Hugo Schwyzer is a male feminist writer and professor of gender studies living in Los Angeles; he’s also the Sex + Relationships editor at The Good Men Project. He has an extremely controversial history that includes four marriages, substance abuse, and sexual behavior that he has since described as compulsive and destructive until he got clean and sober and turned his life around, beginning in 1998.
I first encountered Hugo on the internet a couple years ago, and although we’ve got some serious disagreements, we’ve always liked talking to each other. I once had the privilege of guest lecturing in one of Hugo’s classes, after which we had a dialogue in front of the students, and that experience sealed my admiration for him. He’s clearly a principled, passionate teacher who works hard to provide thoughtful feminist guidance for his students. Yet he has such an interesting history—and, occasionally, he has such different opinions from mine—that sometimes I can’t resist poking at him. So the minute I became the new Sex + Relationships editor for Role/Reboot, I decided that my first project would be a Q&A with Hugo. It went long … so we posted it in two parts. To get caught up on Part I, go here.
Here’s Part II:
Clarisse Thorn: How does your theology interact with your feminism? I’ve heard that for a while you were not pro-choice, for example, which is obviously a controversial stance to take as a feminist. Many feminists argue that it’s not even possible to be a feminist unless you’re also pro-choice.
Hugo Schwyzer: I flirted with a pro-life stance for a couple of years when I was involved with the Mennonite church. It was part of a consistent-life ethic approach that included veganism, opposition to the death penalty, and pacifism. It was intellectually appealing to be so committed to peace, but in the end, it was an unsustainable tack for me to take. A teenage girl in my youth group got pregnant, came to me for help, and I didn’t hesitate to direct her to the resource she wanted—which was an abortion. And I came right back to the pro-choice side.
My faith doesn’t conflict with my feminism. I admit that that involves a selective reading of the Bible and church tradition. Still, I think that if you look closely at the New Testament, you see a radically egalitarian vision for how men and women are supposed to relate to each other.
I am still a Christian. I do find that my faith sustains me and directs me. It reminds me of the reality that there is something more powerful than cruelty in this world. It gives me a profound sense of purpose. And it also informs my feminism; I believe that one of the most ugly manifestations of sin in the world is the idea that men and women aren’t equal.
CT: You and I have both written about how male sexuality is stereotyped as scary and predatory. I do believe that this is largely a stereotype … but I also think that there are likely some inherent differences in how most men and most women approach sex, if only because of hormones. Obviously, people are different, and individuals will always be unique, but I still think there are probably some larger differences. Do you agree? And if so, how do you see those differences, and how can we think about those differences in a feminist way?
HS: I think we don’t know yet how many of those differences are biological and how many are cultural. And even if they are biological, they’re more complex than we realize. Women have testosterone too, and among some aging straight couples, you have women with more testosterone than their husbands. Hormones aren’t binary; they happen on a spectrum. I agree, people ARE different. But I don’t think we can universalize and say “all men are X” or even “most men are X.” The biological evidence for that just isn’t there.
CT: Do you think there are different ethics of sexuality and desire for men vs. women?
HS: Sure. Women are shamed for their sexuality in a way that men aren’t. That has innumerable consequences. For example, we raise women to be objects of desire. This is where we get the famous Paris Paradox (which goes back long before Paris Hilton), where girls learn how to be sexy long before they discover their own sexuality.
At the same time, we raise boys to believe their bodies aren’t as beautiful, as desirable, as appealing as those of girls. Boys get to be sexual, but too rarely get to trust that they’re wanted, lusted for, desired. Girls are much more visual and much more sexual than we admit; boys “long to be longed for” to a far greater extent than we realize.
CT: Where do you think we can find patterns for positive male sexuality, rather than the “scary predator creep” stereotypes?
HS: I think we need to look for counter-stories in our own communities; men of all ages and a variety of sexual orientations who are reconciling lust and empathy in their lives. You can have a hard-on and a conscience at the same time; the former doesn’t vitiate the power of the latter.
These guys are out there; I meet them and talk with them often. But we often have to invite these men to share. Invite them to open up about how they live as kind, loving, but also deeply sexual men. Part of why I talk about sexuality the way I do is to invite other men to share their stories. That’s certainly something upon which the Good Men Project has focused as well.
CT: You are now on your fourth marriage. How does that influence your view of relationships?
HS: Hah. It’s proven to me that we can change and grow and learn. That we’re resilient people, capable of loving again after heartbreak. Cat Stevens was wrong when he sang that “the first cut is the deepest.” No matter how many people we’ve slept with, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made, intimacy is possible.
It’s also reminded me that marriage isn’t for everyone. I like monogamy. I find it a satisfying way to live my life. But I know that it’s not the only vehicle for emotional, spiritual, and sexual growth. I see my celibate friends, my polyamorous friends, and yes, my friends who are what might be called “promiscuous” also growing and learning in ways that are no less transformative than my own. Three divorces have made me more humble about judging how others order their lives.
CT: As a prominent male feminist writer, what do you believe men’s role is within feminism? And what is men’s role within the larger gender discourse? What are the positive, critical contributions that men can make to that discourse that do not take women’s issues as a focus?
HS: Men need to reach out to other men. They need to invite other guys to open up, to go deeper. The number one test of a male feminist is how he treats women; the number two test is how he interacts with men. Can he hold men accountable? Can he say, as my friend Pia puts it, “Dude, that’s not cool,” when he hears something sexist?
The world is rightly suspicious of men. Not because we’re bad or defective, and not because we’re any less capable of compassion and love than women. It’s because we’ve hidden the fullness of our humanity behind the “tough guise” of the rules of manhood. We’ve got to live more open lives, more honest lives, less resentment-filled lives. And we’ve got to start pulling our own emotional weight.
I see more and more guys doing just that. It has me very excited.
Clarisse Thorn is Role/Reboot’s Sex + Relationships Editor.