Child abuse does not happen in a vacuum. As much as it remains hidden from plain sight, it is predictable. We can usually tell when an abusive situation exists, and once we know a little about the players, we can usually tell why it happened. It is only because of our desire to keep out of other people’s business and pretend the world is a generally good place that we “miss” the warning signs.
There is not just one cause of abuse. A myriad of things come into play, such as drug abuse, mental illness, religious views, personality issues, prejudice, and political views. It is the latter two that prompted this post.
Hugo Schwyzer recently had a son. He wrote about his son’s birth on Role/Reboot. You would think it would be a joyous occasion, but Schwyzer had a fear:
In the fortnight since my precious David was born, it’s struck me how gendered my fears for my children are. I worry about both children getting sick, or being in pain, or being hungry, or cold. I worry about both of them being victimized by predators. I know enough to worry about both of them growing up around toxic messages of physical perfection (a particular problem where we live in West Los Angeles). But I realize that I’m not anxious about whether Heloise will grow up to be violent or predatory herself. I know girls can bully—but despite the claims of MRAs, the evidence is that girls are much less likely to rape, to hit, to abuse.
The truth is, I worry about both my children becoming victims. But it is only my son whom I worry might himself become a victimizer. That’s not based on “misandry” (the irrational hatred of men), nor on any special insight into my baby boy’s character. That fear is based on statistics about which sex commits most physical abuse and it’s based on an all-too-intimate familiarity with a culture that mythologizes and glamorizes masculine violence. I’ve spent years and years unlearning the destructive tropes with which I was raised, just as I’ve spent years and years making amends for the very real harm I did when I was young. It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I began to love and accept my own maleness.
To put it simply, at the base of all of my worries is the fear that sweet little David will grow up to repeat his father’s cruelest—and most gendered—mistakes.
As I wrote in the comments on that thread, speaking as someone who was abused by a feminist who shares Schwyzer’s views, I honestly hope that Schwyzer’s son teaches him to curb his misandry because I do not want child to grow up in the same kind of abusive situation I did. The sentiment he expressed suggests that he not only would allow abuse against his son, but that if it were done by a woman or a girl, like the boy’s older sister, that Schwyzer would condone or excuse it. I have personally experienced this, and heard this from dozens of male and female survivors of the years. That dynamic of treating one sex as inherently bad or dangerous never goes well. There are people like Adaya who experience it the other way around.
I genuinely hope that the men’s rights advocate was wrong, but Schwyzer’s comments give me pause and remind me of how so many abusive situations begin.
And that is what this is. I know some will think that is callous, but it is not. In my experience, people who think like Schwyzer usually overlook violence done by the group they favor. I have no doubt that if his daughter bullied or abused his son, Schwyzer would not even acknowledge it or would make excuses for it.
But worse is that his view of his son as a potential abuser is something that Schwyzer will likely feed to his son whether he intends to or not. Every male survivor I know of who read Schwyzer’s writings got the impression that he does not care about male suvivors. Even male feminists who are survivors got that impression. It is hard to imagine a child would not pick that up and begin either acting the part or trying his hardest not to be that evil thing his dad hates.
More so, the presumption that little David must be taught not to abuse could create itself abusive situations. Yes, that means Schwyzer or he wife might abuse their child in their effort to stop him from becoming an abuser. And before anyone takes offense, ask yourself whether you would disagree is some Evangelical thought that his daughter was a potential prostitute and had a completely different standard for how he would treat his daughter as a result. You would consider it abusive, that is precisely that this is.
It also does not help that Schwyzer as a permissive attitude towards female abusers and a dismissive attitude towards male survivors, particularly male survivors of female abusers. That dynamic is dangerous and is something abusers of all sorts look for. It is also that can prompt parental abuse.
I do not know what Schwyzer will do. I do know that lots of feminists have their perceptions about men and boys changed once they have sons. Sometimes they calm down. Sometimes, like feminists like my aunt, they bunker down and it turns out very badly.
I hope that Schwyzer’s son can change his father’s opinions. I also hope that Schwyzer’s admitted violent proclivities do not make a return as he tries to raise his son.
That said, if people want to know one of the ways that child abuse starts, Schwyzer’s comments are an unfortunate and unsurprisingly good example of what it looks like.