Friday, January 20, 2012

Feminism, Men, and Redemption

[Trigger/content warning: Violence]

A couple of people have emailed me asking what I think about the Hugo Schwyzer, erm, Internet Feminist Situation. (See Alas, for a roundup of related links and background.)

(tl;dr version: What role should or can a male feminist play in feminist when, by his own admission, he has had a very problematic history with women but now seeks to make amends?).

My observations are as follows:

First, I have linked to Scwhyzer's work a few times in the past. That being said, I am very troubled by Schwyzer's past and, prior to this incident, I was not aware of the extent of how problematic it was (It ranges from having tried to kill himself and a former girlfriend while being addicted to drugs and alcohol, to having sex with adult students while he was their teacher).

Schwyzer is a relatively Big Name in feminism, he teaches gender-themed courses at a city college (I don't know if he has tenure), he contributes (or contributed to, before recently resigning) to several very prominent feminist and gender issues blogs, he's co-authored a book, and he has a fancy self-promoting website with his photo attached (he's a conventionally attractive white man).

Much of this- the blogs, the gigs, the promotion- I believe is a function of white male privilege.

Not only has he never been arrested for criminal behavior, he recently wrote on his blog of having been given second chances, of having been "urged" to make amends by his colleagues and administrators, and of being handed the opportunity to chair the committee that wrote his college's policy on relationships between students and teachers.

I value the power of forgiveness, amends, and redemption, and I do think Schwyzer is talented, but ... that? That pisses me right off.

Not because I don't think Schwyzer is "deserving" of such treatment, but mostly because I can't see a lesbian feminist woman of any color, a gay man, a trans* person, or a person of color of any sexual orientation being coddled by superiors and colleagues in a similar way and going on to retain hir prominent status within gender studies and the gender blogosphere.

So, I think part of the backlash Schwyzer is now experiencing within the feminist blogosphere can be attributed to that. (Although, of course, many people have raised other valid concerns as well).

Feminist women often say that it takes a man to say what we regularly say for it to be taken seriously, and it feels unbelievably belittling that a man with such a problematic past can be taken more seriously than many, if not most, feminist women writers, bloggers, and thinkers.

And, of course, the cruelness of it is that white men in heterosexual marriages are deemed to be more authoritative objective than the voices of those who are not white men in heterosexual relationships and so Kicking Them Out Of Feminism can be counter-productive if the goal is to be persuasive to mainstream audiences.

Secondly, and relatedly, feminism is relatively marginalized within mainstream political discourse. I think this incident highlights not only the question of the role of men within feminism, but of the role of any person who is not perfect. In what ways does Internet feminism's "call-out culture" further marginalize already-marginalized feminist narratives? Hugo Schwyzer may be a big shot on Feminist Internet, but he doesn't exactly have his own talk show (um... yet?).

Although I don't agree with him about everything, I do think Schwyzer has made some good points about male privilege, entitlement, and sexism against both men and women. I still believe those points are good and valid, much in the way I believe that other feminists who have problematic personal histories or ideologies have made good and valid points about other things.

Is there any other social movement whose members regularly and publicly kick people and all of their ideas out for not being perfectly acceptable to all people all the time?

And what about the voices of non-white men that are regularly kicked out of feminism. For instance, how does it help or hurt feminism to cite Mary Daly's transbigotry, for instance, as a reason to reject her criticisms of the Catholic Church's misogyny? Is there room for feminists to remain critical of problematic aspects of a person or hir theories without rejecting everything ze ever wrote?

Interestingly, Schwyzer mentioned that some of the colleagues who were supportive of him making amends were feminists. I wonder if feminists (myself included) can have a tendency to be So Grateful That A White Man Is An Ally that we overlook issues that we would refuse to overlook in feminists who aren't white men in heterosexual relationships. Many feminists and "gender egalitarians" today won't touch Twisty Faster or an Andrea Dworkin book with a ten-foot pole, but a dude who tried to kill a lady? Go write for Jezebel! Sure, why not?

My last main observation wouldn't be complete without at least mentioning MRAs. Many MRAs seem to absolutely loath Schwyzer. But what they seem to loathe even more is feminist women setting boundaries around the feminist voices they/we want to promote and support. It's all "witch hunt" this and "fascism" that. As though Internet Feminism has institutional power and backing to, like, burn Bad Feminists at the stake. (Oh wait, that was what the Catholic Church did to Bad Women).

Anyway, because much of the conversation has been centered around him and The Role Of Men In Feminism, I hope that the people he has hurt are finding, or have found, peace. I also hope that Schwyzer is finding peace in all of this. He has been honest, in a very public way, about his past.

Redemption is indeed an enduring theme in literature and film. But I'd contend that feminism's primary concern is not, actually, about redeeming male protagonists.

[Cross-posted at Alas]

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