For the Love of Milo

This is the season for wonders.

In a special issue of the Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality, Jennifer Edwards, Associate Professor of History at Manhattan College, has published a thoughtful reflection on the ongoing argument in medieval studies over what is—and is not—appropriate for us as scholars to say about feminism. In her essay “#Femfog and Fencing: The Risks for Academic Feminism in Public and Online,” she talks in detail about my blogging this past year and a half. While she most certainly does not endorse anything that I have said about feminism or Milo, she describes me with a generosity and compassion I had long ago despaired of in interactions with my academic critics.

On my intervention in the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS) Facebook thread that Dorothy Kim hosted about my “Talking Points: Three Cheers for White Men” in January 2016, Edwards notes:
To her credit, Brown responded calmly, with some humor, and with a willingness to learn from her critics. 
More generally, she remarks:
Clearly Brown is deeply serious and sincere in her writing about faith and her connection to conservative politics.... Her blog, and other writings on these subjects, demonstrates deep reflection and eagerness to engage others in expressing her perspectives. As her participation in the January 2016 SMFS conversation and her responses on her public Facebook posts show, she is generally temperate, patient, and persistent in dealing with criticism. She has not, as far as I can tell, deleted any of these engagements or made any effort to hide them. [I haven’t, with one exception, when I became worried about the joking tone one comment thread started by a student on one of my own posts had taken. I deleted it because it was clearly upsetting her, even though it was on my own Facebook page.] She has linked to critical posts and responded to them with greater respect than we see from typical online responses. [Fencing Bear salutes.]
This is not to say that Edwards does not have concerns:
[Brown] has, however, grown increasingly comfortable with “blatantly offensive and demeaning language,” as Libby Anne put it, since her devotion to Yiannopoulos began. Even her defense of his “spineless c[----]” comment [my only use of that word on my own part, just saying], added as an update to the “Bully Culture” post, in which it appears, references Yiannopoulos’s influence. Rather than using her platform to draw attention to conservative causes or participate in debates as a conservative interlocutor [I am not sure what she means here; to my mind I talk about them all the time], she has embraced the language of trolls and harassers to marginalize and demonize those with whom she disagrees [I am not sure what she means here either; I called the conservatives who cancelled Milo’s speaking engagement and book contract “spineless cunts,” no one else. I have referred to my academic colleagues throughout by their professional titles, not epithets]. There is a celebratory atmosphere on her Facebook page as interlocutors are chased away by a salivating throng of friends and devotees [a.k.a. my Random Laypersons. I’m not sure whom they are supposed to have chased away; I actively work to make sure that all feel welcome, just ask my friend Paul].
And yet:
What is palpable in these discussions, however, is that none devolved into a call for anyone to be assaulted, or otherwise harassed [except, to the best of my knowledge, me—rereading the screenshots I have from this past September is bracing, to say the least!], and there was clearly articulated concern not to allow the conversation to become harassing, particularly among SMFS members. [Edwards notes elsewhere that she was writing before September 2017 when I responded to Dorothy Kim directly about her accusations against me. For the record, when I posted about this debate on my Facebook page, I explicitly called for my Random Laypersons not to harass Professor Kim. This exhortation to gentleness was taken by some as a rape threat.]
So far, so good.

And yet....

There is still a problem.

Not—as Edwards is gracious to point out—with my interactions with my colleagues directly. Rather, it is the way I talk about Milo:
Brown’s defense of Yiannopoulos centered on his “truth-telling” in a way that is reminiscent of [Allen] Frantzen’s writings about feminism. [Frantzen became famous about the time I did for his comments on his own blog about the effects of feminism on men. Like Milo, Frantzen is gay; like me, he is a martial artist, in his case, a boxer. Edwards treats the controversy over his blogging in an earlier section of this same article.] Just as Frantzen wanted to clear space and build courage for “FUM” [Fogged-Up Men] who were unable to risk criticizing feminism, Brown claimed she admired Yiannopoulos for doing just that—making the criticisms that “nobody has been willing to say lest they get shamed, shouted down, and told to shut up.” Over a series of blog posts [a whole book’s worth!] and public Facebook posts, Brown articulated a devotion that reached the level of hero worship of Yiannopoulos (even declaring love for him) for saying things she felt others were too cowardly to say. Many of her interlocutors suggested that this “cowardice” was because such things were harmful and inappropriate, but Brown questioned all such limitations on speech.
“A devotion that reached the level of hero worship”: you don’t say! Yes, I love Milo. I have said so on numerous occasions, both on my own behalf and that of his fans. I am proud to acknowledge him as my “vile boyfriend” (as one of my liberal friends calls him on my Facebook page—one of those whom my salivating throngs of Random Laypersons have somehow not chased away, just saying). I was, in fact, relieved when Buzzfeed outed me as one of Milo’s advisors, so that I could explain more fully how much contact I have had with him. He acknowledges me in his book as one of his two main sources of “intellectual nourishment.” He has been over the past year and a half a constant friend.

What is so wrong about saying I love him?

Edwards would say, because Milo encourages hate, but as all those who actually watch his talks know, this is not the way in which his fans hear him. (The media seem incapable of changing a narrative once they get hold of it, thus the continuing slander about what Milo said on Twitter about Leslie Jones. In sum: “Ghostbusters is doing so badly they’ve deployed @Lesdoggg to play the victim on Twitter. Very sad!” “Barely literate. America needs better schools!”—for which Jones had him blocked.  At which Milo responded: “Rejected by another black dude!” Not exactly the slavering incitement to harassment that you have doubtless heard about.) Yes, Milo tells jokes that make even some of his supporters uncomfortable—including, most recently, Andrew Bolt—but the atmosphere at his talks is not one of hate, but of joy. I am hardly the only one to call Milo a hero or to thank him for speaking when others will not. Just look at the videos on his YouTube channel from his recent tour in Australia. Over and over again, his admirers say, “Thank you. Thank you for speaking up.”

Which, I am guessing, for my academic critics only makes things worse.

Looking for love at Barnes and Noble
Amarillo, Texas
Academics nowadays are not supposed to love. Not our subjects. Not our culture. Not—it would seem—ourselves. Love pollutes. Love corrupts. Love compromises our objectivity. Love is simply a cover for the oppression it should be our mission to expose. Edwards’s implication would seem to be that my love for Milo makes me blind to his real effect rather than—as I have argued—better able to see him for what he is.

Try it in any academic context. Say that you study what you do—the history of Christianity, for example, or devotion to the Virgin Mary—out of love, and watch the response. People get nervous. They look around at each other for reassurance. They start saying things about how “we need to be very careful here” and about the importance of being “inclusive.” They ask questions about the way in which whatever you have said you love—a text, an image, a person, a culture—has been harmful. They do everything they can to avoid acknowledging that they, too, have taken pleasure from the subjects of their own work or that what they study is for themselves an object of love. They declare themselves on the side of justice and against hate. But they never say the word “beautiful.” And they will not use the word “love” except as a way to claim that your love for your subject is tainted by your sexism (always assumed of conservatives, even if, like me, you are a woman) or by your race.

Maybe I am simply having the wrong conversations. Maybe there are academics out there who are unembarrassed to claim that they do the work that they do not out of a sense of righting injustices, but out of love. Tony Esolen is one, but my sense is that he is fairly isolated. For the most part, the academics I know are a depressingly joyless lot, even many of those who call themselves Christian. I wonder why.

Edwards remarks on the comments that I have made about feeling isolated in academia as a Christian, with the suggestion that I should suck it up since I have tenure, while in the same breath insinuating that my Christian beliefs are beyond the pale because they “appear to promote limitations on women’s rights and the imposition of so-called traditional values.” (How was it Milo put it? Oh, yes: “Abortion is murder.”) According to Edwards, “[what] Brown does not like is that the unpopularity of her ideas means they are not accorded the position of power she would like them to have.” In Edwards’s words:
It is not only the extreme Right positions that concern her colleagues—such as those that deny women equality [I have no idea what she is talking about, nor would Milo], control over their bodies [as I put it on Facebook recently, I believe that a woman’s right to choose begins with whether to have sex—the ultimate control over her own body], or freedom from body- and slut-shaming [I have written about this issue at length, just not recently, so my colleagues may be forgiven for not knowing about these posts]; it is the implication for Brown’s scholarship if her vision of medieval culture is so narrow [where have I heard this before?] and short-sighted [my published scholarship is all listed here, if you want to read more; it is not clear to me how many of those involved in this debate over the past year and half have looked further than my blog]. Brown defends herself by emphasizing that the blog is a casual space without the standards of an academic publication [so much for peer review!]. But it reveals patterns of thoughts and methods of reaching conclusions that, again, trouble those who emphasize evidence, logic, and argumentation in the classroom and in scholarship [I’m sorry, I think I just hurt myself laughing at what Milo would say]. 
What have I or Milo said that is so wrong? We have argued for love, not of victimhood but of responsibility. Not of death, but of life. Not of a culture in which homosexuality is punishable by death and women are blamed for being raped, but of a culture in which marriage is defined through mutual consent and women are held to be the equals of men. We have argued for beauty and creativity and imagination and joy. And for doing so we have been called the worst names our critics can possibly conceive. Racist, because we believe in challenging individual human beings to excel. Sexist, because we see fertility as a blessing. Misogynist, because we argue that women need fathers and husbands and brothers and sons as much as they need mothers and sisters and daughters. Xenophobic, because we argue in favor of a civilization defined by its openness to other cultures like no other in human history. Nazis, because we argue in favor of limiting the power of the state. Islamophobic, because we argue that differences in religion actually affect the way in which people see the world.

I have written before about how I understand my privilege and my responsibilities as a professor with tenure. I am fully cognizant of the power that I have thanks to my position at the University of Chicago. I have hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from readers of my blog, thanking me much as Milo’s fans thank him for standing up in the face of the criticism my blogging about him has received. I do not think of myself as a victim in the slightest. I think of myself as a warrior on the side of joy. I have never had so much fun in my life as I have had this past year, even when I was writing in Milo’s defense last February, even when 1,500 or so of my academic colleagues called for me to be censured for refusing to be called names. What makes me sad is not that my ideas “are not accorded the position of power [I] would like them to have,” but that my ideas about Christianity and Western civilization and its benefits do not bring my academic colleagues more joy.

Milo gives conservatives permission—and reason—to laugh, not just at the names they have been called (“spineless cunts”), but at themselves (“A fool and a teddy bear take on the world. You gotta laugh!”). If only we could persuade others to join us, think of the fun we could have celebrating the beautiful things that we love in our culture—and in ourselves.

Correction: Edwards claims that “in December [2016 Brown] began blogging for Breitbart.” This is not accurate. Breitbart republished one of my blogposts on December 1, 2016; I was never under contract as a regular author for them. I am, however, now a columnist for Dangerous!

Popular posts from this blog

Risus et bellum

How to Signal You Are Not a White Supremacist

Notes from the Electric Underground: A Mosaic

Mask Addiction

“There's a fencing analogy for that"*