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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