“I’m disappointed in you, Hugo”: more navel-gazing

The fall-out from Monday’s post about last names continues.  I’ve gotten almost 100 comments on the post, almost all of them negative. I’ve also received private emails from six different regular readers, all taking issue with the argument I constructed to defend the notion that it could be a "feminist choice" for a woman to take her husband’s last name.

I appreciate that so many folks feel that they can openly and sharply disagree with me. I’m glad that so many have written to me. Frankly, I feel honored that they consider me worthy of their time.  It’s also a clear indication of just how "out of character" and surprising that post appeared.  I’m going to take some time to reflect on what I’ve heard this week before I address the subject again.  Though I remain delighted that my wife took my last name, I need to do more to consider how I can reconcile that delight with my pro-feminism — and whether or not I need to.

Reading through both the comments and the letters, one word appears more often than any other: "disappointing."   In one way or another, a dozen people have expressed to me that they are deeply disappointed by my stance and by my poorly reasoned, sexist arguments.  And of course, that word has the greatest power to shake me and get my attention.  Like many people, I’d much rather have someone say "I despise you" than "I’m disappointed in you."  I have never liked letting people down, though I’ve done plenty of it in my life.  There’s something acutely painful about knowing that you’ve dropped in someone’s estimation, or, worse, that you’ve led them to question whether or not the other things you say and teach are really valid.

In my personal, professional, and blogging life I do set myself up as a role model.  The blog is called Hugo Schwyzer for a reason — it’s about me, my life, my work, my views.   In everything I write, I try and connect what I believe to how I live.  If there’s one expression I use at least once a month, it’s "matching one’s language to one’s life."  I make no secret of a complicated and turbulent past.  I make no secret of the fact that I came to Christ as an adult, and that only in recent years have I gained the strength to live out my feminism in my actions as well as in my words.  I share all of this because I believe that both feminism and Christianity are ways of life more than they are systems of belief.  As a professor and a youth leader and a blogger, I’m trying to win people over to a certain set of views about faith, sexuality, gender roles, integrity, and so forth.  And I know that in order to be convincing, I have to show folks that I’m living out what I’m professing.  Young people in particular are quick to sniff out hypocrisy — and I owe it to them to do everything I can to avoid living a double life that contradicts my public pronouncements.

I tie my language and my life together publicly for a couple of reasons.  The first is obvious — it helps to make what I’m saying more believable.  Second of all, of course, I have a certain need "to be seen".  I’ve always sought validation in my life, and for much of my youth, sought it in very unhealthy ways.  Teaching and youth work and blogging give me an opportunity to get that validation in far healthier ways that do not involve deception or manipulation. And third of all, I appreciate the fact that living at least a modestly public life helps keep me on the "straight and narrow."  I am acutely conscious, even when alone, of how it is that I claim to live.    Though I live with far fewer temptations today than I did even a few years ago, thoughts of how disappointed others would be if I "fell" are a powerful reinforcement to stay on the path!

The great danger in all of this is grandiosity.  So often in this work, I’m told that what I’m doing matters!  So often, folks tell me that they’ve been inspired by me — and of course, I can’t help but find that immensely gratifying.  And though I always try and point towards God as the real source of any goodness that appears in me, I confess I sometimes succumb to the dark temptation to believe that I’ve done all this by myself. 

This is especially true around issues of pro-feminism.  I am certainly not the only pro-feminist man in the blogosphere, or even the only pro-feminist evangelical in the blogosphere.  (I think I’m the only pro-feminist evangelical who teaches gay and lesbian studies and advises Campus Crusade for Christ, however.) But for better or for worse, I’ve been really adamant about the importance of men becoming involved in feminist work,and I’ve linked my own story explicitly to pro-feminism.  And so when I say or do something that seems utterly at odds with all that has gone beforehand, I let people down.  I disappoint people who had relied upon me to be consistent about resisting sexism and tradition.  And I can’t help but be affected by that disappointment.

Today in my women’s history class, we had "all-female day."  Most semesters, I have one day each with my male and female students.  (All-male day is next Tuesday.)  We do it late in the semester, and it’s a chance to talk informally about the course in a single-sex environment (though of course, I’m still in the room as a man on all-women’s day).  I give the students on each day a chance to ask me any questions they like.  Today, as on other such days in the past, there was an intense curiosity to know how I got to be a pro-feminist, and how it is that I actually match my language and my life.  I wrote in March that I sometimes get the "please be real" response from my students and from kids in my youth group.  That’s a pressure I do a great deal to invite, but also one that I have to be careful with.

Experiences like the fall-out from Monday’s post remind me of how dangerous it is for me to set myself up to be "super feminist Christian man." It’s a mixture of narcissism, evangelical zeal, and the huge desire to be an agent of change in the lives of other people.  I’ve got to remember that I am still human, still flawed, and still prone to contradictions.  In my words and actions, I am going to surprise and disappoint folks.  I’ve got to acknowledge that to some extent, that’s part of the human condition.  I’ve also got to do what I can to become even more consistent, even more compassionate, even more determined to eradicate sexism and sin from my own life. I’ve got to balance a zealous desire to imitate Christ with a humble acceptance of my own brokenness and need for grace.  That’s an ancient and difficult balance to strike.  But for my sake, and the sake of those who rely on me, I need to keep at it.

0 thoughts on ““I’m disappointed in you, Hugo”: more navel-gazing

  1. Wow. I think this is symptomatic of the dualism most of us live by, and the failure to recognize that feminisism exists along a continuum of convictions and within a context of life experiences and circumstances–it’s similar to faith, in that way. I am INFJ so I’m always trying to discern where people can come together in relationship and find common ground based on truth. We have to get past the all-or-nothing fallacies if we are ever going to be whole.

    It’s interesting to me that your wife chose to take your name, but people aren’t legitimizing her power and autonomy in making that choice. It’s like mutual submission. Mutual submission stems from a base of trust and shared power. I think you’re right in interpreting her choice to take your name as a sign of her trust in the mutuality of your marriage.

  2. Hugo, your blog feels to me like a model of Christian community, where you and your readers are accountable to one another and remain part of a shared enterprise despite deep differences. The name change debate got me thinking again about your post from a few months ago, where you were dismayed that some of your female students didn’t want to identify as “feminists”. If, as we seem to have concluded in the comments on name changes, not all choices are feminist choices even if made freely by women, maybe we just have to accept that feminism has ideological boundaries and be happy for the women who’ve found contentment with non-feminist values, instead of trying to bring everyone under one big tent. Just as the church works best, I think, when it does not water down its beliefs but still offers welcoming fellowship to non-Christians. Anyhow…I wish I lived in California so I could take your “dysfunctional family class” – what a cool idea.

  3. It’s quite possible that if my personal experience had been one where no-one second-guessed my choice, I would have not had the same reaction to what you said, Hugo. Which I suppose is hardly fair to you on a personal level (since *you* never second-guessed me), but it’s in reaction to the effect your words may have on others.

    Intuitively, I knew that what I wrote would sting you (not that I was the only person who expressed disappointment, but still). It wasn’t my intent to hurt, and they were my honest feelings, but I still feel sad about any pain I may have caused you.

    The above posters talked about the importance of finding common ground, and that your web site is a great place for this. I agree with this wholeheartedly, even if I’m feeling grumpy at the moment.

    And for the record, I don’t doubt that you’re a good person, your marriage is a good one, and that generally speaking, your wife could easily be “more feminist” than I am! :o)

  4. Hugo you butthead…the “ism” on “feminism” denotes a belief system. Feminism and Jesus meet at some levels, but are incredibly divergent at others. They can’t be reconciled. You are holding this “ism” up before God who, by the way, is called “He” for a reason.

    If you’re going to embrace a biblically based system, embrace “Capitalism”, which is founded on Mosaic and New Testament contract and reasonableness.

    ’nuff said.

  5. Bilbo, when Wall Street and big business embrace the Old Testament notion of Jubilee and total debt forgiveness every seven (or even forty-nine) years, I’ll become a fervent capitalist.

  6. And when Academe, MArxists, et al, embrace the New Testament concept of Voluntaryism, and stop taking from me at the point of a gun, I’ll become a fervent socialist.

    Or wait – I guess I already am – I just do my charity as a personal obligation, to those who I discern deserve it, rather than based on some identity politics groupthink.

  7. he New Testament concept of Voluntaryism

    That would be the concept whereby you voluntarily give away all your stuff and follow God, right?

  8. No, but thanks for the straw man. It’s where you do it as the result of a moral imperative, and don’t steal from people at gunpoint (or gunpoint by proxy) to fund your pet causes; all the while professing to be all about “freedom.”

  9. Back on topic:-

    …not all choices are feminist choices even if made freely by women, maybe we just have to accept that feminism has ideological boundaries and be happy for the women who’ve found contentment with non-feminist values, instead of trying to bring everyone under one big tent. Just as the church works best, I think, when it does not water down its beliefs but still offers welcoming fellowship to non-Christians. Anyhow…I wish I lived in California so I could take your “dysfunctional family class” – what a cool idea.

    Excellent post Jendi. I think tolerance of other people’s views means not censoring it, or deriding it, or belittling it, or preventing right of reply. The way to argue against an opposing view is to disprove it, or if that’s a case of ‘proving a negative’, prove your own view. Sometimes it’s hard to prove a point of view, because it’s all purely subjective. In that case, it’s even more important for BOTH SIDES to respect a difference of opinion, because we are all individuals and no matter how much we want it, we’re never going to convince everybody to our own point of view. We have to realise it’s not only possible, but inevitable that people will think differently to ourselves.

    What do you think Hugo?