Wednesday, August 14, 2013

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. 

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