Outside the academy, not too many people would usually be aware of a dust up among Anglo-Saxonists. Many junior scholars in the field, myself included, were only made aware through the slow trickle of social media. But now one such dustup has begun to take on a bit more of an audience than perhaps anticipated.
Several months ago, recently-retired professor of Anglo-Saxon Literature Allen Frantzen put up a series of blog posts on his personal/professional website. His website, which contains his CV and other scholarly material, would suggest the leveraging of his fairly weighty reputation as a scholar in support of the other ideas on his blog.
The material that has gained so much attention is a series of selections from his current book project, which he titles The Boxer’s Kiss: Men, Masculinity, and Femfog. The book, from the excerpts I could stomach, seems to be primarily about two things: affirming the right of men to be masculine and calling on men to de-feminize because it is their duty to be masculine.
What counts as masculine, for Frantzen, seems by and large to be a particularly essentialist version hinging on a love of combat sports, nationalism, and competition. Frantzen calls upon men to exercise masculinity publicly and constantly, because it is failing at masculinity to not at least try to be the most manly man around.
To men, Frantzen says “Grab Your Balls.” No, seriously.
Like boxers, masculine men have to compete. We have to dig in and make our best effort. We should enjoy our successes, but we can never take them to the bank. There is always tomorrow, next week, next month: we need to be ready for it. As one of my first coaches told me at every session: Gloves up, chin down.
Or, as I put it every day, in three words: Grab your balls. Hereafter, GYB. These letters can also stand for “got your back,” but—in life—a man can have your back only if you have your balls, which is to say only if your life and your manhood are in your hands, not those of your wife or husband or girlfriend(s) or boyfriend(s).
The aim is not just GYB in general. The readings listed on the right are short essays about various man-related topics. Each outlines two or three recommended steps to help you express the views and take the actions of a just, honest, and masculine man in the face of the organized, systematic, and inescapable feminism of American culture. We are outnumbered and outgunned, but that does not mean we are on the defensive or in retreat.
This is particularly alarming, given that Frantzen is particularly well-regarded in the field for helping pave the way for greater acceptance of approaches including feminist studies, queer studies, and more. Frantzen’s most famous works are heavily involved in queer studies, and naturally owe a great debt to the feminist theorists who paved the way for queer studies to take shape. As Peter Buchanan over at Phenomenal Anglo-Saxonists puts it, “It is distressing for young, theory-savvy Anglo-Saxonists to see Allen Frantzen behaving like a reactionary crank because we are conscious of the fact that our field has room for us because Frantzen was one of the people who fought for our place in the field in the 90s.” Frantzen’s ball-centric, anti-feminist rhetoric here comes as a blow because it feels unexpected.
While Frantzen suggests grabbing your balls, he does not intend for men to then go home (or their own way, which would be too much of a mercy to bestow upon the world). Rather, he believes he has the key to refuting feminism entirely and breaking men everywhere free of its fog: data and facts.
With data and facts, Frantzen believes, men can shut down feminist arguments by bringing up the idea of disposable men - never granting that perhaps that is actually a wrong feminists might want to right. No, Frantzen presupposes the answer he believes feminists will give, because he’s convinced himself that feminism is antithetical to men:
Ask the feminist what he or she thinks of the idea of “disposable men.” Does she know how many men died building the Panama Canal (75,000) or the Brooklyn Bridge (25,000)? About 6700 people have died in the war on terror since 2001; 161 of them were women. That’s about 2.5%. Does she think that’s a fair distribution of the burden of protecting the country? Does she see a fair distribution of combat deaths (50/50) a goal for feminism? Why not?
He also seems painfully unaware of the fact that feminists are very aware of how patriarchy negatively impacts men as well. Of course, in Frantzen’s view, patriarchy is only a small group of powerful men rather than systemic forces that continually perpetuate through people at all levels of society. And, of course, Frantzen believes that men are the most harmed by the patriarchs. His understanding of the world is marvelously lacking in intersectionality. He also has a curious inability to spell president Barack Obama’s name correctly.
Enough reading of the tripe. The above was primarily to establish what it is that has so rocked the boat of the Anglo-Saxonist community. Allen Frantzen, scholar and advocate for post-structuralist theoretical engagement with the early Middle Ages, revealed himself to be more than a little bit of an MRA. Indeed, there are passages which directly cite the common Matrix reference MRAs love about the red and blue pills. He’s a big MRA.
And that has drawn up the attention of many feminist scholars in the field. Numerous posts have gone up responding to this once it circulated through the various listservs and professional and social networks. Lavinia Collins excoriates Frantzen, boiling him down to the core of his argument: you don’t need to be feminist to get sex with women, so being a feminist is unnecessary (a rather odd argument for a gay man to make, too, considering sex with women is presumably not something that figures into his personal expression of masculinity).
The fact that it is all about sex is but the root of the problem with the writing, but there’s more that righly raises eyebrows and skepticism about Frantzen. Collins says:
But here’s the kicker; in the eternal words of the parent, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. How many female PhD students has he supervised? Interviewed for jobs? Listened to their papers? Accepted them onto courses, into conferences? Knowing that all the while, this respected man who has had so much to contribute to the world of scholarship has never viewed women as capable of the same contribution is immensely sad.
Indeed. When a man’s view of masculinity necessarily requires a rejection, abjectification, and objectification of the feminine, it raises serious questions about the man’s ability to provide fair reviews of women’s works (feminist or not), positive mentorship to women and feminist scholars, and to conduct himself properly in an interview for a woman or feminist scholar seeking a job.
At The Syllabub, the conclusion is clear: ridicule is all that Frantzen’s views merit. Over at In the Medieval Middle, Jonathan Hsy notes some lessons we can learn from Frantzen’s downfall to make the field a better, more humane place. Dorothy Kim pivots to consider ways in which the field fails to foster an intersectional medieval studies, noting the exceptionally white feminist blogging of medieval historian Rachel Fulton Brown, concluding rightly that if your medievalism isn’t intersectional it’s bullshit. J.J. Cohen points out that in 1994 Frantzen was the one who called out established medievalist J.R. Hall for using the term fem-fog, and calls Frantzen an “embarrassment to the field.”
It was only a matter of time before this got the attention of the world outside the field. The Chronicle of Higher Education did an article on it. Meanwhile, feminist medievalists have taken to twitter with the hashtag #femfog, having a little fun at the expense of Frantzen and his idiocy.
Of course, with the attention of the Chronicle and the twitter hashtags comes greater exposure and subsequently scholars are noticing that Gamergaters are taking notice. They’ve started to flood Twitter with tweets reappropriating the hashtag and using it unironically, most often linking to tweets with the hashtag #FeminismisCancer. It’s interesting, I think, that a group who formed ostensibly around the rallying cry of “ethics in gaming journalism” and not misogyny have found themselves interested in something that absolutely is not about gaming journalism but is definitely about misogyny. As if we needed any more evidence that it was always about the women, and not about the journalism.
Interestingly, one of their most persistent strains of attack is that feminists must be attacking Frantzen because he’s gay. This is, of course, the laughable level at which the Gamergater mind operates. It is unable to comprehend actual engagement with an argument, instead creating a straw man in the form of an ad hominem attack to vanquish instead. Nobody is calling Frantzen a misogynist because he’s gay. We’re calling him a misogynist because his writings gleefully admit it to the world.
Others think feminists are out to ruin his career. This seems silly, considering the man is retired. Everything the trolls post seems silly, of course, up until the moment it sinks in that they truly feel it. Then it becomes depressing.
The cat’s out of the bag now, though, and some of the dirty laundry of the Anglo-Saxonist scholarly community is being aired out for all to see. Some are rightfully upset that we’ve done a poor job of cleaning up our own house, and are calling for a redoubled effort to make things more liveable. Others, including some who live outside the house, are wondering if they might need to call the Grad Student Protective Services to save the poor graduate students from getting too much exposure to toxic masculinity.
And then there are the denizens of some basement somewhere, who were attracted like flies to stink, and think the grime should be multiplied and are doing their fantastically stupid best to try and support a man who thinks that supporting other men rather than competing with them is unmanly. Frantzen would probably call them betas, because he unironically uses that kind of language, and suddenly we’re back to the problem. Frantzen is a misogynist, and his exposure both tarnishes the field and reminds us that we need to keep working to make it better.
Edited to fix the empty links.