Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Emotion (I) Attunement and Entitlement

Please note: this post discusses the work of Hugo Schwyzer

One of Hugo Schwyzer's recent posts defended womens' use of the word "creep" as a necessary and appropriate assertion of boundaries. He writes:
At the heart of the "anti-creep shaming campaign" is a concerted effort to discourage women from relying on their instincts to protect themselves from harm... [the word creep] forces men to reflect carefully about how they make women feel.
Predictably, Hugo's detractors reacted to his comments with outrage, but they did not appear to address the deepest irony in Hugo's comments directly. Because, in fact, the instincts behind the word creep lie at the very center of what Hugo describes as his power: his claim to have a gift for emotional attunement. As he puts it in one of his posts on the subject:
I was a “student of my mother’s emotions.”...  I did become very, very good at taking her emotional temperature.
In a followup, he wrote:
At six I had become acutely aware of my mother’s feelings; twenty years later, I was a chronic seducer because I imagined I was “so good” at “reading” women well. 
By his own account, during his life as a "chronic seducer" and drug abuser, he behaved in very dangerous ways: dangerous to himself, and even more to women around him. When he his addiction led him to complete despair, he attempted suicide, and by his own account tried to make it murder-suicide, deciding that a woman who had come to him for help had reached such a hopeless state that they both needed to die together. If I had to make a case against the proposition that the "instinct" that leads women to label men "creeps" keeps them safe, I would produce Hugo's own story as the first piece of evidence.

Hugo does not appear to have given up his sense that his ability at emotional attunement has in some sense entitled him to the attention he could persuade women to grant him. In an interview with Clarisse Thorne, at Role Reboot, he said this:

I do understand why some men who have found it difficult to meet women are angered by what I’ve shared. When I write about my destructive past, even in passing, some guys hear me saying something like “You shouldn’t even get a chance to try the naughty things I spent so many years doing before I came to my right mind.” That’s true for anyone who shares a story of redemption.
In the end, though, no one is “owed” sex. Other people do not have a moral obligation to get naked with you. And what bugs me most is that the envy, if that’s what it is, is so often tinged with a sense of entitlement.

I don't envy Hugo's life. But I find his use of the word entitlement in the above quote interesting. Despite his acknowledgement of the destructive nature of so many of his actions toward women, he never admits that if indeed he has an unusual ability at emotional attunement, he severely abused his gift.

In other words, it seems that he believes that the "instinct" that leads women to label men "creeps" provides a critical defence for women, he has, or thinks he has, a private back door around that defence. Despite his acknowledged history of dangerous behaviour, he has expressed no sense that he ought not to have that back door, or at least he should never have used it.