Saturday, January 16, 2016

On calling out misogyny

by J J Cohen

Medievalists and non-medievalists alike have been reacting strongly and with passion to the revelation via social media (Twitter and FB) that a senior scholar whose work is highly regarded maintains a website full of anti-feminist vitriol and appallingly misogynist assertions. You can read the website yourself by following this link (I have used the Do Not Link version, so that it will not increase traffic to the website).

What is written on these webpages is appalling. My initial reaction was this declaration on Twitter, but that was not enough. On Facebook I wrote:
"Let's call it the femfog for short, the sour mix of victimization and privilege that makes up modern feminism and that feminists use to intimidate and exploit men ... I refer to men who are shrouded in this fog as FUMs, fogged up men. I think they are also fucked up, but let’s settle for the more analytical term. These may might not be feminists but as they wander through the mist of politics and polemic about women, they feel like they should be feminists. They think feminism is good for everybody and they want to be nice to women ... My aim in this RP essay is to help you clear the fog of feminist propaganda. Grab your balls (GYB) and be the man you want to be." 
Yes, these words come from medievalist Allen J. Frantzen, who now seems to have reinvented himself as an enthusiastic trafficker in misogyny. Maybe it's the femfog I'm shrouded in speaking, but the problem is not feminism (of which we have far too little, rather than too much). The problem is people like Frantzen, who in the guise of reason market hatred. I'm appalled by what he has written. 
As to a "the sour mix of victimization and privilege": physician, heal thyself.
But that still was not enough. Many people were surprised that Frantzen would say such things, and some asked if he is ill, or told stories of him being nice to them. Others pointed out that such feelings were continuous with behaviors they had observed or been at the receiving end of.

I suppose I can kind of get the surprise. In 1994 Frantzen called out J. R. Hall for having used the description "fem-fog" to dismiss the scholarship of Gillian Overing, and now here he was using the same term to dismiss all women living and dead. Many of us are great admirers of his book Desire for Origins, and it is tough to have rethink that relation now in light of his enthusiastic misogyny.

Even as I write an email arrived telling me that I am being "extremely unprofessional" for condemning this writing. I actually think, though, that it is my obligation to condemn publicly misogyny and other forms forms of hate from any scholar in my field. Here's what I wrote on Facebook, and I share it here because I don't want it only in that small media circle. I believe this. I try to live it.

Regarding the energetic social media activity yesterday around the news that Allen Frantzen, a respected medievalist, has published a carefully crafted and hate-filled website that deplores feminism and is hostile to both women and men who believe in equality and refuse to continue a long, invidious history of denigration and violence: I am happy the social media discussion happened, heated as it has been. The issue merits heat.
We should be cautious about public shaming and bandwagonning, of course, but if you as a senior and respected member of my field of study are going to fill a website with hatred against women and inveigh against feminism -- the very movement that has made the field as I know and love it possible -- and if you are going to directly link your website full of verbal violence against women to a list of your scholarship that makes it clear that these are not two separate things, but that you are relying on the cachet of the latter to make the former seem learned or compelling, well then you deserve to be shamed publicly, because you are an embarrassment to the field. Outrage against misogyny is never a bandwagon (as if condemning vitriol against women is ever a quick fad, or fashionable, or lacking in thought!). Yes, it makes us uncomfortable to have to speak not only of the ickiness of scholars and perhaps scholarship we have previously valued. What's even worse is that what has unfolded is a symptom of a much larger problem. Not condemning it, loudly, allows that problem to continue.
Unapologetic misogyny represents a way of being a scholar too long excused and even normalized in the academy. If you read the social media discussion with attention you might have noticed the number of women who were not at all surprised by the news that a senior scholar would be so anti-feminist: they have too many battle scars to be surprised any more. What Frantzen published online and what many others say and do that aligns with his call to eradicate feminism is toxic to everyone, but especially to young female scholars who are that field's best future. They are the ones we need to make room for, and if it means loudly and publicly condemning misogyny and antifeminism whenever it erupts, sign me up for every departing bandwagon.

UPDATE January 21
The Chronicle of Higher Education is doing a piec on #femfog and I spoke at some length with their reporter by telephone, urging him to get the story from women within OE/AS studies. I also sent this note to him as a follow up:
Thanks for looking into all of this. And I just want to re-emphasize that the reason some of us pointed out and condemned Allen Frantzen's misogynistic website is because we want a different future for the field from the one he and some like him would bestow. Yes we could have let the site pass in silence, and perhaps only a few people would have noticed it, but many of us believe that this kind of hatred has no place in medieval studies or anywhere else in the academy -- and that it is not OK to let it pass in silence. We are dedicated to a more inclusive field where feminism (and critical race studies, and queer theory) can flourish, and where no one gets harassed, preyed upon or discriminated against. No one. That's why #femfog -- with its anger mixed with mockery, much of it propelled by young women just entering the field (the memes they created were hilarious, and cutting) -- became a phenomenon so rapidly. Some senior scholars spoke out because they felt it was their obligation. They were outnumbered by the grad students and young PhDs who spoke out because they are actively making that better future -- with creativity, justice and aplomb. It's very important to me that any story you write note that!


D Hadbawnik said...

Thank you, Jeffrey. Thinking about this in relation to a twitter convo the other day with David Perry inre. "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick. Which is about alternate realities, and how they exist AS realities, haunting our own. So just because "we" win a war doesn't mean "they" go away. That reality -- that poison, that fascism, that horror -- continues to run alongside ours, seeping in, distorting, threatening to take over. The firestorm that swept over the world of American poetry last summer and fall, in which a number of prominent poets were called out on social media for misogyny, sexual harassment, and racism, is now beginning to flicker in the realm of medieval studies. And it should give everyone pause. It's truly depressing and disheartening to think about, especially given that many outside that realm think of medieval studies as a retrograde field. All the more important to be vocal and decisive in condemning and calling out Frantzen, and urging the field, all of us, to be better...

Unknown said...

Thank you for this! I do not want to be part of a profession that sees a problem with calling this out.

Unknown said...

Thank your for this. I do not want to be part of a profession that does not call this writing behaviour out!

Anonymous said...

Hi, long time fan and reader of this blog. I am a grad student from UK, finishing up dissertation in medieval literature. It is really surreal to have a well-thumbed copy of 'Desire for Origins' on my bookshelf then find out that the author Franzen has load of RP stuff on his website. Apart from anything else, does he know that he links to a self-professed rapist, Roosh V? Roosh wrote what amounts to a 'how to rape manual' for men visiting Europe. And also Franzen links to Roosh's 'game' (gag) website, Return of the Kings. I won't link to directly as it is crazy white supremacist BS on how women are inherently evil, and also how brown people and TEH JEWS will kill us all. Oh and how rape can be solved by making it legal. Checkmate, feminists! Seriously though, how can any sane, educated, tenured, professor person even associate themselves with this?


Weirdly, rape apologia and hatred of Jews/non whites seems to go hand in hand:

Franzen links to this crap on his website in his 'total bro section':

I can't get over this. I've grown up in an internet / media saturated culture and RP stuff is increasingly pervasive but most people recognise it as insane and horrible and actually kind of laughable in how illogical it is. Very surreal to see such an eminent and established medieval prof go off the deep end with this stuff. I feel sad about it.

BRB kicking Desire for Origins down the stairs

Not Making Up said...

Thank you for this. I am in another (academic) field and so happened upon this in a roundabout way. I wonder whether age (I do not know his age) and increasing disinhibition could be contributing to this volatility and unhingedness?

No one needs me to point out that the content of his speech would constitute sexual harassment/discrimination on campus: "grab your balls"?!

In re: those battle scars, I was slow to notice mine, but this does not really surprise me either. The behavior I see is usually somewhat more covert — not all that covert, though — but the aggression, disparagement, and negative projection are all too familiar. The juvenility, vindictiveness, and above all the assumption that one can populate the table according to one's personal whim is palpable.

Now, what to do about the "respected faculty" who act this way and just hide it better? And about the institutions that support this and whitewash it and force women to choose between being a handmaiden of the patriarchy or being forced out?

A.W. Strouse said...

Frantzen links to Roosh in order to criticize Roosh. Frantzen says explicitly of Roosh, "None of this looks encouraging to me."

The conflation of Frantzen with Roosh is fallacious and excessive. It serves as an example of the kind of excess that has produced this new strain of virulent anti-feminism.

medievalkarl said...

To put it mildly, I think it's strange to blame feminist arguments, even mistaken feminist arguments, for the misogyny of Frantzen or others.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Wow: to say a "kind of excess" among those who speak against misogyny is responsible for ("has produced") what you call "this new strain of virulent anti-feminism" (is it really that new??) is the most bizarre kind of victim blaming, A. W. Strouse.

A.W. Strouse said...

The anonymous poster claimed that Frantzen "associated himself" with someone who "wrote a rape manual" and who rapidly hates Jews. These statements are flatly untrue, and in ignoring the facts they give credence to Frantzen's view that feminism has become dogmatic.

Karl: Feminism aside, mistaken arguments usually enable the opposing side, no?

medievalkarl said...

"produce" is a pretty distinct verb from "enable" - but the larger point is that Frantzen's MRA page is of a piece both with the larger MRA movement (including its "red pill" "blue pill" vocab) and with a much longer history of misogyny. No local argumentative mistake is going to do much to speed that misogyny on its way; it's been doing its garbage thing for ages.

The appalling thing about Frantzen's page is how it squanders his scholarly reputation. His other reputation has been, of course, bad, but at least he was upheld as someone who had the scholarly chops to command respond. But any MRA knucklehead could have written his MRA blog. That's just pathetic.

medievalkarl said...

*command respect

A.W. Strouse said...

The "red pill" vocab really is unbecoming! said...

I've always found Alan Frantzen to be interesting, and I think "hate-filled" is a bit over the top for describing a passionate disagreement in a central argument in the field. Sorry, Jeffrey: lower your own tone, and we can discuss this fairly rationally (OK, not completely rationally -- we're human beings, and that means we do have our own acquired biases and objections to what other people love -- or claim to love, because it makes them look good...( see how I can use innuendo too?)

So: Back off and let me read the thing, the whole thing, and nothing but the thing. I'll get back to your public statement later (I was about to call it your "public rabble-rousing, but there I'd go, adding fuel to the fire) -- John ( -- I couldn't figure out the elaborate means-to-respond below).

Unknown said...

Was my comment obliterated coz I could not follow your ID methodology...?

OK: Back off Alan Frantzen until we've all read his article, in full. Excerpting it and calling it "hate-filled" is not a scholarly, objective approach to what he has said or is alleged to have said. After I've read the thing, the whole thing, and nothing but the thing, I'll respond. Responding now is premature. OK? -- John McLaughlin ( Website: www;; Blog: (I think that's correct -- check me, if you want to).

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Hi John, I will not back down on condemning Allen Frantzen's anti-feminism. Perhaps his book will offer a more nuanced take on the dangers of feminism than his website does; I don't really care. The website is quite detailed and offers all the evidence I needed to come to the conclusions I offered in this post.

I cannot speak for others. All I can say is that I find what he has written to be hate filled. I fully stand by what I posted here.

medievalkarl said...

Hi men - apparently some of you are stopping by to try to leave a comment that aims to argue us out of feminism. Don't bother.

Anonymous said...

You know what? On further reflection, I regret leaving that post above. I now realize that my calling feminists 'feminazis' and citing the work of a critical theorist whose last well known work dates from 27 years ago is as clear a sign as any that I have nothing to offer these conversations. I will now dedicate my life to getting up to speed on three decades of feminist criticism instead of making an ass of myself by leaving comments like the above.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be commenting so late to this conversation.

This issue leaves me torn. Frantzen's "red pill" alt-rightesque essays are definitely hateful. But what is the correct response to someone with such views? Imagine if it were not a retired scholar writing such stuff, but a young one. Does one exclude them from speaking (non-platform)? Can this information be used against them on hiring committees? Unless someone is actively charged with criminal behaviour, such as contravening hate-speech laws in the UK, such strategies would have their own dangers and unintended consequences. As much as Frantzen's writings are hateful, I doubt that they would breech such laws. Therefore there does not seem much other option for an open society than to allow such persons airspace within the academy. The alternative would opens the door to allow discrimination by political affiliation or viewpoint, and that is worse road to go down.

But this least-worst option brings with it a real challenge, and possibly an opportunity. Frantzen's writing is divisive because of how it characterises feminism as seeking matriachal control over public life, rather than a movement seeking to address gendered discriminations that negatively impacts everyone (men, women, and others). If one read Dale Beran's recent essay on 4chan and its users, an essay which maps how misogyny in the US is tied to the unemployment and the disenchanted of young men, then one realises that such hateful views will currently find a lot of airtime, even among highly educated college students. Therefore, to confront and debate people like Frantzen on feminist terms would not be to assert, as they would wish, that the do not understand feminism; it would be to assert that the answers they give to men who feel they cannot fulfil American ideals of masculinity are misguided. In other words, in order for young men not to fall for the false aspirations of Frantzen, or more recently Milo Yiannopoulos, feminists needs to empathise with and speak to the huge population of young men in America who feel they have a personal crises with their masculinity, and who ended up voting Trump. And we need to find ways to speak to them in a language they would understand.

Rant over. Apologies if it was too long. Dale Beran's essay is here:

Andrew Murray
Portsmouth, Uk.