A lot of what goes on in comics outside the actual books tends to go over my head. I stay off of message boards, avoid getting into arguments, and at cons, I just seek out who I want to meet, have dinner with my friends, and go to bed early.
But lately, there are more and more things going on that I can’t ignore. There’s a lot of issues that need to be faced – racism, ageism, censorship, a list that would take a dozen more editorials to fully cover – but one that has come to the forefront recently is the issue of harassment of women in comics.
Last month, some ugly, ugly reports came out of New York Comic-Con (NYCC). Here’s one of the best reports on it. There was the usual dose of pandering, scantily-clad models and advertising, but the worst was a camera crew for a public access show that asked deeply inappropriate questions of female attendees – with incidents being reported even after complaints were made to con security.
Any hopes that this was an isolated incident were washed away in the wake of the show, as numerous female comics fans and professionals began coming forward with their own tales of harassment – not just from creeping convention attendees, but from professionals within the industry itself.
There’s this story. And this story. And this story. And this story. This one just came to my attention today. And..well, probably many, many more that I’m unaware of because I’m not actually that good at using Tumblr or other social media.
Even uglier, many of these women who’ve spoken out have been lambasted for doing so, using language I’m not comfortable repeating here.
These tales of harassment are, put bluntly, unacceptable. The reaction to them is even less acceptable.
Now, as you might have noticed from the headline, I’m a guy. What qualifies me to talk about harassment?
Well, there’s two things. First, when I mentioned I wanted to explore this issue on Facebook, a female friend of mine who helped out at NC Comicon (a Durham, NC show based near me that issued a strict non-harassment policy in the wake of NYCC reports) said that she wanted to see a guy talk about this issue.
“Honestly, the sad thing is that men talking about representation in media is more likely to lend it legitimacy, and make the topic a ‘real’ issue to the people otherwise most likely to write it off,” she said.
That’s depressing, though I also saw her point. I don’t think things should be this way, but if it’s the case, I want to help the cause by acknowledging the problem, and my own culpability.
I think it’s lousy that women who speak out about harassment are often denounced and harassed all the further by coming forward, but I do think it’s important to offer support and understanding.
Secondly…I can’t say that I’ve ever groped a girl or tried to play “casting couch,” but the stories recounted here have reminded me of incidents where I’ve told an off-color joke or gotten in the face some woman I just met at a con with non-stop babbling when really, she just wanted to get away and get on with her show. I’ve only later realized or was told by a well-meaning friend how uncomfortable I was making these women.
Now, I wasn’t trying to be malicious, and I’ve tried to speak out against some of the unrealistic depictions of female sexuality in comics, but there have been times I’ve made women uncomfortable, and those incidents have made me part of the problem.
For that, I’m sorry.
I cop to these mistakes, to mistakes I didn’t realize I made in the past, and I will try to be more mindful of how I might be making other people feel in the future. And I also want to be more alert of how people around me might be treating others, and am ready to jump in if something untoward might be going on.
That’s the best I know to offer. It might not be enough, but I hope it’s a start.
I can also pretty much 100% guarantee that I will do or say something hugely inappropriate in the future, possibly even later today. That’s because I’m human, and part of being human is making mistakes. But another part is taking responsibility for those mistakes, and using them as a guide to your actions in the future.
I’ve tried to imagine how awful a comic book convention would be for me if I was groped, or jeered for being overweight. I think of all the great times I’ve had at these shows, all the friends I’ve made. Meeting people who shared my interests, my passion for the art form, even similar career goals in the industry offered me a sense of support and camaraderie that got me through some rough times in my life.
The idea that someone could have that sense of support violated at a place that’s supposed to be about coming together and celebrating the community of comics…that’s hateful to me. There’s no other word for it.
Forget those gawdawful stereotypes of slack-jawed geeks paralyzed by a pretty girl setting foot into a comic shop. This is about the sense of entitlement, resentment, objectification and worse that has helped alienate women, who represent 50 PERCENT OF ALL THE HUMAN BEINGS ON EARTH, from becoming part of fandom, or staying in the industry.
How many women have shied away from fandom because of this treatment? How many who could have contributed something great to the industry chose another path because of how they were treated? And most importantly – how much guts has it taken for those who have stayed part of fandom and the industry to hang in there in the face of this mistreatment?
(And while it’s necessary for a piece like this, the friend I talked to for this piece also made a note that terms like “female creators” and “female fans” are often used in a way that makes it seem like they are something separate. “A lot of problems arise from viewing women as secondary versions of what men are in the industry – ‘female creators’ and ‘female fans’ – so there’s a mental pass to treat them differently than just ‘creators’ and ‘fans,’” she said.
(That’s a whole new series of issues, but though I’ve enjoyed many times when female creators have come together for a book or a panel discussion, it’s important that their presence be viewed as an overcoming of viewing them as “other,” not some strange and exotic novelty. Of course, it’d be equally nice to see phrases like “black creators” or “Asian creators” just be folded into “creators” as well, but again – another editorial. End digression.)
The bad news is, this has been going on for decades with too many people turning a blind eye. The good news is, things can change. They have before. And they can again.
I’ve seen great changes in the comic book industry over the past decade. There are more books for all ages, and better books, than I can remember at any point in my life. Kids are going to cons with their parents, and both generations are fans. I love my dad, but a begrudging, “are you ready to go home yet?” was the best I could have expected growing up (I eventually got him hooked on Concrete).
Countless great works from past decades have come back into print. Aging creators have been given support and dignity through the likes of the Hero Initiative. And there is a renaissance of creativity in hard-copy comics and online, along with a renewed interest in original concepts from creators and fans alike. People are making things more than ever, and showing support for fellow fans and creators like never before. That is astonishing. That is the sign of a vibrant and vital community.
But there are still problems – problems that we have to face. And as much as I wonder how much I’ve been a part of these problems, I also know that there is the power to change.
I don’t know that what I’ve said here has helped. But I do know this: Admitting there is a problem, and not just ignoring it or brushing it under the rug, is the first step toward making things better.
Guys – no matter if you’re a fan or a pro, we’re better than this. I’m not saying treat women like delicate flowers where you agonize over everything you do or say for the sake of political correctness. But I am saying to be mindful of their feelings, and to take responsibility for your actions.
And I encourage readers, from all walks, to share their own stories, whether it’s in our comments or elsewhere. People will only listen if you speak up. I applaud the bravery of those who have already come forward, and for those who will speak up in the future.
Comics are an amazing medium, and the community of comics can truly be a great place of friendship and togetherness.
Let’s make it better.