Saturday, January 21, 2012

Observing a web controversy...

In December, I posted about Hugo Schwyzer's resignation from the Good Men Project. At that time I said I saw his resignation as an act of integrity; I still believe that. I also mentioned, in passing, that his self-exposure made me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable for two reasons: he has exposed other people while talking about his own history, particularly in the details he posted about his second marriage, and he has discussed past conduct he now rightly considers highly unethical. He has written about violating his trust as a professor with "consensual" sexual relationships with students, and last year he revealed that when he hit bottom as an addict he tried to kill both himself and a girlfriend. After Clarisse Thorn interviewed him for the web site Feministe via an interview by the controversy blew up into three posts (here, here and here), generating over a thousand comments. The discussion has echoed around web logs since.
A great many people have good reasons to feel anger at Hugo.  But as the discussion has developed, an increasing amount of the rhetoric has come to address Hugo's whole personality and presence, rather than his actions. The discussion started with an important issue of principle: should a man with Hugo's past have a role teaching feminism, or the kind of visible leadership role he played when he spoke at the "slutwalk" in LA, or indeed a role of any kind in the feminist movement? A good number of people have answered this with very clear, and very angry "no". As happens to often on the internet, the rhetoric and the combativeness have escalated: Hugo has collected men and women partisans who have made  outrageous comments about his critics, and put up a series of crude "sock puppet" comments on Feministe. Hugo himself has failed to make any moves to reconcile with the racialized women web-loggers he has offended. His critics, on the other hand, have escalated their rhetoric, from demands that Hugo withdraw from feminist organising and teaching to "let’s make sure to get Hugo where it hurts." [*], "We really despise Hugo Schwyzer. That's basically it. " [*] and "like that isn't exactly what hugo does - posts a picture of his supposedly handsome smug face all over everything to distract people." [*]

It seems clear that some feminist spaces that welcomed or tolerated Hugo won't welcome or tolerate him any longer, at least for the forseeable future. But I have to wonder how much Hugo really minds that. If you read his web log, which I have from time to time, he clearly lays considerable emphasis on moving on and not turning back. He quotes a poem called "Men at forty" fairly often on the subject. If he has concluded, at some level, that the time had come for him to move on from his stance as a feminist supporter or "male feminist", he has some compelling reasons. For one thing, teaching history, with or without a womens' studies or gender studies component, at a small community college does not carry the economic certainty it used to. A revolution in education led by online providers has jeopardized the future of entry-level colleges such as Hugo's employer. Moving away from feminism, and indeed moving away from college teaching, lets him avoid the coming dislocations and look for something else.

Consider his current pattern of highly provocative self-exposure shown by his posting articles on Jezebel and the Good Men Project (before he left it), as well as the post on his second marriage and, of course, the posts on his unethical behaviour. That  may simply mean he's shown bad judgment; certainly I think he's made some very bad choices in the past. But it may also mean partly that he has chosen, whether consciously or not, to close a door behind him. Ironically, this whole discussion may have opened another door for him: as the discussion of Maia's article at Alas shows, a substantial addiction/recovery community views matters such as Hugo's conduct in a very different light than the people at Feministe and associated web logs do. By denouncing him in such public and at times in such an extravagant way, Hugo's strongest detractors may have given him a boost with a new audience.

1 comment:

Daisy Deadhead said...

As I said, I am just really glad this all happened before my AA anniversary, or I might have said too much, too. Lord have mercy.

Some forms of mental illness are fashionable, and some never will be. For the fashionable forms (i.e. Aspergers), tolerance, acceptance (yes, even of criminal behavior) and understanding. For the unfashionable, the drunks and the schizos? Fuhgettaboutit.