Wonderful fights between narcissism and worthlessness

Hugo Schwyzer And Removal of Victims and the Less Privileged

on January 4, 2013

[Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape culture and discrimination, links have trigger warnings when applicable]

I have spent tonight blurry thanks to cold # three of the 2012-2013 winter season (I keep wanting to say the third this year, but it’s not technically accurate and that IRKS ME) and reading a wonderful breakdown of the problem of Hugo Schwyzer’s place in certain circles of feminism from @graceishuman on Twitter (storify here). There are a lot of issues with Schwyzer’s past and current history of predatory behavior and caring more about his continued place in feminism than how his presence can be triggering to others (A good piece here by @graceishuman on that: http://arewomenhuman.me/2012/02/21/on-hugo-schwyzer-accountability-not-silencing-dissent/), but I’m focusing on one particular incident today.

I came across an article awhile ago (http://hugoboy.typepad.com/hugo_schwyzer/2006/06/its_early_on_a_.html), which has a lot of problems (even forgetting the proto-feminist Schwyzer’s addressing who can’t fully embrace feminism until it gets him laid as much as misogyny) but one point which stood out. Hugo compares being a feminist to entering a cold pool:

My students always hear me, for example, compare becoming a feminist to getting into a cold swimming pool: a few will find it easiest to just dive in, but most of us will climb down, step by step, shivering all the way, only gradually becoming comfortable. And none of us can fully immerse ourselves forever; we all have to keep a head above water in order to breathe. That image may not work for everyone, but it comes as close as any to describing my “slow and easy” approach to transformation.”

There’s a piercing followup that breaks down what feminism should mean for most here: http://www.reclusiveleftist.com/2006/06/16/hugo-responds-and-in-the-process-makes-things-worse/ (That links to the original article by Schwyzer he’s responding to above and also comments on the cold pool idea). I found this article the first time I heard about Schwyzer and his history of being a problematic person who is maleally.txt personified, while I was still trying to give him the benefit of the doubt (as I try to with anyone I don’t know I’m studying up on). It was presented as an incidence of harmful advice (which it is), but in a twisted sort of way, I found myself understanding the comparison.

Can’t overstate it enough at the outset even though I’m about to break down what I find to be true about the comparison: he gave the exact wrong message, to someone who he gave the token “Well sexism is wrong” to before trying to convince him, no, totally, feminism CAN get you laid dude. I can’t condone the message, and I’m not sure Hugo would agree with the interpretation I’m about to give. But I think it can be an apt metaphor, and I understood it in the context of becoming an ally.

I have wonderful friends who are beyond compare who I’ve discussed gender issues, racism, politics, religion, EVERYTHING with. Sometimes with disagreements, never with hate, and never with any really harmful ideas presented (things like “Well I just don’t like black people all that much”). Some don’t identify as feminists, and some have had problems with self-identified feminists, although I concede that most of my current awesome friends I can talk about anything with would identify as feminists. I also have some friends who I have a more complicated relationship with since Anita Sarkeesian and Daniel Tosh introduced me to the wonderful world of feminism and misogynists. They’re still friends, but there are topics that could go downhill quickly.

I also have one former friend who I was best man for at his wedding. And although reading that sentence still seems weird to me, he is a former friend. I haven’t told him that fact yet and am electing to avoid him instead, but in the wake of Tosh’s rape culture triumph, we had a conversation where he expressed a lot of harmful stuff, laughed at Tosh’s “ “ “joke” “ “ when I told it to him, and stated that he didn’t care about women (or issues that only affect women). I have a friend who is still a best friend, who I can have meaningful and critical conversation with, including about fat acceptance and feminism. We mostly talk online anymore, on Ventrillo, and when his friend Kurt gets on, my friend becomes a gamer.txt-comment-spewing machine. To the worst of it, too: using racial and homophobic slurs, both r-words thrown around, offensive lines of thought and commentary about the other teams they face (they play DOTA a LOT, which is part of it but not an excuse of the behavior). It’s actually fascinating how these are only issues when Kurt’s around. Maybe an isolated n-word otherwise, but it’s like a faucet. It’s something I want to bring up to him, and by the quality of his character, I feel I can, although it might get weird (and I know that wouldn’t be my fault). So we’re still friends. If I want my former friend to remain in my life, I’d have to suppress any comments about his misogynist jokes and “equal opportunity” sex comments, and I don’t want to suppress that; I want to be outspoken about that. So we’re no longer friends (and I really need to get around to telling him that and not blowing him off).

This is part of the reason I can understand the cold swimming pool metaphor. Staying online to talk with a friend while he freely uses slurs against (very likely) other white male gamers is uncomfortable for me. Getting into arguments with Men’s Rights Activists trying to give rape wiggle room and understanding, in a way I very much wouldn’t have before learning about feminism, why the language Republicans use about rape is trying to do the same angers and saddens me. Having my eyes opened to the patriarchy and the myriad lives it ruins has a lot of analogies. A cold swimming pool works; so does a cascading fountain, as once you start discovering intersectionality and rape culture you start seeing how even the most innocuous-seeming toy marketing rolls into the wrecking ball that is rape culture. The cold pool analogy works, in as much as there are two states: the more comfortable air and the less comfortable chilling water. Yes, technically, before I became a feminist and had heard all of the chilling stories about harassment, strict enforcement of gender roles, everyday sexism, and literal violence and silencing done every day to women, and men as well, by men, and by women too, I wasn’t bothered by it. Ignorance is bliss rings true in a gross, horrifying way for issues of systemic -ism.

But none of that is me being awful, or the wonderful people I’ve met or things I’ve learned in the past year. It’s all a response to horrifying shit that I was ignorant and unaware of previously. A lot of people dread being around a conservative, racist, evangelical, etc. relative. Fox News’ viewer base is the literal bane of a ton of family holidays, turning those events into dreaded, painful experiences to try and efficiently get through with as little mental harm as is possible. People can feel literal nausea being around an awful family member. And that’s important to keep in perspective: It’s the family member who is awful, not the person who feels a knot in their stomach when that family member says the n word about Obama. That family member is the shitheel, to the point of discomforting the more progressive person; the more progressive person isn’t bad for acknowledging -isms and how attitudes manifest into actual harm for people being discriminated against (see: the war on women, fucking everything in the news basically).

There’s also a real darkness behind the idea of the cold pool analogy Schwyzer employs, especially the idea of needing to “come up for breath”: a recognition of the privilege that starts Hugo and other men outside of the pool, and a complete absence of the fact that women are drowning at the bottom and don’t get a choice to leave the pool. This leaves out what the disadvantaged minority (because this discussion could fit a lot of spaces, not just feminism) goes through and deals with and what discomfort and anger and negative emotion looks and feels like in their life. Schwyzer has this framing issue a lot, but it’s really offensive here. The pool analogy really is apt: it frames it entirely by the (relatively minor) discomforts of the person getting to make a choice and leaves no room for what the people being victimized feel, what they can do, and how they deal with these issues. While Schwyzer is deciding how much of his foot he’ll dip into calling out misogynists and maybe having an uncomfortable argument or callout, women are dealing with street harassment, personal safety in family and partner relationships, and the myriad psychological pressures of rape culture. And they don’t get to choose when or how much of it they deal with; it finds them.

Although I try not to be too down on myself, and 1000% not on others who are still ignorant, I occasionally feel embarrassed that I went so long, through five years of college and two years of somewhat heavy gaming, being ignorant of the growing problem women were facing online and the constant problems from pre-history they’d been facing offline. This personal analogy works on a bigger scale, too. There couldn’t be a more laughable idea than to think that before the Internet allowed mass communication and reporting there wasn’t sexism and misogyny and harassment going on. We were just ignorant of it culturally. Most ideas professed by someone opining that things were better “back in the day” can usually be related to a problem that was actually occurring, just behind closed doors. Now, the Internet has shone an unavoidable light on a light of things; part of that is being repulsed by repulsive behavior. Another is the opportunity to correct it.

I have many problems (and answers!) with men who need something out of feminism, as though ending oppression isn’t good enough. And there’s really no good word for the feeling of sobering melancholy that comes with seeing the kind of discussion that keeps popping up around Schwyzer and other issues that leaves the victim being addressed non-existent (I feel I’m guilty of it in this piece). But there are as many issues to work through in being a humane, non-discriminatory person and tackling the vast problems in human cultures as there are ways to stay ignorant of them. And that ignorance can be easier. That’s why it’s no excuse once you learn something’s going on, and why confronting is not just being a better person, but (hopefully) ending oppression, or at least knowing you didn’t shrink from the problem to leave the person dealing with shit to be overwhelmed. In feminist spaces, as a man, it’s trying my best to be indistinguishable from any woman who is a feminist and addressing another woman dealing with issues. There’s differences because I’m a man, and that’s part of my feminism, is recognizing I have the privileged position. It’s also recognizing that privilege is worth destroying, without me getting anything in return because I did nothing to get it in the first place, and that every privilege I have means a disadvantage for another group. It’s worth overthrowing so every person can live the same great life equally, and no person misses out so I can live comfortably ignorant while they struggle.

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