So. Hugo Schwyzer is leaving.
Oh, come on, the guy tried to murder his ex-girlfriend; we can be glad he’s going away. I’ll exercise moderation and limit myself to one party song. If you don’t know who Hugo Schwyzer is, the short answer is he’s a self-identified male feminist that everybody hates because he is terrible. He claims he was terrible in the past but is better now, but then persists in being terrible anyway.
His “exit interview” with NY Mag can be found here. The ever-fabulous Dianna E. Anderson explains the problem with his self-created redemption narrative here, so I won’t comment further on that bizarre use of “off-brand,” but allow me to point out some other highlights from the interview.
What precipitated your exit?
I dealt with depression and alcoholism for many years; I’ve written about this many times. I’ve been fifteen years sober, but a lot of the depression came from being online. When I’ve been taken down, there’s virtually nothing in my defense, and anyone who does come to my defense gets slapped down. Google me. Here, I’ll do it …
Now, I want to get this out of the way at the start: Everyone has the right to quit their online and/or public presence because of the negative response they’re getting (or for any other reason). It doesn’t make you a wimp or a loser or invalidate anything you’ve said or prove that you’ve “lost.”
However, unlike prominent feminists who are, you know, female, Schwyzer doesn’t have a bottomless supply of actual online abuse to point to as proof that he’s been mistreated. Statistically, at least one person has probably said something abusive to him, but the important thing is that that’s not what he himself is complaining about. He’s complaining that nobody is defending him. He thinks that, not only does he have a right to an opinion, but he has a right to have his opinion supported (the inevitable flip side being that not everyone has a right to disagree with him). That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Hugo Schwyzer.
Yes, it’s hard to hold an unpopular opinion in the face of a uniform wall of opposition and it’s easy to think of oneself as a martyr for doing so. But let’s face it: You aren’t a martyr if you’re wrong. You’re just an ass. Facing nonstop pushback from the very movement that he’s trying to lead ought to have made Schwyzer do some self-reflection about whether he might actually be doing something wrong, but this apparently never occurs to him.
One reason you became a punching bag is that there just are not many men writing feminist columns online. Why is that?
Look at me. I mean, who would want to be me? If you look at the men who are writing about feminism, they toe the line very carefully. It’s almost like they take their cues from the women around them. Men are afraid of women’s anger. It’s very hard for men to stand up to women’s anger.
Yes, you read that right: Schwyzer is complaining that male feminists have to follow the lead of women (with a side order of “women are so emotional”). I must reiterate that this guy considers himself a feminist.
I shouldn’t have to explain that every movement has general beliefs and tenets and informal rules that its participants are implicitly expected to follow, or that failing to do so will lead to pushback, or that in feminism those tenets are, and should be, set by women. But Schwyzer has a well-established pattern of dismissing women’s opinions.
Here’s another example:
After I wrote about Manic Pixie Dream Girls, this guy Chris tweeted, “the number one job of male feminists is to never let Hugo Schwyzer get another freelancing gig.” It got 120 retweets and 140 favorites in an hour. I mean, that wildly overestimates the job, right? And it was just really hurtful.
This fantastic Hairpin discussion points out that, even though the vast majority of his criticism came from women (including many women of color), the person he singles out as being hurtful and inspiring his decision to retire is a straight white guy, demonstrating that white-guy opinions are the ones he really cares about.
His refusal to listen to women is further demonstrated in his own ideas about why he’s been ostracized:
I had just gotten hired by Jezebel for a weekly column, and a huge discussion broke out: Do we want this guy, a professor who fucked his students, who tried to kill a woman, not to mention straight, white, and middle class, to be the voice of male feminism?
The reasons he lists fall into two categories: Things he did in the past and immutable characteristics. Thus, he believes that his ostracism was beyond his control. In reality, the problem is almost entirely his current behavior: Editing his past posts to cover up his mistakes, passive-aggressively “favoriting” Tweets disagreeing with him, and generally showing an inability to recognize when he’s in the wrong.
Affair, history, and poster-child status aside: Do you think a man’s personal life should permanently disqualify him from writing on a topic or participating in a social movement?
Should I be leading a private rape survivor group? Absolutely not. But we’re talking about the Internet. There’s this false notion in feminism that the Internet is supposed to be a safe space. There’s this confusion of the therapeutic and the public space. Is the Internet a safe space? No. Your therapist’s office is a safe space. Your local women’s center is a safe space. I do believe I can have a voice online in leading a movement about this, but that distinction has to be drawn.
It’s strange that a man so thin-skinned that Chris’ distinctly non-abusive Tweet drove him away thinks that it’s women who don’t understand how rough the internet can be. Feminists know far better than him that no space is less safe than the internet. But Schwyzer here isn’t just mansplaining the internet: He’s defending his personal right to make it less safe. His opinions are centered around his inalienable right to participate. If women don’t like him, they can leave and go to some womany place like a therapist’s office or a women’s center.
If that’s significantly different than saying that women who don’t want to hear rape jokes at cons can just leave, I’m not seeing it.
The mansplaininess only gets worse.
How is your voice different than the feminist perspective women are already providing in these outlets?
I’m talking about and challenging men. People were angry, thinking I am the big, white man explaining women to women. I admit that at times I may have unintentionally done that. But my hope was to challenge men and explain men to women, especially women who second guess themselves in personal relationships.
Schwyzer honestly doesn’t seem to realize that our entire culture is focused around men. Women are constantly saturated in a background radiation of male perspective. We don’t need it explained to us. This is a basic feminist idea. Has he even talked to a feminist? Ever?
I took Feminism 101. I know how to use all the big words. Look, intersectionality, I used it correctly in a sentence. I mean, fuck that. We need better than that.
Oh. He has; he just doesn’t care.
Schwyzer is dismissive of feminism, its actual (female) leaders, its ideas, and even his own publisher. There’s only one thing he’s not dismissive of, and that he strongly criticizes others for dismissing. That’s right: Himself and his opinions.
I wrote a really good piece about vibrators that were going to be used on women. It did really well but it kept coming up, this idea that “You can’t write that, because you’re a man.” Even if you’re right. I was right! I was pretty right. The male feminist writer needs to be included in the collegial atmosphere. Writers need to talk to each other.
I think we need good, brave, male voices who can take criticism and aren’t simply parroting the party line.
Good, brave voices. You know, male.
So how’s feminism handling this breakup?
You keep samin’ when you oughta be changin’. What’s right is right, but you ain’t been right yet.
Okay, I lied at the beginning.