Friday, April 18, 2014

Our Comics Culture Deja Vu

To quote a certain morose aging British pop icon, stop me if you think that you've heard this one before:

1. Female comics [reporter/professional/blogger/casual fan] on the internet expresses an opinion on a comics-related subject. Said opinion is generally a valid criticism but it is deemed exceptionally controversial by a small but highly vocal subset of dudebro comics fanboys by virtue of said woman's critique expressing [criticism of/challenging opinions about/insufficient fawning over] their [favorite comic/creator/fandom/viewpoint].

2. Said woman is judged guilty of the oh-so-unpardonable "crime" of Speaking Out While Female (or SOWF for short).

3. The same woman is attacked online by said dudebro fans, sometimes egged on by a creator with legions of fans and twitter followers. Said attacks begin with questioning her authority, knowledge, professionalism and credibility but then escalate to the point of issuing the woman online rape and death threats.

4. The woman recounts her horrible harassment experience on their Twitter feed/blog/Tumblr.

5. More female comics creators, staffers, journalists, and amateur bloggers are inspired to relate their horror stories of harassment and abuse.

6. Popular mainstream comics blogs write about the woman's harassment story and more articles appear, including myriad "[you/we] men need to [stop harassing women/speak up/hold each other accountable/fix this]" articles.

7. Reactions among various male professionals and fans vary:

a. Some are shocked -- SHOCKED, I tell you! -- that this type of behavior happens in their fine comics establishment.

b. Some deny that this type of thing happens or is widespread, or say it's no worse than other industries.

c. Some accuse the women of being "too emotional". Commence mansplaining.

d. Some use strawman false equivalency arguments: "But men are threatened too." (That was an actual response on Twitter from a male poster.) Bring on the victim-playing.

e. Some get overly defensive. Cue "not all men" response --- to a question that nobody asked.

f. Some make empty showboat gestures.

g. Some actually defend said rape threats and claiming they constitute free speech, demonstrating a frightening ignorance about both free speech and its limitations.

h. Others join the women online in being pissed. And asking questions. And trying to figure out how to stop it. And expressing frustration. and so....

8.  Much brainstorming among fans and professionals about how to fix the problem ensues.

9. Some male professionals take to their blogs/Tumblrs/Twitter feeds to take a verbal stand against the abusive behavior. Unfortunately.....

10. None of them are upper level management.

11. Said upper level management, particularly at the Big Two, remains utterly silent and unresponsive on the issue, and so....

12. Nothing major gets done. Meaning...

13. Abusive parties face absolutely no real world consequences whatsoever. Offending comics pros retain their high-profile flagship superhero jobs on books like Superman or X-Men without so much as a reprimand. Harassers continue harassing with impunity.

14. Poorly moderated comic site comments sections remain poorly moderated comic site comments sections.

15. New distraction takes everyone's attention. Story dies. Much online outrage dies with it.

16. Marginalized parties continue to be abused online. Some give up completely. Many quit their [careers/blogs/online presence].

17. Many women and girls looking to have anything to do with comics are discouraged from doing so.

18. Comics companies (particularly the Big Two) and comic site forums continue to pander to lowest-common-denominator straight white dudebros, leading them to feel more irreplaceable. And more empowered. And more entitled to use that power.

19. Repeat step 1.

It's become a broken record. The same damned broken record. Being played over and over and OVER....!

And it's infuriating. And frustrating.

These are people who let even a scintilla of power go to their heads, despite being lifelong fans of characters like Superman whose entire reason for being is to teach us not to let power go to our heads. In their minds, their right to be as abusive and assholish as they want trumps the rights of others, particularly women, to even safely exist in what these would-be gatekeepers deem "their" spaces. They consider their abusiveness and harassment to be free speech when what it actually represents is the suppression of others' freedom of speech. (They also forget that threats of violence such as rape actually aren't constitutionally guaranteed speech.)

This lowest common denominator doesn't comprise a majority of geeks, or even male geeks, but they seem to be the ones with a disproportionate level of power. The ones that comics companies and blog comments sections apparently deem irreplaceable and vital to the continued well-being of comics.

But they're not. They're a fucking cancer.

They cost the industry the diversity it needs to keep from becoming stale. They cost the industry potential readers driven away from an environment that makes them feel unwelcome. And they cost us things like this.

That was a self-portrait by Tess Fowler. Beautiful artwork, don't you think? Can you imagine her drawing a Vertigo or Image series, or even a Big Two comic like, say, Wonder Woman? Well, you can forget about it, thanks to sexual harassment. How many talents like her were denied to the industry because they deemed it too hostile to them? How many potential classics did we fans never get to read?

Too damned many.

It's important that we self-assess and call out bad behavior among ourselves and those we associate with. Even shunning them if necessary. However, that alone won't be sufficient, in much the same way that neighborhood recycling programs are useless if we let Koch Industries subsidiaries poison entire states' water supplies or cause tar sands leaks. We have to pressure the big publishers and comics media sites to take action. We have to raise enough of a stink that they can't ignore it.

It won't be easy. These bullies are very dedicated to maintaining their dysfunctional status quo. They're less prone than we are to be distracted by things like having real lives. (Remember, these are the folks who send rape threats to women who dare question the need for enormous fake breasts on an underage girl.) Their optimum condition is the use of power on those they deem weaker than themselves; our optimum condition is to relax and get on with our lives.

But it's necessary for the sake of not only our hobby, but the lives of our wives or sisters or daughters.

Or, in my case, potential future daughters.

Those of you who don't follow me on Twitter might not be aware that my wife and I are expecting a second child this fall. We've decided to find out the baby's sex in advance, though we're not far enough along to test yet. If we have a daughter, I don't want her to have to go through the shit online that women are going through today.

I think we, as individuals and as a comics culture, have to take a leaf from the late Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain.

It's even more important for comic industry brass to heed his example.

Because if they don't follow Cobain's lead in vetting their fan base and their books' creators, they may find their industry following his example in another manner:


(Special thanks to Andrew Weiss and Tom Foss for creative inspiration. But an even greater thanks to heroines like Janelle Asselin and too many others to name for continuing to speak out.)


At 5:19 AM , Blogger SallyP said...

Firstly, congratulations on your impending fatherhood! have brilliantly summed up the problem and the on-going problem. It IS like a broken record, and until Marvel and DC finally decide to take a stand, it will continue to be that way.

But why would they? Hiring women as writers and artists, and making less wank-worthy covers would go a long way towards opening up new revenue sources for them...but they just don't seem to be able to see that. They discount the potential female revenue, they discount the existing female revenue, because they are so locked into the current source of revenue, which consists of a lot of man-boys.

There are plenty of men who read comics who aren't complete jerks, I daresay that the majority of men who read comics aren't jerks...but the really vocal ones are the minority of complete and utter morons. The ones who are so terrified that anything might change about their hobby that they jump like lemmings at the very hint of change.

But thank you for writing such a cogent and thoughtful essay.

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