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.
Photo by: Helga Weber
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