Friday, August 23, 2013

The Hugo Schwyzers of Animal Rights

Hugo Schwyzer is a porn addict and a sex addict.  He is a rapist.  He abuses women, he sleeps with his students, and once tried to kill his girlfriend.  He writes almost pornographic descriptions of his wrestles with romance and relationships and packages them as feminism.  He sometimes plagiarizes the work of other feminists.  His work, whether his own or stolen, is always more prominent than that of women.  He dominates feminist spaces . . . not as a scoundrel, or a perfectly bad example, but as a feminist icon.

A couple of weeks ago, it was leaked that Hugo Schwyzer, who had built a career on his feminist identity, was actually still engaged in these abusive, decidedly anti-feminist behaviors.  Many feminists had long been suspicious of Schwyzer.  Yet, many other mainstream feminist spaces still kept Schwyzer on, giving him platform and protecting him, despite his atrocious, misogynist history.  Male celebrity trumped the hard work (and safety) of women in the movement.  Finally, however, it seemed that the tide was turning.  More and more people were raising an eyebrow.

Hugo Schwyzer
Schwyzer responded by blasting his Twitter feed with self-deprecating cries for attention and a couple of blog entries insisting the backlash was simply too much and he was removing himself from public light.  Then he began to report to major news sources that he was suicidal.  Never mind the women he had victimized and continued to victimize while proclaiming himself "recovered" as he built a career on his feminist celebrity.  Never mind the destruction of safety and accountability in feminist spaces.  Hugo's feelings were hurt, and he demanded attention.

When this story broke out, I was struck with the remarkable similarities between Schwyzer and many male leaders in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.  Like the feminist movement, Nonhuman Animal advocacy is a primarily female endeavor.  Like the feminist movement, our movement has also seen an influx of male leaders/celebrities who rise to movement "stardom," with legions of fans who seem to find no wrong in anything they do.

All social movements exhibit this patriarchal co-optation.  Changing society and creating culture is, ultimately, "men's work."  That is not to say that women aren't doing any work.  Indeed, it is quite the opposite.  Women are doing the brunt of all social change labor.  But, it's women's work that goes without the glory and without the attention.  It's the less glamorous work, it's the behind the scenes stuff.  It's devalued and made invisible.  Even women's more exciting, high-profile work is often overshadowed by men's accomplishments.  Even worse, men often steal credit for those accomplishments.

I was immediately reminded of the James McWilliams incident from earlier this summer.  McWilliams had posted some strange comments in favor of sexist advocacy on behalf of other animals.  When myself and other feminists rightfully criticized him on it, instead of addressing the criticism, he took extreme offense, announcing on his blog that he was leaving the public light because the backlash was simply too much.  The feminist critique that we raised was completely overshadowed by his celebrity tantrum.  And it worked.  Hundreds of fans swarmed in to soothe his ego and attack the nasty, jealous, prudish feminazis who had hurt him.

He was back to blogging within the week.

Meanwhile, another other higher profile man in the movement, Gary Francione, commented on the incident, repeating our very same feminist criticisms . . . and his comments were met with almost complete support.  He certainly was not the target of a cyberbullying campaign of terror as I was.  Earlier this spring, when I had criticized some of Francione's posts where he mocked "radical" feminism and insisted on his authority to define feminism for women (after all, only a male definition will suffice!), a host and well-known male vegan personality from ARZone, Tim Gier, posted about it on their website.  Again, while I was met with countless angry messages from Francione's fans calling me a mentally ill, irrational misandrist, Gier received no flurry of angry pitchfork waving mobbers.   They are men, their opinion counts.  My opinion is a female opinion, so, that means I'm simply out to push my Puritan anti-sex jealousy-induced anti-male agenda . . . I guess.  No amount of academic qualifications can overcome my gender.

As with the Schwyzer case, men in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement enjoy a sort of automatic legitimization.  Their voices hold more weight and they garner more interest.  They dominate.  Take a course on Nonhuman Animal rights theory, and you will see how loud men are:  Singer, Regan, Rollin, Ryder, Francione, etc.  If you're lucky, maybe Carol Adams makes a brief appearance.  I was on a road trip last weekend browsing through ARZone podcasts (ARZone is a website that features movement celebrities, authors, and academics) and I was really struck at how few women were featured.  While men comprise only 20% of the movement, they comprise 64% of their podcast guests.1  Like Schwyzer, some men have even taken credit for the work of women in our movement as well.  Rob Johnson of VeganUK is hosting my work under his name on his website.  Francione has declared that he actually established vegan feminism, not Carol Adams and the other women who have been publishing on this topic since the 1970s.

Another important similarity between the Schwyzer incident and Nonhuman Animal rights activism is the obstinate protection of known male abusers in a largely female movement.  Many of the  high profile male leaders in our movement have histories of abusive behavior, much of which is targeted at women.  Nonetheless, they are still granted the honor of representing our movement.  They are celebrated; their word is treated as sacrosanct.  Even when their abusive behavior is on public display, activists (male and female) often refuse to acknowledge it.  

Why are men dominating a female movement?  Why do men's voices count for more than women's?  Why do known abusers enjoy full protection and celebration?  Why is there no accountability?  No equity?  In so many ways our movement simply repeats the many injustices of other social movement communities, fanned by the ubiquitousness of male supremacy.  It's quite disturbing actually.

1.  As of this writing, there are 70 episodes.  Guests who made repeat appearances in more than one episode were counted once for each appearance.  The regular hosts were excluded.  Of the 67 total guests, 21 were women, 43 were men.