Friday, April 25, 2014

Message to Men: Harassment in Comics

“It is wholly and rightfully and crucially up to men in this society and especially in this subculture to speak out and watch out. To end the cycle of bullying, harassment and violence.”
Andy Khouri over at the Comics Alliance has written an account (read it) from his perspective of an infection amongst the comics industry, which is a particularly virulent strain of a societal-wide issue. There are many informative hyperlinks within the article that reinforce the point.
“It’s important to note that the vast majority of men in comics – pro and fan – aren’t predatory. The problem is that the small number who are predatory get insulated from the consequences of their actions by the passive behavior of other men (and sometimes women): those who dismiss or minimize the behavior, decline to support the person who has been attacked – or worse, attack her instead. These men don’t directly harm women; they just create the culture that allows it to happen.” - Laura Hudson 
The distressingly large overlap between male privilege + rape culture and fandom (ie geek culture) is like an ink-blot on the entire community. To our credit, it’s one that is being increasingly pointed out, publicized and self-policed within our own ranks. As long as folks keep stepping up to take responsibility there’s a good chance we can all help to make comics – the books, stores, websites, characters, stories and studios – supportive, inclusive, respectful and safe for everyone, creators and consumers. I love cartooning way too much, on both sides of the desk, to see it soiled by the actions of a disproportionally influential vocal minority.
“And that’s the thing I feel like a lot of these internet assholes miss. I’m not saying men are the worst thing ever or even that men in comics are the worst thing ever. I’m so lucky to have a lot of amazing people in my life, male, female, and non-binary, who constantly support me. There are men in comics who understand how not to be a condescending asshole. But right now, the problem is that too many other men think that they are in a crowd of like-minded men who are super sick of this feminazi bullshit. The truth is that you are on the losing side. Women in comics aren’t going away. Even if you continue to talk to us like this. Your threats and insults do nothing more than make me want to stick around and shout even louder. So thank you for that.” - Janelle Asselin


  1. I like encountering women everywhere...except the men's room, but then I don't like encountering men there, either. If I have a choice between a public pissoir and a small patch of woods I'll go in the woods every time. Except there was this one time in Massachusetts, back when they had no facilities at any roadside rest area, when the woods by the rest area were filled with men hoping to be encountered. "Dude, your lifestyle is your own business, but I just want to take a leak."

    That being said, I became aware a number of years ago that I had grown up in an atmosphere of unquestioning sexism and racism even though society was evolving. Born in 1956, I grew up during the time when civil rights and women's rights were making huge strides. I never saw segregation, but that was probably part coincidence part obliviousness. My family did not go where it would have been obvious and I was still very young. Therefore I was less equipped to notice the lingering effects -- aside from the riots and stuff. The obvious stuff was obvious but the subliminal bigotry went on and on. It has resurfaced in overt attempts to turn back progress.

    Sexism is even more insidious because it spans all cultures. Members of a minority might agitate for their own advancement and still think "the girls" should stay home and shut up. We have built-in biological compulsions that will trip us up constantly without conscious intellectual restraint. Empathy is the key. That requires a degree of identification with the other side that may frighten some people, especially men. Can't risk vulnerability lest we end up appearing weak to our fellow silverbacks.

  2. Thanks for the comment: esp. agree with the "empathy" component, which oddly enough I partially credit reading so much as a youngster with proxy exposure to other people, ways of thinking, and varying perspectives on multitudinous issues. Voracious reading of comics was - and continues to this day - more than escapism or entertainment: it opened up views onto situations and scenarios far above & beyond the limited cultural vistas of a single boy growing up left to hiking around the woods of Upstate NY. These impressions shape an adolescent individual, whether it's the power to fly, travel to other planets, fight scary monsters, and interact with/relate to other humans (or not, in some instances). This includes influencing relationships with people, liberating (or reinforcing) attitudes, biases and stereotypes. This formative experience is seen reflected as an adult who still has a passion for reading, which in turn still inspires to explore and embrace alternative realities and perspectives, regardless of any gendered, racial etc. differences... even the basic projection inherent in anthropomorphic styles of simple cartooning can provide leverage for some degree of mental + spiritual empathy with "the other." Relatedly, one would think being an "other" in so many social contexts ie picked on and beaten up as being different, that many if not most geeks, nerds, bookworms, artists et al would have cultivated a higher tolerance for acceptance and understanding what it feels like to be bullied by insensitive assholes.

  3. Interesting assumptions here. The sexism I've always noticed in comics has been more in the form of impossible standards (really, weird standards) of male and female beauty: bullet-shaped breasts, tiny wasp waists for both genders, bulging male genitalia under spandex suits that would offer NO protection but lots of ogle/ick factor, swooning women (probably because of the Victorian whaleboning to keep those wasp waists in), etc. Give me Tank Girl any day. My kind of comic. Definitely better than pulp fiction covers.

    I recently read a reprint of something called Martin 'Atchet, a well-censored comic from the 80s that finally managed to see the light of day under Dark Horse Comics again, about a thalidomide baby (15 years old in the comic) and punk, taking his revenge on those who screwed him over. Disturbing, but mostly because of the fact that it had been supressed for so long. Lots of stereotypes blown in this one.

  4. Astute – assumptions is where it’s at. My personal bubble of privilege gets challenged - popped even - a lot through increased exposure to contemporary alt/indy works. Traditional spandex genre material, not so much. Then again, style and taste if not mature, then at least hopefully evolve (though there’s always a case to be made for mutation). I sure appreciate the insights and perspectives being put forth these days far more than from the traditional, formulaic stock, which has little if any redeeming value beyond mindless entertainment. Which I’m certainly not above indulging in, all the while recognizing that despite a steady diet of absorbing and being influenced by mass media during the (de?)formative phases of youth, it’s completely possible to recognize and deconstruct those assumptions that get ingrained as a result. Or maybe that's just the best justification I have after watching Pacific Rim and The Iron Giant back-to-back this weekend while in the studio.

    The pushback is rightfully over projecting said assumptions into real-world arenas (specifically in the context of the post, treatment of women in comment threads/on-line harassment etc.). I mean, objectively speaking, one sample, core assumption is that folks won’t read one of my panels and come away with the impression that I really think beavers & bears actually look like I draw them, or for that matter talk, or do any of the impossible things that they are routinely depicted doing. It follows that anything drawn in comics is equally ridiculous and not intended to be taken seriously, muscles, monsters or mammary. That said, where it gets interesting is when the creator sets it up to be taken so, as deliberate commentary, metaphor or whatever. And aside from intent, there’s also interpretation, context, and the aesthetics of craft, all of which and more are legitimate concerns and equally valid factors to take into consideration in criticism.

    Just as with literature and the visual arts, the medium of sequential art is a rich and rewarding place to explore for any number of reasons, from Crumb to Satrapi, Schulz to Frazetta, Larson to Spiegelman, McCay to McDonnell.

    Thanks for the comment + tip on Martin ‘Atchet… added to the mulch-pile!