The XX Factor

Actually, Hugo Schwyzer, It’s Not a Big Deal When Men Write About Feminism

“As for abortion … wait, is this happening? It’s happening!”

Photo by Lili Warren/AFP/Getty Images

Hugo Schwyzer, a history and gender studies professor at Pasadena College and perhaps the Internet’s best-known male feminist blogger, has just declared that he’s going to leave the Internet for a while.  At New York magazine, he explains his reasons, which are a mix of personal problems (depression, a need to focus on his marriage), and vague accusations leveled at it’s not exactly clear who. The low point is probably this:

One reason you became a punching bag is that there just are not many men writing feminist columns online. Why is that?

Look at me. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be me? If you look at the men who are writing about feminism, they toe the line very carefully. It’s almost like they take their cues from the women around them. Men are afraid of women’s anger. It’s very hard for men to stand up to women’s anger. I did for a long time until finally my mental health had to be a priority. I just got out of the hospital. I’m not shy about that. I’m sober, but I checked myself into a psych ward for a week, when I became a danger to myself.

The note of persecution is painful. Schwyzer presents himself as a lone, brave soul standing up to women’s anger and fighting for authentic idiosyncratic feminism, unlike all those other weak-willed feminist men who are benighted because they are willing to listen to women talk about their own lives. Also, apparently, more men don’t write about feminism because feminist women are just so damn mean. Look at Hugo!  He’s only written for the Atlantic and Jezebel and has tenure. And when he declares he wants to quit the Internet, New York magazine comes running to interview him. It’s like he’s been gagged.

I don’t have anything personally against Schwyzer. He’s a smart guy; I enjoy his writing. I’ve had pleasant interactions with him on Twitter. Schwyzer’s revelation that he’d slept with a number of students have raised reasonable and painful questions about his place in the feminist movement. Even so, the vitriol that has been directed at him has been (as such things often are online) unnecessary and cruel.

But that doesn’t change the fact that what he’s saying in that New York magazine interview is poisonous, and also, in my experience, simply untrue. I’m a feminist guy who writes about gender issues at the Atlantic Sexes and other places. I even occasionally write articles that are fairly heterodox, from a mainstream pop feminist perspective. And yet, I’m not vilified. Not that everybody agrees with me, or that my comments sections are uniformly civil or anything, but I hardly feel like a martyr. On the contrary, feminist writers—women and men (and including Hugo Schwyzer himself)—have been extremely welcoming and encouraging. I understand that Schwyzer’s experience has been different than mine. But the hostility he’s encountered may in many cases be linked to the fact that he’s done some questionable things. He hasn’t been singled out because he’s a man nor because he’s speaking truths that people don’t want to hear. Schwyzer’s distress is leading him to retail stereotypes about feminist misandry that he would, rightly, squash if they came out of anybody else’s keyboard.

I don’t have any desire to demonize Schwyzer, who, again, appears to be struggling with some serious mental health issues, as well as other problems. But I think it’s important to remember that we’re in the culture we’re in, and that is, unfortunately, still a culture in which men’s problems often function as an excuse, or a trigger, for misogyny. Men suffer; women and feminists are to blame. It’s an old story, and one that Schwyzer has in the past been very good at critiquing. I don’t know if he’ll get back to doing that. I wish he hadn’t given that interview though—and hope that he is now as good as his word, and takes, at least, some time off to tend to his health and his family before making any more public statements.