Permit me to explain.
Last year I wrote a 4,000-word tome on the Foreskin Revolution for the ultra-edgy, super hot Good Men Project Magazine. And Mr. Schwyzer’s unapologetic, in-your-face views on the foreskin restoration movement made me admire the balls it takes to tell his personal story.
Reporting that article was the first time I became acquainted with the word “mangina”. GMP Founder Tom Matlack penned this eloquent piece on his own “man purse” and a simple search ties Professor Hugo Schwyzer to the word for his forward thinking, fearless, and unapologetic views on the modern man and feminism.
But put another way, the Urban Dictionary calls a mangina this: “The broadest definition is a man who calls any over the hill right wing bimbo a MILF.”
Which of course made me wonder if I could think of any over-the-hill (don’t forget those dashes next time, Urban Dictionary!) right-wing bimbos who men want to fornicate with (or to).
So I contacted Dr. Hugo Schwyzer, who has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity andBeauty and Body Image. He was for many years the leader of the high school youth program for the largest Episcopal parish in the Western United States. A writer, public speaker, and professor, Hugo is also a husband and father. “Hugo,” I said, “I’ve got two words for you: Sarah Palin”:
LN: Then I must be a troglogyta, which is, in fact, Latin for a cave dwelling Conservative. Because I had a medically fragile baby. And while I can understand women needing to commute an hour a day and work from 9-5 in order to maintain their job and home, I cannot understand a woman leaving a four-month-old, fragile baby and flying all over the country, in a manic tour-de-force for personal and political gain, and as a result, rarely seeing or nurturing it.
HUGO: I hear you. But here’s the thing: this whole line of conversation is an invitation to play the “mommy wars.” Once we stipulate that Palin was a bad mama for flying around the country and leaving her baby at home, then we open the door to talking about how working mothers who leave their kids in day care are bad mamas. It is never a win for women to pit mothers against each other. Short of outright and obvious abuse, I think it’s really unhealthy for feminists to criticize another woman’s parenting choices. It’s what a misogynistic culture wants us to do. Let’s not give them the satisfaction.
LN: Let’s touch on my headline. I find it difficult to believe that you are a mangina because I can’t imagine you lusting after the loins of one, Mrs. Todd Palin.
HUGO: Yeah, it’s a strange definition. I mean, how do I respond to that? I’m as annoyed at everyone else by the way that Sarah Palin was sexualized, even fetishized by some in the media. But it was mostly the right-wing who crowed about having all the “hot babes” on their side, wasn’t it? Even if some of us on the left think Michelle Obama is pretty damn hot.
LN: Michelle Obama is hot, not just because she is beautiful, but because she is so smart. So then, what IS it about Palin? Can we tap into your PhD brain because I want to understand the allure.
HUGO: As modern as she is, she’s a classic and familiar figure: the smart (she is no fool), sassy, competent, suffer-no-fools, God-fearing mama of the sort that has always been found in the American west. She’s the perfect counterpoint to Obama, who offends a lot of conservatives by his cosmopolitan novelty. We’ve never had a leader like him before. But we’ve always had Sarah Palins, in small towns and even in urban neighborhoods. Palin’s forebears are the women in the past who seemed to easily embrace both their traditional femininity and the trappings of masculine power. Think Deborah in the bible, or Annie Oakley. What makes Palin different is that she has something truly modern – an alpha male husband who seems content to remain in her shadow and take the lead on caring for their children.
LN: Do you think that basically pisses off the women who have found out how hard it is to live a double shift? Because I have a great husband. But I have no delusions of power beyond my capability. And my husband would call me out on it if I did. In part because he respects me, in part because he protects me. Maybe that is what pisses off many women about Mrs. Palin: That Mr. Palin didn’t do his duty as a loving partner and say, “You’re not qualified to be the leader of the Western World.”
HUGO: I think that puts an awful lot on Todd. He clearly believes in her, as many people do. And I think it would piss off far more women if Sarah had said, “Yeah, Todd burst my bubble and made it clear I wasn’t qualified.” More women have suffered because their wings were clipped by jealous and controlling jerks than have suffered because they were unduly flattered by adoring spouses.
LN: This piece in Salon included the following quote from famous feminist Camille Paglia about Palin:
“When I watch Sarah Palin, I don't think sex — I think Amazon warrior! I admire her competitive spirit and her exuberant vitality, which borders on the supernormal. The question that keeps popping up for me is whether Palin, who was born in Idaho, could possibly be part Native American (as we know her husband is), which sometimes seems suggested by her strong facial contours. I have felt that same extraordinary energy and hyper-alertness billowing out from other women with Native American ancestry….”
Yet when I hear the word “billowing” about Sarah Palin, I can only think of one thing. And that is the trail of billowing scarves she left behind her after her alleged pregnancy with Trig Palin. Talk me down, Hugo. Tell me this wasn’t the greatest political hoax ever perpetuated on the American public.
HUGO: I’m not going to comment on whether the hoax is true. I come from the “trust women” school of feminism, after all. But if she did pretend that her daughter’s baby was hers, she did something that would be entirely in keeping with her faith and her frontier ethos. This isn’t new. A hell of a lot of children have grown up being told that their mothers were their older sisters, and that their biological grandmothers were their moms.
I remember during the Clinton impeachment scandal feeling very disappointed in the president, both for what he’d done with Monica Lewinsky (which struck me as an abuse of power) and for the way he’d then treated both Lewinsky and his own wife Hillary, to whom he repeatedly lied. But as an historian and a feminist, I never for a moment believed he deserved impeachment. I never bought the ridiculous notion that someone who will lie about one thing will lie about anything.
When it comes to sex, we’re all somewhat dishonest. We don’t have the vocabulary, most of us, to take the truth about our messy private lives into public spaces. Even if we want to tell our stories, our fears and our shame and our concern for others lead us to be less than forthcoming. And if Sarah Palin did pull off an elaborate hoax, I’m not sure that speaks to her essential truthfulness as a politician. When it comes to sex (our own and our children’s), we lie when we’d tell the truth about anything else.
Honestly, when I first heard the story of the hoax, I thought it was put out by her supporters to burnish her reputation. It would indicate how fiercely she protected her family; it would burnish her grizzly mama reputation.
LN: Fascinating: her supporters rather than her detractors. I had never thought of that. And yet it’s her supporters who love the ongoing controversy over what is widely called “Babygate” because they believe it now burnishes her reputation as a “victim.” Is this now the feminist dialetic redux: Palin-the-politician as heroine versus Palin-the-mother as victim?
HUGO: Absolutely. And this is part of a larger trend in American politics – the quick claims of victimization are a perversion of feminist politics. It’s used to silence criticism of the powerful instead of protecting the vulnerable. I find that tiresome.
LN: Earlier you spoke to Palin’s smarts. You know, when I think of smart, I think of a person like you who graduated from U.C. Berkeley and then went on to earn an MA and PhD from UCLA. That’s smart, Hugo. And what Mrs. Palin is, in the words of another Barnard alumna, Martha Stewart, is “confused.” Her disordered thinking. Her disorganized speech patterns. This would be alarming from any leader. Why does she have a “Get Out Of Stupid” card and other politicians don’t?
HUGO: Well, Americans have a long fascination with politicians who don’t have much book-learnin’. Andrew Jackson ran against John Quincy Adams and boasted he was a “ploughman” and the latter was a “professor.” Palin is part of a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in our politics, in which home-spun wisdom (usually involving fecundity and firearms) is seen as superior to formal education. It’s an old “get out of stupid” card – she’s just the first major female politician to play it so deftly.
LN: I have covered Hillary Clinton on her husband’s campaign trail. I know she’s not svelt. She knows she’s not svelt. And that shouldn’t matter. Yet it does when you have the most ardent feminists lambasting the woman’s figure. Excuse me? Is that what women fought for? Because that’s not what I remember while coming of age during the women’s movement and reading Ms. Magazine in my dorm room. How far have we devolved here?
HUGO: No question, we’re still too fascinated with the bodies of women politicians. And that’s what bugs me about the whole Palin pregnancy thing. Whether it’s the cleavage or the tummy or the hair, we’re too damn obsessed with the sexuality, the reproductivity, and the size and shape of women politicians’ bodies. What we are still fighting for is not for a world where beauty doesn’t matter, but where the allure of the figure matters less than the content of the character (to borrow from MLK.)
LN: I believe that from the moment of conception, two primal forces overtake us: The love for and protection of, our children. That expands beyond their physical well-being. It includes holding dear their dignity and supporting their integrity. I don’t believe that allowing rumors to fester about your child’s maternity or birth to be noble. In fact, it’s diametrically opposed to my idea of the core value of motherhood. And what I see from Mrs. Palin is that any and all controversy can be good, as long as it lines her pockets, inflates her ego, and enhances her victimhood.
HUGO: I’m not defending Palin. But there’s a long tradition of what we call the “good mother discourse” that I find troubling here. You know, it’s when folks say “A good mother would” or “A good mother wouldn’t…” I really don’t like that. It’s part of policing women. And mothers in particular are trained to turn on other mothers. We call it the “mommy wars”, and it’s as old as feminism.
LN: You’re a father Hugo. Would you allow anyone to question the circumstances of your daughter’s birth. Would you have shown her birth certificate and quelled the controversy in 2008? Or would you fan the flames and keep your eye on 2012?
HUGO: Well, yeah. I would have. But then again, I’d have released the long form birth certificate if I were Obama. Look, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
LN: Define your terms here. Because Obama did release an initial document of live birth. Mrs. Palin has lied about releasing any proof of her son’s parentage. I suspect you’ll argue that one was running for president, the other was wearing a diaper. But Trig’s assumed mother aspires to be POTUS and it irks me that the mother hood badge that she wears as a qualification for higher office is deeply debated in all walks of life. I want closure on this.
HUGO: I’m not here to defend Sarah Palin’s choices. But I do think that bringing such scrutiny to the reproductive decisions of any famous woman is a huge problem. What we’re saying to any woman of childbearing years is “forget about the political process unless you want the world second-guessing and judging every one of your most intimate decisions.” We have to demand greater accountability from politicians in their public lives – and give them more freedom from scrutiny in their private worlds. I’m anti-Palin because I find her politics abhorrent. But not because of how many children she had, or because of what those children did or didn’t do. She’s clearly a mom, even if you continue to challenge her motherhood of Trig.
If someone asked me for my daughter’s birth certificate, I’d tell ‘em where they could go. Not because I have anything to hide. But because they have no fundamental right to know.
LN: Well, Hugo, it has been my fundamental privilege talking with you for my blog. And I am thrilled to know that you will be checking in on comments and will gladly discuss these issues with readers while I take a few days to get some other things done. School is ending soon, and with it some work I have there. And I’ve got a huge rewrite due for two fabulous Bay Area police detectives who I am working with on their first thriller.
Folks, dive in here and talk to Hugo. He is a fabulous teacher and sparring partner! Hugo also blogs at his eponymous website and at the Good Men Project and at Sir Richard's Condom Company.