Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hugo Schwyzer, Redemption and the Jizz Heard Around the World.

The last few days, I've engrossed myself in a crash course on Hugo Schwyzer.  Because I am not a feminist, I am not overly familiar with his work, though I had heard of him before he decided to author He Wants to Jizz on Your Face but Not Why You Think at Jezebel. Is there a more controversial subject than a discussion of facials, on a so-called feminist space? Suffice it to say, this piece quickly went viral,with several online feminist blogs decrying what they felt to be not only the misogyny of the piece in question, but  a history of active anti-woman beahaviour and writing. Hugo’s fans rose to the challenge to defend the man they clearly feel is the last best chance of cisgender, White male feminist thinking.  
 
A man ejaculating on a woman’s face, heretofore referred to as the facial, is a contentious subject, as I am sure Schwyzer was well aware when conceiving this piece.  Schwyzer makes it extremely clear that he supports the necessity of a woman’s consent to this specific sexual act when he writes: “No one should be obligated to endure humiliation for the sake of someone else's longing for validation.”  The problem is that he then negates this statement by arguing that the impetus for a man to perform a facial stems from a desire to have both his genitalia and his ejaculate accepted and embraced by his female partner.  Because we live in a patriarchal world, it is female genitalia that is regularly attacked as unclean, and a history of unnecessary cleansing products bears this suggestion out. No such products are regularly marketed to men.
 
Within the text, Schwyzer also affirms that at least in part, the facial has its origins in pornography by quoting sex educator Charlie Glickman:  “That changed in the 1970s, when porn movies became longer, scripted features with bigger budgets. Since there would be more than one sex romp in the film, external ejaculation was the mark that a specific scene had ended."  The form of pornography that both Schwyzer and Glickman are referencing is produced from the perspective of the straight male gaze and is largely consumed by straight men. This means that pornography not only serves as an inspiration to perform a sex act, it infuses a rigid performance of gender that renders women’s desire and sense of self invisible for the purpose of male sexual gratification.  But does this make the facial inherently degrading and anti-woman?
Writing for the F-Word Blog, Natalie Dzerins contends:
 
“Even if all facials are degrading, (and without going into too much detail, I am somewhat unconvinced by that) so what? Some people like being "degraded" (OBVIOUSLY there are limitations to this which I will return to), and no more can you "pray the gay away" than can you "feminism the sub away" (I tried to make it rhyme, but nothing rhymes with "feminism"). These desires don't mean that said woman has been "coerced" or "brainwashed by the patriarchy", and to try to dismiss them in this way is removing women's sexual agency. This is A Bad Thing.”
 
In every heterosexual interaction, the power politics of gender are omnipresent because we are born into a social discourse that is already formed and active. This would suggest that a woman’s ability or desire to play the role of submissive does not erase the power relations between a man and a woman; it doesn’t even place them into a temporarily suspended state. The individual woman may not see the act of consenting to a facial as degrading; however, it still puts her into a passive role and the male into an active role, which exactly mirrors not only sexual dynamics in the larger world, but individual interactions between men and women.
 
One universal global taboo when it comes to sex is what happens to the face and it is no accident that Schwyzer theorizes that a facial may potentially be viewed as imperative to the affirmation of the penis and semen.  Even if the entire canvas of a woman’s body is available as a receptacle for semen, it is still the face that is the desired location.  This is not about a desire to feel clean, but a sexist compulsion to mark territory, in much the same manner that a dog lifts its leg to secure property, thus turning a woman into a possession – an object, rather than subject, in an act that supposedly involves an exchange between two beings.  
 
There can be no doubt that male privilege not only marks Schwyzer’s frame of reference, but also played a critical role in informing his argument.  It does not matter that Schwyzer self-identifies as feminist because each interaction that he is involved in is filled with a lifetime of White cis male privilege.  Even his employment as a gender studies professor serves to embolden rather than negate his privilege: as a man he has been granted expert status in feminism, thus making him a heresiarch in a movement dedicated to securing gender based equality, specifically to improve the status and life chances of women on a systemic scale.  The support for the elevation of a male-identified feminist, within a specifically woman centered sphere, is based in the understanding that men will be far more likely to identify with another male, and more likely to actively listen.  This is the same sort of argument employed by Tim Wise in anti-racist circles to justify his work as a White anti-racist spokesperson.  This privilege translates into opportunities that are denied to the very same marginalized people the activists claim to be trying to uplift, while these marginalized bodies are often silenced, erased, and forced to work in obscurity. 
 
Schwyzer’s writings indicate that despite his stated intentions, he is either unable or unwilling to consider the effect that power relations have upon the positions which he advocates, on behalf of those he claims to ally with.  If the work that one produces actively negates its stated purpose, it would logically make sense that in order to honour one’s stated beliefs, the correct course of action is to step back and allow marginalized people (in Schwyzer’s case, women) to lead. This is a far better alternative than reproducing a harmful discourse, while at the same time ghettoizing women’s work by suggesting that as a man, he is capable of setting aside his gender privilege long enough to formulate a theory of liberation that will suitably represent the multitude of nuances in the lives of women.
 
Much like Tim Wise, Schwyzer is hardly in a unique position with his attempt to straddle the privileges encoded to his body and stated ideology.  When are cisgender White men of class privilege finally going to understand that playing a leadership role in any minority group’s fight for emancipation produces a significant setback, rather than a leap forward?  His headship is hardly transgressive -- his physical self represents patriarchy,  the very force that women are fighting against.  Perhaps if Schwyzer hadn’t spent so much time trying to lead, he would have considered what bell hooks suggests: advocating on behalf of feminism is a better alternative to co-opting feminism.