It's not easy being insulted on-air by one of the internet's most infamous a-holes. But when Mary Anne Franks found herself the target of a vicious f-bomb-filled tirade by Vice magazine founder Gavin McInnes earlier this year, she responded with grace and genius. "Why is Gavin so scared?" she coolly responded during a live web chat on the subject of masculinity. "Why is he so frightened of the fact that some women don't want to have kids, some women do, some men want to take care of their kids, some men don't. Nothing should be frightening about that. The only thing people need to be scared of is people like Gavin."
Video footage of Franks intellectually eviscerating her opponent went viral. But the outcome was no fluke. The raven-haired University of Miami law professor has been fighting idiocy and intolerance her whole life. She grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the daughter of a white American World War II veteran and a Taiwanese mother. "It was not the most racially sensitive place," she says. After her dad died of a heart attack when she was just 2 years old, Franks found refuge in her late father's library, while her family survived on his social security checks.
It didn't take long for Franks to escape Arkansas. She studied philosophy and literature at Loyola University in New Orleans, where she earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. Then it was on to Harvard Law School and a fellowship at the University of Chicago. But not until she moved to Miami in 2010 did Franks feel fully at home. "I am fascinated by this city," she says. "It is gritty in a way that I really appreciate."
Mary Anne Franks
In fact, she believes Miami's problems make it a perfect place to discuss difficult issues such as race and gender. The day that Trayvon Martin's death exploded on television, she asked her class to talk about the shooting. "These are students who understand firsthand what it's like to be racially profiled," she says. "It was a highly emotional discussion."
Whether it's racism or sexism, Franks prefers to tackle issues head-on. Her blunt brilliance is now in high demand. Half a dozen states have sought her expertise in drafting laws against revenge porn, and Franks is constantly juggling law review papers on subjects ranging from a feminist critique of Miley Cyrus to Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Somehow, she still finds time to practice Krav Maga — an Israeli martial art — and another unusual hobby: belly dancing.
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"I was cast as Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights when I was in high school," she explains with a smile. Like the legendary Persian queen, Franks' fierce intellect has set her free.