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Hugo Schwyzer, Feminism, and Privilege

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This blog exists to challenge white heterosexual male supremacy as an institutionalized ideology and a systematized set of practices which are misogynistic, heterosexist, racist, genocidal, and ecocidal.

image featuring Hugo Schwyzer is from here

I encourage the readers here to listen to and watch writer and blogger Mikki Kendall and Tara Conley (founder, Media Make Change) in this video at Huffington Post, about Hugo Schwyzer and the deeper problem of white supremacy in mainstream media.

In case you’re not familiar with Hugo’s predation and sexual abuses of women, you may, if you’re not easily triggered by such details, read more about them *here*, at a Christian feminist’s blog, Are Women Human? Also *here* at BuzzFeed.

Because so few men are in any way feminist–even if only in theory, it is too often the case that men who identify with feminism, or who appear to promote it, are heralded with on-going praise in some liberal circles. It can also be the case that males who identify as feminist are seen as suspect in those same circles or others. There’s the case of  the rapist and predator Kyle Payne who was a resident advisor at a college and who, when challenged by many people, posted a response to his own blog and then disappeared from view (see *here* and *here* for a bit more).

Hugo Schwyzer history of abuse and present unconsciously over-privileged behavior is another great reason why ‘feminist’ men are suspect. Some white feminists argue I am another reason to hold ‘feminist’ males as suspect. One thing I am guilty of is engaging with Hugo a few years ago in conversation as if he were a responsible feminist male. He disagreed with my politics and I realized there was little point in engaging with him further as he came across to me as unwilling to challenge some of his beliefs and behavior which struck me as grossly self-serving and self-promoting. In general, I’m suspicious of any man who promotes some forms of feminism and profits from doing financially. Or who builds a professional career around such public profeminism. Or who declares himself a feminist but is not substantively accountable to women who critique him. Some of his over-privileged behavior shows up in a recent post to his blog.

In his farewell (for now) statement, there is stunning similarity in tone and content to what many people with male and white privilege, including Kyle Payne, do when leaving positions of power or public scrutiny–or, rather, disappearing for a time only to emerge in the same place or elsewhere with privileges and power in tact. There is a tone of being victimized, of being treated unfairly, of Richard Nixon’s “You won’t have [me] to kick around any more”. There is piece about needing to focus on himself and his well-being by taking time away from work, a luxury many people cannot afford.

In Schwyzer’s case, he’s only taking a leave of absence from a tenured position in Gender and Women’s Studies. I challenged him a few years ago about why he thinks he should have such a position when there are so many women who cannot find work as Women’s Studies professors. (I think it is politically harmful and regressive for white men, in particular, to teach Women’s Studies.) As I recall, he had little to say that wasn’t self-serving. What could he say? He had the position. Was I expecting him to announce he’d give it up so a woman could replace him? I was not. I was, instead, hoping to witness him acknowledge that his white and male privileges were a significant factor in why he was and is so statused in many places, including in media and in academia.

Hugo has had a relatively large audience as a male who teaches about
feminist issues because he’s white and male. That he has an
extensive history of being a predator and abuser of women–which he has
chronicled–and has retained that appreciative audience and the entitlement to go on working and speaking as a feminist, is also because
he’s white and male.

In the cases of Payne and Schwyzer, there is a persistent self-centeredness and assumption that they ought to be understood as complex human beings with harmful and helpful qualities. (As if any social, religious, academic, or economic institution would reinforce anything to the contrary.) They display a common practice among white men, particularly those with economic privilege: my pain ought to sensitize you to my humanity; my suffering deserves broad social compassion, including from people I structurally and interpersonally oppress; I will detail my personal struggles so that you see how complexly human I am. I have, at times, participated in aspects of this, although usually on the interpersonal front (with friends); I’ve also been directly called out on it by those friends and have modified my behavior accordingly.

From his farewell statement:

I am out of the hospital after a psychiatric hold and I’m on a cluster
of drugs that affect my mood, my judgment, and my capacity to engage.
While I stand by the interview, those drugs (including heavy doses of
Lithium, Klonopin and so forth) played a part in the poor way I framed

That Hugo has mental health
challenges is, for me, a reason to view him as fully human, not that I have
ever doubted he is. (I see any person as fully human.) That he
describes those challenges and diagnoses in detail, including what medications he’s been
prescribed, and the extent to which he is under psychiatric care, is
part of the privilege he has to demonstrate emotional and mental fragility and come out the
other end with his competency and status in tact. And his job.

The assumption–not that they’ll/I’ll get that understanding, but that they/I believe we are entitled to it, is not one I know many women of color to take on board with such assurance. Few women of color I know have the experience of being seen at all, let alone seen as complex people by either whites or men. And when any woman of color I know details mental health struggles, such an admission becomes part of the multi-layered stigma against her, in relationships, in employment, and in life generally. That Hugo is not stigmatized by such admissions of mental illness, or his alcohol abuse, or his sexual predation and violence, and hasn’t served a day in prison, is solid evidence of his white, het, and male privileges and institutional power.

The fact that some women of color are getting a moment of attention by some popular and some less ruling-class media is not encouraging to me; it is, rather, a sign that white and male supremacy are as strong as ever. Having marginalized and systematically silenced voices emerge sporadically (very sporadically) is part of how white male supremacy works. It pretends that Black and Brown women speaking once a decade is evidence of racial and sexual equality when white men speak 24/7/365/1000s of years, and have large audiences, flowing accolades, and a more than decent paycheck when they do so.

I close this post with one of Mikki Kendall’s recent tweets:

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when the mental health & future prospects for @hugoschwyzer are more important than the damage he did. 

“An activist and writer at the blog, A Radical Profeminist”.


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