Last week I asked you what questions you’d like me to ask the controversial Hugo Schwyzer. While some of you had never even heard of him, others of you were ready to go with questions. Lots of questions.
Even if you loathe him and strongly feel that he shouldn’t be allowed even near the word “feminism” – let alone act as a voice for it – Hugo Schwyzer has always been honest about his controversial past. He is candid about the things that most of us would try to forget. In a lot of cases, this honesty seems to redeem him, at least in the eyes of some people. There are those who stand by and support him, accepting the things that can’t be changed, but the voices on the other side of this debate all but call for his head — they also seem to be the louder of the two very divided groups.
With the questions we received from our readers and a couple of our own, we reached out to Schwyzer and asked him to explain himself.
How do you reconcile your accountability process (where you said you’d be taking yourself out of women-centered & feminist spaces) with your recent upswing in pitching and posting articles to websites like Jezebel and xojane?
I wrote that I’d be taking myself out of explicit feminist spaces. That doesn’t mean websites – it means not participating in conferences or clubs where my physical presence may be problematic. I no longer am a member of NAWSA. I no longer advise the feminist club at PCC. But I’ve been writing for Jezebel since before this controversy and never intended to resign from that position. The editors at XoJane include friends, and I fully apprised them of the controversy.
Lots of people don’t want me writing in those spaces — and many do. There’s no way to figure out what the percentages are. There’s no poll. I trust and believe, sincerely, that on balance the potential for good trumps the potential for harm. That’s the view of the (often feminist) editors who publish me and the view of the people to whom I am accountable.
XoJane, Jezebel, TheGloss, and so forth – these sites are not providing group therapy in a safe and nurturing environment. They are spaces for vigorous, even controversial discussion of ideas around sexuality and gender roles. Editors shouldn’t be in loco parentis.
Have your thoughts changed about the statement you made on xojane claiming a “faulty premise of scarcity” on the Internet, and your belief that you are not depriving less-privileged voices from being heard?
I stand by that statement. There are many, many wonderful websites (and more and more each year) focusing on women and women’s issues. The vast majority of writers for these sites are women; a growing number are women of color. I do not believe that a single white man writing a weekly column or an occasional contribution means that women are being silenced. If I were writing primarily about, say, black women’s issues, and there were no black women at the site writing about that issue, that would be a huge problem. But that’s not the situation here.
Writers who have privilege have an obligation to promote the less privileged – to introduce them to editors, to signal boost their articles in social media, and so forth. But I don’t buy into the idea that there are a finite number of opportunities, and that because I wrote a piece for XoJane about my divorce, a less-privileged voice was automatically not published. That’s just not how the ‘net works.
What are your plans for the future regarding writing (and pitching) to women-centered publications?
Complete candor with the editors about the ramifications of publishing me. Total transparency. Editors know their sites better than I do.
What are your plans for the future regarding creating & participating in spaces for men to talk about men’s issues and feminism?
I’ve had conversations about creating another site similar to Good Men Project, but with a more explicitly progressive stance. I’m hopeful that that project will eventually come to fruition, but it’s a lot of work. Since I resigned from GMP over what I saw as an increasingly anti-feminist editorial direction, I’ve found precious few spaces for talking about gender and sexuality that aren’t aimed at a primarily female audience.
Do your children and other loved ones know about how people react to you? If not, do you ever plan on sharing that with them if they stumble across something you’ve written or has been written about you?
My daughter is not quite 4 and my son is 5 months old. They have no idea. Someday, of course, they will: I wrote about that at Role/Reboot a while back. A quote:
“I believe in redemption. I believe that people can lead reckless and selfish and destructive lives and then turn those lives around. I believe—because I’ve seen it—that those people can, in time, become wonderful, devoted parents. Though I’m far from perfect, I’m a far different man today than I once was. As ugly and scandalous as some of the stories from my past are, they are also reminders of the vital reality that human beings can make dreadful mistakes, atone, and transform. In a society where frantic perfectionism has become the great epidemic of the adolescent middle-class, what kids need more than ever are examples of safe, reliable adults who were not always so. Though I hope that Heloise and David do not go through anything like what I went through (and inflicted on others), I do want them to know that one mistake—or even 1,000 mistakes—need not ruin their lives. Sooner or later, she will inevitably know about most of my own mistakes. When the time is right, they should and will start to hear about them from me.”
I’d like to ask Hugo if he thinks he’d have gotten as far as he has in the feminist blogosphere if he wasn’t a good-looking man with a bad-boy rep. Honestly, I think he keeps getting published because many feminist writers and editors want to sleep with him. It’s the only explanation I can think of.
Hah! Is there a compliment in there? Not much of one – it insults my writing and it insults my colleagues who are editors and publishers. The bad-boy rep may serve as click bait, but I seriously doubt that my highly overrated sex appeal has anything to do with it!
What are your ideas about power imbalances in relationships as doesn’t every relationship have some sort of power imbalance?
Sure, and that’s why we draw legal boundaries. The power balance between a 25 year-old and a 15 year-old is so one-sided that we deem it illegal – even though the imbalance between a 40 year-old and an 18 year-old might be as great (if not illegal). The same thing happens with teacher-student relationships – the power imbalance between a prof and a student who is enrolled in his or her class is so great that it seems reasonable to ask that folks wait until the student is no longer directly under that prof’s supervision.
Although you’ve addressed it before and we briefly mentioned it last week, could you explain the details surrounding the murder-suicide attempt? Some of our readers may not be familiar with it and since it is a great source of contention for feminists, it would be great if you could elaborate and, again, justify this for our audience. Also how have the women in your life since then responded to this piece of information?
In June 1998, I was in a very bad place — spiraling down deeper into a crippling depression, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, self-mutilating, doing lots of destructive things. An ex and I were in similar places — she was also headed for a brutal bottom. One terrible night, while drunk and high, I decided to kill us both. She was passed out; I tried to gas us both to death.
It was an awful thing to do. Drugs and depression are an explanation, but not an excuse for what I did. I’ve made amends to the best of my ability and the details of those amends are private.
People get to decide how they feel about me as a consequence. Yes, I tried to kill myself and someone else. That is part of who I was and always will be. If that means I will forever be an attempted murderer in the eyes of some, there’s nothing I can do to change that. I know I am not that person anymore. My family and friends know it. But those people who are still troubled by it, or who believe that my actions 14 years ago have earned me a permanent ban from writing or speaking, are entitled to their views.
People can change. And though we oversell redemption narratives, we need them because they’re real and because they’re true. I haven’t been perfect in the last 14 years, but I’ve been safe. I stand by that.
Photo: Sarit Photography