On Hugo Schwyzer: Accountability, not silencing dissent

"Like 54% of victims my abuser was my boyfriend." Taken at the Slutwalk meeting at Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday 11 June 2011.

Image by Garry Knight, taken at the Slutwalk meeting at Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday 11 June 2011. CC license

Trigger warning: gendered violence/attempted murder, suicide, addiction, abuse culture.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article for Global Comment on the ongoing discussion in parts of the feminist blogosphere about Hugo Schwyzer, and more broadly on the place of people with a history of abuse in feminism and other activist movements. The short version of the controversy (from my article):

Schwyzer, a professor of gender studies and male feminist personality….has written prolifically, and controversially, about recovering from sex and drug addictions, his now 13-year sobriety, and his ”pre-sobriety” predatory behavior towards younger female students – including, at one point, sleeping with four students on a class trip he was chaperoning. The current backlash against him, set in motion by yet another article recounting this troubling history, took on unprecedented intensity after the resurfacing of a post, originally written a year ago [which Schwyzer has now redacted to protect himself from legal consequences], in which Schwyzer admitted to nearly killing a former girlfriend in a drug-fueled* murder-suicide attempt.

The subsequent outcry and campaign against Schwyzer has, for the first time, resulted in concrete consequences for him: the pulling of his writing from Scarleteen, a well-respected resource on teen sexual health, and his departure from Healthy is the New Skinny, an organization co-founded and directed by Schwyzer, dedicated to addressing body image issues in teen women and the beauty and fashion industries. Schwyzer did not fully inform either organization of his history.

*I included this in the article in the interests of stating all the facts, but unlike Schwyzer and many who have defended him, I don’t think the fact that he was high when he tried to kill his partner and himself is all that relevant. Many, many people manage to go on drug binges without attempting to murder anyone.

The debate about Schwyzer has touched on a number of important questions, including the role of men/male allies in feminism, about whether there’s space in feminism for people with checkered pasts, about what constitutes sufficient rehabilitation, restitution, and amends-making for people with a history of violence or abusive behavior. These are all important questions, and they’re certainly relevant to the debate around Schwyzer…but the more responses I read about this situation specifically, the more convinced and concerned I am that they are obscuring an equally important discussion of Schwyzer’s ongoing behavior – including, as Campus Progress aptly summarizes (under “Atonement”), disturbing aspects of how he writes about his past.

I was particularly struck by two responses defending Schwyzer’s place in feminism (and linked by Schwyzer as responses to the controversy for which he’s “personally grateful,” which…well, I won’t say anything about that) – one from Feminism and Religion, a space and project that I respect, and another from Elizabeth Nolan Brown. These responses describe the backlash against Schwyzer, as “cruel and vulgar,” “cutting and obscene,” “cynicism and ridged hostility,” an inability or refusal to live with the dualistic reality of the “darkness and light” that lives in all of us (Feminism and Religion), and “ridiculous,” “sadly typical of the feminist blogosphere,” an attempt to “cluster and ostracize [dissent],” and a rejection of “paradoxes and contradictions in the ideals versus lived experiences of its proponents.”

I have to say that reading comments like this in spaces I respect and that are sincerely working for justice for women is alarming and terrifying.

There are a few things we need to be absolutely clear on.

Hugo Schwyzer lied for several years about his attempt to kill a woman – on one occasion, falsely describing his attempt to kill his girlfriend and himself as a only a suicide attempt that “accidentally” endangered her. On the record, preserved in on Internet Archive here, “suicide attempt,” and here, “I came close to accidentally taking the life of my girlfriend.” This was long after he was self-identifying as a “male feminist” who was “recovering” and being “redeemed” from his past behavior.

And just in the past two months, since the backlash against him, Schwyzer has edited his past posts to conceal the fact that he repeatedly lied about his history . There are no disclaimers or notes on these posts to indicate that they’ve been edited in any way. For example, the post that once claimed that he accidentally endangered his girlfriend now reads:

As I’ve written before, my last episode of drinking and drug use ended on June 27, 1998; my body filled with massive amounts of alcohol and prescription pills, I blew out the pilot lights on the stove in my old apartment and turned on the gas, trying to kill myself and my girlfriend. Miraculously, we both survived.

This post is rather perversely titled “A very long post on how to rebuild trust.” Well, here’s a hint: it doesn’t involve lying about what you’ve done and then trying to cover up that lie.

There’s also the fact that Schywzer compared the guilt and remorse he says he feels over deliberately trying to kill a woman to the guilt and remorse someone else felt over having accidentally endangered a dog.

There’s the fact that until this backlash, Schwyzer appears to have never once called what he did “violence,” and had never once acknowledged that he was the perpetrator of an act of domestic, intimate partner violence, or gendered violence in a number of ways – despite the facts that:

  • Over 90% of perpetrators of murder-suicides are male
  • Over 70% of murder-suicides are committed against an intimate partner, and in 94% of these cases the intimate partner is a woman
  • Over 75% of murder-suicides are committed in domestic settings. [Source: Violence Policy Center, PDF. ht Campus Progress]

We can have a conversation about what it looks like for someone with a history of abusive or otherwise harmful behavior to take full responsibility for their actions, but I hope we can all agree that “taking full responsibility” doesn’t ever involve lying about what one has done. It doesn’t involve concealing one’s history from people who invest trust in you and could be harmed by your withholding of relevant information.

We can have a conversation about what it means to be truly remorseful for abusive behavior, or to make amends for it. But there shouldn’t be any debate about whether or not sincere remorse over attempting to murder a woman should ever, ever be compared to accidentally endangering a dog.

We can have a conversation about whether and how men should be allies or leaders in feminist and woman-oriented spaces, but it shouldn’t be seen as cynical or hostile to insist that at the very least, men with a history of gendered, misogynist abuse and violence who want to claim a space as *leaders* or *role models* in feminist spaces should be able to own up to their history and clearly name it for what it is.

There’s a lot more going on in Schwyzer’s case and the responses to it than this – glossing over a history of abuse in a way that is enabling to perpetrators and silencing and harmful to victims, white privilege and tolerance of racism and racial double standards, different perspectives on what role male allies can have in women’s movements, and different perspectives on whether and how we should limit access to feminist/women’s spaces. And these issues need to be discussed as well, but not without addressing the the very clear cut dishonesty and lack of remorse in how Schwyzer has written about his past behavior, and why this is extremely dangerous.

This is what I can’t get out of my mind when people, especially other feminists, caricature statements that Hugo has no place in feminism as mean-spirited, perfectionist, even hateful exclusivism. I have to wonder if people – again, especially feminists – who feel this reaction is no more than pettiness are aware of the above information, or simply believe it’s irrelevant.

Yes, we’re all imperfect. Yes, there are always contradictions and shades of gray in the space between our stated ideals as advocates for women’s rights and our lived realities. In general, I’m sympathetic to the idea that we need to keep in mind that activists and leaders are real people too, with real flaws and needs and low moments and things we’re ashamed of – just like everyone else. In general, I’m sympathetic to the idea that we shouldn’t hold leaders to unrealistic expectations or put them on lofty pedestals. Part of respecting the humanity of others is not holding them to an unfair standard. I agree with all that.

But I think these objections are dangerously misplaced in this case. This is not about expecting perfection. It’s not about stifling dissent. It’s not about feminists and other activist women who object to Hugo being incapable of forgiveness, or refusing to come to grips with the paradoxes between feminist ideals and reality.

Because really, if we’re going to paint cynicism as a bad thing (and frankly, I don’t see why that’s automatically a given) which is the cynical position here? That we should be able to expect leaders and role models to not actively and consciously tell lies about past violent behavior? Or that it’s unrealistic and excessive to expect such a thing?

This past week The Atlantic ran an article on Schwyzer’s “exile” from feminism (a deeply irritating and problematic framing, but that’s a topic for another post) in which I was briefly quoted. I said a lot more about the situation to the author and wish more of those points (though not necessarily from me) had ended up in the final piece – particularly this: “I think we shouldn’t hesitate as a community to eject someone who has lied about and minimized his history of abuse, and I think feminists in Schwyzer’s circle really failed in this regard.”

Sadly, that failure is ongoing. The discussion about which men belong in feminism is allowing people to abstract the conversation from what Schwyzer actually did, not just before his “transformation,” but in recent years – in recent months! – and why it’s dangerous. It’s turning it into this theoretical discussion about parameters for letting people into feminism – which is a related but separate discussion from how feminists should deal with a case where there is a demonstrated pattern of abusive behavior from someone in the community. It distracts from discussions of concrete actions and their implications.

Talking about the presence of “darkness and light” in “all of us” obscures the fact that this one specific person has engaged in abusive and predatory behavior and lied about it. Not “all of us,” Hugo Schwyzer. And a community dedicated to social justice needs to address questions of accountability for perpetrators and justice for their victims – not implicitly paint the abuse as something anyone could do.

Accountability doesn’t look like lying about trying to kill someone. Remorse and amends doesn’t look like making money off of a history of abuse and predation – without the consent of the people whom you have harmed – or soft-pedaling this behavior as “what many addicts do” (no, actually, many addicts manage to not try to kill people while high), as “age-appropriate” and “less overtly predatory” than it could have been, etc. Remorse doesn’t look like comparing the near killing of a human being to the unwitting neglect of an animal.

Where is his “confession” on this point? How does someone work towards “redemption” for not just withholding information about, but actively lying about a history of violence?

Where is his recognition that his framing his past behavior in this way, all while claiming to be a women’s advocate and claiming to have been “redeemed,” inherently disqualifies him from being able to see what he’s done clearly? Where is his recognition that it’s a profound and dangerous failing on his part to not see how lying about past violence makes him an unsafe person to be around, how equating much lesser offenses to attempted murder makes him unsafe to be around? Where is his recognition that at this point accountability means that he has a lot more work to do before he fully grasps the harm he’s done to others and the danger he poses as long as he continues to minimize his past behavior?

That’s what accountability looks like. That’s what remorse looks like. That’s what responsibility looks like. If Schwyzer truly grasped how serious his behavior was, he wouldn’t hesitate to withdraw from women’s spaces to make them safer – or at the very least to make women feel safer in those spaces. That’s what really being willing to accept the consequences of one’s behavior looks like – being ready to accept that you may lose certain things because your behavior was just that egregious.

But to be honest, I don’t expect Schwyzer to take on that measure of responsibility for himself – few people with a history of repeated abuse ever do. It’s a sad truth that most habitual abusers opt for changing their external behavior just enough to get by over accepting hard consequences for their actions. And we can see it in this case, where at every point Schwyzer has had to be forced out of spaces where he probably shouldn’t have been in or tried to gain access to in the first place, if he had really understood the ramifications of his past behavior.

He has responsibility for his behavior, but those around him also have a responsibility for the spaces to which he’s given access. And the question we need to be asking is not – who’s allowed in these spaces – but rather, at what point is behavior so harmful, so dangerous, so beyond the pale that it makes a person unsafe to be around? At what point does allowing that person continued access to certain spaces become tolerance of and even complicity with their behavior? Is there such a point?

I think there is. I think when we defend the right of someone who has lied – is still lying – about his past abuses to be a feminist leader, we become complicit in fostering an abuse culture where abusers are tolerated and coddled and their victims are silenced and marginalized. This is alarmingly evident in defenses of Schwyzer that are focused entirely on him and his redemption and rehabilitation and recovery, and barely mention the victims, the still-living, quite possibly still hurting and recovering themselves real people that he exploited and harmed.


  1. thank you.

  2. Thank you for this post. You’ve done a great job of explaining why people have rational reasons to doubt that Schwyzer really is remorseful and trying to redeem himself. I believe that people can change, but I don’t believe that we are obligated to take their word for it when their actions say otherwise. It’s not cruel or uncharitable to look at someone’s ongoing actions and conclude that you still need to exercise caution where they are concerned.

    • Thanks, Jen. I agree. I suspect some of these framings are in part in response to the angry tone of comments about Schwyzer past – which concerns me if that’s the case, because tone doesn’t erase the substance of the objections, and furthermore, anger is absolutely a legitimate response to behavior like this.

      • Sadly, the tone argument is still seductive, and still appeals to the internalized misogyny that even women pack around. Oh, no, nothing worse or scarier or more irrational than an angry woman.

        Frankly, I think the women defending him have had their brains scrambled. With luck they’ll grow out of it and cringe when they look back on it. The special girl syndrome is usually less appealing with more age and experience.

        • I don’t think it’s about scrambled brains at all (and also think it’s problematic to equate abuse enabling behavior with brain issues). It’s about the messages our culture sends to us – especially to women and to kids – to accept this kind of behavior, to be grateful to not be abused (or not be abused as much as others), and to welcome abusers who claim to be “repentant” with open arms. We’re bombarded with messages to not speak out about this kind of behavior and to forgive and to embrace stories of “redemption.” So it’s hardly surprising that people respond like this to someone claiming to be reformed – it’s how we’re socialized to respond.

          My friend Somatic Strength wrote a great post about this just today.

  3. This is the most balanced and well thought out piece on this particular topic/situation that I have read in the whole saga.

    Thank you.

  4. You articulate some really important questions raised by this whole thing. Although, I still have trouble getting completely on board with the accusations of his recent “lying”. Owning up to one’s history—and *especially* a history such as his, is a process. I’m not trying to say that we should let him off the hook in ANY way because of the severity of his past actions, so please don’t take this that way, but I guess I just keep considering his subjective experience in this. It seems like he has markedly lacked certain social graces regarding disclosure about his personal life…bordering on what sometimes reminds of of autism spectrum or some other sort of emotionally dissociative disorder, that is pretty common among people who work in academia. Of course, many of the things you cite in your post he has attempted to address and apologize for… extensively (the dog comparison). No, this is not a sign of insincerity, (although I see how it can be read that way) but could also be a sign of someone who has trouble with things like empathy and other interpersonal social skills. Just a consideration. Moreover, back to the “owing up to one’s history” point… There is no one moment where someone goes from being a lying “evil” person to a “good” male feminist/ally who owes up to his history. What many people seem to be criticizing, as you do in this post, are aspects of Schwyzers (albeit problematic, triggering and/or clumsy) attempts at owning up to his history. I hear what you are saying, but I honestly, I don’t trust that ANY potential attempt at owning up to this sort of history would not be criticized by the feminist community. That leaves many men who have been misogynist in the past and become aware of it dead in the water, in terms of a hope for the critical project of those people articulating and exploring their subjectivity. I agree that it is problematic to have Schwyzer be a leader/teacher/mentor to women… I just continue to have problems with the ad hominem attacks. As I’ve said before, how many men have committed violence against women, repeatedly (who are in positions of power or authority over them) and not come forward to talk about it. Hugo might have screwed up some of his disclosure about this royally, but at least he made an attempt. That’s more than we can say for a lot of folks. I just don’t think people understand how much women do get taken advantage of in the ways Hugo has.

    • Lucy’s comment below is a good explanation of some of the issues with your comment. Once again the focus is on the feelings and motivations of the person who caused harm and not on the people he’s harmed, not on the harmful actions, nor on any kind of accountability for those actions.

      This isn’t about social graces or niceties. Minimizing or covering up past abuses is a serious warning sign in people with a history of abuse. Yes, owning up to past behavior is a process. But Schwyzer is claiming to be redeemed and transformed (i.e., that the process is complete) while he’s still trying to conceal his past lies about his behavior. That’s not what transformation looks like.

      Hugo hasn’t apologized extensively for anything. A YEAR after comparing a near-murder to endangering a dog, he admitted that the comparison was “grotesque” – only AFTER people pointed it out to him. He shouldn’t have had to have that or any of the other stuff he’s now admitted to, again, AFTER backlash, pointed out to him. He makes a living writing about gendered violence, among other things. This isn’t terribly complicated.

      I have to question the purpose of speculating about autism or emotional dissociation on Hugo’s part to explain away what is fairly clearly dishonest behavior – especially from someone who has written himself about his diagnoses of narcissistic and anti-social personality disorders. His behavior is entirely in keeping with the behavior of a narcissist – refusal to take responsibility for their behavior, insistence on only sharing or admitting as much wrong as they feel they should unless their hands are forced, etc.

    • Oh hell no.

      It seems like he has markedly lacked certain social graces regarding disclosure about his personal life…bordering on what sometimes reminds of of autism spectrum or some other sort of emotionally dissociative disorder,

      Autism is not an emotionally dissociattive disorder, and it doesn’t equal criminality, Schwyzer was in fact diagnosed with NPD and not without speculation of possible Sociopathy, [Asperger’s] has nothing to do with his problems.

      comment edited – Grace

  5. I’m also getting tired of how this is being turned into a religious thing whereby apparently feminism is now the same as Christianity and one gets ‘redeemed’ and is therefore right and good in feminism. It’s being used to say feminists are bad people if they don’t believe Hugo is redeemed as if feminism is about saving individual souls and confession solves everything. Feminism is not about this and his self-serving confessions does not undo the harm of the abuse, the lies, the arrogance of this man.

    I care about the people he’s hurt. The women of colour who Hugo has attacked over the years, acting as the racist protector of racist white women feminists. The woman he almost killed. The students he unethically engaged in relationships with. All of those of us who are survivors of rape, assault, and/or abuse who see mainstream feminism moving to protect the abuser and attacking anyone who questions why an abuser needs protecting by feminists or that this is counter to what feminism espouses. I care about the violated, not the violator. Why do others continue centering this on this man? Why is he so important?

  6. Radical feminist blogs have been trying to warn the feminist community for well over a year about this man. And we are shocked at the degree to which women will defend him, even when they know of his past. Using christian language within a feminist context is disengenious to say the least, and seeing mothers actually saying they wouldn’t mind their daughters associating with this man shocking. That he still teaches at Pasadena City College shocks the hell out of me.
    These warnings have been going on a long time, and I think women need to be very alert to what men we let into this movement for our freedom. It’s why so many of us don’t want to work with men, we want women to bond in true revolution against male supremacy, and WE are the 51%—if we can’t get rid of in your face preditors, and men who attempt to kill girlfriends, if we can’t draw the line there, then feminism, and feminists are in big trouble! THANK YOU for standing up and being counted on this.

  7. Pingback: Hugo Schwyzer and the male feminist « An und für sich

  8. Pingback: Abuse By Shifting Truths, Hugo Schwyzer’s Impact on Feminism, and Community Trust | Queer Feminism

  9. “I just continue to have problems with the ad hominem attacks. As I’ve said before, how many men have committed violence against women, repeatedly (who are in positions of power or authority over them) and not come forward to talk about it. Hugo might have screwed up some of his disclosure about this royally, but at least he made an attempt.”

    The internet invites everyone to participate. Some may be rude, some may be hateful, some may be focused on something the rest of us are capable of ignoring. None of these posters need to have an effect on the decisions we make about a particular individual.

    Why do you choose to focus on “ad hominem attacks”? Why focus on: “at least he made an attempt”?

    What about the male feminist allies who don’t call attention to themselves? What about the the male feminist allies who support and celebrate women? Why settle for someone who choses to meet the bare minimum of feminist politics?

    Grace shouldn’t have to account for every post about Hugo that you disagree with. Her position is well-thought-out and logical. I happen to enjoy Grace as well as posters who are genuinely pissed off and let fly against Hugo.

    • As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Hugo was referring evasively to his murder attempt as “something some people called violence.”

      Now there’s an anonymous page set up in defense of him—-and to attack his critics in the same sexist language his female fans have been using all along, “Hello, I’m going to cuddle with my husband, you lonely bitter dried up old cat lady.” “Witch hunts.” “Mobs.”

  10. If you want Hugo to leave feminist spaces, he claims to have already departed them, and a substantial number of feminist venues have made it clear that they do not welcome him. I consider his decision, and theirs, highly appropriate. Hugo’s assertion of “white” privilege, and his ongoing refusal to come to terms with the harm he has done, as well as the contradictions in the accounts he has given about his past offences, make his presence in anti-oppression work inappropriate.

    What have Hugo’s critics not accomplished so far, that you have a reasonable prospect of achieving in the future? I ask this because the campaign against Hugo has had four negative effects. It has led to the use of methods, such as personal denunciation web pages, which people have used to perpetrate serious harm against vulnerable individuals and groups. It has attracted people with motives and issues quite different from those expressed by Grace, people who resent Hugo for his self-promotion, not his offences. It has involved the taking of survivors’ voices, and it necessarily involves continuing to draw attention to someone for their abuses. Taking the focus off Hugo and his specific offences seems reasonable under these circumstances, unless continuing to focus on them serves some achievable goal. What goal does it serve?

    • This post is about community responses to Hugo. I have to talk about his actual behavior in order to discuss that, but this is much bigger than him. It’s about responses that perpetuate abuse culture through (I think usually unwitting, but no less harmful) abuse apologism. Even if Hugo never writes about women again, the responses of people defending him need to be examined and called out for the harm they’ve done and are still doing – many survivors have said they are triggered not just by Hugo, but by excuses made by others on his behalf.

      What exactly is so awful about personal denunciation web pages against people whose behavior deserves to be denounced? And I’m not sure how you could possibly know what the motives of people involved are, but even having a personal problem with Hugo – even resenting or disliking him – doesn’t render a criticism of him illegitimate. That’s a derailing argument.

      As for the taking of survivor’s voices – given that many of the people who have challenged other feminists defending Hugo are themselves survivors (self included – emotional abuse), and given how many survivors have expressed thanks to the various people who have spoken out about this, I call bullshit. This is entirely about naming abusive behavior and enabling of abuse for what they are, and that is something that empowers, not silences, survivors.

      Hope that answers your question.

      • Your answer reads as though you want consensus on the principle that Hugo, given what he has done and how he has written about it, does not belong in feminism. I agree with that. It seems to me everyone else does; I can’t think of a single person or blog that says Hugo should return to feminist spaces. If you want consensus on the notion that feminists owe it to each other to see, or to say they see, no value in Hugo Schwyzer as a human being, where does that leave feminists who have developed friendships with him? In effect, you have made a “tone” argument against them, and they have made one right back at you. While you appear, at this point, to pretty much agree on the substance of the issue, it appears to me that your position demands they agree to invalidate their own feelings. I don’t see you getting consensus on that.

        To answer your specific points: Internet denunciation pages bring the full weight of a community, or the impression of that weight, to bear on a particular individual. We have seen what devastating effects this can have in bullying situations. The argument that you can justify doing this to people who “deserve” it fails; plenty of young Americans consider their gay classmates as every bit as hateful and dangerous as you consider Hugo Schwyzer.

        As for the presence in this debate of people who resent Hugo for reasons other than his offences: at least one of those people has written quite plainly about the nature of their dislike for Hugo. The presence of motives other than anger at Hugo’s offences obscures the issues and makes any consensus even more difficult. It certainly doesn’t invalidate the criticisms aimed at Hugo, but it certainly makes achieving consensus on principles more difficult.

        Finally, on survivors: the woman who survived Hugo’s attempt at murder suicide has not, as far as I can tell spoken. Hugo did what he did, She has said nothing to excuse or accuse him. Until she speaks, it seems to me important that we respect the fact of he silence, not make up or suggest a narrative for her. When I said that survivors had had their voices appropriated, I meant that. I see no way survivors can have their collective dignity without upholding the dignity of each individual survivor. In this case, that means respecting the fact of this one person’s silence, and accepting that no other person can speak for her.

        • If you think my argument is about tone and not the concrete substance of the responses I’ve quoted, I think that has far more to do with what you’re bringing to your reading than with anything I’ve actually said. As for wanting people to see no value in Hugo as a human being or ending friendships with him – congratulations on that straw man!

          It’s simply not true that there’s a consensus that Hugo shouldn’t be a leader in feminist or women-oriented spaces. I’m not sure how you can honestly claim that when this post quotes two blog posts that say the exact opposite of that.

          Denunciation of an adult abuser is equal to cyberbullying of gay kids now? *sigh*

          You’re welcome to your opinion that disliking someone invalidates or weakens critical commentary on them. I disagree. Never mind the fact that people dislike Hugo for some very legitimate reasons, including his patronizing and male-centered writing about women and his white privilege and racism in interactions with women of color. Dislike is not actually an illegitimate or irrational response – and naming dislike can actually be powerful and effective, both for the person doing it and as an argument. But go ahead with your mansplaining about how women’s responses are irrational and wrong.

          The person who has stolen survivor’s voices is HUGO, by constantly telling the stories of people who by his own admission have made it clear they want nothing to do with him and never want to hear from him again. And the people enabling this are the people who accept his narratives about his history with his former partners. If you think pointing out that his victims are still out there, and may have a very different story to tell than the accounts Hugo peddles, is “appropriation,” or making up a narrative, really…I can’t help you.

        • I’m not sure what you thought Grace was saying here, but I think you misread it greatly.

          Grace basically said (if I may do a quick and dirty summation) that feminist spaces need to be careful that we do not revicitmize people who have been abused by allowing abusers prominence and prevalence in our spaces, especially if these abusers are people who have not shown repentance for their acts. In the example of Hugo’s case, he was unrepentant in refusing to be open about what happened, not disclosing dangerous parts of his past, and in lying about the nature of the abuse.

          Grace’s point is in general principles – she did not create a narrative for a silenced victim. She spoke as a person who has been abused and the culture in which we silence the abused. In short, Grace is making the point that unrepentant abusers have no place in a sphere which is attempting to embrace and protect the abused.

          Your points are nearly incomprehensible in light of what Grace actually said. She’s not saying that women can’t be friends with Hugo – that’s their decision to make – but that important feminist spaces should not allow him prominence. There are some things an abuser must give up when he or she abuses, and prominence in the feminist sphere is one of them. THAT is what Grace is objecting to. That in no way is a tone argument – I wish I could post the look on my face when I read that comment, because it makes NO sense.

          What this is is not bullying. You need to check again what bullying is – what Hugo Schwyzer did to women in his life could be considered bullying. Saying that a abuser shouldn’t have a voice in a sphere that is trying to protect the abused – not bullying.

          And I’m completely baffled by the idea that Grace was putting words in the abused person’s mouth. Grace is speaking as a survivor herself and talking of the importance of creating safe spaces for the abused to be safe. She didn’t add to the narrative of the woman Hugo almost killed – her summation of the facts is what he said!

          I just…I’m baffled.

        • Grace and Dianna gave pretty good responses to this nonsense already, but given that John penned this line: “Hugo himself has failed to make any moves to reconcile with the racialized women web-loggers he has offended.” I suspect he will not be listening. He already has his white man’s narrative to this controversy, and he’s not going to let things like facts get in his way.

    • Here’s another piece, also from a survivor, that puts Hugo’s case into the broader context of how abuse is poorly dealt with in activist communities: When your abuser claims to be a feminist

    • You’re making a lot of claims against Hugo’s critics, and they’re not exactly unfamiliar. People have a right to be angry with Hugo on their timetable and as long as they bloody well please. Attempted murder is not a minor thing.

      • It amazes me how people want to minimise attempted murder or otherwise handwave it away. I mean, yes, I’m used to it in the culture at large but within feminism, with supposedly reflective, thinking people, this should not be happening. So frustrating.

  11. Thanks Grace for the link to the abuse survivor. I think it is something we need to take seriously about progressive groups and organizations. Just how “personally” progressive are they? If we look at women’s liberation globally, we know how hard it is for all women to gain real freedom. Our movement has been powerful, and it has pushed back patriarchy, and legal changes women fought for have been won. But what about the cause of women? What about women in activist groups? And what about males who prey on women? I’ve met innumerable men over the decades who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. I know men lie about their abusive pasts all the time, I know they will claim to have “changed.” Isn’t that the common tactic of all abusers? When was the last time you met a man who said, “I’ve raped women in the past, I’ve beaten my wife, but I’ve changed.” No man ever admits to do any wrong to women, no man ever admits HE is the problem. In the case of Hugo, it is ALL about him all the time. We can document what he has done, and we should ask ourselves, whose voice is more important? His voice at protests or the woman who is afraid to do Occupy activism IRL because her abuser is still active in these so-called “progressive” circles.
    Progressive men cover for each other, they pretend interest in feminism to gain advantage. My feminism is about the liberation of women. I don’t care what men do, as long as they stay out of the way of women becoming free, women gaining access to a public progressive mic without being subjected to the sexual harassment of progressive males. We should ask ourselves, why are right wing women afraid of feminism? Well maybe they’ve made a trade off within patriarchy. They might just want to deal with one man who owns them and thus avoid being the sex object of a bunch of progressive men. Andrea Dworkin explained this quite clearly.
    Do women’s voices and freedom count? Should men even be allowed to lead anything feminist? And for me the answer is no. I want a women’s movement that women lead. Men own the rest of the world, but I want women in charge, women speaking, women teaching. Men need to get a life and talk to OTHER MEN. They need to stop other men from raping women. They need to yell and scream at Fortune 500 companies for every cent they underpay women. They need to pay women fair wages, and ostracise all men who don’t. That’s a few things I want men to do.
    And women, stand up for women, stand by the victims of Hugo. Your defense of a man who did so much damage to other women is a horror story. Why do you do this? Why do you side with the abuser?

  12. Grace wrote:

    I was particularly struck by two responses defending Schwyzer’s place in feminism (and linked by Schwyzer as responses to the controversy for which he’s “personally grateful,” which…well, I won’t say anything about that) – one from Feminism and Religion, a space and project that I respect, and another from Elizabeth Nolan Brown.

    To quote from the post which appeared in Feminism and Religion:

    His Dark Night experience post sobriety has been with eyes wide open, ready to accept whatever new spaces may occur within feminism. And if they do not, Schwyzer acknowledges that even this is okay because his birth of consciousness is a result of his ability to live with his own darkness and limitations juxtaposed next to his light.

    Now, I wouldn’t write that: Hugo’s own actions have made it difficult to trust him. But the passage acknowledges that Hugo does not now have a place in the feminist movement, that a new one may never open to him, and that he has to accept that. It doesn’t read to me like a defense of his place in feminism.

    Elizabeth Nolan Brown has written the more problematic piece: she regrets his expulsion from feminist spaces without mentioning several of his offences. Worse, she writes

    The underlying assumption between people should be respect, non-violence and equity, but people can negotiate different degrees of these amongst themselves.

    This position seems to me to ignore differences in situated social power, to put it mildly. However, even Ms. Nolan Brown stops short of a call to the feminist movement to invite Hugo back.

    But what exactly does the comment about Hugo’s “personal gratitude” mean? Bad people can’t feel gratitude? Acknowledging or affirming the humanity of a person identified as “bad” somehow counts as a bad act? If you didn’t mean your refusal to comment of Hugo’s expression of gratitude to imply criticism of Ms. Nolan Brown and Ms. Garrity-Bond, then I find your argument a little obscure.

    To try one more time on the attacks on Hugo for things other than his offences: I don’t believe I ever said, or implied, that people have no business disliking Hugo. Since you didn’t read that from what I wrote, I will try again to make it clear. I have nothing to say about anyone’s emotions regarding Hugo. I have criticized the motives of some people and the methods of others, but Hugo’s actual offences (these definitely incude his assertion of white privilege against racialized feminist bloggers) certainly give people good reason to dislike him and to feel real anger, even rage, at him.

    As for survivors’ voices, and explicitly the woman survivor of Hugo’s murder-suicide attempt: quite simply, the development of this discussion has involved the appropriation of her voice. To quote from Grace’s post on Global Comment:

    What would happen if one of Schwyzer’s exes were to tell her side of the story? What if she named her relationship with him as toxic and abusive – highly likely… What message would survivors of Schwyzer’s abuse get from seeing his tale of redemption hawked in feminist spaces?

    That goes a little way beyond simply reminding people that we have not heard from the woman survivor of Hugo’s murder suicide attempt. It suggests to the reader the attitude she might have. Other writers, in other forums, have gone much farther than this they have provided a whole narrative background, and a whole reason for her silence. Making, and keeping, so much of the focus on Hugo the person rather than the principles at stake has led to this result, and I consider it an unfortunate one.

    • I’m not really interested in walking someone through my argument who keeps derailing and wildly missing the point. Find someone else who will explain it to you.

    • I don’t believe I ever said, or implied, that people have no business disliking Hugo.

      Because this is all about whether or not people *like* Hugo. Dude, way to ignore everything pretty much everyone has been saying. Here’s a hint since you seem to miss the obvious: This is about abuse, about an abuser, and about feminism and feminists dealing with that abuse and that abuser in their midst. To claim this is about liking or disliking him as a person is incredibly disingenuous and wholly misses the point, as Grace said.

  13. Grace THANK YOU!!!!
    It is all about the abuse and the abuser, and what women do when this is uncovered.
    And I think the fact that the abuser has tried so hard to gain access to feminist spaces, and to young women should be a clear warning. It is healthy for the feminist blogspaces to stick up for the abuse victims, to finally call a halt to the access of a very bad man. Women need to defend a territory for women, protect other women, and not give aid and comfort to the abusers. It’s really pretty simple. If we can’t do that within a feminist movement, and we cater yet again to the male….maybe the underlying issue here is that a lot of women still seem starved for male attention, and want males to be interested in feminism and women’s liberation. There is such a longing for this, that women will put up with the abuser in their midst. I find it weird the way women defend men so much within a feminist space, where they actually give men a benefit of the doubt even as they attempt to silence the voices of women. To me, after 40 years of this, I am pretty done with discussing these issues with men. I hate the obtuseness and the deliberate derailing that is pretty status quo for the patriarchy. And I want other women… to stop sticking up for these preditors. What does this say to the victims?
    Where is your shame in making it harder for women to be activists because men like this are in movements for THEIR issues.
    Occupy men take note.

    • I think the equating of men with abusers is too simple easy. While Hugo is obviously a man and an abuser, there are plenty of women who are abusers as well. This is why the issue of “Can men be feminists and be in feminism?” is so much not the point of this. Yes, the way that feminists treat men in feminism intersects this but this is way more about abuse and abusers.

      • I agree…there are gendered aspects of this because Hugo is male and the victims he’s written about are all female, and his behavior fits into a broader pattern of particular kinds of gendered abuse, but this is also about patterns of excusing and enabling abuse and abusers that apply generally. I think we have to be careful not to fall into framing men as natural predators and women as natural victims – this undermines accountability for men, and erases survivors who are not women, as well the many survivors of all genders who were/are being abused as children, usually by parents/adult relatives…

  14. I think Luddy Bancroft would have some choice words for the abuser.

  15. Bancroft is good because he leads workshops attened by male abusers, and he doesn’t let them escape. He makes them fully accountable, and he describes in detail, the tactics male abusers use, the excuses they use… it’s a manual of male think, and male obfuscation. The men who attend Bancroft’s workshops simply have nowhere to hide. All of Hugo’s antics fit into the studies Bancroft writes about in his books and articles, and he is a classic to the T. Most women haven’t read Bancroft’s books, and are not familiar with how men avoid responsibility for what they do to victims. Master manipulators like Hugo get plenty of women to front for him; that’s part of the strategy. Bancroft shows the tactics, reveals them, and reports how men avoid taking responsibility for the things they do to intimate partners. Every woman should read that book!! Hugo should go to his workshop, but he shouldn’t be allowed ever again to write for feminist publications of any kind.

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  17. I know we’ve had our disagreements, Grace. But I want to thank you for writing this. Thank you.

  18. As I told him via Twitter today, I find feminist spaces with Hugo Schwyzer in them to be unsafe. I’m a survivor. Hugo reminds me more of my abuser than my fellow feminists. Whether I’m inaccurate or not isn’t the issue; “safe spaces” exclude survivors like me when they make space for abusers like him. It’s that simple.

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  21. This is a great post…thank you.
    I’d like to add one litmus test for the meta-framing:

    Would it be appropriate to let a confessed, though repentant, former rapist serve as a leader in the feminist community? Is it anymore appropriate to afford another type of sexual predator the same role? And if so, can you look into the eyes of his victim(s) and explain your reasons for doing so?

    As feminists, it is completely shameful when we fail to consider the victim’s feelings first and foremost when talking about perpetrators. But it is our social conditioning, and it works too well.


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  25. Has he handed himself over to the police for his crimes, at the very least? Begged forgiveness from his victims? I am guessing not.

  26. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.