Profile with Mary Anne Franks 

Mary Anne Franks (Louisiana & Wadham 1999) is a law professor at the University of Miami Law School in Miami, Florida. She was previously a Bigelow Fellow and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School and a  Lecturer in Social Studies at Harvard University. She holds a BA from Loyola University New Orleans, an MPhil and a DPhil from the University of Oxford, and a JD from Harvard Law School.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Mary Anne Franks: My default answer is Pine Bluff, Arkansas because that’s where I lived from age 2 to 17. I have many mixed feelings about the place and probably wouldn’t voluntarily choose to go back – Pine Bluff suffers from poverty, racial conflict, violence, and a lack of cultural resources. But for better or worse, it helped form the person I am today.

Rhodes Project:  When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Mary Anne Franks: I used to line up my stuffed animals and teach them lessons. Even from an early age, I really wanted to teach. Although when you’re six your teaching repertoire is somewhat limited. Then I went through various phases: I had dreams of being a psychologist, an actor, a dancer, a lawyer, and benevolent dictator of the world.

Rhodes Project: What was your first job?

Mary Anne Franks: My first job was waitressing at a catfish restaurant. I still remember the daily indignities and humiliations I endured because it was my first job and I needed the money. At one point, in order to drum up more business, the owner of the restaurant asked me if I would dress up in a catfish suit and tap dance outside the restaurant and I said, “You know what? I’m going to say no to that.”

Rhodes Project: Did you have any tap-dancing experience?

Mary Anne Franks: Yeah, I did have a little tap-dancing experience. But no catfish experience.

Rhodes Project:  What is the best part of your job now?

Mary Anne Franks:  I spend my days speaking, reading, and writing about the issues I care most about. Teaching criminal law and family law means I get to delve into some of the most compelling aspects of human psychology and some of the most challenging questions of justice and equality. It’s very exciting to have some small role in shaping public discourse on the important legal issues of the day.

Rhodes Project: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Mary Anne Franks:  It actually keeps me up at night if my students don’t seem concerned about the trampling of civil rights or don’t recognize the inconsistencies in their moral or political positions. Oh, and there’s also the vitriol from people who find my work offensive. Spirited critique and reasoned disagreement are great, but hostile, sexist, and threatening reactions are a real bore.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about one of your favorite past projects?

Mary Anne Franks: I am working with a group of victims, advocates, and activists to develop legal and social responses to the non-consensual disclosure of sexually intimate images. This includes the posting of sexual assaults to social media sites as well as the non-consensual distribution of sexual images that were originally obtained with consent, usually by a vengeful ex-partner.  Right now, the law simply doesn’t adequately address this form of sexual abuse, and current social norms seem to be encouraging rather than discouraging the practice. Because the victims of this conduct are primarily women and girls, this is a gender equality issue as well as an issue of privacy and safety.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman pursuing a career in law?

Mary Anne Franks: I would say, “Are you sure? The legal job market is not looking so good right now.” But if she is committed to a legal career, I would tell her, “Don’t be afraid to take up space.” There is a tendency for some women in law school to shrink back, to not put themselves in the middle of the conversation the way many men do. When that happens, the tone and the substance of classroom conversations will be set by men. So I would say any time you find yourself shrinking back, ask yourself if there’s any good reason why your opinion or answer shouldn’t be the one that sets the tone or directs the conversation. Take up that space.

Rhodes Project: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Mary Anne Franks: I’d like to have the power to stop time and use it to prevent people from doing horrible things to each other. Everyone would freeze except for the person on the verge of the awful act and me.

Rhodes Project: What do you do for fun?

Mary Anne Franks: While I was at Oxford, and for a few years before and after, I performed and taught belly dancing.  I have always loved the performative and expressive aspects of dance. But these days my main pastime is considerably more aggressive. I’m an instructor in a martial art called Krav Maga. It’s an extremely effective form of self-defense that teaches you how to take down any opponent, no matter how large or strong. You learn how to target the vulnerabilities of your attacker as quickly and efficiently as possible. Women in particular are far too often encouraged to be passive and accommodating even in the face of hostility or unwanted attention. Knowing that you can physically defend yourself makes it possible to refuse to navigate around other people’s aggression and to take control of your own space.

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