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Darlena Cunha


Ladies: Hugo Schwyzer's Life Is Not Your Fault

Posted: 08/01/2013 5:21 pm

Have you heard about Hugo Schwyzer taking a break from the feminist internet? If you have eyes, you've read about it. He made sure of it. He posted on his own blog about it, gave an interview immediately with New York Magazine about it, and his pals over at The Atlantic did a nice little tribute, too.

Hugo Schwyzer is not one to go gentle into that good night.

He's leaving, and he wants you all to know that it's because you're such meanie heads. Yes, you. Posting your snarky tweets about his freelance gigs, commenting your agitated words under his writing. Can't a man speak for women and just be left alone?

He mentions his fragile mental health and his marital problems, most likely stemming from his recent affair (with someone super-important in feminist circles, guys. But, shh! Don't be interested in that. But if you hear about who he banged, don't be surprised. Tee-hee.)

I'd like to take these issues one by one, and explain to you that Hugo Schwyzer's life is not your fault, regardless of what he implies.

First, though, let's get through the most important point: This is not about whether or not men can be feminist leaders, or outspoken in feminist spaces.

For the purpose of this piece, I am fully on the side of men being able to speak out on feminist issues if they so choose. I do not want to debate the intricacies of men leading women in their own movement right now. Because it's not about that.

This is about personal responsibility and accountability.

Don't cloud the issue or make it more important than it is by including the overarching theme of men in women's spaces. It doesn't have to do with what he is (a man). It has to do with what he does.

Okay, let's start with his personal goodbye letter, shall we?

His first sentence casts blame on the online world for his departure:

"The toxicity of take-down culture is exhausting and dispiriting. The cheapest and easiest tweets and articles to compose are snarky and clever dismantlings of what someone else has worked hard to create. The defenders of this culture of fierceness call it intellectual honesty, but it is an honesty too often edged in cruelty."

You know what the problem is? It's that the snarky tweeters aren't thinking about what happens on the other end of their writing. Much like Schwyzer didn't think about the consequences of his essay coming out as a character in a murder-suicide plot to those who were working with him at the time. Funding was lost, reputations out the window, as these people who spent long, hard hours erecting safe spaces for women (like scarlateen, for example) became aware of a violent past that had been previously and deviously hidden from them, standing by them, holding their hands. That's what honesty edged in cruelty looks like.

However, in his NY Mag interview, Schwyzer has apparently forgotten the comfort he called for, saying, "There is 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."

Bingo. This is not your safe space. When you write something publicly, you open yourself up to criticism. Period. I expect to be criticized for this piece. I'm not going to whine about it, though. Because I understand that the internet is not a safe space. Not like, say, my therapist's office or my local women's center. (Thanks, by the way, for helping me find my woman safe spaces, Hugo.)

Here's another issue with that: While the internet itself is not a safe space, there are safe spaces within the internet. There are women who band together in more private groupings to discuss issues pertinent to them without expecting to be attacked or exposed. We need to keep those distinctions drawn.

And since the interview for NY Mag is definitely not a safe space, let's take a look at this gem:

"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."

Huzzah! This is exactly as it should be, as the oppressed group is probably the group that knows what's going on. But, please, continue.

"Men are afraid of women's anger. It's very hard for men to stand up to women's anger."

Do I even exist in the same universe as Hugo Schwyzer? In what realm of reality is that even close to a true statement? For someone who has marked a prolific and successful career in women's studies and feminism, this unveils a huge problem in feminism today. When even the most entrenched of advocates go the "you women are too angry" route, it blatantly emphasizes how very easy it is to miss the point.

The point being twofold. 1) Women have very good reason to be angry, if they even are. 2) It's not about you, dude. Feminism is not about Hugo Schwyzer. It just isn't. And had he backed away in a respectable manner, having realized that maybe it wasn't his words on the matter or his position in the space that was the issue but instead his insatiable need to self-aggrandize, well, then, I wouldn't be writing this piece. But instead, he chose the most vocal of ways to exit the stage. And I take issue with that.

And it's important to note that I like Schwyzer's writing. But no matter how many times people confuse the two, his talents are not himself.

You can be a man in feminism. You can be a man who slept with his students in feminism. You can be a man who cheated on his wife in feminism. You can be a man who was addicted to drugs and alcohol and be in feminism. You can be a man who once tried to murder his girlfriend and be in feminism. You can be a man who uses all of these experiences as freelance fodder and be in feminism.

I firmly believe in all of those statements.

But you cannot be a man who slept with his students, cheated on his wife, was addicted to drugs and alcohol, tried to murder his girlfriend, and used all those things as freelance fodder, who also cannot extrapolate himself from the feminist messages, which, by virtue of their nature call for the spotlight to be on women and their issues, not on Hugo Schwyzer.

Schwyzer is "sad and hurt by a culture in which what we say online is policed by clever cynicism masquerading as progressive outrage."

I am sad and hurt that my clever cynicism is looked at as something that is not deserved. I'm sad and hurt that women cannot be outraged at actions without being told they're too angry and they should take it to their local women's shelters. I'm sad and hurt that in an age where we need to be talking about the feminist movement in terms of where we go from here, and when we especially need to make the new battles of women known, we're stuck writing essays about men who are leaving the feminist space because we're all too mean. I'm sad and hurt that yet again it is all about the men.

But I didn't spend my whole post on that. Because feminism is not about me. And it's certainly not about Hugo Schwyzer.

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    In a 2008 study of heterosexual college students, guys who were shown images of platonic and sexually interested women had a harder time distinguishing between friendly and frisky cues. Men were slightly more likely than women to misidentify the friendly images as sexually interested. While women did mistake about a third of the sexually interested images for folks just being friendly, men did even worse, leading the researchers to deem them as the "perceptually insensitive" sex (feel free to use that line on a clueless date).

  • We're Faster

    Well, at least our circadian rhythms are faster. Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital found that the cycle length of the daily biological clock in women was shorter than it was in men (six minutes, on average). This means that many of us tend to wake up earlier -- and this gives us an excuse to go to bed earlier than our partners.

  • We Make More Effective Congresspeople (When We Manage To Get Elected)

    Regardless of party affiliation, congressional women deliver more federal projects to their home districts and sponsor and co-sponsor more legislation than their male colleagues. In a study that was recently published in The American Journal of Political Science, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Chicago attributed women's political success not to some innate political instinct but to the fact that it's really hard for us to get elected (there are currently 360 men and 75 women in the House; 83 men and 17 women in the Senate). They theorize that women feel immense pressure to measure up, so instead of meeting expectations, we surpass them.

  • We're Better Educated

    We've been hearing for decades that women earn more bachelor's degrees than men. But in the 2008-2009 academic year, women earned 60 percent of all master's degrees and finally caught up with men in earning 50.4 percent of doctoral degrees. Congratulations, graduates!

  • We Have Stronger Immune Systems

    A 2009 study by scientists at McGill University indicated that women have a built-in mechanism to protect from infection. Estrogen naturally found in our bodies suppresses an enzyme that interferes with our defense system. These findings may inspire estrogen-based treatments to boost immunity in those (ahem, men) who don't already possess the hormone.

  • We're More Likely To See A Doctor

    Women reported in a national survey in June 2011 that we're three times more likely than men to see a physician on a regular basis.

  • We Mature Into Healthier Eaters

    Studies show that while too many kids are eating junk food (20 to 33 percent eat it three times a week), girls are more likely than guys to lose the taste for it after adolescence. This may explain why you haven't been to a Taco Bell since your senior class trip.

  • We're At Far Lower Risk For Blood Disease

    Hemophilia is a disorder that prevents blood from clotting normally, and can lead to excessive and internal bleeding. It's caused by a gene defect located on the X chromosome. Women will not develop the disease unless both chromosomes are affected -- and that's extremely rare. Because men only have one X chromosome, they are much more susceptible to hemophilia.

  • We Ensure The Continuation Of The Human Race

    At least until that cloning technology gets sorted out.

  • We Have The Power To Reassure

    Participants in a 2010 study who were tapped on the shoulder by a female researcher invested significantly more money in a wager than those patted by a man, leading researchers to theorize that contact with a woman triggered a confidence boost similar to the one they received as children from their mother's touch.

  • After Facial Surgery, We're Camera-Ready Sooner

    Men don't look as good after facial surgeries (like the removal of cancerous basal cells), and it's not just because women are more adept at applying concealer. "The hair follicles in men's faces require more blood vessels," explains Phil Haeck, MD, the president of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, and a surgeon with a private practice in Seattle. "Because men's faces are more vascular, they tend to bruise more."

  • Our Hearts Respond Better To Healthy Choices

    When it comes to heart disease, women can be more strongly impacted than men by risk factors like diabetes and cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association. The flip side is that making healthy lifestyle modifications -- getting more exercise and eating right to control blood sugar and cholesterol -- may yield greater benefits to women.

  • We Hold The Record For A Heart Reboot

    The longest-surviving open-heart surgery patient in the world is a British woman named Sadie Purdy. She was born with a hole in her heart in 1924, and when she was 17, she suffered complications that required one of the valves in her heart to be tied. Doctors weren't sure whether she'd survive the procedure, which was then still in the experimental stage. Ms. Purdy did, and entered Guinness World Records in 2004. At 86, she's living in a nursing home in England.

  • Luck Is A Lady

    Right, Frank?

  • ... And Death Is A Woman

    In Neil Gaiman's cult-hit comic book series, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Sandman-Vol-Preludes-Nocturnes/dp/1563890119" target="_hplink"><em>The Sandman</em></a>, Death was a hip young woman who would spend a day every century living and dying as a mortal to understand the value of human life. While there's no proof that women are kinder than men, this version of Death is certainly more empathetic than the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper.

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