Young women, stay away from Hugo Schwyzer

Older women too.

Middle-aged women, this is about you as well.

Men of all ages. Children. Other intelligent life-forms out there.

Everyone, just stay away from Hugo Schwyzer, OK?

Took me long enough to see what a dangerous, unhinged man he is, but I’ve finally seen it.

I sincerely apologize to those of you who have been saying it for years – many of your comments I had missed, others I just chalked up to a two-sided conflict of sorts. You know, people fighting on the Internet, the usual stuff. I never bothered to look closer. I have never imagined that he had been purposefully targeting his critics online, WOC bloggers in particular. Of course, having lived abroad for years now, I’ve had many other things on my mind instead of the feminist blogosphere – but it is also my old stomping ground, and honestly, the fact that we, all of us, let him run there unchecked means that we failed.

I sincerely regret linking Schwyzer approvingly in the past and being chummy with him on Facebook. I had bought into the notion that now that he had his beautiful wife and children in his life, the man HAD to have changed. Who would honestly screw a thing like that up? Stupid of me, I know.

I know a thing or two about what happens when scary men are allowed to run unchecked, which is why I’m saying it now:

People, stay away.

I have an “Idiots on Parade” category for posts on this blog. The idiot, in this instance, is me.

“On All Fours.” (Hokay. So. Did the new “Girls” episode feature a rape scene?)

For a recap of what happened, and more, please see Amanda Hess on the subject.

This episode made a lot of people very uncomfortable, with good reason. I thought this was excellent television, because I fully believe that TV *should* make us uncomfortable. Obviously, I cringed as well.

What I took from it is a nice reminder that consent doesn’t necessarily equal great sex. The elephant in the room here is that sometimes, sex sucks. Some people are bad lovers. Others have the capacity to be good lovers, but, at one point or another, reveal themselves to be capable of seriously messed-up behavior.

Bad sex can be violating. It may not necessarily cross over into sexual assault in the legal sense, but it can be more than just unpleasant, it can be profoundly hurtful. It can leave emotional scars, physical scars, you name it.

I didn’t see a rape scene in the latest “Girls” episode, but I did see a woman clearly unhappy with how her new boyfriend was treating her. And I saw said boyfriend using her body to prove something to himself. It was very ugly, and it was very real. This stuff happens, even if people hardly ever talk about it. Who wants to admit they were treated like dirt by someone they had trusted?

The fact that Adam is an alcoholic who has just had a relapse is a crucial factor. He seems disgusted with himself, and it’s as if he is trying to make his girlfriend feel similar disgust. The scene starts with her making a few light-hearted, but somewhat critical comments about his apartment. He clearly seems insecure about having her over at his place. Insecure enough to punish her for it, in fact.

Dude, you have no idea.
Dude, you have no idea.

For me, the key to this scene comes immediately after Adam is done. His girlfriend, Natalia (a “cool girl name,” obviously) tells him that she “really didn’t like that.” What does he do? He gets sad and angry. He’s concerned about whether or not she will leave him now. It’s all about him, you see. If he gave a crap about her in that moment, he would comfort her, or at least apologize. But he isn’t thinking about her. He was trying to work on his insecurities through her, and that has failed, and all that worries him is possible rejection.

That’s the other thing about bad sex – it happens, and you can’t take it back, but there are different ways of confronting it. If your lover complains to you afterwards – something that Natalia did immediately – you listen and discuss, understanding that they just did you a favor. If your lover is in distress, you comfort them, or give them space, should they need space. You absolutely do not get to make it all about you, jackass.

Emily Heist Moss wrote that “On All Fours” was a reminder that most men are way more physically powerful than most women out there – and terrifying things happen when that power is not used for good.

For me, that has always been just another dull fact of life to contend with, but lately, I’ve been thinking about how little is actually said on the subject. We tend to gloss over the amount of trust a woman puts into them every time she allows herself to be vulnerable with a man. And in many ways, we set women up to lose. Too vigilant? She’s obviously a “psycho” then. Get hurt? Well, clearly, the bitch had it coming – stupid enough as she was to trust the wrong person.

I hate to go all “Spiderman” on you guys, but great power? Great responsibility? Hello?

Maybe Elizabeth Wurtzel is not OK after all

Or maybe she’s just being consistent with her role as a “everyone’s favorite beautiful mess.”

Really now.

She thinks she’s bashing “slovenly” people (which is kind of silly in and of itself, unless said “people” are actually your brother, who just showed up to your black-tie wedding with beer-breath and flip-flops), but she’s just bashing the underprivileged, a.k.a. women who can’t afford weekly Gyrotronic sessions and lip balm that costs over 20 bucks a pop (Because I’m a real journalist, I’ve checked). Women who are working three jobs and, when they have time to eat, must eat burritos on the smelly bus that ferries them between said three jobs. Women whose evening yoga sessions are interrupted by a screaming kid who would love nothing more than to bash them with his toy airplane while they’re trying to do the goddamn dolphin pose (ahem).

Long-time readers of this blog know that I am not in favor of bashing The Pretty. I like The Pretty. I think it gets a bad rap in certain feminist circles. I’m also someone who enjoys performative femininity, sparkly charm bracelets and all (a predilection that often results in my husband, a scary-looking, bearded Russian guy with tattooed fingers, standing in some shop, picking between a Hello Kitty charm and a charm featuring a cartoon whale).

And then I go and read crap like this:

Obviously not everyone is born beautiful, but absolutely everybody can become so. I miss the un-Holy Trinity, meaning, of course, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell. I long for the impossible standard of female beauty as a daily chore for all, not because I want the world to look better — I want it to bebetter. I want everyone to try as hard as I do to please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard, girls. Looking great is a matter of feminism. No liberated woman would misrepresent the cause by appearing less than hale and happy.

Right.

What’s remains delightful about Wurtzel is how much of her writing is essentially a personal ad dressed up in whatever rhetoric is guaranteed to get her the most attention in a given week. As an editor concerned with circulation numbers and online hits, I bow down to this clever practice. As a woman and a feminist, I sneer at it.

Pretty women often do a fabulous job of “selling” the issue of women’s rights – or human rights in general. For many of the dudes, a pretty woman is a kind of “gateway drug” to srs feminist bsns.

I don’t really know how the hell any of that justifies compulsory femininity. Well, unless you couldn’t really give a crap about social justice to begin with. And hey, why should Elizabeth Wurtzel care about social justice? Unless it involves exciting causes such as Making Elizabeth Feel Good About Herself, that is.

I think she’s entitled to her views – God knows, I get tired of the “we are all beautiful as we are” crap from time to time (because let’s face it, a lot of the people who say it are practicing what is known as emotional populism) – but why tie it to feminism? To liberation? I mean, it doesn’t even fit in with the personal ad routine.

And then there’s also this,

Even with my Harvard degree, when I ran out of money while writing my first book, I was happier to serve cocktails in high heels than to get money from my mom. And now I walk miles in Marni’s five-inch platform T-straps.

Yeah, yeah, clothes are important:

But now, Elizabeth, you’re just showing off. And for someone of your stature and age and publishing experience, that just seems odd. Almost as if you have way too much to prove. At 45. While looking better than 25. And that sucks way more than “giving up” on your looks in your 20’s, I believe. These are not the words and actions of a woman “trying to be happy.” This is just dispiriting.

And now look what you’ve done. I has a sad now. Seriously.

That one “Dealbreaker” piece on the college girl and the punky dude

I’ve of two minds about this piece. The headline is misleading, for one thing. And it starts out as if its trying to bait you – “I went to college… because that’s what people like me did.” As someone whose financial future has now pretty much been ruined by student debt, I have a knee-jerk reaction to people who speak about their college experience this way. Still, considering the debate it has inspired, I’ve been moved to point out that:

1. I have tremendous sympathy for the author. I know what it’s like to be young, earnest, in love – and going through a bunch of complex mental and emotional contortions in order to deny that your relationship is actually failing. There is a sad, Potemkin Village-like aspect to it that breaks my heart. “As my vocabulary expanded among my academic peers, the shared language of our relationship narrowed: What time will you be home? I love you. Pick up a pizza? Touch me. Don’t leave.” That’s one of the saddest things I’ve read all week. It’s also very self-aware. And it’s plain good writing.

2. I also feel that there is something unspoken going on in the piece. I think the author has some insecurities about herself that she is not yet ready to vocalize. I think Duke, the ex-boyfriend who didn’t go to college, actually made the author feel pretty good about herself and to deal with those insecurities – at least in the beginning. He is her foil in the story. She’s ambitious, she’s lived abroad, once again, “[her] vocabulary expanded.” He’s the dude without a job, without a degree – and, it is heavily implied, without any direction. Hey, she’s the good girl from the right side of the tracks, and she tried to work it out, but it still didn’t. There is the distinct air of someone who, while in love, was also “slumming it” with Duke – precisely because Duke was so different from her. His presence must have helped her see herself in a different light, to renegotiate her own relationship boundaries, to appreciate her own intellectual curiosity, to define what she wants and what she doesn’t want. And that is not acknowledged. And this is, perhaps, what really rankled people. There is an aspect of “relationship tourism” going on here which is mostly FINE (plenty of people will say that my ex was “slumming it” with me – his family had money, mine didn’t, for one thing – but that’s not all there is to the story), except that it exists between the lines. There seems to be a lack of ultimate emotional honesty that makes or breaks pieces in the “Dealbreaker” series.

I don’t wish to slam the author – this is her life, she’s just relating it. But I can understand why this piece is garnering an annoyed reaction. Because there is something missing in it, a curious blank spot at the center of her experience, and that doesn’t seem fair – to her, to Duke, or the reader. It’s as if we were treated to a very vivid glimpse of a real-life drama – but only that, a glimpse.

Childbirth is not an abstraction. Why do I even need to point this out?

This refers to an interview I gave earlier – one that, I hope, won’t be published, because it was all kinds of whack. Let’s just say that it was for a Scandinavian publication that bills itself as women-oriented. The person who interviewed me is welcome to respond in the commenting section, but something tells me they won’t. 

A lady called me and said she wanted to talk to me about childbirth and motherhood, because she saw an article I wrote about it earlier. It seemed cool in principle, of course, but the entire thing will have gone down a whole lot better if the lady in question maintained a tangible link to reality.

First of all, “why did you want to have a child?” is kind of a weird question to ask – because there’s no single explanation, really, and because wanting to have a child is like… wanting to have a child. It’s very hard to compare this desire to any other desire. I suppose some people may disagree, but as I was answering a personal question, directed at me and me alone, there was only one straight answer I could give: “we wanted it because we wanted it.” I included my husband in the response, because having Lev was a joint decision.

Now perhaps this may not be the most elaborate answer, but even so – that’s not a reason to get mad at me. Because that’s what this lady did. She got mad. Now, I work as a journalist, I realize that every once in a while, you’ll call someone up, expect to hear one thing, and get another. It happens all the time – and there is no reason to get mad. Even if you’re writing a piece with a very specific bent – you can’t get mad at your source for not giving you something that you want. If sources just went around giving people what they wanted all of the time, the entire journalistic profession would be meaningless. The whole point of journalism, good journalism, that is, is exploration. That’s what I believe.

So I was surprised to hear the anger in her voice, but didn’t quite hang up, because I was curious as to where it was all going. She then asked me questions about my professional life and my creative work (I work as a journalist in the English-language media, and write plays in Russian, for the sake of context) – which seemed reasonable. But what happened next is that she tried to get me to agree with the following statement: “Giving birth to a child is just like writing a play.”

Um, what? Hell no it ain’t!

“But these are both creative acts,” she said. Well, of course, sure, in one way, they are. But producing a play isn’t going to land me in mortal danger should I be SOL when it comes to finding a good hospital. I don’t scream and writhe in agony as I sit there typing, trying to make a festival deadline – though that would be hilarious to do in the middle of a crowded coffee shop, I suppose (well, roughly for 30 seconds or so anyway. Before they kick me out). Writing a play doesn’t involve putting the lives of two people – mother and baby – on the line. I mean, Jesus Christ. I realize that making a surface comparison is perfectly alright, but this lady was really pressuring me to admit that there really is no substantial difference.

But fine, whatever, I disagreed, time to move on, I guess. Then she asks me, in a really pissed off kind of voice (by that point, I really stopped hoping that there was some sort of miscommunication going on), if I believe that childbirth and “generally becoming a mother” (her phrase) is “somehow a unique experience.”

Um. Well. How do I put this gently? Yes?!

So then she went on about how “offensive” this is to someone who will never give birth to a child. Which is… I’m sorry, but no.

I firmly believe that the definition of motherhood should be broad. There are a lot of people who become mothers without the physical act of giving birth to anyone. That’s just fact.

But the physical side of it – conceiving, carrying, giving birth, breast-feeding (assuming you do that) – well, that’s pretty damn unique, and there’s nothing “offensive” about saying that. These physiological processes are not abstractions. I understand that sometimes people want them to be – for the sake of an ideological paradigm, usually – but that want doesn’t change anything.

When I think about the year 2011, I think to myself, “We had a baby, my husband shot his first movie, I wrote my first big play.” So obviously, I do think of these things as life-changing experiences, and I put them in a row. I think that’s normal, I think a lot of people do that. What I’m not going to do is say that these experiences are one in the same.

“I suppose you think that no woman’s life is complete without a baby,” my interviewer then said. Um, no? I think that these matters are very individual. I’ve seen people genuinely suffer when told, for example, that they will be unable to bear a child. I know some women who have a lot of mixed feelings about their past abortions – for example, it’s not unusual to hear that a woman may have kept her pregnancy, had she been better off financially (and I wish to God that we didn’t live in a crazy, polarized world, where such women become political footballs, completely stripped of their dignity and used as pawns in a ridiculous debate about outlawing choice). I know a couple of older women who will say that they regret that they never met “the one” – and by “the one” they will mean a partner they would have wanted to raise a child with. But that knowledge doesn’t clash with the fact that some of my friends are happily childfree, plenty of older people I know are happily childfree (so that old chestnut about childfree folks “living to regret it” really does not apply) and that, in general, some people have no interest in going through with this huge physiological process OR with adoption or whatever, and that’s fine. That’s normal.

I really hate the fact that nobody is allowed to experience complex emotions about parenthood in general. For example – I love my son and consider him to be the best thing to have ever happened to me. Does this mean that I never have doubts about motherhood? Hell no. I’m not a robot. I didn’t just download the “happy mommy” program to my hard drive and press install. I’m a person. I have doubts and fears. Some of my friends who have made the decision to not have kids also have doubts and fears. That’s normal. It’s what people go through. No amount of ideology is going to change this fact.

My interviewer didn’t agree. Not that she’d let me explain any of this, of course. Instead, she raised her goddamn voice at me, and started lecturing me about the statistics on domestic violence in Russia. It took me a while to understand that she was implying that my husband must have beaten or intimidated me into becoming a parent. I hung up soon after, but I’d like to make the obvious point here: nobody gets to talk that way too me. In the immortal words of Danny Glover, I’m too old for this shit.  That’s the other “unique” thing about being a parent, I suppose – it ages you in seen and unseen ways and makes you less willing to put up with other people’s crap.