Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Should Hugo Schwyzer Do, Moving Forward? Why More Listening, More Honesty, More Time, and More Abuse Clearly isn't the Answer

image featuring Hugo Schwyzer is from here
[Note: this has been revised over the last few days through Aug. 16th, since it was first posted here. And further revised on Aug. 28th and 29th, 2013.]

This post is a follow-up to one I wrote yesterday. Since then I've seen how much more there is to read about and by Hugo Schwyzer. So let me cut to the chase and answer the question posed by him, which I use in the title of this post.

What Hugo should do moving forward is stop being a presence online. Stop giving interviews. Stop writing for publication on his own blog or anywhere else. Stop teaching. Stop calling himself 'feminist' or an ally to women. He needs to see how much white male power and entitlement he has and how horribly he misuses and abuses it. He needs to start taking responsibility for his actions by not perpetrating them any more. 

Hugo Schwyzer is, to my view, an on-going, compulsive, and self-involved abuser. Why a college or any academic institution would want him to be around young female students is for him and them to answer, possibly in court.

What follows is political analysis of his abusive and anti-feminist behavior, noting the ways his 'feminist' writing and sexually abusive behavior against women reinforce one another. For more on his attempts to make amends for the racist and misogynist harm he's committed, you can read this.

In an on-going exercise in self-centered self-promotion, Hugo has done an interview that was published two days ago here at The Daily Beast, of all places. He likes to talk about himself, and feels--and is--endlessly entitled to do so as (according to the banner on his blog) an "author, speaker, professor, shattering gender myths." He routinely reinforces gender myths as well.

One way he does this is discussed in some depth below.* Another is by feeling so bad for what he's done and still does, while knowing he is going to continue to do it anyway. Hugo reads and writes a great a deal about his life. He discloses his history of abuse and then proceeds to not be sufficiently attentive to the responses. Several times--in what little of his I've read--he states that he can't possibly read all the critique there is and respond to it appropriately, on his own blog in the comments sections. From a blog post (which appears below in full with my annotation):
I have not been able to keep up with the sheer volume of emails, much less follow all of the blog commentary about me, my role in feminism, my personal history, and my work. But I’ve followed enough to have a good sense of what at least the main criticisms are.
Admittedly, he gets LOTS of comments. One post had over 250 and that may well be typical for him. This shows a social eagerness to place the allegedly profeminist views and expressed values of a white heterosexual man front and center. But I would argue he has a profeminist response-ability to very carefully understand the particulars as well as the general critique: if he isn't going to do it on his own blog, where might we expect him to take the time to do so?

The answer appears to be in interviews and other writings, which are, to my eyes, geared toward self-promotion more than accountability. There, he practices a kind of savvy ownership of privileges and entitlements while retaining all his rights and capabilities to act them out abusively. To correct something from yesterday's post, I had indicated that he may not demonstrate awareness of his own privileges. Here is one example where he does:
I’ve been “detained” and cuffed at least five times in my life, all before I was 31.  But I was never actually arrested, much less charged with a crime.  I doubt it has much to do with a run of good luck, either.  The deference and the genuine kindness I’ve been repeatedly shown have more to do with the color of my skin and my class than anything else. [Source: here]
I'll modify my critique in this way: I've seen a few white men be aware of their various privileges and entitlements, talking about them in apparently responsible ways, but at the same time demonstrate a kind of persistent self-referencing and self-involvement that indicates a sociopathic proclivity for taking advantage of them without much regard for others. I think many men learn how to talk about the damaging stuff they've done in a way that makes them appear responsible and accountable, or at least sorrowful and remorseful. But in daily private or public practice, they are not. The function of this way of speaking is to manipulate one's audience to think one actually cares about other people. His sexual betrayal of several spouses and sexual abuse of several young women, all the while supported by various institutions and social networks, serves as evidence that his tactics work all too well.

In reading some of his work, I am struck with how often he states that he has friends who are feminist to whom he holds himself accountable. He apparently doesn't hold himself sufficiently accountable or he'd take the necessary steps to not abuse anyone again. And as he's struggled with feelings of suicide, let me be clear: I don't mean by killing himself. I mean by physically and emotionally removing himself from arenas, online and off, where he has compulsively acted out in the past and present. Any statements he makes about having people in his life to hold him accountable also misses the point that the job is his, not theirs.

Most men choose as friends the people who will only hold them accountable for things they wish to be held to account for; they ditch, ignore, or lash out against people who hold them accountable for things they have no intention of changing often claiming such critics are abusing them. Or, they lie to and deceive their friends, spouses, colleagues, as well as those they target for abuse: he has done all of that chronically for decades.

None of this is to say that any of his friends don't take him to task in ways that are not comfortable for him. I don't know who his friends are and certainly don't have that kind of intimate knowledge of how such things play out. I can only determine the degree to which he is deceptive by his published writings and interviews, and in those he, himself, often notes such dishonesty and half-truth telling followed by disturbing outbursts of confessional ranting:
What’s driving his current notoriety is his very public Twitter meltdown last Friday in which he sent out more than 100 tweets in an hour, admitting to building a career “on fraudulent pretenses,” to being an addict, and to teaching feminism with no specialization or degree in the field. This came on the heels of the revelation last month that the 46-year-old married professor wasn’t taking his own advice when he sexted with a 27-year-old sex worker activist. [Source: here]
I also am leery of men who speak of personal transformation as "conversion"--as arriving at a place one wasn't at before as if also leaving behind the person they were, as if one is thoroughly transformed with all traces of harmful action wiped clear. I've known men who say they've done this and witness how much of their allegedly old behavior is still in practice.

I also witness how male privilege, power, and entitlement isn't something that goes away with anti-sexist preachings; it is an on-going structural reality sometimes posing as a diagnosed psychiatric character disorder. The DSM-V doesn't identify men and whites has having "Patriarchal Predatory Personality" or "Colonialist Willful White Denial Disorder" because it is committed to a Western medical and individualistic understanding of human behavior and mental illness. One cannot prescribe drugs for privilege and structural power.

This isn't to say individual men can't do better: men can stop raping women; men can stop battering partners; men can stop procuring women; men can stop sexually harassing women; men can stop abusing and molesting children. It may require segregation from the general society, but it can be done.

In my experience, the white men who find feminism of interest who are also predators, are predatory not because of moral failings, as Hugo has argued, but because of this combination of conditions: structural location, positioned above and over people they oppress; unearned entitlements; white and male privileges; institutional protections; colonialist values, mindset, and worldview; unstigmatised abuses of power; the desire and will to perpetrate (whether owned consciously or not); and socially and personally organised access to one's victims. As child molesters seek out environments where children gather, so too do misogynist predators seek out social spaces where women gather.

I think anyone whose been around academia knows stories of the het man who take a Women's Studies course in order to obtain patriarchal sexual contact with women, using all means necessary. Kyle Payne is an example. (See here and here for more about him.) But this sort of predation happens outside the academy as well. One example that comes immediately to mind was a feminist-identified male who battered his female spouse during the time he promoted his own feminist activism. That is a local story, not one that got any national attention. White men protecting white male supremacist power is endemic in U.S. national anti-sexism organisations--or, rather, in the one that exists. There's also the case of Robert Brannon of NOMAS, which may become the subject of a future post. (For now, please see this at Shakesville.)

The nationally recognised anti-sexist men I tend to find more credible and trustworthy are people such as Byron Hurt. He doesn't pretend that his struggles to be more responsible and respectful with women are over but he demonstrates respect for women in his life and work. Hugo, on the other hand, uses his professed feminism, his "professional feminism", as a way to keep his abusive past from never remaining in the past. Needless to say, a conversion has not occurred.
CT: Your sexual history also makes you a controversial figure with some feminists. How do you respond to that? You consider yourself a feminist — how does your sexual history influence your feminism today?

HS: I learned early on in the amends process that some people would never believe my conversion was real. They would never trust that the leopard had changed his spots, as it were. You can’t prove a negative; I can only live the life I do now as best I can and live it openly. I’m a pretty open book.

My behavior with students from 1996-98 was unacceptable for a male feminist and, for that matter, an ethical person. The question is whether the penalty for that ought to be a lifetime ban from teaching gender studies, or writing about the subjects I write about. Some feminists feel yes, it should be. I disagree, but only because so many wonderful feminist mentors of mine have encouraged me to stay in this work.

Biggest takeaway: I need to be accountable. If someone on campus or elsewhere sees me do something that doesn’t seem kosher, as it were, he or she can come speak to me. I have an “accountability team” of men and women whom I count as my friends (many are feminist academics). I’m willing to listen to hard criticism from them, without insisting that they parent me. If you’re gonna be a male feminist you need those accountability partners in your life. [Source: here]
Here we see this proclivity to state harm in terms of "something not quite right", as "something that doesn't seem kosher". Note the lack of ownership of whether or not the behavior is oppressively harmful or not. I am struck by a couple of things above. He puts the responsibility for maintaining an ethical presence as a professor on campus on self-selected feminists in his life. He ignores, discounts, or condemns the wisdom of the rest. He refuses to locate his abusive political actions (when and where he acknowledges them) on his own entitlement, desire, and the institutional protections that must all be actively in place for him to continue that work. He also puts the obligation for identifying and stopping such behavior on people who see him commit it. (This conveniently means if no one directly involved sees it, for all intents and purposes, it hasn't occurred; this is particularly so if his victims are silenced by circumstance and shame, or by fear, intimidation, and threat--from him, from their social circles, or from the institution they are collectively part of.)

He minimises several power differentials as he has also done when engaging in violating sex with young female students. In a college context, "he or she can come speak to me" ignores the whole issue of whether students or staff wish to risk their own reputations by calling out a tenured faculty member. The belief that significantly younger students will necessarily call out or report a forty-something tenured white male professor is wildly out of touch with reality. It pretends the power differential he has occasionally acknowledged exists, somehow ceases to exist at that point. I'd argue that point is one of many in which such a power imbalance is very likely to show up in his favor.

His selective political consciousness shows up in these and other ways. He states things that appear to show awareness, while at the same time demonstrating a practice of putting himself in a frame that makes his actions appear less harmful than they likely or obviously were. Here is an example, on consent:
CT: You have a somewhat controversial sexual history. You’ve openly acknowledged doing things as intense as chaperoning a class trip on which you slept with four of the students. How does this influence your thinking about sexuality today?

HS: Hah, I love the ambiguity of the word “intense.” In terms of my sexual history with my students (which for the sake of clarification ended abruptly when I got sober in ’98), the key word is simply “unethical.” Though my promiscuity was hardly confined to my own students, that behavior stands out as deeply and profoundly wrong. Even if it was consensual, and involved students who for the most part were my approximate chronological peers, it was still a boundary violation. In the broader sense, that aspect of my past has made me keenly sensitive to power imbalances in sexual relationships. It’s made me mistrustful of the possibility of consent in those instances where one person has so much more experience and authority than the other. [Source: here]
He speaks of his behavior in ethical terms--as wrong--not in terms of the actual harm done. Even more key words would be "abusive" and "predatory". This leads me to wonder if he comprehends the depth of the actual harm done. He states at the same time that the sex he had with young students was consensual--well, actually he is evasive on that point: "even if it was consensual" is language that avoids any commitment to that claim of political mutuality. He's right not to claim the presence of consent; he then states it was a boundary violation in the context of a power imbalance in sexual relationships. In many feminist and profeminist circles, a sexual relationship built on power imbalances that involves a violation of boundaries is called "rape" or "sexual abuse". We can note he doesn't call it either. Yet if he's mistrustful of consent being present or meaningful, why shouldn't everyone else be as well, including academic administrators? The technical details of college conduct codes aside, why shouldn't he be considered a serial rapist or serial abuser--one who has not stopped engaging in compulsive, desired, wanted, willed sexually predatory behavior?

His language isn't the language of owning one's harmfulness; it's typical over-intellectualising and harm-minimizing language designed to avoid accountability. Meanwhile, he describes having an accountability team. This terminology positions himself as the team captain. Who does someone male in such a position choose as one's teammates? Those he wants around him or those who most want him held to account? I'd argue that the latter group isn't likely to comprise the majority of teammates for most men.

He states a willingness to listen. This is grossly insufficient. He'd need to demonstrate that the behaviors are not on-going. Some people who commit harmful acts are good at listening. They may be very good at saying the right things. Those two qualities are often what allows others to believe they've stopped being politically and interpersonally destructive.

Taken together, these ways of viewing himself and naming his actions don't speak to me as coming from someone intent on changing his behavior. I think people believe that's the case because he owns so much more than most men. That's a dangerously low standard as men are notorious liars and deniers when it comes to assessing the political meaning of what they do sexually and socially. We also have evidence, past and present, from him and others that his abuses are ongoing.

What follows is his post, from his blog, on what he foresees happening as a result of so many ethical violations and commitments of harm to women. My responses are in brackets and are highlighted yellow.

Moving Forward: An Update

I am still very much in the process of listening to many voices about how to respond to the multi-faceted controversy about my past. [Political harm isn't primarily a "controversy"; such a way of speaking about the harm one has done is minimising of its effect, instead focusing on the social effect of the news hitting the media, for example. In reality, white men's political harm is normal and frequent. Privileged people want our behavior to always be in process and to always be seen as very multi-faceted; there are always more and more self-protecting and self-deluding ways that rapists, batterers, and other sexual predators and terrorists want to be seen by critics. How they view themselves is usually with far more compassion and nuance than they reserve for those they harm. Among more sociopathic perpetrators, their views of themselves tend to repeatedly highlight areas of their own victimisation (past and present) over that of their victims (past and present). Often when men procure women in systems of prostitution or access women in pornography, there is the belief that the women couldn't be abuse survivors at all and that their presence in such systems is only and always freely chosen.] Over the past few weeks, issues around my pre-sobriety past as well as my present writing have attracted intense attention and sparked considerable debate. ["Issues" is another term of distancing and understating. It is remarkably predictable that men who do systematic or chronic harm will raise as central the matter of substance abuse, as if substance abuse teaches men how to be predators and abusers. Alcohol inebriates; it doesn't educate. Nor do recreational or prescription drugs. Nor does mental illness. In the recent case of Bob Filner's gross sexual harassment of women, we can note the similarity in the privileging of either medical or psychotherapeutic understandings of causation over political ones, here.
"Filner, 70, elected in November as San Diego's first Democratic mayor in two decades, is hoping to ride out a tide of sexual misconduct accusations and demands by fellow politicians and others for him to resign.
Last month, Filner announced he would be in an intensive therapy program the weeks of Aug. 5 and 12. But he reportedly entered the therapy program earlier than announced. He is set to return to City Hall on Monday.
Filner will take "personal time" this week, said a statement from lawyer James Payne, whose Irvine firm, Payne & Fears, is assisting Filner's defense against a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former staff member.
He will continue therapy "on an outpatient basis," Payne said.] 
I have not been able to keep up with the sheer volume of emails, much less follow all of the blog commentary about me, my role in feminism, my personal history, and my work.  But I’ve followed enough to have a good sense of what at least the main criticisms are. [As stated early on in this post, I would argue he has a profeminist obligation to very carefully understand the particulars as well as the general critique. And understanding the problem is only a very preliminary part of the solution. Not putting himself in places and situations where he has academic and sexual access to women would be a more substantive, meaningful place to start.]
The Issues

There are three main issues: my past [I am struck at this moment with how often men refer to abusive behavior in extraordinarily benign terms such as "my past" --something everyone necessarily has. How different it would be if every time he said "my past" he instead wrote or said "my extensive history of harming women, which isn't only in my past but is perpetrated through to this day"], my writing, and my positioning in the feminist movement. In turn, those issues raise three main questions [arrived at by him without thoroughly reading the criticisms]:

1. Should my pre-sobriety history disqualify me from teaching the courses I teach, from speaking about the topics I speak about, and from writing where I write? [I'd say definitively and unambiguously: Yes, yes, and yes. Hugo, if you're reading this, what part of that answer don't you understand? Reader, you will note he will not easily resign his position. You will also note he will continue to speak and write about the subjects that most interest him while he is predatory.] Do I need to make further amends or participate more extensively in restorative justice? [I'm reluctant to value men seeking to make amends while not owning the ways in which their politically harmful behavior is on-going. If a perpetrator doesn't know how to stop it, making amends may amount only to engaging the contrition phase of the cycle of abuse.] My take has always been that the work I do is part and parcel of that amends. [I'd argue the work he does is part of what allows him to do harm. The on-going confessions only make him appear to take personal responsibility and be remorseful. In actual courtrooms and in the court of public opinion, a combination of earnestly stated self-responsibility and remorse, not an end to the harmful behavior, is unfortunately what most liberal-minded people want to see in order to forgive and move on. With the same amount of access to potential victims and unmitigated power to act out one's entitlements and privileges in abusive ways, we can expect the behavior to continue, with or without amends and apologies.] But some detect self-aggrandisement rather than atonement.  [Some "detect" it? This is consistent with framing his own egocentrism as existing primarily in the minds of others, who, he implies, may or may not be seeing things the right way. Can he not tell when he's being self-aggrandising? Is it only for others to name it when it occurs? Once again he places responsibility for naming, monitoring, and regulating his behavior on others.] What’s the way forward? [He can start by doing what those feminists he disagrees with say he should do.]

2.  Are there problems with my writing today? [Why frame this as a question? This is part of never really fully owning his own politically problematic and oppressive behavior. He could take the responsibility off others by stating, clearly, "There are problems with my writing to this day."] I’ve got eight years worth of blog archives and thousands of posts on this site; I’ve also written extensively elsewhere.  I’ve written things I regret [no mention of his writing being male supremacist, white supremacist, and otherwise oppressive; he indicates ownership only of a self-concerned feeling about "things" he's written. Regret is another of the feelings perpetrators confess that people often are manipulated by. As noted above, society at large and personal acquaintances, family, and friends are often enough drawn into forgiving someone who has little intention of making substantive changes in behavior], and I’ve changed my position on some issues (like pornography, for example) in recent years. [What does changing one's mind on social issues have to do with doing what others are asking or demanding he do? Changing position happens, in his case, after lots and lots of people make similar points over and over again, likely exhausting and using up the time and energy of dozens or hundreds of people on his blog. After he uses people in this way, he may then acknowledge the truth in what they're saying. He consistently requires lots of attention focused on him. He could just read what anti-pornography feminists have written and accept it as valid enough to change his position. Does he support the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance becoming law? Will he work toward that happening? What else occurs more substantively, other than a change of opinion?] Yes, I am regularly quoted out of context. [Yes, and he is even more regularly not quoted out of context because he does so many interviews which helps set the context by the direction and content of his answers. Anyone who is internet savvy can find his statements in the context he presented them in, on his blog and on other websites where his work has been published. He also has far more access to mass media than most feminists who challenge him. Such a remark is in the self-absorbed category of "I'm the one being harmed here".] But even allowing for the universal but lamentable habit of “cherry-picking”, are there still elements of my work that are deeply problematic? [Yes, including identifying the relatively benign behavior of others as lamentable cherry-picking and not framing up his own actions as harmful, let alone lamentable. Such phrasing--identifying the allegedly sloppy ethical habits of others--positions himself as morally superior and as the social victim in the story.]

3.  Does my modest fame/notoriety block or create opportunities for others? [I'd ask a different question that doesn't use the term "modest" at all; it isn't modest relative to the fame feminists of color (don't usually) achieve. It is far more notorious because he's white and male. But notoriety doesn't speak to harm, only publicly discussed controversy. A question he evades is: does it block or create more opportunities for him? In an imaginary world, the critiquing by feminists of his oppressive and abusive behavior could result in opportunity for a woman or women to take his place in the academic institution where he is tenured. In reality, they'd have a harder time getting hired and achieving tenure, especially if they are of color. So much for creating opportunity for others.] Do the speaking gigs and interviews I get mean that I’m taking what wasn’t mine to take?  [It means, at least, that he continues to utilise and exercise his privileges and entitlements to center himself, not what he does, as the main issue. And the language emphasises a colonialist proclivity to see the world in terms of what he possesses and what is taken from him.] Should I  give up teaching women’s history [yes, and he's been told this far too many times by feminists who he hasn't made a part of his personal and private accountability team], working in positions of leadership in organizations that focus on women’s rights [most certainly yes] — not just because of my particular past, but because it’s fundamentally wrong for a man to hold these roles? [Both, but not because it is fundamentally wrong in a decontextualised way, but because it is astoundingly wrong in the ways he does it. So yes, he should not work in any positions of leadership in organizations that focus on women's rights because his behavior is anti-feminist and predatory. This really ought to be a no-brainer for him: I believe the reasons for this ought to be abundantly clear to him, given how many people have articulated why he must leave those positions. As we have seen, he cherry-picks which criticisms and calls to action he takes most to heart and mind, and the other calls never seem to influence his behavior.]

I don’t have final answers for myself to any of these questions. [Why not? Has the jury not been well-enough informed? Have they not come to a verdict? Does the legal team for the accused wish to call more witnesses? We can see how effectively (if not intentionally) manipulative and stubbornly controlling it is to pose the questions not only without answering them, but while stating, quite clearly, that his own internal process of decision-making necessarily won't arrive at any changes in behavior. How much more dangerous can a person admit to being?] I know many people who do have certainty about what I should do. I hear from them daily. Some want me to step down; some want me to step back up and stay where I am. [He conveniently counterpoints any call for him to resign with the mention that it's not unanimous, as if such a call to give up position and power as a white man ever could be unanimous in a white male supremacist society where everyone is well-trained to take care of them emotionally, socially, and otherwise. Why aren't the perspectives of those who want him to step down sufficient? Why does there have to be a balancing rebuttal? Because he doesn't want to step down, and likely won't unless he has an excuse that doesn't name why he must, politically, step down. That, in a nutshell, is a glaring example of colonialist white male privilege, entitlement, and power.] I’m on the receiving end of a lot of praise and vitriol. [Curiously positioning himself as both hero and victim.] I’m trying my best to process what I’m hearing, [I wish he'd listen and act in accordance with what others are saying, more than just hear; I also don't believe this is his best--few of us do our best at anything; refusing to have final answers to questions of his ethics and political practice surely isn't his best. If it is, that's an additional and compelling reason for him to step down and shut up] remembering the truth that one is never as bad as one’s detractors suggest, nor as good as one’s admirers insist. [Again, this moral positioning himself as moderate in all things, including the political (not only moral) matter of being a chronic abuser of women. In fact, he may have done and could be doing far more harm to women than any of his detractors know. Also, here and in so many other places, he fails to take into account why such admiration exists at all, when none exists for countless millions of women of color who do far more good--so much more good, exponentially more good--without doing any of the harm.]  But it’s difficult work, and it will take more time. [Always, more time. More time. More time. A lifetime perhaps. Men do many things within a time-frame and so does he: he writes up syllabi; he gets to class; he grades papers; he abuses women on any given day according to his schedule. He knows how to get things done. Except when it comes to arriving at a plan that necessarily abdicates some of his power and privilege.]
Moving Forward 

The fact that I haven’t reached clarity yet about what my future holds doesn’t mean I can’t share certain decisions I’ve made about myself, my work, and my public presence.

As I wrote yesterday, Healthy is the New Skinny/Perfectly Unperfected and I have parted ways.  My presence threatened to become a dangerous distraction to the good work that HNS and PUP are doing.  Resigning was the only viable course of action. [That's a start. He needs to apply the same viability to every other professional thing he does.]

I’ve also resigned from my role as faculty adviser to the Pasadena City College Feminist Club for much the same reason. [That's also a start.]

As for my writing and speaking, I will for now continue to do both. [This position is predictable. He still feels--and structurally, institutionally is--quite entitled to speak with authority about matters of gender and politics. This could not happen without the support of whites and men.] The editors at Jezebel, who are aware of this controversy, have asked me to continue to write for the site. [Does this mean he couldn't say no? It appears every invitation is accepted, creating more and more spaces for him to get undo while compulsively needed attention.] I am pleased to do so. [Why does it please him, given all the harm he's done to so many women and so many feminists in particular? I find that comment to be smug and self-satisfied.] I will continue to explore writing opportunities outside of explicitly feminist spaces, recognizing that my presence in those spaces is controversial, divisive, and unhelpful. [This modest adjustment and recognition--he's 'unhelpful' (like not sweeping a floor? like not picking up his underwear?) not harmful (as in chronically and systematically abusive to women)--is part of his M.O. Again the neutralising focus on his behavior as 'controversial'. His presence is likely far more than 'divisive'. It's likely to be triggering and presently threatening, putting even more women in danger.] I will continue to explore speaking opportunities as well, but will be adapting my lectures so that I am focusing primarily on issues around men and masculinity. [Does that include speaking about how it is that he has abused so many women with so much structural support from men? Why will he continue to explore those unwarranted opportunities? Doesn't this afford him more financial gain and political clout, as he speaks to the gender that has more money to pay him and more status to promote his work? This adjustment is self-serving.]

I teach a variety of gender-themed courses at Pasadena City College.  The one women’s studies’ course we have at PCC in the Social Sciences Division is History 25B, Women in American Society.  I’ve taught it every semester for nearly two decades.   The syllabus does include the history of feminism.  PCC plans its offering nine months in advance; I’m already booked to teach 25B this spring semester and in the coming autumn term.  [He could resign. He'd then be replaced.] But I will be talking with my colleagues on campus and elsewhere about asking for a change in assignment for spring 2013, the earliest term for which a shift can be made. [That's complete self-serving bullshit, quite frankly. If he wanted to, he could resign immediately. I mean, what if he was arrested and imprisoned for several years for the crimes he's occasionally admitted to committing? An interim faculty member would teach his classes and a search would be done to find someone to teach other classes that fulfill the same requirements; his claims are entirely dishonest and his conclusions are entirely false.] I haven’t made a final decision yet, but as of now, am leaning towards not returning to women’s history. [And of course the decision is his; the power to set the trajectory of his life is his: this is white male supremacy, all naked, pink, and self-determining.]

I will continue to teach my rotating courses in the Humanities department, including my “Men and Masculinity”course.  But those courses do not include feminist theory or feminist history on their syllabi. [Why don't they? How could they not? Do we actually believe men hold the best perspective on men? Doesn't his own behavior show us that men cannot be trusted to name their own or his abuses accurately? What is the usefulness of having a male sexual abuser teach courses on men and masculinity? What message does that give to the female and male students taking the class, and everyone else on campus?]

Continuing the Conversation

A conversation about some of these issues began in a moderated space last week.  The Feminism and Religion blog reprinted my “response post” from earlier this month, and invited comments.  A dialogue has begun there, and will continue. [See, if you wish to read that, here for part 1, and here for part 2. For an interview with him at the blog Feministe, see here.]

I will continue to listen. [And that's not nearly enough.] I’m receiving an average of 50-60 emails a day, equally split between detractors and supporters.  [I recommend he skip the ones from supporters. He has plenty of evidence before him to know he's being greatly supported. Various institutions and individuals are not holding him to account or determining any punishments for any abuses he has committed. In a social world such as his, predicated on protecting colonialist white male power, an equal split between detractors and supporters ought to register as an overwhelming vote of no confidence.] I’m trying to read at least some of the web commentary. [Some? Selectively? How do we know what he's choosing to read and what he's choosing to ignore?] The difficult part is separating what is legitimate criticism (and there is legitimate criticism) [This is the power of white men here: to name reality. This is a rare time when we see his acknowledgement that the perspectives of others might actually be correct. But as fast as that's done, he must then qualify and temper that awareness, as he typically does, with what follows] from unfair personal attacks. [Given that white men usually believe someone else naming their behavior as 'rape' or 'racist' is only a personal attack, one wonders how someone could name what he does without him considering it both unfair and a personal affront.] By the same token, I’m trying to separate what is thoughtful and wise encouragement from what is unhelpful, ego-aggrandizing flattery. [He needs to understand the difference in his own writings and speaking.] Given the tremendous volume and speed of all of this input, that’s difficult work and will take a considerable amount of time.  [In a white male supremacist society, more time is always needed. "A considerable amount" is always determined by the accused person not those he harms. White men holding themselves to appropriate levels of account ought not be rushed, according to U.S. society's political dictates. We wouldn't want to see any white man unduly diminish his colonial access, or curb his patriarchal power prematurely.] The end result, however, is likely to be my departure from explicitly feminist spaces. [I'll believe it when I see it. And why only from "explicitly" feminist spaces? What about the implicit ones? What about departing from the spaces known as Gender Studies classrooms, or the whole of Academia, or the blogosphere?]
*For another example of his reinforcement of gender myths--not that we need any more, there is this:
Women are shamed for their sexuality in a way that men aren’t. That has innumerable consequences. For example, we raise women to be objects of desire. This is where we get the famous Paris Paradox (which goes back long before Paris Hilton), where girls learn how to be sexy long before they discover their own sexuality. At the same time, we raise boys to believe their bodies aren’t as beautiful, as desirable, as appealing as those of girls. Boys get to be sexual, but too rarely get to trust that they’re wanted, lusted for, desired. [Source: here]
Implied in what he says, "sexy" is a set of political practices in a context of male supremacy where men define, require, profit from, and enforce it. "Learning how to be sexy" is what is demanded of female models in pornography who are, more often than not, pimped, battered, and raped, all before the age of consent. Their pimps, batterers, and rapists are not infrequently the directors of the pornography. It is these not improbably abused women who Hugo repeatedly seeks out for sex.

He implies that most or all women do, in fact, discover their own sexuality. I'd argue anyone's sexuality is shaped or influenced by patriarchy and its violence in an on-going way. Some of us achieve relative self-possession and self-definition. I don't think most people do. I don't think most people get to think about what that would even mean. Few in my own family have. To engage the discussion usually means one is living a privileged life in some regards, materially or academically. I have heard women earnestly make statements about how much their sexuality is their own; and their sexuality ought to be theirs to claim. But when men abuse women sexually, men will speak about their own sexuality as if it isn't theirs, as if they are commanded by drugs, alcohol, or mental illness to act out precisely the same way men who don't do drugs, don't drink, and aren't mentally ill act out patriarchal sexuality.

As a white gay male and an abuse survivor, I've found that efforts at "sexiness" and explorations of sexuality often and normally require sufficient dissociation from one's body and feelings to not know or appreciate the level of harm done to us. Sexiness typically is learning how to please one's oppressor, learning how to privilege the  production of sexual responses in him, not in oneself. This may be seen as a version of Stockholm Syndrome on the level of sexual expression and contact. Many feminists have written about the social, cultural, and political construction of "sex". For example, Patricia Hill Collins in Black Sexual Politics, and Catharine A. MacKinnon in Women's Lives, Men's Laws.

Hugo seems to equate "sexiness", "beauty", and the knowledge of being desired. Many feminists have also written about the racial and sexual politics of beauty. He does so while centering and privileging heterosexual men's experience. If women learned their bodies were beautiful, as Hugo states, how come no woman I know thinks her body is beautiful or attractive enough? If "we raise boys to believe their bodies aren’t as beautiful, as desirable, as appealing as those of girls", how come many men I know are quite comfortable in their bodies, of whatever shape and size? Men with and without hair on their head, with and without facial hair or body hair; with and without washing; with and without above or below average weight; with and without grooming or self-reflection on appearance of any kind.

Consider the degrees to which women attend to their appearance while being systematically shamed, harassed, and abused for either presenting themselves the way men desire them to, or for not doing so. Consider the degree to which women, compared to men, are bombarded with messages to attend to their appearance for the sake of pleasing men before leaving the home. Consider who benefits politically, materially, socially, and sexually from such a system. Consider who most benefits politically from women being in systems of prostitution: men.

In his interview published two days ago, we see him moralizing about his behavior once again, and never stating that his anti-feminist and misogynist behavior occurs not because of a lack of moral strength but because of having far too much political power and continuous access to those he hurts:
So, do you believe it is fine for you to be with a 23-year-old, or do you believe in your heart that what you argued in that essay is how it should be?
I am not sure right now. I am very confused. I am looking at having blown up my career and blown up my marriage. I think that, yes, men should try to stick to women their own age. And I am guilty of hypocrisy, but the fact that I am guilty of hypocrisy doesn’t invalidate the truth of what I was saying. I was just too weak to live up to what it was I was writing.
White male supremacist and colonial entitlement, chronic dishonesty, and systematic abuses of power, not moral weakness, are the cause of the end of his fourth marriage and his decades-long career. What's so confusing about that?

*               *               *
That is the way the power of men is manifest in real life. That is what theory about male supremacy means. It means you can rape. It means you can hit. It means you can hurt. It means you can buy and sell women. It means that there is a class of people there to provide you with what you need. You stay richer than they are, so that they have to sell you sex. Not just on street corners, but in the workplace. That's another right that you can presume to have: sexual access to any woman in your environment, when you want.

Now, the men's movement suggests that men don't want the kind of power I have just described. I've actually heard explicit whole sentences to that effect. And yet, everything is a reason not to do something about changing the fact that you do have that power.

Hiding behind guilt, that's my favorite. I love that one. Oh, it's horrible, yes, and I'm so sorry. You have the time to feel guilty. We don't have the time for you to feel guilty. Your guilt is a form of acquiescence in what continues to occur. Your guilt helps keep things the way they are.
I have heard in the last several years a great deal about the suffering of men over sexism. [...] This is a new wrinkle. Implicit in the idea that this is a different kind of suffering is the claim, I think, that in part you are actually suffering because of something that you know happens to someone else. That would indeed be new.
But mostly your guilt, your suffering, reduces to: gee, we really feel so bad. Everything makes men feel so bad: what you do, what you don't do, what you want to do, what you don't want to want to do but are going to do anyway.  -- Andrea Dworkin,  "I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape" (1983, thirty years ago).  [Source: here]

Hugo Schwyzer, Feminism, and Privilege

image featuring Hugo Schwyzer is from here
This post was slightly revised on Aug. 16, 2013. Revised a bit more on Aug. 28, 2013.

This is part 1 of 2. For part 2, please see *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 by self-definition, 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's history of abuse and present 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 (meaning: responsive and available to his critics to their satisfaction). He disagreed with my politics which doesn't in and of itself trouble me at all. But I realized there was little point in engaging with him further when 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 other words, he opted out of on-going conversation. As did Kyle Payne.

In general, I'm suspicious of any man who promotes some forms of feminism and profits from doing so 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, when 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". Disclosure about needing to focus on himself and his well-being by taking time away from work, is not only self-involved, but is a luxury most people cannot afford. (To clarify: I don't see the self-care as necessarily self-involved. I see the publicity of it by him as unnecessarily drawing more attention to himself as hurt person deserving of sympathetic social attention.)

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. (See the follow-up post for an update on this.)

Hugo has had a relatively large audience as someone 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 confessed--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, Schwyzer, and too many other destructive white men to name, there is a persistent self-centeredness and assumption, when the harm is great, that they ought to be socially understood as complex human beings with harmful and helpful qualities equally. (As if any colonial and patriarchal social, religious, academic, or economic institution would reinforce anything to the contrary; in fact most institutions downplay destruction and highlight goodness.) Such men display a common practice, particularly those with economic privilege: my pain ought to sensitize you to my humanity; my suffering deserves broad social understanding, including from people I structurally and interpersonally oppress; I will detail my personal struggles so that you see how complexly human I am, how deserving of empathy and compassion. I have, at times, participated in aspects of this, although usually on the private 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 things. 
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 his privilege to demonstrate emotional and mental fragility and come out the other end with his humanity, competency, and status in tact. And his job. In the colonial West, only white het men avoid class-level stigma when mentally ill or when struggling emotionally. Individual white men may well be stigmatised if they publicly cry or display traditionally unmasculine emotions. For members of all other groups, however, mental illness and emotional fragility are frequently seen and stigmatised as being crazy and out-of-control dangerous. He can broadcast his psychiatric struggles and retain his structurally protected status of presumed sanity and competence. No Black woman I know has such structural protection.

The assumption that one who is struggling and suffering ought to get social compassion and understanding--let alone appropriate professional care--is not one I know many women of color take on board with such access and 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 on the macro scale. 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 Schwyzer is not stigmatized by such admissions of mental illness, or his alcohol and other substance abuse, or his sexual predation, violence, and violations, and also hasn't served a day in prison, is solid evidence of his white, het, and male privileges and institutionally protected power. As a white gay male, any sexual predation would sound all kinds of alarms in the mind of heterosexist society. "Dangerous" would quickly be assumed to be true. As would "predatory". Not "a little ignorant of boundary issues" or "unfortunately troubled", but instead, "Dangerous like they all are." I'd hear or read from social dominants how "you've got to be careful when employing them" (not just him or her). There'd be no reflection on my personal history but Hugo gets to publicly elaborate on his own with an assumption he'll be listened to and retain his individualism.

Hugo gets to be a him, singular; not a them. That's the function of his gender, economic, sexuality, and race privilege. Gay, of color, female, poor: all carry stigma transforming and pathologising individual action into behavior "typical" of the group.

The fact that some women of color are getting a moment of attention by both popular and more marginalised  media is not encouraging to me; it is, rather, a sign that white and male supremacy are as strong as ever. Having subordinated and systematically silenced voices emerge sporadically (very sporadically) is part of how liberal white male supremacy works. It pretends that Black and Brown women speaking once a decade about sexism or racism is evidence of racial and sexual equality, while white men speak about everything under the sun 24/7/365/500+ (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:
when the mental health & future prospects for are more important than the damage he did. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Catharine A. MacKinnon on "Lovelace", and the subject (not object) of the film, Linda Marchiano

All that follows is a cross-post from Harvard University Press Blog.

09 August 2013

Catharine MacKinnon on Lovelace

Lovelace PosterThe pornographic film Deep Throat, released in 1972, was a cultural sensation whose star, “Linda Lovelace,” was said to put a girl-next-door face on the sexual revolution. But the actual life of Linda Boreman, as depicted in the new biopic Lovelace, was one of beatings, rape, and terror. Feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon, author of such works as Toward a Feminist Theory of the State and Only Words, represented Boreman after she came forward with her story, and later, with Andrea Dworkin, pursued civil rights litigation as a means to fight pornography. We asked MacKinnon about Boreman, Lovelace, and the potential impact of the film.
Q. You’ve noted that prior to the 1980 publication of Linda Lovelace’s Ordeal, you had no view of pornography one way or the other. For those unfamiliar with her story, who was Linda Lovelace?
“Linda Lovelace” was the fictional name of Linda Boreman, later Linda Marchiano, who was forced into captivity and made to perform fellatio and other sex acts by pimps, including organized crime, so that pornography, notably the notorious film Deep Throat, could be made of her. The film was instrumental in establishing pornography as culturally legitimate in the 1970s. After her escape, Linda’s valiant opposition to the sex industry included chronicling her abuse in Ordeal and extensive public testimony. Her revelations enabled a change in the way pornography was debated legally and socially, shifting the focus from morality to harm.
Q. This film comes decades after the landmark pornography civil rights hearings at which Marchiano testified, as documented in In Harm’s Way. Can you remind us what was at stake in those hearings?
The anti-pornography civil rights hearings collected in In Harm’s Way created a space for people victimized by pornography to speak about what had been done to them in its making or through its use.  Up to that point, the legal argument over pornography had essentially only considered the freedom of speech issues.
The hearings documented the inequality that is foundational to the industry: that the “speech” of the pornographers is the use and abuse of the bodies of mainly women, who were far from free and were not speaking for themselves. The consequences of the distribution and use of the materials was shown to be equally silencing and endangering to legions of women and children who are abused by its consumers.  Thus the sexual exploitation of women and children in making pornography is mass-produced through its consumers to become violation of other women and children.
The civil rights ordinances the hearings debated were passed several times, then found to violate the First Amendment on the theory that the more harm the materials do, the more protected as speech they are–an incorrect, indeed reversed, view of First Amendment law. The ordinances could still be passed and found constitutional today.
Q. What was your involvement with the Lovelace film?
I represented Linda from 1980 until her death, was her friend, and continue to represent her Estate and her children. Lovelace is based in part on our life story rights. It shows Linda as human and credible, as she was not seen as being in life. All she ever wanted was to be believed and respected, to have people face what really happened and take steps to stop it. We see this film as a major step forward in that process. Apparently, when you make fact into fiction, people begin to believe it is true.
We participated in the making of the picture, are proud of it and the people who made it, and feel strongly that Linda would be proud of it.
Q. Gloria Steinem has said of the film that the true story is actually much more violent, but that the filmmakers “did the best they could.” To the extent that the trauma of Marchiano’s life had to be toned down to bring the film to a wide audience, why is that a compromise worth making?
The filmmakers had full creative control, which is as it should be. The film’s compromises with factual accuracy are not mine to defend. Artists operate on assumptions of what the experiences of audiences prepare them to see; sometimes audiences say they want to see pretty standard tropes when they go for entertainment.
Through a brilliant structure, Lovelace unmasks the myth that Linda was freely acting and shows her enduring coercion and terror, trapped by lack of support from her family and authorities. And it shows her victorious, getting free of what is increasingly understood as sex trafficking. It shows the core truth of her story and her triumph.
Q. The impact of the internet on the pornography industry has obviously been enormous, and this film depicts an era much different from that in which we now live. With that said, what would you hope that the Lovelace audience takes from the film?
Society is substantially more saturated with pornography than it was before, as Andrea Dworkin and I predicted in 1983 would happen if nothing was done to stop it. That means we need a law like the civil rights law we proposed even more now than we did then, because even more people are being violated as a result of the sex industry.
Linda had no rights over Deep Throat when it was made, and without the law we wrote for her and others, she would have no rights over it today. And she is not alone–far from it.
Once Linda is seen as a human being rather than a sex doll and sperm spittoon, a process Lovelace advances light years, we hope audiences will begin to consider that the pornography industry traffics in a form of sexual slavery that is neither protected speech nor free. Meantime, they will see an enlightening story as they enjoy a very smart, splendidly acted, and good movie.