There have been a lot of calls in this thread and elsewhere around the internet for me personally to Say Something about the Hugo debacle. Caperton put up this post addressing the situation, which I stand behind, and Clarisse solicited the cross-posting of this piece by Maia. I’ve made a few limited comments, but I’ve mostly stayed silent on the whole thing. That’s for a few reasons:
(1) While Feministe is strongly associated with my name, there are many bloggers who have built this space, who have contributed to it, who write here and who edit here. I am trying to move Feministe away from the perception that it is “Jill’s blog”. While I’ve been here the longest of the current writers, and I’ve done a lot of work to develop this space, I did not create it and I have hardly done the majority of the work in nurturing and building this community.When the Hugo blow-up happened, I was dealing with professional and personal issues that took precedence over moderating blog comment sections, so I missed almost the entire thread on Clarisse’s initial post that kicked off this whole thing. Given that I had been out of it, and that Feministe is more than just me, and Caperton was on top of the controversy, it made sense to have someone other than me write the Feministe editors’ response post. Even though Feministe is run by a bunch of people, there is a perception that it’s my space. Regular readers may notice that I am posting less often and am participating in the comments less often. I want to give commenters space to share their opinions and thoughts without a perceived voice of authority stepping in and directing the conversation.
(2) For the last few months, I have been trying to stay out of these internet blow-ups that happen so very often, and to particularly limit how emotionally invested I get in anything that happens online. The past year has been an extremely rough one for me personally, and though I am very hesitant to put much personal information out there on the internet, I will say it has involved a series of medical issues which demand that I be extremely aware of my body and my stress levels. It has, to use the most cliched phrase possible, put things in perspective. This is not an excuse for non-responsiveness or lack of accountability to this community — people go through shit every day that is much worse and much more stressful and still maintain a seat at the table. It is a way of saying that I decided to choose myself over this blog. I made a choice not to look at what all the comments said, or what all the other feminist blogs were saying. I made a choice, when this was becoming extremely stressful and I was getting to the place where I was near obsessing over it, to close my laptop, walk away, and let the conversation continue without me. I realize that choice is a privilege, and my decisions were likely confusing or offensive or hurtful to some people. I’m ok with people being upset about those choices, or deciding that those choices demonstrate a lack of commitment to this community and deciding to take their readership elsewhere. We all have to figure out how to get through the day.
(3) Feministe does have many contributors, and our views on the Hugo situation are not identical. Caperton’s post was a very good one and I agree with it, but we are not a monolith, and the various individuals who contribute here have wide-ranging opinions on the whole situation and the best response. Given that, I didn’t want to put up a post that would be considered “Feministe’s Opinion” on this thing, since I don’t speak for Caperton or Sally or any of our past writers or contributors or moderators or tech support. Others have demanded that I stake out a public opinion in order to avoid the assumption that if you don’t say something about a blog post that you had nothing to do with, you support it. This is that post. So to be clear, this post is not Feministe’s Position. It is my opinion, which I’ve bitten my tongue on for a while, for all the reasons listed above.
The problem with silence, though, is that it can come across as complicit, and it also forces other people to make assumptions about what you think.
What I actually think is that trying to murder your girlfriend is abhorrent. Feministe is a community that centers women and feminist thought. There are all kinds of interesting discussions to be had about the possibility of radical change. There are all kinds of interesting conversations to be had about how forgiving even the worst things can be a political and feminist act. There are all kinds of interesting conversations to be had about fostering progressive communities in a culture where domestic violence and rape survivors are often told to not make waves and not to sideline “good men.” And I don’t want a progressive movement that doesn’t leave room for people to change — even people who have done the most reprehensible things. I want a movement that is open to those people, and that believes in redemption and radical change. Without the belief in the capacity for true change, what’s the point of progressivism? How do we have feminism without believing that people can radically alter their actions and their views? (A lot of these ideas were brought up and addressed in this comment thread, which I realize is long but is worth a read).
But I don’t want a dedication to the belief in radical change to come on the backs of survivors. I do want to foster a space that centers women and women’s needs. Theories about change and progress are important and they’re nice, but in the day-to-day work of building communities, sometimes other interests have to take precedence. The interests of women — and particularly of abuse survivors — take precedence here. And a former abuser who has truly changed his ways will, I believe, understand why that line is drawn. End of story.
So to that end, I won’t be linking to Hugo’s work. I’m not going to promote his work. I’m going to continue trying to make Feministe a space that focuses on women and women’s needs, and doesn’t ask abuse survivors to take a back seat because The Movement is more important. While this post is largely reflective of only my opinion, the decision to not link or promote Hugo’s work is one that all of the Feministe editors have agreed on.
I do wish Hugo good luck, personally, in his ongoing recovery and his work on himself. I do believe that human beings can change in beautiful and radical ways. There is almost no one who I believe to be irredeemable. But I also believe in protecting this community, so my personal well-wishes for Hugo — for all people who have done terrible, unforgivable things but are trying to make their way to something better — are just that: personal. Hoping that people are able to improve themselves does not mean that their work needs to be featured here, at the expense of other community members who are less visible and less powerful and have less of an internet footprint.
There have been calls in the comments here and elsewhere for Feministe to preemptively ban Hugo, and for me to email my internet feminist friends and form a united front against Schwyzer to take him down, and to make sure that he never teaches or writes about feminism again. A lot of commenters here and elsewhere feel strongly that that’s the best path forward, and the only way to prove that Feministe as an entity, and myself as an individual, actually care about women and abuse more than our own paychecks or popularity or internet fame or Professional Feminism.
Participating in a coordinated take-down is not something I am going to do. And if that’s interpreted as a lack of commitment to feminism, or taking Hugo’s “side,” I personally think that’s ridiculous but so be it. There is a tension here between embracing the possibility of radical personal change and also centering victims of violence. As the moderator of a feminist community, I choose to weigh the needs of victims of violence more heavily. But I don’t think it’s up to me to decide for the entire feminist internet that Hugo is entirely irredeemable and deserves to be permanently blacklisted everywhere forever and if you disagree you are bad for feminism. I think it is up to individual bloggers and commenters and whoever else to decide if they will read or link to Hugo in the future and to decide if they’re comfortable reading a website that links or discusses Hugo. The community here at Feministe has been pretty clear that Hugo’s work shouldn’t be posted here; I agree, and it’s not going to be posted. Other bloggers and editors at other sites might feel differently; I don’t think that makes them anti-feminist or terrible or deserving of being blacklisted themselves. At the end of the day, online feminism doesn’t have a clubhouse, and I can’t take away Hugo’s keys. I am also concerned about the precedent this sets. I think that most of the critiques of Hugo are fair, as are the concerns about a former abuser rising to a level of prominence in feminist spaces — especially given his ongoing issues with women of color and his treatment of younger women. But the reality of the feminist internet is that there is a corner of it that plays the take-down game for sport, and that sees any mistake or imperfection or disagreement as evidence that one is Bad For Feminism and should be permanently sidelined. It’s destructive. It’s something I believe is incredibly bad for feminism as a movement and as an idea, and that’s bad for community-building, and that serves to silence more people than it empowers. It’s something I’ve also been a part of, so I’m not suggesting that it’s an act by a group of Bad People; it’s a dynamic that is awfully easy to get sucked in to, and that I’ve participated in myself. And while I think the Hugo situation is in a whole ‘nother sphere as the usual feminist blog-wars in terms of the sheer horror of the acts involved, I avoid internet take-downs as a general rule because they are so often so poisonous, and because I frankly don’t trust a group of people on the internet to always choose the right person from whom to demand blood. Which, again, isn’t to say that I think the focus on Hugo here is misdirected. It is to say that I have a real hesitance to participate, because I dislike take-down culture generally and because I’m not convinced that next time we’ll all be setting our sights on a worthy target.
The idea that the only truly feminist way forward is a coordinated take-down also doesn’t center or help victims of violence. It doesn’t keep this community focused on positive change. I’m not sure what it does other than say that a few of us get to decide who is redeemable and worthy and who is not — and that we don’t just get to decide it for ourselves and the spaces we run, but we decide it for everyone.
Other Feministe editors may feel differently. I know that plenty of commenters and other bloggers do feel differently. I respect that and I have no interest in trying to interfere with someone else’s coordinated actions; I have no interest in suggesting that other ways forward are wrong or misguided. But I won’t personally be partaking in a take-down, even as I am committed to developing a feminist-centered and responsive, responsible community here, which means not linking or promoting Hugo.
I do wish I had addressed this sooner, and I apologize for giving the impression that my lack of commentary on the matter was because I didn’t care, or because I wasn’t taking the concerns of our community members seriously. I care a lot about this community, and about feminism as an idea, and about women as human beings, and about creating positive spaces online for women — I sometimes care about those things to an unhealthy degree. I recognize that Feministe is not now, and has not traditionally been, a positive space for many women. Remedying that is an ongoing process, and there are plenty of things that I have done (and not done) which have been detrimental to the end goal of creating a blog that really does reflect the social justice ideals of our contributors. There is also not one unified vision of how to achieve the ideals that we mostly share. I recognize that my position here doesn’t meet the desires or expectations or ideals of lots of people, and my ears are open to hearing those critiques, even as I can guarantee that I am not going to make everyone happy. I also think there has to be room in online feminism for good-faith differences in opinion when it comes to tactics, and how we best achieve shared goals (and even what our shared goals are). I hope that can happen here.