hate Group feminists; have not.

  7. Thanks for your comments, folks. I think we’re all on very similar (if not the same) page. It’s a pretty unfortunate, regrettable situation, but I’m still hoping the worst of it will blow over.

  8. H, MRAs hate right wing guys who have old fashioned ideas about chivalry. MRAs come up with excuses right out of their own minds all the time to hate women, so not wanting Hugo to be one of the main faces of feminism is not going to give them much that they do not already make up.

  9. I just hope this doesn’t make people think recovery is meaningless, that change isn’t good or can’t really happen. This has been the overriding subtext of this internet-lynch-mob atmosphere and this is what has disturbed me most.

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