So, here we go again: the problem of sexual harassment in the comic book industry. Which totally feels like deja vu. I wrote about this back in November, as did a lot of creators, but to what point? Did anyone learn from the discussion?
Apparently not. Because the shit has hit the fan again, and as always it’s the ladies who are paying the price for having the gall to say what’s on our minds. This time around it’s Janelle Asselin, who wrote a piece called “Let’s Talk About How Some Men Talk To Women In Comics”. It’s part of a larger discussion she began about art, marketing, gender, all very non-threatening– and yet, she was threatened with rape. Just for talking about a comic book cover.
That’s fucked up. You all realize that, right? But it happens, regularly, even if the ladies who are subject to this abuse don’t always bring it up. And if it’s not rape threats, it’s other kinds of verbal abuse or sexual harassment. Men are frequently surprised when they hear this happens. Heidi MacDonald comments on it at The Beat:
But I’m kind of amazed that men are unaware of this. And it is true that male editors and writers and artists in comics have gotten death threats over some stupid comic book thing, so there is a whole culture of insane threats. But the rape thing is a special gift just for the girls.
I twittered about this earlier, but sometimes it feels as though talking about misogyny in this industry is like dealing with Groundhog Day: there seems to be a continuous reset, a collective male amnesia around the issue. As if, when a woman speaks out, it’s for the first time and everyone is shocked. Just shocked, I tell you. Sexism exists? OH MY GOD.
It’s sort of amazing, really. You’d think this issue doesn’t matter. Hell, back in November there was more heat online about Doctor Who (just amongst comic book professionals) than what I saw after scanning a few weeks worth of discussion about women and harassment in our industry. Frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised. Issues of patriarchy aside, folks get tired, or they’re afraid of controversy — or they feel there’s nothing to be done right away. This is a long-term problem, yeah? Can’t be solved overnight — and hey, we’re talking about it. Things will change.
But things haven’t really changed. Not in our little industry, and not in the rest of the world.
A while ago I read a brief interview with Malalai Joya, an activist for the rights of women in Afghanistan. You should check it out right now. Don’t worry, it’s not long, and gets right to the point.
There, did you read it? I’d like to point out this passage: “Self-immolation in Afghanistan is skyrocketing. We’ve seen rape cases, acid attacks, burning girls’ schools, cutting the nose and ears off women, beating women with lashes in public, executing them in public, accusing them of adultery without even bringing them to the symbolic courts that we have.”
Also, this quote from Amnesty International’s page on violence against women: “Around the world at least one woman in every three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Every year, violence in the home and the community devastates the lives of millions of women. Gender-based violence kills and disables as many women between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer, and its toll on women’s health surpasses that of traffic accidents and malaria combined. Violence against women is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women’s bodies for individual gratification or political ends.”
1. Violence against women feeds off discrimination and serves to reinforce it.
2. Violence against women is compounded by discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual identity, social status, class, and age.
3. There is an unbroken spectrum of violence that women face at the hands of people who exert control over them.
Some of you will argue that sexual harassment in the comic book industry cannot compare to acid attacks, beatings, executions, and the deprivation of basic human rights. And you’d be correct. But oh, wait — when we’re sexually harassed, threatened with rape, groped on the convention floor, that’s not quite true is it? Because our right not to be discriminated against, or coerced into sex, or abused — well, that’s just been violated.
The problem we’re discussing in our industry is symptomatic of a larger issue. Specifically, we are living in a world that perpetuates and upholds the sub-human treatment of women. And that discrimination — the patriarchal idea that women are not fully human, that we are objects, commodities, property — trickles down and down, into every facet of our lives. Is serial sexual harassment the same as an acid attack? No, of course not. But are the roots of that violence the same? Yes.
It’s not just these individual cases. It’s not just these lone voices. It’s a mass cry. It’s a pattern of abuse that goes beyond serial harassment in the halls of a convention center or hotel bar — and stretches all the way across the world to a girl who has her school burned down because her humanity, her freedom, her voice, her possibility of becoming more — must be murdered.
It doesn’t mean that any one individual is evil. It doesn’t mean that all men are terrible. But the larger culture of misogyny, in all its forms — from the obvious to the subtle — that is evil, and it must be recognized, and fought. Because things will not get better unless we name this, and see it.
And so the conversation continues.