Here is Why You Don’t Get to Be Done Talking about Hugo Schwyzer

It is apparent that most of the big feminist sites he wrote for or who were friendly to him have decided that they’re done talking about him.

I want to point you to this post by Flavia Dzodan, quoting Tamora Pierce and this post from Angus Johnston.

And then I want to say this–he is actively and right now harming the students he fucked. Most of us do not have enough clout to bring pressure to make sure he stops teaching and stays done teaching. But places like Jezebel and the Atlantic and xoJane do. And it is true that, if you speak out against Schwyzer, you’re going to take a heap of earned, legitimate criticism for your failure to address any of the actions that have brought us to this point. But, my god, is your discomfort really more important than the safety and well-being of his victims?

Because, if it is, then you have learned NOTHING from any of the discussions. Nothing.

24 thoughts on “Here is Why You Don’t Get to Be Done Talking about Hugo Schwyzer

  1. Flavia’s original post at talks about how “HS fatigue” is apparently becoming a thing. I ran into it today on a Feministe post titled, get this, “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen: Reckonings and Thoughts”

    Apparently my repeated insistence that if they’re going to post “the facts” on “the past relationship between HS and Feministe”, they should get them right is making people, well you know, tired of it all.

    Just like Flavia was saying.

  2. B., I wanted to ask for your thoughts on something I’m trying to work out in my head. It has to do with things you’ve said before about intersectionality and privilege.

    Okay, so my thoughts start out with women in STEM fields, because that’s part of my lived experience. A metric ton of pressure comes down on you at all times, if you’re a women in STEM, never to draw a pattern among the microagressions you face (or hell, the non-micro ones either). You’re always supposed to treat each one as a one-off, completely separate. There Is No Pattern, you are told over and over. And people really get antsy when multiple women get together and start adding them up and finding glaring, obvious patterns.

    “You just can’t do that,” the dudes tell us. “Those are completely unrelated incidents of different guys being jerks, not anything remotely indicative of anything larger or anything you get to object to. You don’t get to object. Individual guys will be jerks sometimes. The solution is for you to not mind or not hang around them. You don’t get to object and THERE IS NO PATTERN.”

    Key to this whole line of argument is that all incidents occur in a vacuum, with no relationship to each other.

    Okay, so Feministe has a new Mission Statement up: The very first item after the preamble is an assertion that the authors of Feministe are completely independent of each other: “Each of us speaks only for our individual selves unless otherwise specified.”

    It’s a little weird because the MIssion Statement then goes on to talk about things “The Feministe collective” shares, which doesn’t sound like completely independent speakers/writers. Nor does the fact that they use a common site. But they did say they’re only speaking collectively on pieces of writing where they explicitly say they’re speaking collectively, so maybe that works.

    The thing is, I don’t think it can, somehow. They put that “individual selves” business right at the top of the Mission Statement because they’re having trouble getting people to remember that’s how they want to be perceived. I think that if they’re having so much trouble getting it across that they have to put it in that kind of notice, simply putting it in that kind of notice isn’t going to do the job.

    And I suspect the reason it doesn’t work and will continue to not work is it sounds too much like, “You’re not allowed to add up your microagressions.” It sounds like, “But Objectionable Thing A and Objectionable Thing B and Objectionable Thing C were said by different people, not by Feministe, therefore you can’t draw any kind of link between them even though they were all said by Feministe bloggers.”

    I think it doesn’t matter if that’s not the intent — I think that the simple fact that it uses a common tactic for denying patterns among microagressions is the reason that insisting, “Each of us speaks only for our individual selves,” just isn’t going to work.

    What do you think? As a blogger, do you think that you can tell people how to perceive your blog and have it work? Do you think it can work in this instance?

  3. Man, you don’t ask easy questions, do you? I’ve been thinking about this all evening and I don’t have an answer that satisfies me.

    I have some thoughts, though. One is that I think anyone can try to tell her readers how to receive her work, but that’s it–try. People are going to both see what you’re doing if it doesn’t live up to the standard you set for yourself and bring their own things to what they read.

    So, I have some sympathy for what they’re trying to get at here. I mean, I’ve been criticized for carrying editorial water for the powers that be over at Pith, most recently that I remember, a critic flat out said that I wrote a post about Andrea Zelinski because I was told to. And not only wasn’t I told to in this particular instance, they don’t tell me what to write. If they think they’ve found something I might be interested in, they pass it along. But no one’s ever said to me “You have to write about this,” let alone “you have to write about this and have this opinion about it.” And yet, I still take heat for touting the party line–as if we all get together and get our marching orders.

    So, it’s easy for me to sympathize with how frustrating it must be for these bloggers who don’t all live in the same place, who may have never met in person, even, and who work together because they have common interests to be lumped together as if they just have one unified editorial voice.

    And I’m also not thrilled by this notion that there was some “real” set of commenters, who really count, even though they rarely, if ever, comment there any more, whose experiences and wisdom count for more than the people who are in community there right now. And people kind of backed away from it once they got called on it, but it’s not good that it happened. Making the commenters who are Feministe’s community now feel like interlopers in their own space is wrong.

    On the other hand, it can’t just be that you can enter a community and be a part of it and not have some obligations to the ongoing history of that community, whether or not you’re completely aware of it.

    Here’s the thing I find unsatisfying–the kind of justice i want doesn’t exist. i want this shit to not have happened. But it doesn’t matter how many posts I read at Feministe or how much I linger in the comments. I’m never going to see evidence there that all old hurts have been magically erased.

    Let me be as clear as I can in what I’m about to say–this is only my opinion. I’m not sure it’s the right thing. I’m not sure, even if I am striving for the right thing, that I’m doing it the right way. But this is what I think is the problem. We are back, without realizing it, at Angelou’s change vs. exchange problem.

    People want online feminism to change. But when we get angry or frustrated that the change isn’t happening fast enough or in the form we thought it should take, it’s very easy to slip into “okay, then, I’ll just be the asshole for a while.” I mean that, specifically, for me. Look at me over at Pith for ample evidence of this–can’t make change, just asshole it up.

    I don’t know what genuine change at Feministe will look like. All I know is that it will come in fits and starts like all change. I haven’t been an active member of the community for some time, though, so I don’t want to jump into reading the comments with an eye toward telling them what they could be doing better. To me, that’s just sticking myself at the front of another parade I don’t know the route of.

    I feel like this sounds like a cop-out. And maybe it is. But, for me, trying to parse the meanings of statements made by bloggers to a community I don’t participate in, as if I can tell better than the members of the community what those words mean or what they ought to say instead leads to a place of me being a giant asshole.

    I looked at their mission statement and I read the comments full of people who participate there working out whether it is satisfactory to them. And that seems like important work for that community to do.

    Even if they don’t end up in the place I think they should end up.

  4. You’re the one who introduced me to the change vs. exchange concept, and it has informed my thinking on a lot of things ever since. That’s one of the reasons why I thought to ask you about these things. ^_^

    I really feel for bloggers who wrangle with how to spell out what they can and cannot offer, because it can be a hairy problem. And when it can’t be worked out, the strain can help lead to blogger burnout and voices vanishing.

    But we’ve got a lot of people pointing out that who gets to have a big microphone or access to a big microphone is not remotely a meritocracy, but laden with privilege to the point of supremacy. I’m starting to think any “here’s what I am not” statements from someone with a big microphone just can’t be fully successful if they sound like any known tactics for privilege denial or bingo-ism or anything related. It doesn’t even matter if that’s what the blogger meant or not — it matters if it bears even a passing resemblance.

    For example, I’ve checked out PZ Myers’ blog a few times, and when i have, he’s been in the middle of insisting that he is not any kind of leader among online atheists / atheist activists, but “just a guy with a blog”. And yet, when he posts a link to a science-vs-religion poll somewhere on the web, an awful lot of followers of his blog will promptly go answer the poll with the science answer. Sounds like pretty cut-and-dried proof of leadership, and that sort of thing makes it sound like a too-precious cop-out when he starts on the “not a leader” thing, especially since his blog following parlays into speaking slots at conferences.

    I’m trying to think of someone with a big microphone who’s had success at “this is what I am not”, and Twisty Faster springs to mind. But a big part of how she achieved that is a deliberate retreat into relative obscurity — closing down the associated message board, turning away from leveraging her blog into being heard elsewhere, paid or not, and simply vanishing for long periods. She realized that “it’s just little old me doing my own little thing” doesn’t work when you have a big microphone, so she made her microphone smaller.

    Both Feministe and Myers’ blog have been engaged lately in their commenters helping determine policy for the blog, which as you said, is neat — a community working out what it wants to be. But I don’t think it can ever be that simple at a big microphone, because there are always a lot of people who were driven away from that place who basically wind up seeing a lesson in how the in-group gets to decide things, but the marginalized can go eff off.

    That fed into what you were saying about the old-commenter-new-commenters tension that occurred at Feministe. I think it’s an example of change-vs-exchange — “we’re the group who has a voice because we’re the ones here now working on it” — “no WE’RE the ones who should be heard b/c we know the history and how this place drives certain people away.”

  5. My take on this has little to do with the specific situation at Feministe, which I haven’t been following because I don’t read the comments there more than a couple of times a year. But I think that it’s very easy for online communities to exchange, and very hard for them to change, because (unlike physical communities) it’s so easy for anyone to walk away from them, and so easy for anyone to join them, and it’s so easy to decide to avoid the online presence of the people who led to the decision to walk away. It’s not like having to deal with a next-door neighbor or someone else whose inescapable presence can put a lot of pressure onto the people involved to work something out.

    That doesn’t mean that an internet community can’t change, but the format of blogging makes it complicated. It’s not like a BB or an e-mail list where new voices can deliberately be invited into an ongoing conversation or departed voices can be asked to come back to join in talk with the new folks. Blogs by definition are one-directional: someone puts up a post, and the community responds to it. There may be lots of back-and-forth and discussion as part of that response. There may be multiple people putting up posts, which will vary the tone some. But in a format that demands call and response, someone has to be the caller, and that has such an immense impact on the way the community works that I don’t see any way around it.

    So, I don’t know … bring back e-mail lists? An open feminist discussion, where anyone can raise a topic, might be helpful. Or that might just be my old codgery preferences talking.

  6. “So, I don’t know … bring back e-mail lists? An open feminist discussion, where anyone can raise a topic, might be helpful.”

    Sometimes it seems like this is what a particular blog commentariat is really after. So I have to wonder why there aren’t more of these, and the first thing that springs to mind is that someone has to do the work of moderating them, which is no small undertaking. Which makes me wonder if that might not be driving a preference for blogs, because at least with a blog you get a bigger microphone, perhaps a chance to leverage the work into other gigs, possibly paid.

  7. But is moderating an e-mail list harder than moderating comments on a blog? It calls for a different (though overlapping) skill set, but I’m not sure that one is more time-consuming than the other. I mean, I see what you mean about wanting the bigger microphone as a reward for doing all the work, but if what one is after is a real change, it might be worth it. I think that dedicated, intelligent, informed conversation, maybe leading to useful action, ought to be worth it.

  8. It ought to be.

    I can’t help thinking of what B. said about (B. kick me if I miss your meaning) how for white women, part of the feminist awakening is learning to say no to some of the coerced generosity that makes up a lot of our lives. But then having learned that, we have to turn around and be generous in some of the very ways we learned to say no to if we want to make any progress as racial allies.

    Unpaid work is a biggie — we work hard to learn to at least recognize all the unpaid work people demand of us. We work hard at learning to say no, I’m doing as much as I can, I don’t have more. I think part of what B. was saying was that if, for example, the need to handle a situation in a socially just way sounds like a demand for unpaid work, white feminists can too easily dig in their heels because that’s a fundamental lesson they’re still learning to stick to. But it can be the wrong time to dig in heels.

    So, “I ought to give my time that was being used on a blog that pays off in various ways to a forum that doesn’t pay off in those ways, but in longer-term ways” might run into that hurdle.

    “Ought to be” can be a tough one — there can be a lot of layers in that one.

  9. Helen, again you bring up a good point that I don’t have an adequate response to, but I want to talk about anyway. I think PZ Meyers is a great example. I do genuinely think he perceives of himself as “just” a blogger. And yet, you’re right. That’s kind of both true and completely disingenuous.

    But it’s weirder in the feminist world, because it was true. Feministe was just one blog among many other feminist blogs–some run by groups some run by individuals. And even if it had a lot of readers, it did, for a while, seem like any other place might have a lot of readers, too. There was a kind of great democracy to the whole feminist corner of the internet.

    The reason, I think, that the Hugo Schwyzer situation burns is that his arrival on the scene directly (and I believe intentionally) corresponded to a massive change in things–people started organizing conferences, people started plucking up feminist bloggers and giving them book deals and putting them on tv, and their audiences became desirable (see the rise of Jezebel).

    I don’t mean to make it sound like it was perfect at first. There was a lot of racist and homophobic and transphobic bullshit. But the distance between the assholes with power and the people they hurt was a lot smaller.

    For me, it’s like we were all swimming in what we thought was a vast ocean–yes, some swimming nearer the surface than others, some swimming deeper, but all in the same water–only to find out that some of us had been swimming in the grasp of a vast fishing net and those folks got pulled up, sorted through, and the “undesirables” thrown back.

    And maybe some folks have not made it to their cushy aquarium, but they’re on the boat. (I guess in this metaphor, it’s desirable to end up in an aquarium). They might get in the next aquarium.

    So, like, for those of us still in the water, some of us are like “There was a net? Why did no one tell us to try to get in the net?” For those on the boat, they’re like “Hey, don’t hate us. We haven’t made it into the important places!”

    And no one in the aquarium is willing to acknowledge the ocean still exists.

    I mean, Feministe is only a “big” and “important” blog by our old standards. Now, there’s Jezebel and xoJane, who are just worlds away from where Feministe could ever be.

    So, we had already self-organized into a loosely oppressive bullshit thing that kind of replicated larger societal bullshit structures by the time the Seal contracts started getting tossed around, but the arrival of outside attention codified our racist, sexist bullshit and then blew it up into a structure so big that… I mean… fixing Feministe isn’t going to fix it, you know? It’s just a fish on deck.

    And yet, if we can’t try to fix even one place, what hope do we have?

    But, yeah, long story short–the form kind of inherently fixes in place a loose hierarchy. The blogger is, as nm, put it, the caller and the commenters the responders. But hierarchies are how we hurt each other. Are hierarchies inherently bad, all the time, though? Or even avoidable? I don’t know.

  10. Helen, yes, right. But I also think that, we, as white women, need to figure out how to participate in things without constantly sticking ourselves into the leadership positions. An email list might be a better forum. That doesn’t mean that I should run it, even if I am, as a white person, trained to believe I should stick myself in the front of every parade. I think wanting to fix things and make better spaces is an admirable goal. But we also have to, I think, be careful that we’re not crowding out women who would be better leaders.

    Sometimes–again, this is just my personal observation–women of color and other marginalized women in spaces where there are white women present are so used to white women just thrusting ourselves into leadership positions over the desires of other women to participate and lead that they hang back to see which white women are going to do what this time, so that they don’t get trampled on emotionally in white women’s rush to take on leadership.

    It’s important, I think, for us to learn to wait for others to feel able to step up and then support them.

  11. I just want to repeat that there’s noting inherent or causal about the confluence of money, attention, and blogging. E-mail lists can organize conferences, too. It just takes people being willing to step up and do the fairly boring dirty work, in coordination with each other. Likely the conferences will be more local, and smaller. But if the goal is getting real work done, and not getting book contracts, smaller local conferences often have the most impact on their participants.

    But I think I need to go away for a while, before I start getting all “youngsters, sit down and let me tell you about the good old days.”

  12. Addressing the original point:

    The thing is, talking about him is exactly what he wants. Good or bad, pity or disgust, it’s all the same to him. Attention is food for this vampire. Even shaming him wouldn’t make him stop, because he feels no shame. He essentially shat all over the internet…for attention.

    It sort of makes sense that those who were originally boosting his signal and defending him (or saying he was really an okay guy and only the ugly man-hating anti-sex radical feminist meanies didn’t like him because OMG ur jellus) would feel so much shame and not want to talk about him, or feel *fatigue*.

    I’m not sure what’s better–continuing to feed this black hole of need by talking about him or totally shutting off the supply. Will the people who were taken in really learn anything from a discussion? Will they examine their need to be *nice* to a narcissist, do a better job of protecting themselves and firm up their boundaries? Will they pay attention to how their need to be nice to a guy, any guy, just to prove they’re not like THOSE women, led them to throw women of color under the bus?

    Or will they just complain that the hairy legged mean mommies are saying “I told you so” and double down?

  13. No, here’s my concern. What if we do all decide to ignore him? He will find another community. He’s already trying to make himself a space in the religious blogging community. When he has his next community, he will look around in that community and see who he can divide, making himself important by wiggling into an in-group and helping that in-group alienate and disempower people they focus on. He will continue to do what has worked for him.

    He may also get another job or more volunteer opportunities.

    I, personally, don’t give a shit if he likes the attention. I also don’t care if the feminists who fucked up this time ever get it.

    What I care about is that he will try this shit again. And I cannot accept that the answer is for feminists to just ignore him, when we know he’s going to do this again. Do we not care that there’s some woman of color whose focus is writing about religion who’s going to be targeted by him? Do we not care that, if he gets another job, he’ll exploit that position to fuck people who aren’t really in a position to give full consent?

    Is what he’s going to do to the women in his new community not our problem because at least we got rid of him?

    I find that troubling.

  14. B. is right. Stopping the unruly beast of his provender has already been tried, and it failed spectacularly. It meant his new victim pools didn’t have any way to hear about how dangerous he was.

    And she’s right in that she’s putting the victims in the center of the narrative, where they belong. What does or doesn’t feed Hugo’s self-diagnoses-of-the-month is irrelevant. The shame or fatigue of those with power who chose helpful, enabling silence is irrelevant. Arming his victim pools against him is what’s relevant.

  15. Yeah, he was specifically trying to harm his mother, but also trying to harm unspecified others. He succeeded.

  16. So his continuing adventures include blackmailing the community college that has been trying to get rid of him, taking advantage of the difficulty of getting rid of someone with tenure. He told them he’d go away if they gave him a fat disability retirement payout.

    That wasn’t working well enough, so he publicly named some of his victims and told the college that he’d shut up and not publicly name more of them if the college paid his blackmail demands.

    His most recent attempt to kill people apparently gave the college the leverage they needed to proceed with his termination without paying his blackmail demands.

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