the unbelievable anti-meninism of today’s elite literary scholars

The young scholar Douglas Robinson wrote about how much Lois Banner’s Presidential Address at the 1987 American Studies Association Convention in New York hurt him. A leading feminist, Professor Banner declared that “men’s studies” is unnecessary and that everyone must be a feminist:

“I think it is time for all of us to use the term ‘feminist’,” Banner said. “This term encompasses the rest: thus we have the feminist study of women, of men, and of gender.” [1]

Might different approaches to literature now be acceptable, particularly given current emphasis on diversity and inclusion?

In recent years purple motes has pioneered meninist literary criticism. As a contribution to that literary project, on October 24, 2021, I posted on purple motes the article “tales of Jereslaus’s wife & Jonathas in Hoccleve’s subversive Series.” That day I sent out the following email to authors whom I had cited:

Dear Professors Larsen, Nuttall, Sobecki, Stavsky, Varnam, and Vines,

Thanks for your work (which I’ve cited) on Hoccleve. You might find interesting my meninist perspective on Hoccleve’s Series. See:

(plain url) https://www.purplemotes.net/2021/10/24/jonathas-hoccleve-series/

I would welcome any comments, corrections, etc. that you might offer.

Sincerely,

Douglas Galbi

Typically I get no response whatsoever from such emails. But this time a little over an hour after I sent that email, I received a response, copied to all the other recipients, from Sebastian Sobecki, Professor of Medieval English Literature and Culture, and Chair of the Cluster Board for Culture, Language, Literature, and Politics at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands:

Dear Mr Galbi,

Your cobbled together summaries of The Tales of Jonathas and Jereslaus’ Wife are held together by vile, shallow, and factually wrong misogyny.

Please do not contact me ever again.

Sebastian Sobecki [2]

Calling what I wrote vile and shallow seem to me mean-spirited and unfair. As for “factually wrong misogyny,” that’s a bizarre phrase. Misogyny, like misandry, seems to me to be a morally feeble orientation: “only hating.” That’s certainly not the orientation of my lengthy post on Hoccleve’s fiftheenth-century Series. Moreover, if someone points out that I’ve gotten a fact wrong, I’ll correct it. Only a bad teacher would tell a student that she’s factually wrong and not even bother to say what fact is allegedly wrong. What student would want to have a professor who would send an email like the one above?

My astonishment at the hostile environment men students might encounter increased when a few hours later I received the following email from Professor Amy N. Vines of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro:

I second Prof. Sobecki’s sentiments. Please bug off.

She also copied that email to all the recipients. How could any professor believe that such a puerile piling-on to a vicious email response would be to her credit? Is medieval studies a field in which affiliating with even appalling professorial behavior by a high-status professor raises one’s own status?

Dr. Jonathan Stavsky, Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and American Studies at Tel Aviv University, then added a thoughtful response to the group email. While Dr. Stavsky’s response included some questioning of my moral worth as a man and whether anyone likes me, he addressed a minor criticism I made of his scholarly article in my original post. He also put forward as his ideal the thought and writing of the medieval author Christine de Pizan.

Here’s my response to Jonathan Stavsky. I also copied it to the group, but excluding Professors Sobecki and Vines in accordance with their requests.

Thank you for your thoughtful response. It reflects better on academia than do peevish, puerile responses.

Meninist literary criticism focuses on the lived experiences of men and the social injustices that men endure. Among other matters, meninist criticism recognizes men’s fear of offending women. I think that’s a real concern to Hoccleve and to men scholars today. You yourself ended your first two paragraphs by flagging your concern for women: “…a detrimental effect on them {women}” and “…seldom works in women’s favor in the period in question.”

In offering an ideal of heterosexual relations, you approvingly quoted Christine de Pizan categorically declaring that men who blame women get only blame in response.[3] That’s discursive oppression of men. Men should be honored and esteemed for blaming women when women deserve blame.

In analyzing the Tale of Jonathas, you wrote of Jonathas growing up. You related men’s lack of confidence in their gender identity to bad behavior, which should also include undue passivity, lack of appropriate self-esteem, and misandry. You also suggested that I need to grow up, at least so the sort of women and men that you know will like me.

If it’s not apparent in what I write and how I write, I have confidence that I’m a mature man. I’m not afraid of offending women, or men, with literary criticism that seems to me radically different and socially important. I think that’s an index of being a grown-up male child.

In accordance with prevailing intellectual fashion, meninist literary criticism embraces a master narrative. In contrast to the dominant master narrative, “men oppressing women throughout history,” the meninist master narrative isn’t “women oppressing men throughout history.” No, the meninist master narrative is “women AND men oppressing men throughout history.” Despite obvious weaknesses of master narratives, meninist literary work seems to me more important than literary work such as that dealing with minutiae of narratology.

Master narratives are at the opposite pole from the unfathomable depths of good literature. But meninist criticism provides critical value in insisting on the experiences of men: among others, men soldiers forced to fight, men subject to mandatory monthly financial payments merely because they had consensual sex of reproductive type, fathers authoritatively deprived of their children through sex-biased family courts, men victims of violence against men, and incarcerated men, who constitute the overwhelming majority of authoritatively punished persons. Compared to men studying humanities in the U.S. today, women receive 50% more college degrees, twice as many master degrees, and 50% more Ph.D.’s. Meninist literary criticism can help men students feel more included, welcomed, and appreciated in literary studies. The future of Western higher education may depend on that.

I’ve written a huge amount of meninist literary criticism on my blog, purple motes. My extensive scholarly work hasn’t developed an academic career for me, promoted some book of mine, or served my material or status interests in any way. To the contrary, my meninist scholarly work has made me subject to vicious attacks on my character and reputation. I don’t like that, but I will endure. I find intellectual joy and happiness in pioneering meninist literary criticism.

If you really believe that meninist literary criticism just reflects the author’s “frustrations,” you should read with a sense of humor some unruly medieval men. I think Matheolus, whom Christine de Pizan unfairly demonized, is outrageously funny. Consider his criticism of the Church and his wife:

(plain url) https://www.purplemotes.net/2015/05/03/matheolus-church-wife/

The Poet’s Repentance is a marvelous poem that Hoccleve perhaps knew. For a light modernization, see:

(plain url) https://www.purplemotes.net/2018/06/24/poets-repentance/

Literary authors and scholars today should dare to imitate the expressive freedom enjoyed in medieval Europe. Why passively surrender such freedom of thought and expression? What’s actually your excuse? If you fear a mob of dominant-ideology careerist apparatchiks attempting to hurt you, I understand and sympathize.

Sincerely,
Douglas

The above email chain seems to me to indicate horrific current circumstances in academic literary study. I think imaginative literature is a vitally important pillar of a humane culture. Moreover, no issue is more important to the long-term health of society than relationships between women and men. Meninist literary criticism considers relationships between men and women radically differently from the dominant feminist perspective. That’s unfortunately dangerous work to do today, just as it was more than thirty years ago.

Literary studies that suppresses unorthodox writing about gender might as well be a division of the political propaganda apparatus. Perhaps such academic literary studies can survive as a trade school for employees of the dominant ideology. It cannot nourish imagination and creativity. If academics have to do such work to ensure themselves of food, clothing, and shelter, I can understand that. But I pity them for their boring work, and I pity their students for having their minds stultified.

The Chinese perceive a problem with cultural degradation. The West should, too.

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Cited in Robinson (1994) p. 6.

[2] Professor Sebastian Sobecki is an elite literary scholar. According to the signature block to his email, he will be a Bloomfield Visiting Fellow at Harvard University’s English Department in 2022 and had been a Visiting Fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 2021. His email signature block also states that he has had four new books published from 2019, three of which were published by either Cambridge University Press or Oxford University Press. Professor Sobecki even has his own Wikipedia page!

[3] Professor Stavsky quoted from Christine de Pizan’s Letter of the God of Love {Epistre au Dieu d’Amours} vv. 728-34:

Without a woman, he who’s natural
Is sad, for she’s his mother, sister, love.
And rarely is she enemy to him,
For she’s his kindred soul, so much like him,
The being most compatible with him.
Nor can one conquer honor or esteem
By blaming her, for blame alone is won.

{ Homs naturel sans femme ne s’esjoye:
C’est sa mere, c’est sa seur, c’est s’amie,
Et pou avient que a homs soit ennemie.
C’est son droit per qui a lui est semblable,
La riens qui plus lui peut estre agreable.
Në on n’y peut pris ne los conquester
A les blamer, mais grant blame acquester. }

Middle French text and English translation from Erler & Fenster (1990) pp. 68-9. Christine de Pizan wrote this poem in 1399. That was before she propelled herself to fame by attacking the eminent authors of the famous Romance of the Rose {Roman de la Rose}. For alternate sources of Epistre au Dieu d’Amours and documents from the subsequent controversy, MacWebb (2007) and Hult (2010). In the more rigidly orthodox and hierarchical societies of today’s West, Christine’s strategy of attention-seeking probably would fail, especially for a man.

References:

Erler, Mary Carpenter and Thelma S. Fenster, ed. and trans. 1990. Poems of Cupid, God of Love: Christine de Pizan’s Epistre au dieu d’amours and Dit de la rose, Thomas Hoccleve’s The Letter of Cupid: editions and translations, with George Sewell’s The Proclamation of Cupid. Leiden: Brill.

Hult, David F., ed. and trans. 2010. Debate of the Romance of the Rose. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

MacWebb, Christine, ed. and trans. 2007. Debating the Roman de la Rose: a critical anthology. New York: Routledge.

Robinson, Douglas. 1994. No less a man: masculist art in a feminist age. Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

3 thoughts on “the unbelievable anti-meninism of today’s elite literary scholars”

  1. Bravo Douglas. You have exposed Sobecki and co. for the weak minded, or conformist as may be the case, fools/unfortunates that they are.

    It is often difficult to read whether they are acting to preserve their jobs because they are well aware of the gynocentric and misandric sword of Damocles under which they exist, or whether thay are even dumber than one would naturally imagine men and women of learning to be and are indeed thoroughly brain-rinsed. In my experience it’s about 50/50.

    I fell out recently with my cousin who lectures at Harvard for more or less shaming a visiting dignitary by pressing him with awkward questions and giving no quarter to his weak standard feminist responses.

    Highly amusing for me, but I soon realized that my cousin, though she did not admit it, was terrified of the possible damage to her hard core feminist reputation.

    Like the shameful doctors of today toadying to big pharma in order to earn their big bucks, or grants, so it is in academia where the likes of Death Dealer Bill Gates and The Dark Lord George Soros set the agendas with their cheque books…

    There is nothing at all unbelievable about the anti-meninism of today’s so-called elite literary scholars.

    As Chris Hedges rightly points out “We now live in nations where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy.”

    The only solution I can come up with to this repulsive spiral of ever greater idiotic depths conducive of the title of this piece is ‘Open Direct Government’ i.e. hang the politicians and their faux democracy and bring back actual Athenian democracy, i.e. one person one vote on the actual issues.

    …There would be a learning curve, but I cannot imagine how the general population could fuck things up worse than the sociopaths that naturally gravitate to positions of power and have created this ridiculous state of affairs only fit to divide and rule us.

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