Sunday, August 4, 2013

hugo schwyzer's suicide attempt, the feminist response, and the tension of holding horrible things alongside possiblity


I don’t know where exactly to begin. I’m frustrated with what appears to be a gleeful response by some feminists in response to Hugo Schwyzer’s recent suicide attempt, and I am especially raw with the way the core issues intersected for me last week when I emotionally broke down because of harsh words from feminists. I know for a fact that the triggering was as severe as it was because it came from women who purport to honor the humanity of women, and these women were shaming me for my healing process. I get that kind of treatment often from men, and I don’t collapse the way I did this time when it came from women. So I want to acknowledge at the outset that I am writing from this space.

The term that keeps coming to mind as I think about this is “fundamentalism.” I see it so often all over the place and also in myself. I grew up in fundamentalism and as a result it’s imprinted on me to some extent. It probably isn’t exactly in my DNA, but possibly on my bones or maybe some cartilage, and through all my years in therapy and through my grieving and raging and healing process, I became aware that fundamentalist tendencies in me are probably stronger than in the average person (though I feel the average person does carry those stripes as well, only because as humans we love rules that will keep us safe and protected, and we don’t like muddling in the gray, where it gets dodgy. No alarms and no surprises, please).

So for whoever is reading this, I need you to know that I feel that whatever healing I’ve managed and whatever rage I’ve connected with over my mistreatment/abuse has been informed by my becoming aware of my fundamentalist DNA (or bones or cartilage). I could never have healed without realizing that I myself carry those fundamentalist leanings in some way. And this has been an awful realization because it puts me in the same league as my abusers. (I am so afraid that at this point many people will stop reading. That's a risk, I guess.) But it’s also been a beautiful realization because it puts me in league with, well, humans. We all live in quiet desperation much of the time. We do bad things to others, and when we do, we need someone to say “what you did was wrong, and I am not minimizing how much harm you caused, but I think you have intrinsic worth so I’ll stick around if you make some changes.” That is health and that is redemptive.

I read a piece recently that said many people love a redemption narrative and will readily brush aside the abuse caused by the person seeking redemption in order to feel the good part of redemption. I think this is so true. I feel very strongly that there is something in human nature that wants to skip over the hard, ugly part and get to the fuzzy, copacetic part. But I also feel very strongly that we can’t have true redemption or forgiveness without exposing the bad part and bringing that to light. I have this thing where I am open to the possibility that we were meant for an ideal. I don’t know for sure that we are, but the idea resonates really deeply for me. And I feel very strongly that abuse separates both the abuser and the abused from that ideal. And honestly, the deepest and most euphoric freedom I have ever felt has been when I feel the effects of true forgiveness and restoration, mine or someone else’s. I could never put words to how it feels beyond saying I have the deepest sense that strong bonds of connection are being made and that something ancient and deeply purposeful is taking place. It feels sacred, I guess. It feels beyond anything concrete that I could come up with, and big changes have happened in my life and in my friends’ lives as a result.

Which is why I cannot, cannot get on board with hopelessness. I just can't. I feel it's antithetical to the humanist and feminist causes. I say this as a survivor of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and as someone who has been disowned by my parents after I set boundaries with them that they may not shame me anymore. I get really discouraged, but I work very hard not to lose hope because I have seen impossibly beautiful things come from the worst messes. I can never tell when exactly someone will have a change of heart and that redemption will take place, but I’ve seen it happen many times. Which is why I have been weeping over the response to Hugo Schwyzer’s recent suicide attempt. (I have been trying to rewrite that sentence for ten minutes now because first of all the word “weeping” is dramatic and feels indulgent, but there’s no other word for what I’m doing, I am completely gutted by it.) In case you've never heard of him, Hugo Schwyzer is a gender studies professor who writes for Jezebel, Salon and the Atlantic who has admitted to sexual assault and to attempting to kill his ex-girlfriend. He’s done horrendous things. He got sober and talked about wanting to make changes, and it appears he did make steps towards those. (I am saying all of this as someone who does not know him.) Many people take issue with the fact that he calls himself a male feminist and aligns himself with feminist causes. I completely understand why feminists, or any humans, take issue with this. Many people feel that he has sought out press in a way that feels self-aggrandizing and unrepentant. It really rubs people the wrong way, for good reason. It comes off as obnoxious (to put it very mildly) to have committed rape and attempted murder and then to give interviews about your reformation. AND YET. Hugo is human and he just attempted suicide. He suffers from mental illness. He has horrible things in his past that he is working to overcome. He likely has no concept of truly giving himself kindness. A very significant part of my own healing has been to give myself space to screw up. For 32 years I never let myself screw up. I mean, I screwed up constantly, but I internalized so much self-loathing surrounding it. I could not cut myself the tiniest break. And this absolutely informed my treatment of others. I couldn’t cut them a break. I saw myself in them and in their screwing up, but I looked at them and myself with contempt. They were weak and pathetic, just like me. I couldn’t get past how others couldn’t foresee their mistakes and circumvent making them. I had no space for their humanity, just like I didn’t have any space for mine, and I want to say very earnestly and dorkily with no hyperbole that I was living in a sort of hell. To not have empathy and compassion on myself or on others was a form of being tightly bound and enslaved. I had no means of breaking those constraints because I couldn’t fully see what was constraining me. I was angry, for good reason, and I was without hope that I could ever be anything other than angry. I lived this way for at least 32 years.

Here comes the redemption narrative that people aren’t so sure about. But it makes sense that some people are wary of redemption narratives. We are skeptical of them because the concept of grace has almost certainly been used against us if we grew up in fundamentalism. We were taught to excuse our abusers and “give them grace,” and then we were shamed if we did not want to or could not give them grace. That shame was placed back on US. That shame actually belonged on the person who harmed us, but instead it was transferred to us, the victims. I believe that’s called gaslighting: being made to feel as if you are the one in the wrong so your abuser doesn’t have to carry the consequence of what he or she did. As victims, we were conditioned to accept this kind of treatment. And when we finally woke up to the reality that we were being abused, we named it and attempted by whatever means we could to expose it, and were told to “just give grace” to our abusers. This excused the behavior of the abuser, and true grace and forgiveness were not able to take place. And I have to say that when this happened, evil won. Destruction won. We were crushed and we were owned and innocence was lost. That demands to be mourned. Our mourning turned to rage, very justified rage. And that rage had no outlet because we were trapped within the cycle fundamentalism.

A catalyst in my recovery was this perspective by Desmond Tutu:
“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing….Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering — remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
This sentiment is so powerful and it is why I’m drawn to Christianity, even though I can’t call myself a Christian. I feel with my whole heart that this is a philosophy that can change the world. And it is a very, very tenuous thing to hold well. Excruciating tension is present in this picture. In order to truly enter into forgiveness, we need to name and expose the abuse, the awfulness, the hurt, and the truth. And it sometimes makes things worse. Bringing the horrors of abuse will almost certainly exacerbate the situation. Telling these truths humiliates your abuser, and they very likely will not want to own their part in your harm. I know this because I have abused people. I have been spiritually and emotionally abusive and have deeply harmed people. Being confronted with it drove me into denial. I thought I couldn’t possibly have harmed someone the way they say I harmed them. It was much too painful to conceive that I could have harmed as I had been harmed. I didn’t have space for that possibility. And when, by some means I still have no explanation for, I did make space for it, the effects were devastating. I went through all the stages of grief. Because that is really what it was about: the deep grief that I could have done what had been done to me. I was in the lowest space I may have ever been in, and what brought me out of it was kindness. I was told that I was forgiven. And I was more moved than I’ve ever been because I recognized the risk they were taking by offering me kindness and, well, grace. I had never known grace to be a healing measure. I had only known it to be another mechanism of abuse. It had been wielded against me and I had been shamed for not giving my abusers grace. But my abusers had only attempted superficial reconciliation. They did not acknowledge their abuse when it was exposed. When I received actual grace, when someone reserved their right to hit back at me when they had every reason to, I finally saw how healing was possible. They did not endorse forgiving and forgetting. They remembered my abuse towards them and they named it, but they also forgave and we moved forward and I was a changed person. I am a changed person.

This is why I grieve Hugo’s suicide attempt. He has committed vile abuses and he has done a lot of interviews about it that people feel are self-aggrandizing. This kind of behavior is extremely frustrating, to put it nicely, to those who have abuse histories and are desperate for true equality. We want so much for our humanity to be taken seriously and we are furious at the cycle of abusers being let off the hook. Here is where the tension lies with the Hugo Schwyzer situation: it appears that Hugo represents yet another instance of being given cheap grace and superficial reconciliation in widely publicized articles. As a victim of the same things Hugo has done to other people, the notion of anyone getting away with violent assault makes my stomach turn. It makes me scream how can we hold this tension well and perpetuate healing and true reconciliation and true redemption? Not cheap, false redemption for the sake of another white male redemption narrative that will get a lot of pageviews and make the abuser look like a tortured martyr. True redemption that exposes the awfulness, it does not forget, and it does not use the right to hit back. How can we hold this situation with full exposure, realism, and also possibility?

In articles on Hugo’s recent suicide attempt I keep reading this: “The prof says Twitter and article comments roasting him as a woman hater and regurgitating a 15-year-old suicide attempt and attempted murder of a girlfriend have taken their toll.” And I continue to find many responses that maintain that the feminists who “roast” Hugo are not actually bullies. I can see both sides. Hugo has done horrible things, and he has apologized for them and made what appear to be corrective steps. He is a father. He has sought help for his illness and addictions. I can state all these things as facts, but I cannot speak to his true motives. But I can speak to my experience: the futility I have felt when someone repeatedly brings up something for which I have apologized for is one of the most desperate feelings I have ever felt. I understand that many people do not feel Hugo is truly sorry, and I understand why many do not want him to have a voice in feminism. They are likely disgusted by him and never want to hear his name again. This is valid. And I don’t say “this is valid” in a quick, cursory way: these instincts are all truly, deeply valid. They are informed by these peoples’ histories, possibly with their own abusers and how they were violently wronged and their abusers were and never will be brought to light. And alongside that, while holding every ounce of pain caused by Hugo and myself and any other abuser, I feel that assigning motives can be very dangerous. I have no idea if Hugo is truly sorry and I will probably never know, but in order to perpetuate the dignity and humanity of all people (which I believe is foundational to feminism), I believe we must honor all humanity. This is implicit in exposing the awfulness of what they have done in order to have true reconciliation. Does there come a point where my questioning the honesty of an apology and assigning motives to someone’s actions puts me in the abuser’s seat? I don’t know. I’m still working that one out, but there is something compelling about it.. I do feel there are many ways to say “I do not think Hugo should be the voice of feminism and I feel he reads as narcissistic and oily in interviews” without removing his personhood and assigning motives. I've seen amazing redemption happen in other places in areas I have thought were hopeless. I feel that much of the writing I see about Hugo reduces him to being less than human. 

What if we saw everyone as if they are in the middle of a redemption story? The world would change. The world would drastically change. It will take space and patience to pull this off. The eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth mentality is the same as the patriarchy, which says 'if you break the rules then you will get broken in half, and we will hold grudges against you until you look like us.' But mercy knows nothing of that. And when people are coming out of their abuse and are processing it they often can’t hear the words mercy and grace because those words were used against them as part of their abuse. And that is a stage we have to go through. I want to allow space for people who are in that stage. I want to make room for them to be in that stage as long as they need to. What does it mean to allow them to be in that stage, as I was in that stage, while I also hold hope for someone like Hugo? We all need help and mercy, we need to be told the truth, and we need to not be given cheap, placating treatment. How do we name harm done, while refusing to let our abusers off the hook, while refusing to be hopeless? This is my big question I am holding. It sucks. I feel pain in my chest and have been having anxiety responses all day as I've been trying to write this, but I honestly want to ask others to play with this question along with me and entertain it and wonder alongside me. It is much too big for me to hold by myself (that’s what she said) and I need others with me in this. 

29 comments:

Morgan Guyton said...

Wow. I don't want to take anything away from this with the inadequacy of my adverbs. So I'll just say thank you.

Amy said...

This was good, made me cry. 'That's what she said' was nicely placed.

I'm with you in the tension. I'm with you in the want for redemption in all things. I woke up this morning, read this, and realized that although I'm not personally feeling angry vile sentiments, I am so deeply disappointed. Not just about this, but about all it represents, and how it repeats over and over in a million stories in a million ways. The world is broken, and it hurts. I'm so sorry for all of the hurt this had to have caused, and am so sorry for the hurt that caused it, as well as the hurt that causes such smug responses to anyone else's pain. If we could only stop outsourcing our pain.

I'm trying to figure out how to hold it, too. Thanks for your vulnerability in this.

Danica Newton said...

Yes, yes, yes. Stephy, this is beautiful. One of the best descriptions of the intersection of grace, forgiveness, and hope that I have ever read. Thank you for this.

ramblersjournal said...

I wonder if forgiveness means to accept the other person's choice. If the abuser chooses not to accept accountability for his actions, then there's nothing you can do. You can't heal a person who doesn't want to be healed, when real healing requires him to send a sincere apology, acknowledge that what he did was unconditionally wrong, accept his victim's right to remain angry with him indefinitely, cease to hurt his victim, cease to justify past or present actions... i.e., to CHANGE.

For a while now I've been playing with the notion that maybe sometimes, the right time to forgive is "never." But now I realize that the shape of my own forgiveness (or lack of it) is different than that. When I think about the person who hurt me, I know that if he really did the work to CHANGE, I wouldn't have any grudge against him. I'm just speaking for myself. I think I'd be relieved. However, I don't for an instant believe he will ever make those steps. I would be absolutely floored if he ever actually completed this list - http://www.lundybancroft.com/?page_id=254 - which is the definition of change for an abuser.

Until an abuser is doing (has done) the things on that list, they aren't choosing to change; they aren't in a place where they can receive real actual forgiveness. By real actual forgiveness I mean the thing you're hinting at in this post... a reconciliation that's based in reality, a reality that includes the devastation of what they did. Until an abuser can reconcile the impact of their choices on the person they claimed to love, reconciliation is literally impossible. (How can you reconcile two facts when you refuse to admit that one of them exists?)

And not because the victim isn't forgiving enough. Rather, because the abuser isn't willing to become someone who CAN be forgiven.

I guess what I'm saying is that forgiveness, if it's to exist at all, has to be a two-way street - in other words, it's not just a job for victims to do. Actually the victim's side of that coin is really pretty small. It may be as simple as getting to the place where you no longer wish personal harm on them. The abuser's side is much more intensive. For them, the work of being forgiven means to take accountability for their choices and change. If that happens on both sides, even if the two never even have a relationship again, I think you can call that forgiveness a success. If it happens on one side but not the other, at least that side can move forward, into a better version of themselves.

And if it doesn't, well... then it doesn't.

stephy said...

I hope I'm not "hinting at" that in this post, as you say! I am saying as loudly and clearly as I can that forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong.

Glenn said...

The most beautiful thing about this, Stephy, seems to be your heart for everyone at every stage of the process. Thank you for not minimize the pain, or even demanding that everyone must reach the final stage. I do, however, want to question rambler's last paragraph. I don't know that this whole reconciliation thing has to be a two-way street. Or even that 90% of it needs to come from the abuser. I think that may even give too much power to the abuser. The beauty of healing may be that the victim has the power to move forward (or not) regardless of the behavior of the abuser at any pace with which they see fit. It hurts me to think that forgiveness or healing on the part of the victim is in any way dependent on the abuser's motives or authenticity in their "apology."

pauldebaufer said...

Miroslav Volf talks about forgiveness as disconnecting the cords that bind the person to his awful act. According to Volf when we commit evil we make a connection between our person and the act we committed. The act of being forgiven helps sever this connection. In the severing of the connection there comes the possibility of change and redemption/reconciliation. Opens the door of possibility for change. Change may never come, if it doesn't then there is no redemption, no reconciliation.

In that light I think you are spot on. Abuse has to be named, not ignored. Abusers need to take responsibility for their actions. Own the abuse in ways that are painful for them, no minimizing, no rationalizing, done with all sincerity. If the abuser is incapable or unwilling to do these things, then I'm not sure there should be any reconciliation. I think that forgiveness may still be possible(from my experience, for others it may well be different.

Joanna Schroeder said...

This says it:

"What if we saw everyone as if they are in the middle of a redemption story?"

Justin Hanvey said...

Yeah. You know who this reminds me of? Saul/Paul

A man who killed Christians and tortured, who stood and mocked at the death of Stephen, and then God brought him low, smack on his face into the dirt and asked him why he was abusing Him.

God didn't just say "you're forgiven." he left an indelible scar upon Paul that he probably lived with the rest of his life. The memory of what he had done as Saul probably haunted him the rest of his life, and yet God said "My grace is sufficient."

I wonder how long it took those who Saul had hurt in his abuses to accept him as a Christ follower just like them.

Some probably never did.

Paul seemed to barely accept himself.

I wonder if he ever tried to commit suicide but it's not recorded in the Bible. Wouldn't be surprised.

He was forgiven, but his redemptive arc was by no means superficial, and that seems a good model for us all in how we deal with our own abusers.

Kynewulf said...

This is wonderfully articulated. I've struggled with forgiveness at times (for others and for myself), even while still esteeming it as one of the highest ideals. Real life is so complicated, messy, and confusing sometimes, and sometimes it gets rather difficult to reconcile our ideals with the imperfections of our being human. I believe you really hit the mark with this article—I agree with you and Desmond Tutu that we should forgive, but not forget. The past cannot be undone, but the present and future are wide open if people seek to change their hearts for the better. Though that's not to say that the victim can always coexist with the abuser that seeks reform (sometimes forgiveness is easier with great distance), but I'm compelled to believe that there must be the hope of redemption for all those that truly seek it in their hearts and move take take responsibility for their actions.

Heidi said...

I've been thinking about this all day. A few of the paragraphs really stand out because they meet me in my current tension. I re-read them and am brought to tears again as it connects the dots on a number of thoughts that have been swirling around in my head lately.

I was raised in a fundamental Baptist background. Fundamentalism is part of my dna. If my Christian school created "Most likely to..." lists, I would have been voted most likely to confront you of your sin. It was that same grace-less outlook that has helped me carry around a weight of self doubt and loathing for years. I'm constantly struck by the beauty of grace. Perhaps because it was absent in my life for so long. I believe too, with all my heart, that seeing each person on their own redemptive journey can change the world. If I can change so much, there is great hope for everyone.

I have a family member who has shared things that lead me to believe she was abused, though I don't think she's ever come to that realization. I see the pain it has caused and I long for this person to have true healing. Sadly, she doesn't realize how much she hurts the ones that love her most. I'm often the easiest to shame with passive aggressive statements that have grown more hurtful over the years. Because of my own story, each shaming statement cuts deep and leaves ugly wounds. I've been told that I need to be the bigger person and not cause conflict. Or that I keep my mouth shut because I'm a mature adult. I just can't do that anymore. I don't know the right thing to say. I do know that I need to set boundaries. My pain is just as important as hers. Maybe by addressing mine, she will one day be able to address her own.

On a much lighter note, I read Hammerhead Theater. I think Hammerhead has been reincarnated into one of my extended relatives. I'm now going to start keeping my own Hammerhead journal. I'm sure it will help make the absurd much easier to endure :)



Unknown said...

Just wanted to mention one thing: Nowhere in the NY Mag interview does Hugo say that he attempted suicide recently. I think you're referring to the murder-suicide attempt from years ago. I think the idea that something happened recently came from one tweet from last week that mentioned the "gleeful response" of feminists in response to his alleged suicide attempt. I wonder if part of this conflict stems from the misunderstanding caused by this tweet?

nakedpastor said...

perfect!

Still Breathing said...

Stephy, This is one of the most beautiful, heartfelt pieces of writing I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

One of the painful lessons I've had to learn is that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing but I had never consciously realised how important recognising your own failings is to the process.

As for Hugo Schwyzer I know next to nothing about him but I do know, from experience, that you can only consider committing suicide when all hope has died, for it is only then that suicide becomes the only logical course of action. At this time he, like all of us, needs room to get to know his own story so that he can own it and move on with it; warts and all. Too often we deny people the chance to own their story by imposing our story onto them complete with our values of acceptability. This often shows up in limiting another's vocabulary and, in doing so, limiting their voice.

stephy said...

Unknown,

I read about Hugo's recent suicide attempt in several places, here is one that confirms it:


http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/08/porn_professor_hugo_schwyzer_suicide_attempt.php

ramblersjournal said...

You're right, sorry, hinting is the wrong word.

-Elisabeth M

Unspared Rod said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shade ardent said...

i think the thing i reject from this is that there's an expectation that forgiveness is required on the part of the survivor for healing to be checked off in a list. what if i never forgive? have i never healed? does that mean i can't move forward? i hope not.

while i look at my life and understand that i have a long way to go for healing, i also know that i'm not stuck. i never was. from the minute i fled, i was healing. from the minute i stopped being available to be harmed, i started to heal. actually, the minute i got back up the first time from being hurt, i was healing. healing is a continuum, a mobius of hope and life. forgiveness, while nice, is not something i think is required for me to be considered whole or having moved on.

and even the phrase 'moving on' bothers me because i won't ever leave my scars behind. they might fade, they might not. i don't want my ability to forgive become the measure someone uses to decide if i've done a good enough job.

stephy said...

I think not forgiving is a valid part of the process and it may be the end of the process for some people.

shade ardent said...

somehow having permission to *not* forgive gives me breathing room to consider what it might look like, that maybe it's different than i've been taught. maybe it's not a glossing over, a swallowing of the wrongs, and a blank slate given back to be filled with more scars.

and somewhere in the middle of it all, i know we are made with a desire for connection. a desire for connection and redemption, the circling and returning again and again to connection. i'm not sure where H's journey will take him, but i can try to have a little hope for it.

and in doing so, find some small scrap of hope to apply inwards to my own scars.

stephy said...

I think that, like the concept of grace, being told we must forgive has been used against us in a very harmful way. What if grace and forgiveness do not look like how we were taught they do?

Unknown said...

I love you Stephanie.

Unknown said...

(It's me, jen Kantor).

ramblersjournal said...

That's the crux of it for me. To reclaim the word and redeem it. I love the idea that reconciliation is about shining light on the reality of the abuser's wrongdoing, shining light on how their actions have affected the victim, requiring unconditional accountability from the abuser, creating unconditional safety for the victim. If THAT's what we're talking about then yes, yes, let's everyone do that, everywhere.

It's hard to reclaim words that have been used so destructively. It's hard to be HEARD by those who already have the other, destructive definition firmly in mind.

-Elisabeth M

stephy said...

I originally had put this quote at the end of the post but someone told me she found it triggery and distracting for her, which I understand, so I thought I'd paste it here with this caveat. I think I have particular affinity for it because it’s from my favorite book by Scott Peck and also contains a Lewis quote about Narnia. Here it is:

"I can’t stop thinking about this from "People Of The Lie: Hope For Healing Human Evil" by M. Scott Peck:

The healing of evil––scientifically or otherwise––can be accomplished only by the love of individuals. A willing sacrifice is required. The individual healer must allow his or her own soul to become the battleground. He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil.
Then what prevents the destruction of that soul? If one takes the evil itself into one’s heart, like a spear, how can one’s goodness still survive? Even if the evil is vanquished thereby, will not the good be also? What will have been achieved beyond some meaningless trade-off?

I cannot answer this in language other than mystical. I can say only that there is a mysterious alchemy whereby the victim becomes the victor. As C. S. Lewis wrote: “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”
I do not know how this occurs. But I know that it does. I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others––to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken––to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world."

Heart said...

Beautiful. <3

GeekChicOhio said...

The quote from Desmond Tutu you posted (and elaborated on) reminded me of a teaching I heard years ago by Rob Bell.
He talked about forgiveness, and what it is, and what it isn't.
He said that it isn't necessarily "I'm not going to press charges."
It isn't necessarily "We'll ever speak to each other again."
It isn't necessarily "Let's forget this ever happened."

I feel like there's room to forgive Schwyzer for his past sins. I think there's even room to forgive him for his more recent ones (the article you link to about his suicide also suggests possible motive may lie in the dissolution of his marriage due, perhaps in part, to a made-public sexting relationship with a porn star).

I also feel like the gleeful responses you've cited to his attempt are absolutely abhorrent, inhumane, and should rightly disqualify someone from ever again being allowed to hold up the flag of "equality" on behalf of their gender (or, really, on behalf of ANYTHING) ever again.

But [proceeding with caution here], I don't believe that a redemption story here has to end (or should have, up to this point involved) the idea that "yes, Hugo, we will take you seriously as a feminist-allied thinker." I think redemption and forgiveness means that Hugo is healed, finds grace, lives a well-adjusted and quiet life, and (as he seems determined to do) continues to teach and write and perhaps be published.

But I don't think that the "possibility" you speak of should (or should have up till now) involve welcoming him into a discourse of which he seems deeply, deeply unqualified for. I acknowledge that it's possible that this is just my inability to properly, or fully extend grace, but I do believe that forgiveness isn't forgetfulness.

I don't know if his public attempts at redemption for his past actions were sincere, but I don't know how much that matters with regards to his fitness to continue in feminist discourse.

Wishing ill on him is terrible, and ought to be met with the same scorn and derision that those doing so have pointed at him up till now.
It ought to be seen as just as disqualifying--in removing the humanity of another--as I think his actions have been.

Because I think he should be forgiven for whatever he has done, but I can't get over the gut feeling that "forgiveness' doesn't mean he ought to be given a platform in the feminist conversation.

stephy said...

I agree with you completely.

Karla said...

"I know this because I have abused people. I have been spiritually and emotionally abusive and have deeply harmed people. Being confronted with it drove me into denial. I thought I couldn’t possibly have harmed someone the way they say I harmed them. It was much too painful to conceive that I could have harmed as I had been harmed. I didn’t have space for that possibility."

I have, too. I’m sure of it. I did and said lots of things when I was in the throes of untreated PTSD and depression that, in retrospect, are incredibly abusive. I despise this about myself. I don’t want to make space for this possibility, and yet, I know I must, because even if I’m not a particularly nice or decent person, I’m not completely lacking in ethics, and to continue to paint myself as 100% innocent is dishonest.

I have to believe, though, that our abusive behavior does not, prima facie, equate us with our own abusers, both for our own sense of sanity/self-worth and for the sake of accuracy. The “how are you any different from your abuser if you do or say A or B?” accusation is a) cheap, b) prevents us from admitting our own failings, c) continues to foment Stockholm Syndrome and prevent healing, and d) disregards the reality that there are some people who are, constitutionally, abusers, and are or would be even if they didn’t, themselves, come from an abusive background.

I hope to hell that I am not d). I see my mom as d), and I’ve spent most of my life fighting to prove, mainly to myself, that I am not my mom.

As for “What if grace and forgiveness do not look like how we were taught they do?” – I hope so. I really hope so. I’m in something of a no-man’s land regarding my feels toward my abusers. There is something almost cathartic and empowering at times about refusing to forgive them (or at least “forgive” in the way we’ve been miseducated). Sometimes the rage is a useful and powerful reminder that this shit DID happen, and I am not intrinsically insane for having it fuck me up the way it did. Other times it prohibits me from freeing up the parts of my brain that allow me to work/heal/learn to speak Shakespeare like Dame Judi Dench. If grace and forgiveness look like some combination of allowing for periods of empowering hatred (especially if they lead one to change how shit is done) and periods of not thinking about it so much that one can learn to play Titania, then I’m on board. Mind you, I have no idea how to construct that, which is why I pay my shrink the big bucks.