Feminism, Impasse, and the Redemption of Hugo Schwyzer by Cynthia Garrity-Bond

In Constance FitzGerald’s article Impasse and Dark Night,* she draws from sixteenth century Spanish mystic and reformer St. John of the Cross-and his Dark Night of the Soul.  FitzGerald moves from the individual’s experience of impasse to a larger societal impasse.  By impasse she means those experiences that bring life as you know it to a stand still, where every attempt of extracting the self from suffering is a lost cause. In what is known as the principles of  “first order change”—reason, logic, analysis, and planning, do not work to move the self forward and out of impasse. In other words, the skill set you have come to rely upon to move you out of the grip of darkness no longer works.

Inherent in this spin-cycle of suffering is the possibility that transformation is taking place in the midst of the darkness and absence of accustomed pleasure, desire and motivation for life itself.  If transformation of the self is to occur, which brings with it creative growth, insight, compassion and a new understanding of the divine, than a letting go of left-brain rational control must give way with consent to the stripping away of one’s limitations of the self and others. In other words, one must enter into the Dark Night  not only with eyes wide open, but the wounded heart as well.  FitzGerald states, “What is important to realize is that it is in the very experience of darkness and joylessness, in the suffering and withdrawal of accustomed pleasure, that this transformation is taking place…. Since we are not educated for darkness, however, we see this experience because of the shape it takes, as a sign of death…It is a sign to move on in hope to a new vision, a new experience” (414).

I draw upon FitzGerald’s interpretation of Dark Night to relay my own disenchantment with the state of feminism as it was displayed in response to Hugo Schwyzer’s post, Making Amends and Moving Forward. Initially I judged those cutting and obscene responses by said feminist as an indicator of the current state of feminism.  Which is to say, I saw a kind of death with my own relationship to feminism.  I felt a kind of Dark Night experience in which those attributes of feminism that once made sense to me were now clouded by the at times vulgar and cruel responses to Schwyzer and his attempt at redemption. I have sense come to recognize a kind of both/and scenario of the “all ready/not yet” language with the Dark Night  evident in Schwyzer and the larger pool of feminism, the former “all ready,” while the latter is “not yet” with regards to transformation.

In the recounting of his sexual improprieties  with students as well as a drug/alcohol induced murder/suicide attempt of himself and his then girlfriend, Schwyzer takes full responsibility for his actions.  He writes, “The fact that I was trying to kill myself as well, and that I was high as a kite on a cocktail of street drugs, prescription pills and alcohol, does little to mitigate what I did, or my ultimate responsibility for such a horrific act.”   To that end, Schwyzer, thirteen years sober, has worked actively within the feminist community. It should be noted that Schwyzer does not insist on forgiveness or redemption from the feminist community to which he has belonged.  Instead he welcomes an open, honest dialogue that engages and seeks to transform sexist structures along with the construct of masculinity and privilege.  What he has encountered has been an admixture of some support, but more so of anger, hostility, and insistence he extract himself from all feminist spaces.

In a recent interview in FemTheologian, Schwyzer draws comparisons between the Christian and feminist community when he quotes theologian Walter Wink, “Christians” notes Wink, “have never dealt well with the inner darkness of the redeemed.”   To which Schwyzer exclaims “And what goes for Christians goes damn straight for feminist too.” In other words, what Schwyzer and John of Cross are getting at is the dualism of darkness and light that inhibits us all.  The inability to find forgiveness and redemption is due in part to the rejection or bifurcation of our own darkness.  Until we can hold the two together, light with the darkness, the individual and society, (read here as feminism), will take a stance that refuses to see transformation of what was once considered unredeemable. And it is here I believe some that self-identify as feminist have reached impasse absent consciousness and transformation because they refuse to hold the tension that we are all an admixture of light and darkness.

But a different scenario is possible within feminist consciousness in which we welcome the restoration of individuals and oppressive structures into feminist spaces. Instead of cynicism  and ridged hostility, we acknowledge the heavy lifting and work involved in taking responsibility for past wreckage that has undermined and hurt women.  Additionally, inherent in forgiveness is the process of commutative justice, which calls for equivalence in what is gained and lost on both sides of an exchange. In other words, forgiveness is not cheap or too quickly given.  It has to be earned and the injured side must be recognized and also restored.  In the case of Hugo Schwyzer, this form of restorative justice is evident in him 1) taking full responsibility for all his actions; 2) the difficult process of making amends; and 3) his community activism within feminist spaces.  Schwyzer feels the past 13 years of soberity and activism has been an attempt at just this kind of restoration. 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. The duality of both creates new horizons of possibilities and continued transformation.  Now if only feminism can learn to live with its own shadow in order to bring about a transformation that acknowledges the full humanity of both women and men.

* Impasse and Dark Night by Constance Fitzgerald in Women’s Spirituality, Joann Wolski Conn, ed. (N.Y., Paulist Press, 1996).

Cynthie Garrity-Bond: Feminist theologian and social ethicist, is completing her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University in women studies in religion, with a secondary focus in theology, ethics and culture. For the past two years Cynthie has been teaching in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University where she completed both her BA and MA in Theology. Her research interests includes feminist sexual theology, historical theology with particular emphasis on religious movements of women, agency and resistance to ecclesial authority, embodiment, Mariology and transnational feminisms. Having recently returned from Southern Africa, Cynthie is researching the decriminalization of prostitution from a theological perspective.

Author: Cynthia Garrity-Bond

Cynthie Garrity-Bond, feminist theologian and social ethicist, is completing her doctorate from Claremont Graduate University in women studies in religion, with a secondary focus in theology, ethics and culture. For the past two years Cynthie has been teaching in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University where she completed both her BA and MA in Theology. Her research interest includes feminist sexual theology, historical theology with particular emphasis on religious movements of women, transnational feminism and ecofeminism. Cynthie is researching the decriminalization of prostitution from a theological perspective.

57 thoughts on “Feminism, Impasse, and the Redemption of Hugo Schwyzer by Cynthia Garrity-Bond”

  1. Thanks for this article. I have been disappointed, and sometimes triggered, by the reaction in the feminist blogosphere. I don’t feel I have to pass judgment on Hugo as a person in order to appreciate the insights that he adds to the feminist conversation. IMHO, what we’re seeing here is the limitations of a political movement that is adhered to with “religious” zeal, but that lacks the language of grace and universal fallibility.


  2. Jendi,
    I appreciate your honest assessment of feminism and its sometimes lack of, in your own words, “grace and universal fallibility.” Beautifully stated and key attributes that must come to fruition if lasting individual and structural change is to occur.


  3. Cynthie, your post resonates with me on so many levels. Thank you for writing it and sharing it here. Your attention to and analysis of your reaction to the recent discourse surrounding Hugo is astute and wise. I agree—for me too the tone of many attitudes/expressions toward Hugo flag something, a larger issue in feminist consciousness. I do not in any way want to dismiss or categorize anyone’s reaction, on the contrary, I take the spread of reactions seriously as a harbinger of paradigmatic shift in feminist discourse. But such a shift will not happen without a respect for pain, darkness, and a willingness to look at those things.

    But I also have had a sense that the issues Hugo has brought into discussion are vital, and I find the desire to silence him as ironic and highly problematic, because there will be another figure like him coming on down the line, another archetype of the male feminist seeking redemption. “He” will not go away. Honestly I think he speaks for many men, albeit perhaps his circumstances have been more extreme than many. And yet for every Hugo, how many male professors or folks that have held a similar mosaic of trust/power in female spaces *do not* come forward, much less publicly and with an attitude of extreme and genuine contrition, about such issues? Another great late-medieval mystic, Margery Kempe, represents to me the vital theological insight that if true contrition (which is embodied and also a holy orientation) does not have salvific powers, then indeed, what does? I believe the truly contrite have access to mystical dimensions of the self and the soul.

    This also speaks to an issue that goes beyond gender and feminism, but resides in the realm of the theological and spiritual: We need here more models for navigating spiritual journeys through darkness, as individuals and just as importantly, *as communities*. I too am afraid that there is a sense in which protestant Christian ethics—to some extent disembedded from religion and merely are part of the fabric of American society—do not carry traditions of the vision quest, of community based and group based rituals for dealing with the fragmentation and reintegration of the self, and moreover there are precious few spaces to fit those vital things into. But it’s not just pop-ethics, it’s the disconnect between public and private life that also fragments our selves, especially in urban and academic environments.

    (I’m a master’s student also in the WSR program, and I also posted in response to Hugo’s post here, under my name “So Sinopoulos Lloyd”)


  4. I forgot to add, that connected to the idea that “the truly contrite have access to mystical dimensions of the self and the soul”, in conclusion I think it is incredibly important to support those who are in that space, and learn from them. Because the truth is that darkness is a great teacher, perhaps even a greater teacher than light. Sometimes light is merely the reward.



  5. Cynthie, thank you for this piece and your insightful reflection on the ongoing conversation around Hugo Schwyzer. I too have been disappointed and saddened by the hatred that is sometimes directed at Hugo. It seems clear to me that he is committed to doing his work and is continuing to thoughtfully move forward. And I agree with you, cynicism and hostility takes us nowhere. Feminism affirms the full humanity of both women and men and calls us to transform systems of thought and action that would distort the fullness of our being and the flourishing of our world. I definitely think it is very feminist to support one other’s restorative work – including Hugo’s – it would be shortsighted not to.


  6. Thank you for giving voice to this concern, which I hope is also a concern for feminists expanding into ecofeminism, womanism, mujerista, indigenista, and many other branches, systems, women subjectivities, and female/male intersubjectivities:
    “Now if only feminism can learn to live with its own shadow in order to bring about a transformation that acknowledges the full humanity of both women and men.”
    As much as I appreciate the feminist contribution to finding and addressing the social, racial, gender, political, economic and male-religions academic dirt under the androEurocentric cultural rug, I find that the refusal to recognize any men’s contribution to women and to feminism is deplorable, as deplorable as the extremes in hermeneutic of suspicion that some feminists (or feminist circles) direct to men who are authentic in their contributions and dedication to women’s issues. I found Hugo’s bright narrative in defense of feminists stunning and intelligent.
    The article on “Why I Resigned From the Good Men Project” puts antifeminists to shame, and would make most feminist women proud to invite him to the circle… or tribe.



  7. the faun, yes on many levels your own assessment of feminism is correct. Carl Jung stated there is no birth of consciousness without pain. So I’m wondering if the meta narrative of feminism is suffering from its own dark night as Fitzgerald stated. One of the problems of course is the absence of clarity with a larger umbrella supporting that clarity within the diverse identities of feminism. What do we agree upon and at its roots, can that identity also have room for those who have harmed us, the ultimate stance of redemption. And again, this is not without qualifiers and authenticity (something many women in the movement seem to lack as well.)

    @Xochitl, thank you as well for your insight. The absence of Hugo with his own clarity and objectives is a loss for feminism to be sure.


  8. I forgot to add: isn´t gender equality at the level of the dignity in character, spirit, discourse, community and other systems an important objective in feminism? If it is so, then what is the use of silencing and rendering invisible the men who already embody the feminist son of Woman? I hope feminist venues keep welcoming feminist sons of women.


  9. Virinda,
    A well stated position on the dirty laundry of feminism, especially with regards to women who identify with men within their community. I do find it puzzling (at times) the view that white women feminist do not have the same regard for the men in their spaces and lives as do women of color. How much harder is it to raise a feminist son given the construct of masculinity and how much easier would that be with men like Hugo and others to demonstrate how a real man interacts and identifies with women/feminism.

    And thank you for the link.


  10. Cynthia Bond’s metaphor of the “Dark Night of the Soul” and a renewed understanding of feminism in light of the his-story of feminism and religion blogger Hugo Schwyzer invites me to revisit moments in my life where I experienced darkness. Memories of these dark moments evoke in me pain, isolation, and woundedness. In retrospect, what enabled me to move through these painful spaces was to know that I was not alone. As a person of faith, the gift of knowing that a God was/is with me, in these times, was/is comforting. In the larger scheme of my life I would not be the person I am today if I had not moved through these dark moments. Past and present, they are spaces where God calls me to look deeper into myself, in the process of making meaning out of painful relationships whether with self, other, or God. As a feminist too, I, am called to appreciate a non-dualistic perspective of the world where dark and light are in competition or in contrast to the latter. To be a feminist as Bond invites us too: is to embrace the “Dark Night of the Soul,” knowing that darkness in and of itself is not bad. Rather, dark moments enable me/us to appreciate all the more life-giving moments where transformation of human experiences and the universe are one. In dark and light, God reveals him/her-self through restorative justice, healing, and transformation too. I think this may be the “impasse” Bond is referring too.


  11. Another reason I want my feminism within all women environments. Let men organize in their own groups to end rape. that is the job of men who claim they are feminists. But I don’t want to go anywhere near them. And I want women who were abused and used by men to be front and center, not the men who abused them. Yoko Ono had it right, when she never mentions the name of the man who murdered her husband, and as far as I know, all the news media agrees with her.
    Now if Yoko Ono can get this, why can’t feminists stand by the women for once. Again, men, go into your own groups, talk to other men, stand up against the woman hating things men do in private, challenge men for their abusive awful behavior. Men don’t listen to women, but they do listen to each other. Now would you want your daughter, at the age of 18, taking a class from a man like that? Be honest here.


  12. Turtle Woman,
    It’s very difficult for me to support your point of view. First, I contend it lacks the necessary ingredients for a feminist stance–the collaboration of men and women working together to end unjust structures of oppression. Your position is by-and-large one of the problems within some feminist circles, identity politics to the point of exclusion. What is needed, in my opinion, is a larger umbrella of uniformity that binds together. Again, I am not advocating for a monolithic identity, that is impossible and actually very second-wave feminism.

    Your last comment, would I want my daughter taking a class from Hugo? Let me begin with an aside. One of my daughters was raped in high school. The person that dished out the most injustice was the female prosecutor who stated, “There is more than one way to tell a boy you want to have sex.” So, would I want this daughter to be in a classroom with Hugo? Yes, on two levels. First, I’m presupposing my daughter’s exposure to Hugo is during the past 13 years to the present of his sobriety, with full disclosure of his past. In this way she is able to witness first hand the transformation of a male who abused his power and position into a man who not only speaks for women but with women. The distinction is important.

    Secondly, this relationship would help move along her continued healing process by knowing redemption is possible. It has been a long and difficult road for our family since the rape. But this daughter has since learned to trust the trustworthy men she has dated and even loved. Her own Dark Night has been transformational for her in body and spirit and has advanced her ability to love those men who have also loved her. Now imagine the other side of this equation, steeped in distrust, anger and pain because she associates her rapist with every man who comes into her life. Not only is that a continued assault on her subjectivity, but on her own desire to love and be loved by a man, which in her case, is healthy, healing and life-giving.


  13. Again Cynthie– we will have to agree to disagree here. I’m speaking from a radical lesbian feminist standpoint, and I don’t want to work with men politically at all. I’m interested in the advancement of lesbian community, economic security, and also financial independence. I am very sorry that your daughter was raped, and the boy who did it needs to be jailed. So out feminism comes from a completely different cultural and political context. Your are heterosexual, and are stuck with the male world, I do not live with men, and really don’t like being around them all that much.

    I am working with a group of elderly lesbians who want nothing to do with our oppressors, and lesbian separatism and our desire for male free territory, institutions and traditions is valid, real, powerful and very very feminist. There is definitely a place for this feminism, and although straight women will prevaricate, again, because you live with men, that of course is your choice. I would not want any woman to have to take a women’s studies class from a man ever, and I want women’s studies to be the power of women without compromise. I’m from the Mary Daly faction, that wants to know the full powers of women without male interruption of our sacred discourse. I believe all oppressed peoples deserve to be free of the oppressors to organize, to think, to grow. This feminism is threatening because it says a big NO to the male, and that is heresy within male supremacy. It’s not your feminism, naturally, but then again the boy raped your daughter, a woman did not do that. The boy should be exposed for this crime this destruction of the female soul. Pay attention to who commits the actual crime, and a certain male professor of women’s studies admitted that he almost killed his girlfriend… as in “killed.” Killed. The threat of that, the threat of male violence being ever present. I don’t want to have to live in that kind of intellectual environment, and I want as much space for women to say this without prevarication.

    If this is too tough a stance for this blog so be it. But it is my liberation and my feminism on the line, and it is men who create oppression wherever they go. I think the oppressed, the raped, the abused have a right to say— we want our land, we want our classrooms, and we want our hersory gathered in a way powerful and authentic to radical lesbian lives, and believe me, your daughter has more to fear from the boy next door than from us. That a dopey prosecutor who didn’t get it is horrifying, but then again, het women who negate my feminism also annoy me. Your feminism is about going along to get along with men, mine is not. Radical lesbian feminism fueled a huge revolution, this was Mary Daly, the woman who blasted open academy doors so that less radical women like you could come along and benefit. At least have some respect for radical lesbian feminism and its devine purpose in the world. That is our religion and power position. It is sacred and uncompromising.


  14. When I think of the dark night of the soul, I think of the thousands of women who were raped by Serbian soldiers in the early 90s. I think of the crime of rape itself, and how little boys just go after girls as if they were prey. I think of the women who give birth to the future rapists, and how the boys are supported by the mothers, even after they are caught gang raping a girl in Cleveland, TX. I think of a room full of women that is a rape free zone.

    I think of a woman who survived gang rape in Bosnia, now living in San Diego. She has a loaded AK-47 under her bed. She’ll never be unarmed again. I think of the day I visited her, and she showed me the gun. I asked her earlier how she managed to live in a dangerous neighborhood.
    She smiled, took out the AK-47, and said quite simply “No man is ever going to rape me again!” I think of the naieve het women out there who literally bring the rapists to the party, who denegrate radical lesbian feminism, who actually believe having men in the room is ok. Then I think of my Bosnian friend, and if she met that boy who raped your daughter Cynthie, she’d take out that AK-47 and he would never live again. She’d have no problem at all with justice, and with fighting for women, but she’d never come to one of your events as long as men were in the room.

    I think of het women’s loyalty to men, loyalty to the men who watch women raped in pornography, women who have no idea that a rapist is in the room, and they feel so disconnected that they don’t name the boy who raped a daughter, instead they complain about a legal defense. But they don’t speak up and say who the boy is, and save hundreds of other teenage girls from this menace to the community. You don’t have to print this, but I just want to know why the boy gets a free pass!


    1. turtle woman,
      I hesitated approving this obscene response with your sick assault and acquisition against me and my daughter, but I feel the blogging community should read your venom and disfunction for themselves. Trust me tw, you do not further your cause, you simply add to your own pitiful state. I feel very sorry for you.


    2. TW,
      Cynthie is right when she states that you are wrong in many of your statements. I encourage you to read bell hooks and other feminist thinkers besides Mary Daly to further you knowledge in these subjects.

      Although, I do not feel like you will take this suggestion (most likely because I am “telling” you to do it and I am a man) I believe Cynthie is right when she states: “You do not further your cause.”

      And I just wanted to let you know that women can (and have) raped and abused men/women too! You once asked “How do I know you (a man) are not a rapist?” My simple retort is: “How do I know you are not one as well?”

      Instead of coming from a place of anger and darkness, come from the ground in which individuals can learn and heal from the wounds of the past and the mistakes we are all bound to make in the future.

      I always welcome conversation with you Turtle Women and frankly, I enjoy reading your posts because I do agree with you that it was radical thinkers like Mary Daly that broke down many of the barriers so more “liberal” ones could exist but you are only building them back up again with your exclusionist attitude and black and white thinking.


  15. Well, probably coming across *several* religious and ideological divides here (atheist, not feminist-identified, etc) so some points may be lost in translation. But I just wanted to point out that many of us with various degrees of “anti-Hugo” sentiment (feminist, anti-feminist, and in between) don’t like him for *who he is now* and the underhanded way he exercises power in the blogosphere, and want to see his undue influence taken down big time. I’m not out for his head, but many of us are sending a massive vote of “no confidence” to Hugo Schwyzer as some kind of “leader” in the gender debates.

    The spin that’s been put on this whole thing by Hugo’s supporters is that it’s all about an inability to “forgive”. Actually, there are a whole lot of us who aren’t comfortable at all with this whole religiously-based “sin/atonement” narrative that’s part of his whole spiel. Please stop with the “you just can’t forgive” rhetoric, because it really misses the point.


    1. Excuse me, but out of a billion internet users, the facebook page devoted to denouncing Hugo still has under a thousand “likes”, something one of his opponents has clearly expressed frustration with. Right or wrong, a huge groundswell of public opinion opposed to Hugo’s role in gender debates has simply not materialized. As a “massive” vote on anything, this just doesn’t qualify. Of course, this relatively small number of people passionately dislikes Hugo, but votes measure numbers of people and not depth of feeling.


      1. Because votes on a Facebook page are the clearest measure of sentiment on an issue, right?

        I’d say more substantial is the fact that Hugo has left one online magazine (Good Men Project), been given the boot by another (Scarletteen), is unwelcome on a number of large blogs where he was a frequent commentator, and has had to retire from at least one real-world project he was involved in (Healthy is the New Skinny) are an actual measure of the seriousness of how many people he’s managed to alienate.


  16. Also, having more inside knowledge into this whole “Hugo” situation, I have to say Cynthie, this post made me (as a friend of his) and him as well, proud!

    Beautifully written and beautifully done!


  17. @Imcuriousblue,,
    The component of forgiveness is intrinsic to the current Hugo debate. It’s steeped in the language and philosophy of the 12-Steps of Alcohol Anonymous, a non-religious organization to which Hugo attributes his sobriety.
    Realizing much has already been stated, can you pleas articulate what exactly is the point for you and those who desire to remove him fro all feminist spaces? Also, would you please give me your understanding of what a feminist is?

    Thank you for your voice and contribution in this sensitive yet important dialog.


    1. @Imcuriousblue, thanks for adding your perspective to this thread. As a reader of Hugo’s blog, I guess I’m less interested in personal assessments of his character and the adequacy of his repentance, and more interested in whether this debate *had* to become so personal in the first place. Is it because of the nature of his blogging style–putting so much emphasis on his own life story that his value as a writer completely stands or falls by how we feel about that story? Or is it a limitation of how we “do” feminism in the blogosphere, not permitting any boundaries between a writer’s personal life and his ideas? If the latter, that feels unsafe for me in a different way–I don’t want to feel that I am putting my entire personal life up for scrutiny if I venture to post on a feminist topic or in a feminist space.


    2. “The component of forgiveness is intrinsic to the current Hugo debate. It’s steeped in the language and philosophy of the 12-Steps of Alcohol Anonymous, a non-religious organization to which Hugo attributes his sobriety.”

      And I should care about this why? First, I *strongly * dispute the claim that 12-Steps is a non-religious organization. Second, I could care less what Hugo’s beliefs about his own state of grace via 12-Steps or anything else. It seems like a supreme form of moral arrogance to claim that just because Hugo is in good standing with 12 Steps, or some form of spiritual belief, or whatever, then everybody else has to forgive or accept him. It’s basically shoving your “recovery” narrative down everybody else’s throat.

      I repeat, I have problems with *the current version* of Hugo Schwyzer. Many people who are opposing him do likewise, for various reasons, but it strikes me that people coming from widely divergent political perspectives are in remarkable agreement about the personal arrogance and self-aggrandizement of this person and how objectionable his influence is.

      “Also, would you please give me your understanding of what a feminist is?”

      That’s pretty damn irrelevant to this conversation, actually, to the point where I consider it an outright derail. “Who’s a good feminist” doesn’t strike me as a particularly productive or interesting conversation to be having, and I’ll simply answer my understanding as “it doesn’t mean much”.

      “Realizing much has already been stated, can you pleas articulate what exactly is the point for you and those who desire to remove him fro all feminist spaces?”

      Don’t put words in my mouth. I don’t particularly care about any kind of purity or safety of “feminist spaces”. I do have a *big* problem with Hugo as a kind of self-appointed “leader” in the debates around gender in the blogosphere. I have a big problem with a middle-age white guy gets to be the “go to” talking head on the issue of young women’s self-image. (Much the way I really don’t like the fact that “radical feminists” from academia and NGOs get appointed designated as the go-to authorities on sex work. “Nothing about us without us” is an ethic feminism has some real problems with, which is a big reason I don’t identify with it.) As somebody who via his readership and politicking with other bloggers he favors gets to define the terms of debate around gender. I don’t like “big bloggers” like Hugo, Amanda Marcotte, PZ Myers, and the rest who have legions of followers who behave like a bullying mob towards smaller bloggers whenever the “big bloggers” are involved in an argument with the former. I see no small bit of poetic justice in the fact that Hugo is having his ass handed to him by that very same mob, one that in the very week leading up to his downfall, he went so far as denying the existence of.

      As for “removing him”, I’ll say I’m not out to censor Hugo Schwyzer. I think a just outcome would be he gets to become just plain blogger again, without being considered some kind of leader or “go to” answer man.

      I’ve blogged about this already, so I’m not going to repeat myself at length:


      The Yes Means Yes blog mentions some of the behind-the-scenes politicking Hugo is engaged in currently:


      In my opinion, the best post/discussion of “Hugogate”:



      1. Wow.

        The shaming and dismissal of women, including self-identified survivors of violence, who stated they found Hugo’s work useful, the people who presumed to speak for survivors, the misuse of internet tools to facilitate a set of very personal attacks: all these I could accept as an expression of rage at the more serious offences Hugo has confessed to. I respect the passionate conviction expressed by some people that a person who writes about attempting to kill a woman should never have a voice in feminism. I appreciate Hugo’s insensitivity on racial matters has left people deeply angry and too raw to consider reconciliation.

        Many people who are opposing him do likewise, for various reasons, but it strikes me that people coming from widely divergent political perspectives are in remarkable agreement about the personal arrogance and self-aggrandizement of this person and how objectionable his influence is.

        I honestly can not see complaints about “self-aggrandizement” as anything much more than petty jealousy. To equate it to anger over Hugo’s assertion of “white” privilege or his confession of an attempt at murder dishonours survivors and casts doubt on the integrity of the efforts to hold Hugo accountable for his past. I really hope that only a small minority of Hugo’s detractors have the attitude you describe.


      2. Ah, the “your just jealous” gambit. Sorry, but I think there are some pretty substantial criticisms of the way power is played out in the blogosphere at large and how Hugo’s status reflects that. Sorry, but I’ve seen too much bullying of smaller bloggers by bigger ones to let that shit go. And, as a matter of fact, Hugo’s status as a “big blogger” and gender studies professional is, in part, a reflection of white middle class privilege, something quite a few critics of said privilege have been saying, if you’d been bothering to listen.

        I’d hope only small minority of Hugo’s defenders would come across with the sheer pettiness you just expressed, but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.


  18. @Iamcuriousblue, I hear what you’re saying about the religious/theological narrative. But as someone who used that language above, here’s my angle on it: “Contrition” and “atonement” are real social and neurological processes—I say this from the perspective of both religious studies and cognitive science. You don’t have to be religious to vouch for their mechanisms. For me, religious or theological language is one culturally acceptable way to talk about certain social processes. I appreciate Cynthie’s theological analysis on this topic because I think that sometimes talking only in terms of social constructivism and postmodern theory is a bit dry… not to mention its a slippery slope toward deconstructing the subject into oblivion. Theological language = emotional language, God doesn’t have to come into it necessarily, (yet the presence of spirit/god does not have to do harm to such a framework either). Using religious/theological narratives is not a ‘cop-out’, its part of the project of speaking to everyone in a language they can understand, which ultimately is a project of universal compassion… and one could call that a humanitarian vision or a theological one, or even a scientific one, but it doesn’t much matter what it’s called at that point, as long as it works. But I am curious to hear more about why theological narratives are problematic, because I think I would probably agree with some of what you would say!

    That said, these discussions in the comments are definitely helping me understand where people are coming from in their sentiments about Hugo and his place in the feminist movement. I can see that there are definitely different goals among different feminist positions, and those goals have their own historical legacies, so thank you everyone for boldly speaking your mind here.


    1. *Sigh* See my arguments above. I think Hugo Schwyzer’s “sin and forgiveness” narrative exist in a specific religious and “recovery movement” context and that it’s not reasonable to expect anybody outside of that framework to give a damn about his atonement. I think your argument claiming this is some kind of “universal emotional language” here is weak. Yes, there may very well be universal/cross-cultural ideas about atonement, but Hugo’s language is very specific to Christian/12-Step versions of this, including the rather sickening indulgence in “what a bad person I used to be” kind of talk. This


  19. Hugo makes it difficult for many people to trust him. He has asserted “white” privilege against racialized feminist writers, which undermines trust and disrupts anti-oppression work, and Hugo has not yet taken any responsibility for this act. Part of facing the darkness of the redeemed involves facing ongoing flaws; another part involves accepting that the obligation to forgive does not necessarily encompass the obligation to trust. Like the rest of us, Hugo has to face the reality that some doors have closed to him based on his past choices, and given his present behaviour, they will likely stay closed.

    But the story doesn’t end with Hugo, and here it gets more uncomfortable. The discussion that has developed around this man’s past and present behaviour has included serious expressions of malice, the establishment of internet pages specifically devoted to personal denunciation, the appropriation of surviviors’ voices, and the shouting down and shaming of any person, including self-identified survivors of violence, who said they found Hugo’s work helpful.

    To bring Walter Wink back into the discussion, the powers we engage here include the design and structure of the internet, that marvel of engineering that brings us together and creates the sense of a discussion while preserving our isolation. The attacks on Hugo Schwyzer, and their most disturbing aspects, have echoes in other Internet conflicts. The combination of the distance imposed by Internet interaction, where most participants have not met the others, and the inability to force a resolution to an argument have produced toxic results in disputes that have nothing to do with feminism. Add to that the intrinsically confrontational nature of internet discussion, which encourages participants to refute ideas posted by other people, and you have an environment that I believe caused much of the unfortunate and unproductive and hurtful aspects of the discussion that developed around Hugo Schwyzer. I certainly consider Internet design more responsible for these problems than any issues within feminism.


    1. Yes @JohnSpragge, exactly what you said. Thanks for putting that so well. The problem is not unique to feminism. All Internet writers should be mindful about unskillful speech. I think feminists should be especially careful, though, because feminist blogs are read by a lot of survivors of abuse and bullying (myself included) who find these conflicts so triggering that we are silenced.


  20. @Iamcuriousblue — I’m sorry, I must have posted that last response to you around the same time you were responding. Thank you though for elucidating.


  21. Also, another comment from someone relatively new to this whole debate: I don’t consider Hugo an authority on feminism. That seems to be one thing that is brought up a lot, that he shouldn’t be seen as a figurehead for women’s studies/contemporary feminist thought because of his history as an abuser. Fair enough. But is he such a spokesperson? That’s news to me.

    I *do* see him however as a spokesperson for a much-needed deconstruction of masculinity from a male perspective using hermeneutics *developed by feminism*. As unpleasant as it may be, a discussion of his past I think is not out of bounds for this project, no should it be. This project —the treatment of male experience and masculinity, historically contemporarily using inherently feminist methodologies of poststructuralism— is not the same as the project for women feminists. But it’s not trying to be.


    1. “Also, another comment from someone relatively new to this whole debate: I don’t consider Hugo an authority on feminism. That seems to be one thing that is brought up a lot, that he shouldn’t be seen as a figurehead for women’s studies/contemporary feminist thought because of his history as an abuser. Fair enough. But is he such a spokesperson? That’s news to me. “

      One of the major criticisms that has been made is the sheer ubiquitousness of brand Hugo(tm) in the feminist blogosphere, his overwhelming tone of self-promotion, right down to the big picture of himself on his website and “buy my book” links. Hugo this and Hugo that from his mutual backscratching society coming from many different points of the “gender issues” internets. This whole blowup started on Feministe, actually, and initial complaints were over this guy being presented, yet again, as some big freakin’ hero, before criticisms crystallized around stuff he’s done in the past, especially the suicide pact/attempted murder thing. Which, unfortunately, served as a signal to his advocates to make the argument all about poor little Hugo and how people just couldn’t forgive his transgressions.

      I’ll just drop the issues about his past and say that I don’t want this guy pushed on me as some great prophet of gender and sexuality no matter what his story is. And this seems to be something that many of us, from the most radical feminists to the most neanderthal MRAs (to those, like myself, who are a bit orthogonal to this axis), seem to agree on.


  22. @imcuriousblue–after examining the websites you offered I do not read anything of a critical analysis contribution, only a shotgun approach of rhetoric that neither addresses the issues nor engages in civil dialogue.

    My asking you how you define feminism is, in my estimation, critical to the conversation and not irrelevant to the conversation. If you do not self-identify as a feminist than that shifts the conversation. Additionally, nowhere in my response did I solicit from you what a good feminist is. My intention was to attempt to set a foundation from which to establish a (again, civil) conversation.

    @John, you have arrived upon a difficult component of the blogosphere, inability to actually hear the other in a manner that does not leave the other off-put by rudeness. It is always easier to spout harmful rhetoric absent a face-to-face encounter. Being new to this genre I am not entirely sold on its productivity and ability to establish a sense of community between otherwise strangers. The verdict is out on this one but I do hope against hope that a measure of sensitivity emerges within the blogosphere.


    1. Well, the fact that you seemingly can’t distinguish “civil” from “servile” is really a “your problem”, not a “my problem”. You’re simply using the “tone” argument as a derailing tactic. I have offered you substantial criticisms, both on my part and those of other people, of Schwyzer’s behavior and the false framing that advocates of his are engaging in. And if you think the “No Seriously, What About the Menz” blog isn’t offering critical analysis of the issue, than clearly you haven’t even bothered to read a word they’ve written. It seems that if you don’t like the “tone” of what is being said, you dismiss the entire argument. Which doesn’t exactly strike me as “civil” from where I’m sitting – more like just plain arrogant and more than a little thin-skinned.

      I’ve mentioned several times already that I don’t identify as a feminist, and I don’t think I owe you any more explanation as to why than what I’ve already offered. Especially when so far you’ve proven unwilling and/or unable to listen to and respond to substantial criticisms I’ve already made. You want to make this conversation all about definitions of feminism and where we stand vis a vis that. In my estimation, how one positions oneself relative to some ideology is not the most relevant or interesting discussion to be had here, so I’m not engaging with it. Larger patterns of behavior and the ethics thereof are what is relevant here, and I think it’s an area where Schwyzer severely falls short and where he demonstrates his malignant narcissism is not some problem that lives way off in some atoned-for past. And yeah, the behavior of the blogosphere mob is also very much relevant here, but this is an area where I don’t feel the least bit of sympathy for Hugo either. In the past, he’s proven himself every bit the demagogue ready to fire up the mob. Now the mob has turned on him. Boo friggin’ hoo. I only hope more blogosphere demagogues are the next to go down.


      1. Excuse me, but when has Hugo “fired up the mob”? Specifically, when has he encouraged the kind of behaviour we have seen over the past month, with personal denunciation pages on Facebook and Tumblr, and people “exploring” every conceivable charge against Hugo that might possibly cause him trouble or embarrassment?

        I have no brief for Hugo, but every time the Internet gets used to put the maximum pressure on an individual, it makes that kind of activity that much more acceptable.


      2. He published an article right as this was starting over at GMP about how there was no bullying coming from feminists (oh, the irony), and giving his seal of approval to some pretty nasty bullying on Amanda Marcotte’s part toward one of GMP’s editors.

        In case you haven’t noticed, the kind of behavior you’ve seen over the last few months is fucking *endemic* to the feminist blogosphere. And now you take notice of it because somebody *you like* has gotten bitten by it.


      3. He published an article right as this was starting over at GMP about how there was no bullying coming from feminists (oh, the irony), and giving his seal of approval to some pretty nasty bullying on Amanda Marcotte’s part toward one of GMP’s editors.

        Here’s the twitter stream in discussion


        It didn’t seem like bullying as much as people refusing to back away from their own arguments — both sides. Tom Malack may have a point about hating to be prejudged for being to a particular group, but so did the women who disliked being stereotyped by his initial comment: “Why can’t women accept men for who they really are?”

        I don’t think Malack helped his situation when he said this: “@jennpozner interesting “feedback.” I really thought the MRA guys were crazy until I engaged the wrath of the feminists. Insane. ” He later retracts or clarifies that it doesn’t mean that he sympathizes with MRA guys, but that the discussion apparently reminded him of the ones he gets from MRA guys. Still, this was like adding gasoline to a burning fire.

        As for the article giving a “seal of approval” about the situation… Here’s Schwyzer’s article:


        As for blow-up… this is endemic of the internet. I’ve seen crap go down over animation cels. Get a group large enough and at one point you’re going to get people with the same interests picking at each other, living examples of the narcissism of small differences.


        I did notice that Schwyzer didn’t set off any winged monkeys for his own situation. Instead he appeared to listen.


      4. Sorry, in the case of Amanda Marcotte versus Tom Matlack, I don’t see the personal denunciation web pages, the personal attacks on tumblr, the efforts at “exploring” every possible weakness to “get” the subject “where it hurts”. Nor, frankly, do I see any evidence that Hugo really did anything but disagree with what Tom Matlack had written. I see a huge difference between that and “fir[ing] up the mob”.

        Just to make it clear, though: I don’t defend Hugo. I don’t defend his past. I don’t defend his present. I don’t defend his treatment of other writers, on the Internet or off it. I especially deplore his treatment of racialized feminist bloggers. But in my opinion, not liking the way Hugo promotes himself and his ideas does not remotely justify the kind of personal attacks people have made against him, nor do I accept the conflating of his serious issues (his confession of attempted murder, his invoking of racial privilege) with resentment of his success at self promotion.


      5. I think the behind the scenes politicking and self-promotion is very much part of the problem. When you start seeing blogging as your livelihood, it creates a bad dynamic both in terms of self-promotionalism and in terms of seeing people who criticize you as not just people who disagree with you, but threats to your livelihood. And I know Hugo sees things in those terms, because he’s gone after WOC bloggers who were critical of Amanda Marcotte as threatening her profession as a writer. (Which, in my estimation, is a fucked beyond measure thing to say, and yet another reason I don’t like him.)

        I could make a case further, but I won’t. I don’t like either Hugo Schwyzer nor Amanda Marcotte, and I don’t like the way they treat other people, and the way they expect people to basically kowtow to them even when they’re at their most assholish. But ultimately, I don’t want my argument to be all about Hugo Schwyzer or Amanda Marcotte. I see it as a systemic problem in the blogosphere where certain people get power and influence, and a moblike atmosphere that’s all to ready to shut other people down at the behest of those with influence.

        The reason that I even responded to this blog post to begin with is that I think you know some of the reasons people are pissed at Schwyzer. It seems like there’s this internal dialogue among his supporters that the only relevant issue is “atonement for one’s past” and being dumbfounded that people won’t accept him with open arms just because he’s done all the right 12-Steppy things that people here seem to value.

        If you like Hugo Schwyzer, I don’t expect to change your mind. But perhaps having some understanding and maybe even a bit of *empathy* for those who have problems with his behavior is not uncalled for.



      6. I don’t know how many times I have to say that for me this has nothing to do with “liking” Hugo Schwyzer or not; it has to do with principles. Hugo’s assertion of “white” privilege, which IACB alluded to me and which I have always condemned, is wrong not because Hugo makes (some) money blogging, or because he promotes himself and his ideas, but because asserting and using an unjust privilege is wrong. If a self-effacing person asserted “white” privilege, that would not make it any more right.

        Just as an aside, empathy does not give anyone an ethical free pass. I may empathize with people who have problems with Hugo’s behaviour, and I may even agree with them, but I cannot and will not give anyone a free pass to confuse behaviour that annoys or inconveniences them (Hugo’s “self-promotion”) with genuinely unethical behaviour (Hugo’s assertion of “white” privilege).,


  23. In most of the discussions of the Hugo Affair, it seems to me, the boundaries are becoming blurred between several types of objections:
    1) Hugo shouldn’t be blogging/speaking in feminist spaces because he’s a former abuser
    2) Hugo shouldn’t be blogging/speaking in feminist spaces because he’s a privileged white straight male
    3) Hugo shouldn’t etc. because he’s taken some positions that are racist, sexist, or otherwise really problematic (e.g. the infamous facials article)

    I feel that some people are seizing on the admittedly very disturbing personal revelations in order to force him out of feminist discussion spaces because they’d really like to kick ALL men out. Or because they’d rather silence him than engage with his views. And that kind of unacknowledged motivation makes feminist discussion spaces feel less safe to me.

    I was emotionally abused by a female relative who was also physically violent to her partner. I was rescued by my husband. Though I know this is an uncommon configuration and most abusers are male, it is still my experience. What more can I say. I don’t necessarily feel that all-female spaces are safer than others, which is the presumption of “No Boys Allowed” feminism. Let’s be honest, if this is what the anti-Hugo team wants feminism to be, let’s have an objective intellectual discussion about its pros and cons, and not let all our worst passions burst out simply because we have some justification to be angry at Hugo.


    1. Jendi, thank you—your three points are a very good summation of the various discourses that collide (and perhaps become confused) in the arena of the Hugo discussion.


  24. @Jendi

    “I don’t necessarily feel that all-female spaces are safer than others, which is the presumption of “No Boys Allowed” feminism. Let’s be honest, if this is what the anti-Hugo team wants feminism to be, let’s have an objective intellectual discussion about its pros and cons, and not let all our worst passions burst out simply because we have some justification to be angry at Hugo.”

    Bravo! Couldn’t have said it better myself. I have kept silent on much of these issues but have read every single comment, blog, etc. to keep myself in the loop and I have to say that the overarching rhetoric that is found in many throughout many of these avenues is this promotion of a new “No Boys Allowed” feminism and attitude. Or maybe, it is a “No Straight Boys Allowed” rhetoric. Whatever it is, it just makes the issues more complex.


  25. A friendly reminder: we do have a comment policy for the blog, it can be found on the “About” page. It states the following:

    “We welcome comments and appreciate all viewpoints shared. Please be respectful and share with the intent of furthering dialogue and creating community. Personal attacks and insults will not be posted – nor will unsolicited ads or plugs. Thanks for honoring our policy and we look forward to expanding dialogue and building community with all who are interested.”

    We do moderate comments, trying to keep that tricky balance between including a diversity of voices and maintaining constructive tone, sometimes hard to do of course, but we’re trying!

    So please remember, refrain from making personal attacks/insults or making broad generalizations about a whole group of people – not cool. Each of us contributes to making this blog a constructive place for expanding dialogue and building community, or not, so let us each bring the best we have to offer.


  26. I left this comment elsewhere but thought it appropriate here. I hope I am not too soon in saying this:

    “It’s good to begin seeing a re-visiting of the reaction and meaning of Schwyzer’s history in the context of his current contributions. It’s a hopeful step given the recent call to marginalize men’s voices from gender advocacy and it’s happening quite a bit sooner than anticipated.

    The outcry at the various blogs has diminished as have contributions on the “No Hugo” campaigns. This may be a sign that we can all begin to heal and move forward together on the greater movement of gender/sex equity where one’s individual history and subsequent growth can be put into the context of change.”

    I will add for clarity’s sake that I write from an atheist perspective and hope that is welcome here.


  27. Andrew,
    Yes, of course your insight as an atheist is always welcome here. And thank you for your words of wisdom and at this stage, a healing balm. I hope you are correct in your estimation that the anti-Hugo sites are dissipating and feminism can continue to move toward greater recognition of intersubjectivity.

    Just wondering, based on some of the “feminist” comments that reacted to my post, if this is where Ann Coulter gets her assessment of feminism?


  28. That man who seems to be getting so much protection is now no longer teaching women’s studies at Pasadena City College. I am beginning to think that feminist blogs have also finally caught onto this guy, and have kicked him out as well.

    He is no longer the faculty advisor of the PCC feminist club, a club a black lesbian friend described as creepy with him running it. I would hope that PCC would consider him a rather big legal liability. I know of no woman teaching women’s studies anywhere who had such an awful life history. Radical feminist blog sites were on to this guy well over a year ago, and put out the warning. We tried to warn women at PCC of the danger this man poses to young women. There are always going to be people defending the things men do. Of course, we have to forgive them. Well, no we don’t, we don’t have to forgive anything the patriarchy does.

    Laura Davis once said decades ago, that women who have survived incest NEVER have to forgive the men who did this. And since she wrote a groundbreaking book “Courage to Heal” I think she would know a thing or two about this.

    I always admired Laura Davis for her raw courage, and I never forgot that quote. It was breathtakingly honest and refreshing. Do radical feminists want to “win over” liberal feminists? Well no. You don’t get anywhere trying to appease patriarchy, or even the people who are comfortable with liberalism, which I’m not. Usually, women find our way to radical feminism all on our own. We just exist and keep writing and warning, we keep exposing the PCC problems, we keep on keeping on so the liberals can have all these wonderful academic jobs. We keep telling women to pay attention to who is doing the raping, the sexually harassing, the sexual torture and the porn… the millions of men worldwide who hold whole female populations in slavery.

    Sure liberal women are uncomfortable when the horror of male domination is made real. Radicals like Daly, Dworkin and Raymond don’t pull punches. That’s why they are radical, that’s the difference between the radical and the liberal. Radicals open doors for the liberals, and liberals attempt to erase the radicals. Patriarchy is a horror story. There is no way around it. What men do to women is the stuff beyond nightmares, and liberals don’t want to face the perpetrators head on. They want to apologize for a man who admitted that he almost killed his girlfriend; that it was the patriarchal lie at its most classic.

    Hermanutic of suspicion indeed. I go farther than the word suspicion, that sounds suspiciously like a liberal word :-)


    1. Interesting that you equate the radical with the opposite of liberal. Feminism is regarded as a liberal conceptual viewpoint on the conservative-liberal spectrum. The MORE staunch the feminist theoretical underpinnings guiding that branch of feminism, the more liberal it is.
      Radical feminism is, according to the standard “left-right” political/societal spectrum, left of liberalism. Far left.
      I agree with what you’re saying about radicalism existing in order to introduce the concepts that can eventually be accepted by the mainstream in another form. That’s been true of essentially every societal change theory throughout history.
      I don’t equate that with conservatism though. Just the opposite.
      Or maybe that IS what you’re saying?


      1. “Radical” simply means a more extreme stance on something, and does not have to necessarily mean “further to the left”. There is a such thing as the “radical right”, for example. There are many of us who find “radical feminism” to be no more progressive than any other kind of radical nationalist movement, that is, in many ways more reactionary than ultra-progressive.

        “Radical feminist blog sites were on to this guy well over a year ago, and put out the warning.”

        I have to laugh at this statement, becuase my memory goes back a tad further. Up to around 2007, Hugo was loyally toeing the “radical pro-feminist” line espoused by Robert Jensen, John Stoltenberg, and the like. It was only after he changed his tune and edged into more “liberal” feminism (probably realizing that the radical feminist milieu, at least in the United States, was a dead end, way too small and limited for the scale of his ambitions) that radical feminist suddenly were critical of him. Funny how that works.


  29. Any time women start rising up and stop being doormats,we are called radical. From the right to vote in the 19th century, to the right to preach the bible… any out lesbian in 1969 was making a very radical statement. Liberals just mooch off the work of radicals, and try to erase radicals. A radical doesn’t accept male supremacy in any form. And we need to be aware of who constructs the culture, who controls the communication, and who pulls the levers behind the scenes.
    94% white, 77% men and a median age of 62– those are the people who pick the Oscar winning movies. Even wonder why almost no women are nominated for best director…. demographics reveal all, and yet until this past month, this was not public knowledge.

    The purpose of radical feminism is to contantly spread this information, and support the exposure of just who runs and votes for what. I think finally radical feminism was able to push hard enough to get even liberal feminists to take note when women are almost killed by a “feminist” man. It was going too far even for liberals… sure takes a lot doesn’t it.


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