Saturday 16 January 2016

Laughing at Misogyny

 So. Allen Frantzen. Already, medievalists are responding with fantastic pieces. Peter Buchanan summarises how disheartening this is for new scholars in the field. Lavinia Collins highlights that - like most MRA rhetoric - the post fundamentally boils down gender relations to whether women are willing to offer men sex. Jeffrey Cohen has noted that in using his cachet as an academic to support his rhetoric, Frantzen is doing something that should worry all of us.

And me? Well, I'm sat here, dipping into the #femfog tweets and laughing. I'm aware that it's easier for me to do this because I'm a late medievalist. Sure, I've read Before the Closet, but my work and research isn't directly indebted to Frantzen's work. I won't run into him at conferences, or interact with him professionally.

But also, I'm laughing because 10+ years of being a feminist on the internet means that my first instinct when encountering this sort of rhetoric isn't always to jump in and debate. Sometimes, I do debate. Sometimes - depending on the situation - I get off twitter and do something about the issue. But not in this case.
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, in certain situations, laughter and mockery are powerful tools. They aren't a substitute for rational debate, or engaged discussion. But they send a powerful message. More than just 'I don't agree with what you think and here are my reasons why,' mockery says something more than this: 'I find your opinions unworthy of academic debate.' 

Historically, the question of whether people agree or disagree would have taken place privately, quietly. This means rhetoric like Frantzen's could be excused, or diminished. Opposition could be dismissed as one person with a personal grudge. But, with such public disagreement, it's clear that this view is not widely-held, and that it's contested.

Secondly, I don't think reasoning is the right approach here because these views are too entrenched. Frantzen has had a long, distinguished career which has brought him into contact with women. He's worked alongside women. He's taught women; he's supervised women's PhDs. He's accepted women's conference papers and heard them speak. In short, he has had a long time, and many examples of women, which might counteract his views. And yet these views persist.
Finally, I want to return to this point: views like this aren't held in a vacuum. Academia is part of society, and society is structurally sexist. Which means most of us are going to come up against the misogyny in our careers in lots of horrible and awful ways. I don't have enough resources (emotional or mental) to engage with every incident of misogyny with the same vehement refusal, argument and debate.
So, alongside debate, we have mockery. And each person who contributes to the  #femfog (whether with a joke, a meme, or with condemnation) is signalling that Frantzen's rhetoric is not part of the future of the academy.

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