Monthly Archives: August 2013

Allison Benedikt

Some days, the whole world is out to push your berserk button.

Today it’s Slate columnist Allison Benedikt, who made the curious decision to out herself as a massive asshole with an article about how she hates and neglects her dog.  Read the whole thing if you’ve got your puke bucket handy; here’s a little taste:

A friend of mine once told me that before he had a kid, he would have run into a burning building to save his cats. Now that he has a kid, he would happily drown the cats in the bathtub if it would help his son take a longer nap. Here is how I feel about that statement: Velvel, avoid the bathroom.

It’s not that I don’t love my dog. It’s just that I don’t love my dog. And I am not alone. A very nonscientific survey of almost everyone I know who had a dog and then had kids now wishes they had never got the dog. This is a near universal truth, even for parents with just one child, though I have more.

Through the rest of the article, she admits to never exercising the dog, never bathing him, stuffing him with treats to make him stop barking, and then, when he develops obesity-related health problems, not remembering or caring what they are.

Allison Benedikt (Guillermo del Toro's interpretation)

Allison Benedikt (Guillermo del Toro’s interpretation)

My initial reaction: OH MY GOD GET HER KIDS AWAY FROM HER!  One of the very first things I learned in my humane society orientation was that, where animals are being abused and neglected, people often are too.  Quoth the Humane Society of the United States:

Whether owing to lack of empathy, mental illness, or substance abuse, a person who fails to provide minimal care for the family pet is more likely to neglect the basic needs of other dependents in the household. In many cases, children found living among the squalor of neglected pets are taken into foster care.

I bet she’d love us to believe that she never walks her dog and ignores its health needs because she’s too busy being a gold-star mom to her children.  Doesn’t work that way.  If you feel it’s acceptable to blow off her essential responsibilities towards one dependent, you’re going to feel that way towards another.  If she didn’t have a dog to blame, would she find that she just hadn’t had time to clean the bathroom in the past four years?  Or that her baby was keeping her so busy that she never got around to putting food on the table for the preschooler?

The absolute lack of empathy is the second-most startling thing about the article (the most startling being holy fuck she jokes about drowning her dog).  Not just empathy for the dog, but for her children as well.  Everything is focused on herself and her alone.  Throughout, she demonstrates a consistent choice to do whatever makes her life the absolute easiest at that instant, regardless of the harm it may cause others or what problems it may create in the long run.  The result?  A dog who barks excessively (a common behavior problem among bored, neglected dogs) and a four-year-old who can’t wipe his own butt.  I was wondering how normal the latter is, so I looked it up and found this rather direct answer from a child development specialist:

Four year olds should do their own wiping.

Dare I ask what happens when the kids stop being little and cute and start getting attitudes and the novelty wears off?  She’s already joked about drowning something in the bathtub.

This is the sort of person we’re going to see on the news someday.

There will be a heartwrenchingly-acted French film about her.

Everyone will go “Why didn’t we see the signs?”  Because they were there.  Oh yes, they were there.

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Hugo Schwyzer

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.

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