hugo schwyzer says he’s quitting the internet but he’ll probably stick around
**Editor’s Note: Since quitting the internet, Schwyzer underwent a very public manic episode on Twitter, explaining his mental illness and outlining his various transgressions. You can read it in his own words here.**
Last week, reviled feminist Hugo Schwyzer announced on his personal website that he was quitting the Internet. In the 30 July post titled ‘Goodbye’ he explained that he was taking a break from online writing, blaming the ‘toxicity’ of the Internet, rampant with ‘clever cynicism masquerading as progressive outrage.’
‘I don’t think I’m wrong that when it comes to a concerted effort to drive me off the Internet, I’ve been more sinned against than sinning.’
Schwyzer, who has written for The Atlantic, Jezebel, and the Good Men Project, has been, according to him and Slate, chased off the Internet by ‘intolerant feminists’. Since his 2011 interview with respected website, Feministe, in which he was presented as the quintessential male feminist, there has been an angry and vocal resistance to his presence in the feminist community. He was, a commenter pointed out, responsible for nearly killing his girlfriend while high on pills and alcohol. He’d said as much in a post he’d written – though the commenter linked to it before it could be removed. In addition, Schwyzer admitted in his interview with Clarisse Thorn that he’d spent his early years as a professor sleeping with several of his students.
Why then, was Feministe giving him a platform? And, as has often been wondered on various blogs and websites, was any space dedicated to feminism allowing him to speak to, for, and about women? Since that interview, a fervent effort has been made to challenge his participation in the virtual feminist community. His writing continued to be published despite losing several gigs over the controversy.
Schwyzer has never denied his past, and has expressed remorse over it, but he has also built a career and a devoted following over the fact that he is a reformed man and a devoted male feminist. In his interview with Feministe, the now 15-years sober professor reflected on his past relationships with his students saying: ‘That aspect of my past has made me keenly sensitive to power imbalances in sexual relationships.’ An odd and unnerving statement coming from a professor of gender studies, someone for whom sexual power imbalances should be a sensitive topic.
It’s comments like these that lead one to doubt the sincerity of Schwyzer’s “reformation”. For one, he refers to it, in his post-quitting interview with The Cut, as his ‘brand’. With this interview, an update to his first goodbye post and then a second goodbye post (in which he tells the story of the attempted murder-suicide – apparently written at the height of the controversy as part of a memoir) Schwyzer’s exit hasn’t been quiet. A few days after his second post, the professor reportedly attempted suicide, explaining on his website that he would be taking a leave of absence to focus on his mental health and his family.
His departure has been met with relief from his detractors but also a certain degree of skepticism. Invariably, the conversation then turned to why Hugo Schwyzer has been tolerated and published by feminists at all. (At the time of writing, Jezebel hasn’t commented on the retreat of its columnist.) While some were celebrating, others considered Schwyzer’s folding to the criticism a loss for the movement; proof that male feminists were expected to show deference to their female counterparts or be shunned.
And then there were people like me who were relieved but unsure of how best to answer the central questions of the past two years: should someone’s past invalidate their efforts to promote gender equality? How should a reformed male feminist talk about feminism and in what capacity? Isn’t any man talking about feminism and owning the feminist label better than nothing?
I first heard of Hugo Schwyzer following the Colorado movie theatre massacre. He’d written an essay for Jezebel addressing the question of why so many mass murderers in the United States seemed to be white men. The coupling of aggression and entitlement, he argued, led men like James Holmes to take their problems out on society. When a Twitter follower posed the question again after the shootings at Sandyhook Elementary last December, I sent along the link. It was, I thought, an interesting essay, even if I wasn’t entirely convinced. Had I been aware of Schwyzer’s past, I wouldn’t have promoted the article. In the process of searching for more of his work, the criticism began to influence the way I interpreted his writing.
And it should. His controversial piece, ‘He Wants to Jizz On Your Face, But Not Why You’d Think’ inspired Flavia Dzoden of Tiger Beatdown to call the professor out on his destructive brand of feminism – specifically his ‘androcentric, cis-centric, heteronormative, chauvinist, faux feminism’. She includes links to his past essays; work that Dzoden writes are proof of his overt racism and paternalistic, self-serving motives toward women. On top of his refusal, heretofore, to respect that his presence in feminist spaces was threatening to many men and women – survivors and racialised people included – Schwyzer seemed to believe online feminist spaces were his to join.
‘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,’ he said. ‘Is the Internet a safe space? No.’
This is a harmful sentiment, especially when perpetuated by someone with his predatory past. No, the Internet isn’t inherently safe. But feminist spaces, racialised spaces, and LGBTQ spaces strive to be both safe and therapeutic. The professor’s flippant attitude concerning his impact in these environments should be enough to question his “brand”.
‘I do believe I can have a voice online in a leading movement about this, but that distinction has to be a dream.’
I strongly believe that men can have a leading voice in feminism, but I don’t believe that Hugo Schwyzer should be one of them. If there’s a false notion of safety in online feminism, there is an equal misunderstanding of liberal “tolerance” – or the idea that feminists (that monolith group that apparently drove Schwyzer off the Internet) should accept anyone who claims to be an ally. This is true of all marginalised groups who aren’t and shouldn’t be obligated to accept the advocacy of anyone who makes them uncomfortable.
Schwyzer’s history will always disqualify him from certain spaces. Last February, The Atlantic’s Raphael Magarik wrote about the crusade against him, which includes a Tumblr page dedicated to his exclusion from the movement. ‘“Severing ties” (or, in the case of Feministe, denying links) is not about ideological critique but social ostracism.’
Schwyzer’s claims that ‘women’s anger’ scare men off from meaningful participation in the movement read more like the indignant generalisations of someone who isn’t getting the praise he feels entitled to. He might have been banned from several feminist publications; discredited, and harshly challenged, but this doesn’t mean he can’t (and won’t) speak about gender or masculinity if that’s what he wants to do. It just mean he’ll have to forfeit the platform he craves. He’s still employed by Pasadena Community College; still teaching gender to 18-year-olds who may be introduced to feminist ideas for the first time.
‘My hope was to challenge men and explain men to women, especially women who second guess themselves in personal relationships,’ he told Stoeffel.
If this is Schwyzer’s goal, PCC is giving him a place to do so. Hopefully his students will listen and be inspired to read beyond and question their professor’s own work.
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