Women. Comics. Some thoughts.

So, here we go again: the problem of sexual harassment in the comic book industry.  Which totally feels like deja vuI 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.

Yes, indeed.

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.”

And this:  

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.

Phew.

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.

14 thoughts on “Women. Comics. Some thoughts.

  1. I lead a somewhat insular life, getting out to only a few SF cons a year and not reading a lot of the message boards. So it takes me aback whenever I read about another blowup in SF/ F/ H / C.

    Really? It’s 2014 and somehow there are (a) morons who think that debasing behavior towards women is a good idea and (b) other idiots who think so little of women that they don’t want to hear it? Why, the party would be ruined!

    We all of us, have to rally — keep speaking about this, Marjorie. Don’t worry that you just talked about this in November. “They” want you to be silent.

    Dr. Phil

  2. Her deconstructions were pretty on the nose and honestly could be applied to most comic covers the last few years. Back when the new 52 launched Jim Shooter reviewed the core titles on his blog, starting with a break down of the cover. He had a lot of similar things to say, even commenting on the ridiculous cheesecake they had put starfire in. I felt in a lot of ways she was echoing most of his sentiments so it might help to ask Jim Shooter if people ever threatened to rape him for pointing out terrible art.

    Reading this I realized that whenever I see unrealistic silicone looking breasts in a comic I make mental note that real breasts don’t look like that, unless maybe you’re wearing some sort of push up bra or shape defining corset or underwear. Which I suppose is plausible. But honestly it mostly just looks completley out of touch with reality. Which is saying a lot for a fucking comic book.

  3. My apologies for those of my sex who think and do this crap.

    Arguing strongly on a topic or the way a character is written is one thing, but threatening someone who doesn’t share your opinion with assault or rape because you think she’s a bitch and deserves it !?

    There’s little point trying to reason with someone of that mindset.

  4. You know, these topic touches my profoundly… My now wife was a victim of rape, multiple times, and she was hit and attacked on several ways. She had a son, product of rape. She didn’t abort, she raised him and now he is a healthy guy. He was then married to a man who helped her when she was attacked, who took care of her… She got pregnant and got another kid, and her husband took care of her… for a while. Then, he, sick of jealosy (she is an artist, she is sexy, she’s an atheist, she’s got a fan page where she makes virtual pro-women activism, she’s got a lot of virtual friends, male and female), hit her too, and raped her, and send her to a hospital. Now she suffers convulsions because of that last attack.

    I hate all those men who attacked when she was a little kid, a teen and a woman.

    We became lovers, she left her husband’s house, now we live together… And whenever I read something lile this and the links you suggested, I feel angry and sad, because I love my wife (she is a great human being, you’d love her if you knew her) and I’m commited to be by her side and love her, respect her, admire her until the last day of my life, which I hope will be long.

    Thank you. You inspire me.

  5. Well said. I, too was surprised that the November discussion died so quickly, and I even tried to contact some major news sources about maybe someone doing a report on what’s been happening. No response.

    Then I realized that if the industry wasn’t going to take any public stances on the topic, why would anyone outside of it care?

    Point being, this needs to get bigger, not disappear. This needs to become a big enough issue that the comics industry becomes known for its overall disgust with people who harass women online or off. Period.

  6. I just have a question: what is the best thing I can do? Of course I’ll call out this behavior where I can, or help those affected, but it’s never visible to me in my everyday life. There are morons in forums, in comment feeds, blogs, etc. that I could call out for being horrible people, but in the physical world, I never encounter any of this, so I don’t know what to do.

    I honestly want to help more, but short of setting up regular donations to charities for women’s rights/aid and/or seining out troll posts to call them out, I just am not seeing what I can do. Of course I’ll call out someone who just randomly gropes a cosplayer or who smacks a woman in a restaurant or something, but this never happens around me.

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