Entertainment

08.12.13

Porn Professor Hugo Schwyzer Comes Clean About His Twitter Meltdown and Life as a Fraud

He built a successful, if divisive, career as a ‘male feminist’ and porn advocate. Then his life fell apart—on Twitter. He talks to Richard Abowitz about what fueled his epic meltdown.

Hugo Schwyzer might be the Internet’s most famous “male feminist” right now (not that it’s a crowded field). The Pasadena City College professor made a name for himself teaching classes on porn and writing about how men can be better feminists by doing things like dating women their own age.

But none of that is why Schwyzer is so famous right this second. What’s driving his current notoriety is his very public Twitter meltdown last Friday in which he sent out more than 100 tweets in an hour, admitting to building a career “on fraudulent pretenses,” to being an addict, and to teaching feminism with no specialization or degree in the field. This came on the heels of the revelation last month that the 46-year-old married professor wasn’t taking his own advice when he sexted with a 27-year-old sex worker activist.

The Twitter tirade ended when Schwyzer said he was giving his laptop to his family and staying offline. Now, in an extended interview with The Daily Beast, Schwyzer comes clean about what drove him to cheat on his wife, why he’s “morally fraudulent,” and whether men will ever stop disappointing women.

Why haven’t you deleted those Twitter comments if you regret them?

I don’t have the power to delete it anymore. I gave up my Twitter password while I was in the hospital. I was pulled away from the computer by the police because someone had called me in as potentially suicidal.

Are you suicidal? Are you OK?

At the moment, don’t worry. I am periodically suicidal. I have been hospitalized three times in the past month.

But as we are talking, you are getting whatever treatment you need?

I am under a lot of care, and right now as we talk I am extremely medicated.

You have tenure. Do you plan to go back to teaching?

Yes, I have tenure. But as we speak there is a move to get me placed on permanent disability, which is how you deal with tenured faculty members with mental illness that is very severe and intransigent. I think I would like to go back to teaching. But everything is fluid and up in the air at the moment. One of the reasons I did that Twitter feed is that I want the truth to come out, all the truth, so I can scorch the earth. So that if I do rebuild, I don’t rebuild on any false foundation.

“I was just so toxically addicted to affirmation I would do anything to get it.”

You called yourself a fraud in your Twitter comments. How is your work on feminism fraudulent?

Several people have written me angrily to say, “Look, your work helped me, and the fact that you did not have the academic credentials you were supposed to have doesn’t change the fact that some of what you said is pretty decent.” The fraud part was that I pretended regularly to have more credentials than I actually did. It is a little odd that someone would become a very well known speaker and writer on feminism when he took only two undergraduate courses on women’s studies and that’s it.

But it is not unusual at all for someone to move outside a specialty over the decades of an academic career.

I suppose so. My field is in British and medieval history. I did do the reading. And, obviously when it comes to porn, when I was in graduate school, there was no such thing as porn studies. So there would have been no way for me to study it academically.

I guess what I am asking is that by your use of the word “fraud,” do you mean you faked quotes, altered evidence, plagiarized, failed to give credit for ideas, or anything along those lines?

No. Absolutely not. No one is going to find that or misrepresenting my credits to the college.

So there is nothing fraudulent about the work itself?

No. But I never published in any serious academic journal. I always wanted to write for a popular audience. So, what I wrote for Jezebel or The Atlantic or wherever else was always legitimate in the sense that I wasn’t making up facts.

I am still focusing on the word fraud. Were you advocating positions that weren’t your own to get an audience?

Yes. Let me give you an example. One of my themes has always been that men should leave younger women alone and start to have a greater value in appreciating their female peers—that men in their 30s and 40s should be dating women in their 30s and 40s; sort of challenging men to see as sexually desirable women who are their own age. I wrote a piece for The Atlantic on that that got a lot of attention. But the very same week I wrote that I was sleeping with a 23-year-old affiliated with the porn industry, not a student of mine, but who I met through the porn class. And of course, I was also sexting. And the age gap I was condemning in my essay was similar to the one with women I was having affairs with. That is not intellectually fraudulent in the sense that I am not making up facts, but it is morally fraudulent in that I am living a life that is deliberately in direct contradiction to what I am recommending.

So, do you believe it is fine for you to be with a 23-year-old, or do you believe in your heart that what you argued in that essay is how it should be?

I am not sure right now. I am very confused. I am looking at having blown up my career and blown up my marriage. I think that, yes, men should try to stick to women their own age. And I am guilty of hypocrisy, but the fact that I am guilty of hypocrisy doesn’t invalidate the truth of what I was saying. I was just too weak to live up to what it was I was writing.

Was your work designed to please a certain school of feminism but never a realistic model for men?

Well, yes. I think primarily I wrote for women. I designed my writing primarily for women. One of the things that I figured out is the best way to get attention from women was not to describe women’s own experience to them because they found that patronizing and offensive. Instead it was to appear to challenge other men, to turn other men into the kind of boyfriend material, father material, or husband material that women so desperately wanted. Most women have a lot of disappointment in men. And I very deliberately want to go to the place where that disappointment lives and present to them a counter-narrative of something possible. I mean, I really would like to change men. It is not so much a lie that I didn’t believe a word I was saying. If wishes were fishes, they would live in the sea. I really did want guys to be better.

But on some level you were telling an audience what they wanted to hear knowing that women were reading it and not men?

Exactly. I always wrote for women but wrote in a really backhanded way where it appeared I was writing for men so that it would not appear too presumptuous and instead it would make me look better. And that required presenting myself as the ideal husband, father, and reformed bad boy.

My point is that I was writing for women because I wanted validation from women. The way to get validation from women was to present an idealized picture of what is possible for men.

Even though you weren’t reaching that standard yourself, did you know any men who were? Or was this entirely a fantasy creation?

I think there were guys who tried harder than I did. But no.

You don’t know any who succeeded?

No. I think there may have been a few who’ve come close, but none who succeeded. We can call this fraudulence or hypocrisy. I wasn’t really interested in other men. I taught a course in men and masculinity, and I cited male authors, but the whole way of designing the course was to get women excited about the possibility for male change, that they would then transfer some of that hope onto me. That is what I was doing.

It sort of sounds like talking a good game to get attention from girls. It doesn’t even sound academic.

For me the motivation was not to get these girls into bed. Sex is only the exclamation point on what you really want. What I am addicted to is affirmation and validation from women. That is what I wanted. That is what this whole thing was set up to get. I didn’t need them to want to fuck me. It made no difference to me if they thought of me as a potential boyfriend or a potential father. What mattered to me is that they had me on a pedestal, that they thought about me. That is the honest truth.

Did you cross the line with any of your students?

Not since 1998. Before 1998 I slept with two dozen female students, somewhere in there, it’s a ballpark thing. That ended when I had a similar but not as bad a breakdown to the one I had now. When I got sober, I made amends to the college and swore off sleeping with students. And this time I stayed away from that because until very recently my sense of self-preservation was strong enough that it protected me from that because I knew they could fire me for that, even with tenure.

I wanted their idealism. If the way to get you to like me was for you to fuck me, then we could do that. If it is for me to act like I’m your idealized dad to replace that hole in your heart, to replace that woundedness that most women carry, I’ll go there.

I’m making myself sound really bad, but I did want to help. I do think for a lot of those young women I was a good, loving, stable safe man. I was just so toxically addicted to affirmation I would do anything to get it.