...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

February 03, 2005

annieconversations: The Hugo Schwyzer Interview

For this month's annieconversation, i interviewed Professor Hugo Schwyzer. His blog is one of my favorites and should be on your regular reading list too; it's always so thought provoking. Topics for discussion include feminism and sexuality, chinchillas, religion, and that ever popular subject: butt-cleavage. How's that for a teaser? Read on.

annikagyrl: i usually start by saying something like: hi Hugo
Hugo: Hi Annika!
annikagyrl: which i think is appropriate, since that is your name
Hugo: Indeed, and I am fond of it.
annikagyrl: but that brings up one of the questions i had, which is that you really put yourself out there on your blog
Hugo: Yes...
annikagyrl: i mean you use your own name and you're kind of a semi-public figure, being a college professor and all
Hugo: Well, true
annikagyrl: do you ever wish you were blogging anonymously?
Hugo: Occasionally. But one of the privileges of tenure is that I don't have to worry about future employers reading my blog and getting scared off!
annikagyrl: ah, tenure...
Hugo: It gives me the luxury to be public and to take risks
annikagyrl: you are so honest about yourself, and despite the blogosphere's promise of anonymity, i hardly ever see other bloggers revealing as much of their inner selves as you do
Hugo: Thanks. I have learned that that is what matters, though
annikagyrl: why?
Hugo: There is lots of posturing in the blogosphere. Lots of folks trying to be clever, witty, ironic, sexy. Fewer trying to write from their core experiences
annikagyrl: uhhhh,
annikagyrl: not me of course, never me
Hugo: Hon, you don't try to be any of those things... you already are!
annikagyrl: speaking of sexy, you do know that i have a huge blog crush on you
Hugo: (Blush)
annikagyrl: haha
Hugo: Even if I am a confirmed socialist/pacifist?
annikagyrl: anyways you’re taken!
Hugo: I am. I am very lucky
annikagyrl: that's what's so wierd. How is it that i love reading your blog so much, when we have such great political differences
Hugo: Well, I would hope it is because I am civil. And I try to be fair. And leave my anger out of it
Hugo: or it could be the chinchilla blogging
annikagyrl: and i'm not the only conservative who likes your blog, Xrlq is another regular reader who comes to mind
Hugo: I like him because he loves dogs so much
annikagyrl: oh it's more than just your civility, which is also refreshing, btw
Hugo: I think it is important that we have friendly banter across the partisan divide
annikagyrl: i also noticed that you tend to stay away from reporting and/or commenting on the latest news snippet du jour
Hugo: Well, there' s so much of that out there. Unless I know I can offer a unique take, I stay away
annikagyrl: and so i check your blog several times a day, simply because you always get me thinking about issues that i wouldn't normally consider
Hugo: Thank you so much, Annika. You were the first person to link to my blog, you know
annikagyrl: is that so?
Hugo: In 2003, I sent you a link to an article in First Things, and you linked me
annikagyrl: you're like a celebrity now, i'm so pleased i could have been the first to link to you
Hugo: And you gave me the inspiration for Short Poem Thursday
annikagyrl: how many hits a day are you at now
Hugo: Well, this week has been crazy. Since the Glenn Sacks show, over 5000. Before, it was 1700-2400. It will die down
annikagyrl: WOW
annikagyrl: re: the poetry: one of the original purposes of my own blog, as you may know, is that i wanted to encourage people to think about poetry more, and to read it regularly
Hugo: a noble purpose...
annikagyrl: so, your taking up that meme, by doing poetry Thursdays, has fallen right in with my plans
Hugo: Indeed, I have been co-opted by the literate right!
annikagyrl: and since then, i've seen other bloggers do their own poetry days, which pleases me greatly
Hugo: It is a very cool thing. People don't read poetry enough
annikagyrl: 2tru
annikagyrl: so what is your current state of mind regarding your recent appearance on the Glen Sacks radio show and its aftermath?
Hugo: Well, I really enjoyed the experience. And the aftermath has been a bit overwhelming. I didn't think there was so much rage out there. And to have it directed at me was a bit jarring.
annikagyrl: rage about what?
Hugo: About taking a pro-feminist stance
Hugo: About calling men to radical accountability
annikagyrl: okay, you see, another thing i love about your blog is that i don't think you can be categorized so easily as a “pro-feminist.”
Hugo: No, not given my social conservatism on many issues. I'm pretty clear on abortion/porn/promiscuity. But I still call myself a pro-feminist
annikagyrl: i consider myself pretty anti-feminist, yet i’ve found that i agree with much of what you have written on the subject
Hugo: Well, part of the problem is that we have made it so unappealing for women like you to identify as feminists. Here you are, a law student, confident, gregarious and independent
annikagyrl: awww
Hugo: and yet, the feminist label doesn't work for you. Part of that is the feminist movement's inability to connect with many young women, part of it is media distortion
annikagyrl: well i do like doors held for me
Hugo: Sure, but chivalry and feminism are not incompatible. I hold the door for my fianceé
annikagyrl: in the dating scene, our roles have become so fucked up by the gender wars, that men don't know what to do nowadays. It’s weird.
Hugo: There is a lot of uncertainty and fear. Men have to be proactive, not reactive
annikagyrl: i imagine they’re pretty confused. Are they supposed to be forward? Is that too aggressive? Should they be passive, what? i really feel sorry for guys nowadays
Hugo: I'm not suggesting it's easy!
annikagyrl: but that leaves us chicks often waiting for nothing, cuz we don't know what to do in the proto-dating situations a lot of the time either
Hugo: I hear you. I am a big advocate of traditional behavior -- in the sense of opening doors, meeting the parents -- because these roles allow people to feel comfortable, allow people to feel that they know what they are doing
annikagyrl: but your ideal, if i may put words in your mouth, is also that we need to remember respect, ultimately
Hugo: absolutely, respect is the key. And a willingness to listen to the other's needs and concerns
annikagyrl: and a lot of people, like those men’s rights advocates who have criticized you, can't get past the label "pro-feminist" to see what your viewpoint is really all about
Hugo: Yes, it's unfortunate. But I'll keep blogging. And trying to learn more about how to pierce that anger and get to these fellows
annikagyrl: Now you, like me, were once pro-choice
Hugo: Yes. I was raised to be
annikagyrl: what happened there?
Hugo: Well, several things. Religious conversion, for one. But also a sense that abortion was really a consequence of not taking all of our actions as seriously as we might. I don't work to change the laws in this country. My pro-life position is more nuanced than that. I want to prevent abortion through encouraging male responsibility
annikagyrl: interesting angle. Not one that you hear much about these days
Hugo: I want men to take a completely different view of women and sexuality
annikagyrl: how so?
Hugo: I think we need to remember how amazing sex really is -- how intimate and special. I am not advocating abstinence -- I am advocating radical caring. Where two people take full and complete responsbility for the outcome of their actions. As a liberal, I believe we ought to consume less. As a pro-life social conservative, I believe we ought to honor each other's bodies more.
Hugo: Oh damn, I am on a rant again. It's hard to get across in an IM message. But I've touched on it in various ways in my blog
annikagyrl: i think your pro-life stance is more credible because it is consistent across the board
Hugo: Well, it's not quite where I'd like it to be. I want to be a vegan! But I am not there yet
annikagyrl: it's a difficult position for someone on the left to take,
Hugo: It is
annikagyrl: to say, "im against the death penalty, and abortion"
Hugo: and war, and euthanasia. oh yeah, it’s loads of fun. You piss off everybody
annikagyrl: it’s courageous. It's like when Gloria Allred took the position that "i'm a feminist and I don't like how President Clinton abused his position with Monica Lewinsky, and Im not going to defend him"
Hugo: Absolutely
Hugo: I wish Clinton had resigned in '98
annikagyrl: seriously?
Hugo: But that's another road we don't need to go down... It would have sent a remarkable message about actions and consequences. And it might have led to the reelection of Gore in 2000. Clinton harmed the left in myriad ways
annikagyrl: wow, i bet i'm more pro-Clinton than you are, haha
Hugo: Well, I like him immensely. He is a magnificent speaker, and I bought the book the day it came out. But he was no friend to real progressives
annikagyrl: i thought his perjury was wrong, but then i also see that there would have been no grand jury if Starr hadn't been so zealous
Hugo: Oh, I'm not defending Starr
annikagyrl: anyways, it’s neither here nor there now. But i was shocked to hear Sean Hannity say, on the radio just a few minutes ago, that he thought the Clintons were the most reasonable people on the left, compared to the Boxers and the Kennedys et al.
Hugo: Well, that's because the Clintons aren't really the "left!"
annikagyrl: Hannity’s comment was the first time i ever heard any conservative say anything approaching nice about any Clinton
Hugo: Time heals a lot, don't it?
annikagyrl: oh we could chat forever about the Clinton era, but lets go to another subject, closer to my heart
Hugo: You bet
annikagyrl: No, not Cal Bear football
Hugo: Darn
annikagyrl: haha
Hugo: We are having a great recruiting class, I hear...
annikagyrl: we won't talk about that, i'm still hurting over the Holiday Bowl
Hugo: The what?
annikagyrl: haha
annikagyrl: no, my next topic is History
Hugo: Ah
Hugo: I thought it might be fashion
annikagyrl: you are a specialist in a somewhat disfavored field right now aren't you?
Hugo: Well, my Ph.D. was in English Medieval Ecclesiastical History
annikagyrl: that's a mouthful
Hugo: My dissertation was entitled: "Arms and the Bishop: The Anglo-Scottish Wars and the Northeastern Episcopate" Oh, it's a page turner
annikagyrl: is that pre-Tudor?
Hugo: Yes. It's Plantagenet England. Late 13th, 14th centuries. If you saw Braveheart, you know the era
annikagyrl: then i'm afraid i know very little about it, except -- and this segues nicely into another of the many subjects i wanted to ask you about -- are you familiar with Christian mysticism?
Hugo: A bit. Julian of Norwich. Hildegard. That sorta thing
annikagyrl: specifically the The Cloud of the Unknowing, by the anonymous 14th century English monk?
Hugo: I read it in grad school in 1991. Haven't read it since
annikagyrl: Hell yah, one of my favorite spiritual works of all
annikagyrl: oops
Hugo: You can say "hell" around me, Annie. I have a foul mouth, actually
annikagyrl: haha. Yes, but in the context of a religious discussion?
Hugo: Oh, sure. One of my favorite theologians, Hauerwas, drops the 'f" bomb all the time
annikagyrl: okay, in that book there is a great discussion about "Mary's part" vs. "Martha's part" [as found in Luke 10:38-42]
Hugo: Oh, my beloved Martha
annikagyrl: and the anonymous author comes down squarely on the side of Mary, but i suspect you are on the side of Martha aren't you?
Hugo: Well, yes and no. Martha wasn't able to transcend traditional gender roles, as her sister was. But without the Marthas of the world, the gospel doesn't get preached. The Marthas are the backbones of the church. Working in ministry is a lot about washing dishes. Wiping snotty noses. Making sure the coffee is made. A receptive heart is great, but someone needs to go out and do the work.
annikagyrl: how do you see the different approaches to being a Christian as symbolized by those two biblical women? Is it possible, in today's America, without cloistering one’s self, to really follow Mary's part completely, or does one have to live by necessity in both worlds, the contemplative and the active, as a modern Christian?
Hugo: Annie, that's an essay question!
annikagyrl: haha! the teacher has now become the student... lol
Hugo: Seriously, you do have to struggle to do both. And fortunately, God created us with different gifts. Some of us are more contemplative, others more active. Me, I am too extroverted. I am like Martha. I need to be out there, running around
annikagyrl: literally
Hugo: Indeed!
annikagyrl: Okay, what's up with the chinchillas?
Hugo: Well, my fianceé and I wanted a pet. But we are both gone all day, which wouldn’t be fair to a dog. We read and researched and one day, came across chinchillas. We went to Petco, and they had this one little grey female available, six weeks old
annikagyrl: My bro saw one at Petco last weekend when i was visiting, and he decided he wants one now
Hugo: They are incredibly intelligent and loving. They need lots of attention, but in spurts. You’re able to leave them alone for extended periods
annikagyrl: really? That'd be perfect for Derrick
Hugo: Just make sure they get handled every day
annikagyrl: Make sure they get handled every day?
Hugo: Held and kissed and cuddled
annikagyrl: perhaps a perfect name for one would be dick, then!
Hugo: Hah!
annikagyrl: lol, sorry, it just came to me...
Hugo: Oh, dear Annika, where is your mind? ;-)
annikagyrl: it’s always in the gutter
Hugo: And they can't be in rooms over 75 degrees or they die. Too much fur. You should have seen our AC bill last summer!
annikagyrl: Do your students read your blog?
Hugo: Some do. I mean, they google my name and find it. I don't tell them about it, but they seem to find it
annikagyrl: so you don't advertise it in class?
Hugo: No. That would be too self-promoting. They are curious, though
annikagyrl: Your regular commenters are really great, they are usually so articuate
Hugo: I think so -- I feel like I've met so many people... I am so lucky
annikagyrl: except for that one troll, which La Lubu commented about the other day. The guy that just says: “You’re wrong... out!
Hugo: Oh yeah, we've had our share of wingnuts come by
annikagyrl: haha
Hugo: I have banned a few. But I don't like doing it
annikagyrl: i've only banned a couple from annika’s journal, and only because of totally racist statements
Hugo: That's certainly reason to do so! I will only ban when people say really unpleasant things that make it unsafe for others to comment
annikagyrl: i'll leave them on if they attack me civilly, but not if they get ugly
Hugo: Civility is key
annikagyrl: Hey, fashion
Hugo: Ah, the good stuff
annikagyrl: i know you appreciate fashion blogging, because you are a fan of Candied Ginger
Hugo: I am -- love those gals
annikagyrl: one of the best Hugo posts of all time, made me very conflicted about certain fashions i’ve worn, though. You know which post im talking about...
Hugo: Oh, the "Sisterhood is easier in winter"?
annikagyrl: haha, yah
Hugo: Well, it's not a condemnation of sexy clothing. It's about recognizing that when we live in community, our choices impact others. How we dress affects others, and we need to be cognizant of that. But on the other hand, I think we need to stop connecting revealing clothes and sexuality
annikagyrl: see, a lot of dressing by myself and my peers is done unconsciously. It's like the whole lumbar cleavage thing,
Hugo: Lumbar cleavage?
annikagyrl: i recently heard it referred to crudely as the "pencil holder"
Hugo: Ah, I get it. Hadn't heard that one
annikagyrl: but the thing is, i don't think guys know that those pants are just more comfortable than the old-school high-waisted style. But yes, i have given thought to that too, since your post
Hugo: Well, and the other thing is, men can control their leering. Our eyes are not involuntary muscles. I always say, there's a colossal difference between the appreciative glance and the penetrating gaze
annikagyrl: Still, it is a bit unfair to other students to provide that kind of distraction, although i once posted a vignette about it, in a tongue-in-cheek way
Hugo: I am aware it isn't easy for women, because you are expected to be both sexy and demure, both professional and appealing, both powerful and feminine
annikagyrl: Next topic. Today, i sent you an article, where this guy critiqued my comments on non-violence, which i posted in my “100 Things” list. He didn’t have comments or post his email on his blog, so i couldn’t respond to him directly. Here’s an excerpt:

The truth about Hawks is that they're all a bunch of pussies. They are unwilling to take the abuse Gandhi and his followers did in the name of their ideas (Can you imagine George W. Bush fasting for 21 days in the name of Democracy? In the name of anything?). They lack the conviction that would allow them to see past the short term gains of beating said ideas into others. They lack the faith required to see that, as Gandhi often said, non-violence works because it taps into a fundamental truth buried deep within all human beings.
Hugo: I read the article. I agree with you. King and Gandhi were operating in a context where their enemies were playing by the rules, at least to some extent
annikagyrl: Yes yes yes
Hugo: There is a legitimate difference between Hitler and the British occupation in India. Morally shaming those who can't be shamed doesn't work
annikagyrl: shame is the key, that's what i was going to say
Hugo: That's why Bonhoeffer, a pacifist to his core, made the decision to take part in the Hitler plot. Anyone who thinks pacifism is easy is kidding themselves - your critic was being too flip
annikagyrl: Also, it's important to remember that Gandhi formed a personal relationship with the viceroy
Hugo: Yes, and was able to connect with him on a variety of levels
annikagyrl: there was some mutual respect, as i recall. i don't think that GWB should be expected to go to Afghanistan and sit down with OBL
Hugo: Of course not. Real pacifism is rooted not so much in a sense that it will work as it is in a radical commitment to obedience. Pacifism won't work on Osama. That doesn't mean that those of us who claim to be pacifists aren't still obligated to that kind of radical submission
annikagyrl: but still, great a man as he was, Gandhi could not prevent all violence
Hugo: No -- the breakaway of Pakistan, for example
annikagyrl: he was constantly frustrated because his followers didn't understand satyagraha as he did.
annikagyrl: but if you wanna know what i took away from my study of Gandhi, and Eastern thought in general, it's that pacifism is a noble and worthy ideal, worth striving for on a personal level. It absolutely has a place in interpersonal relationships, and i try to use it that way myself. In business relationships too. i've seen very successful lawyers who shun aggresive tactics
Hugo: You're right, practicing that kind of loving peacefulness is marvelously effective
annikagyrl: totally
Hugo: Especially with difficult students!
annikagyrl: haha, or boyfriends, in some cases
Hugo: Plural, Annika?
Hugo: ;-)
annikagyrl: oops, was that out loud?
Hugo: Cat is out of the bag, making its way down the street
annikagyrl: haha
annikagyrl: anyways Hugo, i'm so glad we finally had a chance to do this
Hugo: Me too
Hugo: Annika, you're one of my daily reads
annikagyrl: im so flattered
Hugo: I don't think folks always realize how clever what you write really is
annikagyrl: oh, the smart ones do...
Hugo: I know you have a large male fan base. But I hope that they appreciate the writing
annikagyrl: i wish more girls would read my stuff. why is that, do you think?
Hugo: Well, you do two things: you do present a kind of flirty, sexy side
annikagyrl: i am a flirt
Hugo: and you take strong interests in guy stuff (like airplanes)
annikagyrl: yah, i can see that, but chicks dig planes too
Hugo: Apparently.
annikagyrl: i mean, look at that Leonardo di Caprio movie. Howard Hughes pulled the chicks. At least before he started growing his nails, lol
Hugo: Well, planes, wealth, and a kind of manic self-confidence works wonders
annikagyrl: ahhh
Hugo: Women do seem to love men who are certain about their passions
annikagyrl: haha, we do. as long as we're one of those passions
Hugo: Smart guys figure that out fast. And smart men subtly suggest that she might be one of those passions... but they don't let her know instantly
Hugo: Indeed
annikagyrl: well, take care Hugo, and the invitation is there anytime you'd like to do this again, it was very fun
Hugo: Absolutely, Annika. It was fun. Thank you

Posted by annika, Feb. 3, 2005 |
Rubric: annieconversations


just wanted to let you know another woman read this- and liked it.

Posted by: Erica on Feb. 3, 2005

Professor of "gender studies"? Tenure at a community college? Romanticism is a luxury that those who contend with reality dare not indulge.

Jeez Anni, pacifism is a lovely theory, but at some point, ya gotta intellectually take them to the mat.

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 4, 2005

Great interview!

Posted by: graham on Feb. 4, 2005

Hugo gets points for mentioning Hauerwas and the F-bomb.

One of my classmates, Ridge, was big on Hauerwas. He told me one time about an incident involving Hauerwas and a female theologian-- she had just finished a rather polemical presentation to a roomful of scholars, and Stan was the next speaker. Apparently, as they passed each other, Hauerwas growled, "Who'd wanna fuck you, anyway?"



Posted by: Kevin Kim on Feb. 4, 2005

I must admit: As lefties go, Hugo isn't too bad.

And Casca, I have to say that I don't object to pacifism on a personal level. If Hugo believes his commitment to pacifism is worth his life, I'm not willing to say he's wrong. It displays a noble commitment to the Christian virtue of charity. (It's one that seems in tension with certain other aspects of Christian belief, but this is an old and difficult debate, and I won't criticize Hugo for having come down where he has on this matter.)

But it's a commitment that I don't share (not to the exclusion of what I consider equally valid competing priorities), and I will fight tooth and nail against anyone who tries to it upon me or -- more importantly -- my wife and daughters against our will. Hugo's personal commitment is not worth their lives, or mine. Sorry, Hugo.

Posted by: Matt on Feb. 4, 2005

Another good interview, Annie. Good job.

Posted by: ken on Feb. 4, 2005

I loved this interview, it was as if I was listening in on the two of you in a smoke filled coffee house and I came in late... I can't get over how neither one of you ever holds back.

Hugo, I hold doors for both men and women. I give up seats for everyone, not just elderly people. Men are really shocked by this, and they always tell me to go ahead and take the seat myself.__ Being polite and considerate of other people has nothing to do with gender. Our society is too gender conscious, we are all human! That's all we have to remember.

Posted by: Paz on Feb. 4, 2005

What a great compliment. thanks Paz.

Posted by: annika on Feb. 4, 2005

Yes, thanks everyone!

Posted by: Hugo on Feb. 4, 2005

OT: Annie, you've GOT to go here -- www.nicedoggie.net

Look about 2/3rds way down.

You will laugh your (fine) ass off!

Posted by: Radical Redneck on Feb. 4, 2005