home Feminism, Human Rights, North America, Politics, Racism, Women An Open Letter to Big Feminist Media Regarding Hugo Schwyzer*

An Open Letter to Big Feminist Media Regarding Hugo Schwyzer*

[TW: Discussion of the abusive behavior of an attempted murderer and sexual predator.]

Dear Big White Upper-Middle Class Cis Heterosexual Media:

Let’s get this out of the way straight out of the gate: No one is buying that you’re shocked by the latest revelations about the sordid life of Hugo Schwzyer. No one. So let’s dispense with the handwringing. Flavia Dzodan, brownfemipower and many others have written beautifully about his history of racism and abuse of women. On twitter, @blackamazon has discussed how Hugo offered Big Feminism lucrative possibilities for expanding the feminist “brand” to include and profit from men. I am aware of all of these grievances, and I have watched Big Feminism ignore the critiques of women of color for nearly a decade now. There’s a lot of history here, and because Schwyzer has since deleted a lot of the offending material, we’ve preserved it in text and screenshots and cached posts and all kinds of things for years.

For those of you who have not been properly introduced: Hugo Schwzyer is a male feminist who teaches (or formerly taught) women’s studies courses at Pasadena City College – and who has been carving out a feminist “brand” for himself for at least a decade. It’s a story built around clichés involving drug addiction, redemption, forgiveness and conversion – things that Americans, god help us, too often believe because we want so much for them to be possible.

He has a really gross history as an abuser that involves preying upon people with decidedly less power than he has. The narrative is that his addiction made him do all the terrible things he did – like trying to off his ex-girlfriend in a gas explosion and exhibiting predatory sexual behavior with his students. But it’s hard for me to believe that the Career Feminists who enabled him all these years could really have been convinced that he’s changed – he continued writing soft porn about orgies with students years into his alleged recovery. Look, there were hundreds of things that would have alerted you to his actual state of mind – not least the bit where he still gets off on remembering the details of his transgressions.

In the since-deleted and no-longer-cached attempted murder post, he writes about how his ex-girlfriend had just been raped by a drug dealer in a bid to procure drugs. He writes that she “smelled of sex,” and goes on to describe the sexual encounter he had with her just before he tried to end her life. He thinks it’s hot. He still thinks it’s hot – that much is clear.

Hugo Schwyzer still finds violence against women titillating. No one who read the post stepped away with any other interpretation, and yet… You all wished him well and, in some cases, welcomed him to continue publishing in your media outlets.

Some of you say you have decided that his latest transgressions are the last straw. Yes, he was predatory and manipulative with a sex worker whom he drew into a sexting relationship, and then he whined about it – and blamed all women in the media. That’s bad. But I’m not sure I understand why pics and some sexts are the last straw when you were all fine with the attempted murder and the fact that he had sex with his own college students.

Here’s my interpretation: I think you need to seem shocked now because you would seem like monsters if you admitted you knew all along. Hugo was just so good for the brand, and it’s all fine that he used people as means to an end since, you must have reassured yourselves, it was all for the “greater good.” How very utilitarian of you.

And I think this was a mutually beneficial economic arrangement. You turned him into a big name and a “brand” – and all you wanted in return was a bigger market. Did you get that bigger market, by the way? I’ve always been curious whether or not silencing and alienating women of color and working class women ended up being a good business move for you.


Some are still trying to deflect. I’ve seen it happening on twitter and blog posts, none of which I care to publicize, but I’m seeing the handwringing over and over: “Hugo Schwyzer suffers from mental illness. Can we not have compassion for the suffering?” It would certainly shut down the conversation, and that would be nice for you, I guess.

This is where I’m going to say something that I’ve seen dismissed by lots of professional feminists who want us to think they are being anti-ableist when they insist we all shut up about the latest “kerfluffle.” Here’s the thing: Mental illness does not mean that a person lacks all meaningful human agency. It does not divest a person of selfhood and eliminate the ability to make any decisions at all. Mental illness did not make Hugo try to kill someone. You feed into ableist stereotypes when you casually link violence and mental illness that way.

Second point: Long before Hugo’s narrative ever incorporated a struggle with bipolar disorder, he was diagnosed with the trifecta: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. I know this not because I am fond of making armchair diagnoses, but because he overshared about it back when he wrote that WordPress blog – and possibly in later blog posts.

In some cases – such as those involving juvenile offenders caught in small crimes courts – personality disorders are over-diagnosed. But this is not such a case. Hugo Schwyzer is privileged in virtually every possible way any human being on the face of the earth could ever be privileged. He does not belong to a single demographic that gets profiled with damning, stigma-laden diagnoses. He’s just a transparently despicable person who lacks any capacity for human empathy. And as we’ve established already, this couldn’t possibly have escaped your attention.

And these disorders are a far cry from depression or a mood disorder, by the way. Psychopathy and narcissism are both characterized in part by lack of empathy. The Anti-social part suggests he not only lacks empathy, but actively delights in the suffering of others. His recent media interviews – as well as his own internet confessions – suggest he especially enjoys the suffering of women. She “smelled of sex.”

When you exhort us to shut up about Hugo’s abuses, you should know that this logic could prevent us from challenging a whole host of people with histories of abusing women. “That poor Ted Bundy was mentally ill. How sad for him that mental illness made him kill all those women.” As feminists with a professional interest in calling out the abuse of women, I would think you’d be a little more careful about your talking points than this.
And what about the people who struggle with mental illnesses of their own, at least partly due to abuses sustained from Hugo and other people like Hugo? You know what? Nevermind, I get it. Those people may not be much help when it comes to your career advancement. We all know that’s what you’re about by now.

Others said it first, but SPOILER ALERT: Hugo Schwyzer isn’t leaving the internet any time soon. Perhaps he deleted a twitter account, but he’s been all over the internet lately, from what I can see. By Friday, the internet was so Hugo-saturated that I had to take a break from social media for several days just to escape it. He’ll get a lucrative book deal out of this thing. He’ll have another conversion experience or two – maybe discover he’s the victim of “misandry” by the time he starts his book proposal. And he’ll keep his tenured job at Pasadena City College because tenure at the academic level is virtually impossible to override. They’ll find something other than women’s studies for him to teach next time, but he’ll keep his day job.

Please stop patronizing us. We know as well as you that the redemption narrative has already been written. Look, you obviously owe a number of people very heartfelt apologies for trampling over their critiques for the past several years. I’m not expecting this to happen, but you might at least dispense with the half-assed attempts to make us think you’re joining our ranks and getting yourself some “consciousness-raising.” Not gonna happen. Not unlike Hugo, you’ve been pretty predictable all these years.

*Many thanks to the following twitter users whose comments and discussion helped develop my thinking about the mental illness angle of this piece: @ninaperez76, @alendrel, @zhinxy and @rare_basement. Opinions here are my own, but you should follow all of them for ongoing commentary and analysis on these issues.

Photo by quinn. anya, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license


Kristin Rawls

Kristin Rawls blogs at Halogen TV. Her work can be found in The Christian Science Monitor, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere on the web. She often covers international politics here at Global Comment.

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Big Feminist Media Regarding Hugo Schwyzer*

  1. This is a really interesting and useful article, Kristin, but there’s a few paragraphs about Schwyzer’s diagnoses which are problematic. When you talk about his personality disorders, it is highly stigmatising to people with these diagnoses, none of whom are like Schwyzer. It’s a real pity, because immediately after, you go on to say that mental health problems are actually irrelevant to this discussion in the first place.

    I do wish you’d left these bits out.

  2. While I agree with most of this post, and I’d called for Jezebel et al to get rid of Hugo for years, I’m a little floored at this: “Long before Hugo’s narrative ever incorporated a struggle with bipolar disorder, he was diagnosed with the trifecta: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder,” and how you go on to call them a “far cry” from presumably more acceptable diagnoses.

    It’s baffling considering earlier you said “you feed into ableist stereotypes when you casually link violence and mental illness that way” and go on to do just that, and it sets up a false dichotomy of the people with “harmless” diagnoses who are redeemable and the people with “bad” diagnoses who are just bad people. (This is especially the case for BPD, which is historically a diagnosis mostly given to women who are routinely stigmatized – by their therapists, even – just for having it, regardless of what they do and don’t do.

    I don’t think anybody should shut up about this. I just wish the narrative wasn’t so ableist, because it often IS, and this isn’t going to hurt Hugo but people who are actually suffering, who’ve just seen a lot of tactics against them legitimized. (And for the record: the ableism mostly comes from the same white hetero middle-class bystanders, not the people Hugo went after.)

  3. Well, this white hetero middle-class bystander is wondering what to do or to think now. I’ve been trying to learn more details about HS’s treatment of women of color, but so far I’ve just run into reactions to him without knowing what he did. I guess he had a history of abusive behavior that was overlooked by a number of prominent mainstream white feminists while multiple women writers of color were pointing it out.

  4. Yes, stavvers, won’t someone think of the poor narcissists and sociopaths!

    This post is a thing of beauty.

    I just don’t get this urge to defend people with personality disorders. With the exception of borderline, which does seem to be something that is learned (and therefore can be unlearned), personality disorders are ingrained. That’s one of the qualifications to having one, that they are permanent and foundational to the person’s psyche. I’m not even sure they qualify as ‘illness’ frankly; it’s more a condition, like being colorblind.

    People with personality disorders don’t change. HS is never going to change. He will always be manipulative, abusive, and obsessed with his self-image, because that is how he is, and that is how people with NPD + ASPD (otherwise known as ‘malignant narcissists’) are. And I can’t say I feel real bad about ‘stigmatizing’ people like that.

    Yes, I have family members with various personality disorders, some comparatively mild. Yes, they are still abusive assholes because of them.

  5. And, there are so many feminists who have embraced his doctrine of “standing up to and mocking the ‘nice guy'” who – albeit – is probably not the most coordinated and/or intelligent member of the male species, and, least of all, the most sociologically adept. Guess he really brought the sadism out in a fair portion of women.

    Sadism of such a caliber shouldn’t be easily ignored. A lot of guys have had their moments when they were really angry with a woman. I’ve actually hoped that one or two would meet some unfortunate end simply for the level of psychopathic indifference they treated me with in a relationship. But I never attacked one, certainly never tried to kill one. I think most men and women have been pretty mad at a member of the opposite sex at some point or another.

    The line is where you take action because of your anger. Ironically, he rallied a bunch of women to start ganging up on losers – enjoying his capacity to spread violence or, at least, extensions of his sadistic power complex, to other people.

    There’s people who aren’t generally abusive but occasionally have some anger boil over for one reason or another, male and female, and then there’s people who genuinely enjoy inflicting pain on people just for the pleasure of it. Good luck – I bet the CIA was behind this guy – I’ve a feeling the contemporary feminist gangs have been their little pet project for a fair amount of time now.

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