Normally, I’m not one for telling people whether or not they can self-define as feminists. I think it’s rude and pointless. We all come to feminism from different perspectives and are all at different points of our feminist journey. It’s counter-productive to insist on the right to label, or not, others. That said, there some pretty basic tenets of feminism that aren’t negotiable. Perpetrators of domestic violence, rape and other forms of MVAW aren’t feminists. I do think it is possible for men who express anti-feminist statements to change. I don’t think violent men can change enough to ever be feminists.
This is why I am genuinely perplexed by the fawning that Hugo Schwyzer receives. He has consistently minimised his history of violence against women. Schwyzer writes of being an “accidental rapist” and “accidentally endangering” a former partner in a murder-suicide attempt.
I have no time for men who seek to minimise their personal history of MVAW by claiming personality disorders or drug addiction. Being a feminist means taking responsibility for one’s actions and the consequences therein. Claiming that an episode of MVAW was “drug-fuelled” isn’t taking responsibility. It is minimising one’s responsibility. There is a huge difference between the statements “I am a recovering drug addict but my addiction does not minimise my culpability for the violence I committed” and “it was accidental VAW because I was stoned”.
One is forgivable because it involves genuine remorse. The other is not.
Real male feminist/ feminist allies get this. They understand that their behaviour has no excuse, that it would remain unforgivable for many women and they don’t insist on trying to get women to forgive them. They take responsibility for their actions and words quietly and without requiring cookies and blowjobs for being good boys.
Hugo Schwyzer needs to start listening to women. He needs to start acknowledging that there are valid reasons that women find him frightening and then he needs to stop trying to intimidate them into silence. When he stops trying to silence women, I might be willing to engage with his work. As long as he continues to embrace the silencing of women who disagree with him, Schwyzer will never be a feminist.
And, let’s be realistic here, if Mike Tyson, who has a similar history of domestic violence and rape, were to start referring to himself as a feminist whilst blithering on about hegemonic masculinity, no feminists would be lining up behind him to stroke his ego and insist on his admittance to feminist spaces. We’d be laughing our asses off at him. Schwyzer is allowed in because he’s white. That’s a huge problem that white feminists need to address because we are silencing our sisters by allowing Schwyzer to continue pontificating as if he were the Messiah of Feminism.