TWs: sexual assault, suicide, abuse, mental illness
Our generation has more access to technology than ever before and the Internet has begun to change the way we engage with others and form relationships. Anyone need only watch a show like MTV’s “CatFish” to be aware of how inauthentic these types of bonds can be. There’s a disconnect; it’s nearly impossible to know with absolute certainty that a person is who they say they are when your only access to them is through a screen.
But this fact is never highlighted more than when an online community is shaken by the realization that a prominent figure among them isn’t what they seem. This was the case recently when self-proclaimed feminist Josh Macedo of relative Tumblr fame was accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment, including incidences with underage girls.
The response to the accusations was immediate and powerful, posts spreading rapidly until it was nearly all the Tumblr community was talking about. Several blogs dedicated to amassing details and evidence even sprang up in an attempt to keep people aware and information archived. More than anything, the Internet essentially – and rightfully – condemned Macedo for the harassment, taking as much a stand as is really possible from a distance online against those still supporting him and blaming his victims.
What is almost as infuriating as the incident itself is Macedo’s lack of response, especially when considering how vocal he was known to be on social justice issues. After almost a week of complete silence, he effectively removed himself from the situation entirely, deleting his Twitter and whiting out his blog, leaving only a note to ‘stay sweet’ and an advertisement. That’s right, he found a way to benefit from the situation by making revenue off of every curious blogger looking to see what he had to say about the accusations.
But now rumors have surfaced that Macedo has supposedly been hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and intentions. It’s interesting that he did not seek the explicit consent of these girls when harassing them both verbally and with nude images, but that the ramifications of these actions should affect him so deeply. This has only encouraged the notion among some supporters that his victims are to blame in this situation for ‘ruining his life.’
A month and a half ago, another famous Internet personality, writer, and acclaimed professor Hugo Schwyzer “left the internet for good” for mental health reasons, apparently. What followed was a Twitter breakdown to the extreme where Schwyzer, after seeing the responses to his departure from the feminist blogging sphere, admitted to being a fraud.
In the events surrounding Schwyzer’s breakdown, he said that he only sexually assaulted a partner, coerced students into sleeping with him, tried to murder a woman, and alienated WOCs because he was mentally ill.
While mental illness and gender based violence are often connected and discussed – we don’t talk about the connect between abusers and the “insanity plea”. We have a tendency to sensationalize violence against women and re-frame the conversation around the lives of the men who are the perpetrators of violence. In cases like the two above, it’s not that different.
After Schwyzer’s very public breakdown, he did an interview with The Daily Beast (under their “Sexy Beast” section, at that). The interview does not actually focus on any of the things he admitted to doing – instead it focuses on his mental illness, as if that lets him off the hook for the abuse he served.
Very few people have pushed Schwyzer to comment on his behavior. When he does, it’s almost always followed with some form of “I was manic/I am ill”. He then goes on to blame the people who demand he be held accountable (most often, WOC feminists on Twitter) for his mental distress.
Macedo and Schwyzer are cut from the same cloth: they’re men in positions of power (fame) that allow them to get what they want from whoever they want and when they’re confronted with the reality of their actions, it becomes about them. We romanticize mental illness, often enough finding it attractive (or believing that mental illness makes us attractive), and by doing so, excusing behavior that should never ever be excused.
When we stop talking about the abuse, we continue a culture of ignoring rape and abuse. It is because of this that most rapes go unreported. When the limelight is off of an issue, the issue often times no longer exists in the eyes of the general public.
Not only that, but by excusing abuse with mental illness, men like Schwyzer and Macedo encourage the notion that mental illness is a viable excuse for abuse – the idea that they had no control over their actions is absurd. Encouraging the idea that people who live with mental illness have zero autonomy is bad for two reasons: one, mental illness is not ever an excuse for abuse; two, it enforces the notion that people with mental illness cannot function in “the real world”.
If 1 in 4 people live with a diagnosable mental disorder, then 1 in 4 people deal with mental illness on a daily basis. That means for every four fully-functioning people you meet, at least one is living with a mental illness. By using “mental illness” as an excuse for abuse, men like Schwyzer and Macedo continue to enforce a belief that mentally ill people are not “normal”. And that’s a load of bullshit.