We Need to Talk About Hugo, Race, and Feminism
Hugo Schwyzer is a narcissistic blowhole. This week, many of the women whom Schwyzer attacked and villified online over the years have successfully pushed the media frenzy around his recent admission that he's a fraud and an abuser into a bigger, more important discussion about the role that race has played in progressive, feminist media's support of Schwyzer over the years.
Take time to read through all the tweets on #solidarityisforwhitewomen, a hashtag started by Mikki Kendall, where people are posting all sorts of insights about how avowed white feminists can ignore and dimiss people of color—including the years of harassment Schwyzer inflicted, but also on other issues like the wage gap and media coverage.
Trudy of Gradient Lair collected many tweets on Schwyzer into a Storify, many of which point out that he should never have been allowed to become a prominent voice on feminist issues, including being a tenured professor and a paid writer at progressive magazines like The Atlantic and feminist websites like Jezebel. "Imagine Hugo Schwyzer as a Black man," Trudy writes. "You cannot. He would have NEVER been accepted by mainstream White feminism or any of those publications/universities."
The Storify also highlights @TheAngryFangirl's commentary on how the focus on the discussion around Schwyzer leaving the internet shouldn't be about how he feels on the matter and whether his mental health is suffering but on the mental health of the women he harassed over the years.
There is far more to say than 140 characters on this. Flavia Dzodan wrote a powerful piece at Red Light Politics about how progressive media groups have undermined women of color and feminism by supporting Schwyzer over the years. This is just an excerpt, go read the whole piece:
I despise his ideology. This is no news to anyone. However, here's where things get murky and difficult and not easy to express coherently (mostly because it is difficult to put into words the source of so much of my anger and disappointment): even more so than despising his ideology, I despise the culture that enabled him. I despise the TMZ of feminist media that "reports" our issues and sells us a lip gloss version of our politics and gives space to people like him so that he can shit on us and tell us how we should take it in the face while he puts Women of Color in "their (our) places". This is how White Supremacy works and I am pointing all my fingers at Jezebel and xoJane and The Atlantic and every other publication that paid him to publish his repulsive opinions. The shame is on each of you and not merely on his cock shots or pathetic sexting. The shame is on every editor that thought selling women like Blackamazon or brownfemipower (or even my fucking self) for page clicks was a worthy trade off. Each and every one of those editors that knew what he was, how he acted and how his misogynist racism operated behind the scenes has played a part in this. And you get to "represent" feminism. You are the filters of who gets published and who doesn't. You are the ones that hold the doors and set the agendas. The dick pics are also on you. You helped create the monster, now I hope you enjoy the money shot. And don't say you weren't warned. Countless others aside from myself had extensively documented his antics, his skeevy politics, his racism, his misogyny. But he brought the page clicks. At our fucking expense. Sisterhood! Yay!
Brownfemipower specifically took on the issue of why editors offered Schwyzer a platform depsite his history: They let personal relationships with Schwyzer outweigh the problems raised by many women-of-color critics. Brownfemipower writes: "doors to resources are open when you go one direction. they are firmly shut when you go another. and for many people—their never even told about the doors, or their violently KEPT from the doors."
Lauren Rankin wrote a post that addresses how feminists should discuss the issue in a way that doesn't give him any support, from her perspective as someone who is white and was never targeted by Schwyzer:
For those of us who never experienced abuse firsthand from him, now is not the time to rush to cover this up or move on from it. If we're going to speak, it should be in solidarity with the women whom he did target, whose careers he bombed, whose reputations he trashed. If we're going to scold anyone, it should be him, the underlying racism that lingers in so many white feminist spaces, and the culture of clickbait and pageviews that allowed him to thrive. If we're going to shake our heads, it should be at the countless editors who allowed this abusive, manipulative, cis, white man space to write instead of making space for women of color to opine and share.
Here at Bitch, our editors have never wanted to give him any attention, promote his douchey "brand," or publish his work. Bitch exists to be a platform for writers and thinkers whose voices are often not heard and there are thousands of more important conversations to be having than anything this guy could try and make us talk about.
So, except for one interview with him posted by a guest blogger in 2011—a long-regretted oversight—Bitch has been a Schwyzer-free zone since 2007. But there's a problematic flip side to that: By refusing to give him any attention, we arguably didn't do enough to proactively work against his influence in other feminist spaces. Would a 1,500-word Douchebag Decree have kept Jezebel from hiring Schwyzer as a regular columnist, or prevented him from taking his windbag speeches to Slutwalks and college campuses? That's doubtful. More likely, it would have fed his self-admitted narcissism and fueled the narrative that his ideas were far more controversial than they actually were. For raging egos, any attention is better than none.
For our part, Bitch would love to go back to being a Schwyzer-free website and magazine, and we appreciate that many people would probably be grateful to never hear his name again—even those who've only learned it in the past few months. We can't promise that, though—as horrible and destructive as the path he's deliberately razed through online feminist commuities has been, the conversations his flameout has inspired are valuable and necessary.
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