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Reclaiming The Cause: When Your Abuser Claims To Be A Feminist

Reclaiming The Cause: When Your Abuser Claims To Be A Feminist
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I’ll be the first to admit I’ve become disillusioned with progressive political causes in recent years. It’s not because my convictions or values have changed – if anything, they’ve grown stronger. The issue is that I do not feel comfortable or safe at local progressive events, and I don’t have confidence that the organizers of those events are at all interested in making them safe for women.

In my late teens, near the beginning of the Iraq war, I did participate in protests and demonstrations. Friends and family would describe me as “outspoken,” and more than one female friend has confided that those conversations are the reason she now proudly proclaims herself a feminist and a progressive.

But along the way, something changed. The beginnings were innocent enough: frustrated with the difficulties of meeting anyone equally passionate about injustice and dedicated to changing the world, I turned to the internet to try to meet likeminded individuals. It’s there that I met a man I would spend two years with, leaving me plagued with PTSD and panic attacks.

“Dave” (not his real name) was an attractive older man: charming, intelligent and charismatic. He spoke eloquently about feminism, peace, anti-racism and animal welfare. I was instantly smitten.  But emotionally, he was manipulative and abusive. It took a long time for me to be able to call it what it was – I was only 22, and I didn’t have a vocabulary to explain the defeated feeling every conversation seemed to leave me with. I seemed to do something wrong in every interaction, no matter how hard I tried to do the right thing.

Eventually, I became terrified of saying anything critical about our relationship, or even catching him on a bad day. Either would usually precipitate a “breakup” that would last a week or two before one of us broke down and begged the other to take us back. After the first year, I began to make demands that he communicate better, that he treat me more respectfully – and the relationship would improve, at least for couple of weeks.

After we’d been together for several months, Dave told me about a past criminal charge for possession of marijuana. As someone with a healthy disdain for the “war on drugs,” this didn’t bother me very much. What I didn’t find out until much later was that the drug charge was part of a plea deal to get him off the hook for attempting to murder his ex-girlfriend. It wasn’t until he landed in jail for assaulting another woman, a friend he’d known for more than 8 years, that I realized I wasn’t safe with him in my life.

After I cut off contact, his friends and family members suddenly volunteered information about his past. Every serious relationship he’d ever been in had ended in violence, sometimes accompanied by a restraining order. No one had seen fit to tell me when he introduced us initially. It had occurred to no one to warn me away, although everyone was relieved, for my sake, that I was not speaking to him and that my abuse had “only” been verbal and emotional.

And, tellingly, no one has ever questioned my ex’s claims that he cares about the rights, well-being, and welfare of women. Which begs the question: what does a man who claims to be a feminist have to do to prove that he doesn’t actually care about treating women as equals? If trying to strangle one woman, landing several others in the hospital, and a history of restraining orders isn’t enough, what is?

It’s against this backdrop that I’ve followed the story of Hugo Schwyzer, a gender studies professor, blogger, and male feminist personality. He has a high profile: he’s written for the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and Alternet, and co-authored the recent autobiography of supermodel Carré Otis. He even writes a weekly column for the feminist pop culture site Jezebel, where he discusses tasteful topics like jizzing on women’s faces.

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Photo by: Helga Weber

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123 comments

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1:42PM PDT on Jul 14, 2013

I do not think men should be considered "feminists" because they are not. They can be "feminist supporters" and do their part by creating male space that is feminist-positive, educating and helping to spread the benefits of feminism, but to have them as leaders and speakers in a feminist movement is counter-intuitive. Feminism is for the promotion and betterment of women, so why are men taking up that space in this movement?

8:25AM PDT on Apr 16, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

1:07PM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

There's an easy way to tell if someone means it when they say they've changed: does their life match their words. If yes, great. If not, they should be called on it and, in a situation like these supposed male feminists, not given a platform to be heard from until they change. No change=no platform. It seems a no-brainer to me, but so does equal pay for equal work.

6:31PM PST on Feb 24, 2012

Please forgive the essay... Abusers are drawn to a group of vulnerable, triggerable women like pedophiles to a kindergarten. The whole point is to prevent more violence, and putting those vulnerable women with known abusers is enabling violence, not preventing it. Abusers have a CRAPPY self-redemption rate, so until enough of the group can be convinced to boot them (and not by the victims, making them suffer the "bitter girlfriend" crap is just more abuse they don't need, and from the worst possible source), any unmeasurable, potential benefit of having the "face of abuse" present in actual victims is heavily outweighed by the need to protect those who need it the most, and help them heal rather than send wounded soldiers back into the fight before they're ready to face it (IMO). That's the one place where women should feel safe, so unless you can guarantee their safety, they should stay home, and should be made to know that it's ok that they do. Let them work offstage if possible, where they're safe, maybe they can work quietly behind the scenes to find enough victims to convincingly expose the abusers. The bad part is that you probably won't get rid of the abusers until they've done more damage and the word spreads. But at least until then you've made it harder by removing their easiest targets, and increased the chances that they will pick the wrong woman to screw with...

8:20AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

Thanks for sharing your story. I was also in a two year relationship with a "feminist" man who abused me, and also had a history of doing the same to previous women as I later found out. I also was left with panic attacks, severe anxiety, a destroyed self esteem that even 4 years later I'm still working on rebuilding. While it comforts me to know that I'm not alone, it also makes me sad that others have had to experience this. Thank you, again, for writing this.

8:40PM PST on Feb 17, 2012

1. Abusers - rely upon the emotional isolation of their victims - getting deeply involved with a "love" makes having best friends/support systems More, not Less important,

2. We men in particular - need to develop support and ties to other men to be good allies with women - not being "bar buddies" (e.g. often rape or rape supportive buddies) - which is unfortunately not very common,

3. Either Men or Women - who are Very Interested in the "other" - e.g. men for women can have big issues when they essentially - "reject their own gender" (similar to 2. above) - for meaningful friendships,

4. Intelligence and charisma/charm - do not make a "good person" - being loving and caring and supportive - and Not Controlling are much more important.

5. Be suspicious of someone who seems to Want Attention (primarily).

I've developed: A Men's Project - www.AMensProject.com - to provide URL's of resources primarily for men and boys on our issues. Many of the listed resources (almost 1900 now) are useful or in many cases primarily on the internet for women and girls. There are many incredible sources of resources primarily for women (some of which are on AMP) - on issues related to self-esteem, dating violence, stalking, emotional health and many other important issues. Thanks!

9:43PM PST on Feb 16, 2012

Thank you so much for speaking out and sharing your story. You are helping so many women by showing them that they are not alone.

8:22AM PST on Feb 15, 2012

In Ireland you can go to the cops and give a statement without them contacting the person that is doing the harassing. That way, if it should ever go to court or if something bad happens, like an attack for example, the problem has been hi-lighted and brought to the cops attention. I know all states in America are different and they all have their own laws, but it might be an idea to make the local law enforcement office aware of what has been happening. I feel sorry for this woman, surely there should be someone she can trust with this information :-(

10:47AM PST on Feb 10, 2012

I have lived this, too. I still have not publicly exposed my ex as we were both graduate students in the same university department. He was a department favourite, I am quiet and was not. I'm worried that if I tell my story, I will be discredited, putting my degree and future career at risk. I want to speak out, to tell the department what to watch for with future students who may be silent victims of abuse, but do not think I'll be believed by all of my professors, especially the ones who were extremely fond of him (he is very charismatic). I don't know what to do. But I thank Ms. Rodriguez for speaking out and telling her story - she is very courageous.

4:42PM PST on Feb 8, 2012

Wow, this is very eye-opening. Thanks for sharing. I have not thought much about the posers and fakes who use noble platforms to take advantage (besides the politicians, of course).

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