AMBER LOVE 17-APRIL-2014 Thanks to Janelle Asselin’s critique of a comic book cover and the survey she’s conducting for research on sexual harassment, nearly all of the comics community has been vocal about the misogynism in the industry. I can’t tackle all these problems but I have had my share of Twitter rants on it. Today, I’m bringing out the one thing no one has talked about, at least not that I’ve seen in the several feminist blogs I follow: the role reversal.
Some of the comments I’ve received when I share links or bother to tell one of my own harassment stories come from men saying, “It happens to men too” or “no one talks about the female on male harassment.” They’re correct. It’s rarely addressed for several reasons. This sort of thing is commonly called “reverse” harassment like you may hear “reverse racism.”
Historically, (cisgendered, hetero, white) men’s opinions have not needed advocacy. Women have – women of color especially have. In America (since we are talking generally about the American comic book culture) have only seen women have the right to democratically vote since 1920. In 2014, Congress shut down the bill that would grant women equal pay. Men don’t have this problem. Men do not need equality advocacy. Women do, as do the minority men of the LGBT and ethnic minority or non-citizen status. In today’s terminology, the word “men” is difficult to use broadly. There simply should be a way for me to type the word “men” and have readers know precisely to whom I’m referring.
I’m not advocating for the men who have their own stories to tell or who have body image issues and feel inferior as humans when they see media featuring only perfect bodies. I will take the time and blog space to say that even as a woman who has dealt with harassment since early pubescence, I made the mistakes of thinking two wrongs made a right. I haven’t always been bold and ballsy; those were temperaments that developed as defense mechanism. I can’t make people by telling jokes but I’ve been called funny because of how sarcastic I am. People don’t think I’m weak nor frail nor without backbone. Those people only have some kind of warped perception about me that I cannot imagine. I am extremely weak and every time I have stood up for myself, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten my way. It hasn’t paid off for me to be “strong” and tell employers or husbands or dating partners that I am worth more than what they are providing.
I have no idea if the men who feel insecure by pictures of David Beckham in his undies or Batman crouching on a ledge have had an entire lifetime of the gut wrenching sense of worthlessness that a woman may have facing the bombardment of fashion campaigns and mainstream comic book art. But as I said, men have told me many times privately almost never in the public threads, that they have body insecurities just like women. Others have confessed tales of terrible sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
Yes, all these things do happen to boys and men. Dean Trippe’s profound new graphic novel SOMETHING TERRIBLE is his own personal story that speaks about how the imagery of Batman helped him get through it; Trippe is vocal on Twitter about the media (fiction creators and news journalists) that propels the myth that a victim of such abuse will perpetuate the cycle. When people get into specific fields of business that place them directly in a spotlight like celebrities and politicians, it’s very easy to forget they are people. They face threats because of what their character did or if they changed the color of their hair. Plenty of the cases escalated into physical altercations with restraining orders or living in fear of stalkers.
In comics, we have celebrities too but it’s part of our own little world. I think Grant Morrison can go out for dinner without a horde of pap cameras at the window except at a comic convention. For the most part, our comic book celebrities live ordinary lives. Yet the “crazies” come out if you dare do something they oppose. That could be all the death threats writer Dan Slott has endured because of how he writes Spider-Man; or what senior editorial/management hears when they do something like fire Gail Simone only to rehire her 24 hours later. Lesser known people in comics, especially women, get threats on a regular basis. That’s where things can’t even be chalked up to “celebrities” are different.
The adoration is different too. When you realize celebrities are within reach, at places like conventions or the after parties, things break down or maybe blur. I hate to even consider any reference to that horribly distasteful song. My first year of conventions, I had no idea this sort of thing was even possible. I didn’t know you could just meet people from television or ask questions to the people who make up the stories! It was a very chaotic time. I worked hard making as many costumes as I could afford which wasn’t much but I had come up with a few in a short amount of time. I invented my very own original character and made the costume for that too. There was fan fiction. There were meetups around the country for people from message boards to gather IRL. And I felt safe because I had a husband no more than five feet away most of the time. There were some exceptions when he’d let me travel with my comic shop owner and friend Stacy. That’s where my concern was though – on my own safety. I felt fine because he was there. I never thought in a million years that I had to check my own behavior that was lost in the madness of the fandom excitement. But hell, I sure did when I had one moment that was out of line.
One of my goals in meeting celebrities (by the way, that’s not something I normally care about but it was an exception for the WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPERHERO? competition show) was to meet the cast of Season 1 at New York Comic Con. Among them, my nerd crush Major Victory (“played” by actor Chris Watters) would be there with a bunch of the cast. My husband seemed to think my objectification of this guy on television was kind of harmless and cute. It gave him leeway to talk about women on TV that he liked such as the one and only Blair Butler, formerly of G4TV. now a comic book writer. Anyway on WWTBASH one of the sound bytes of the show was when the cast got their “superhero makeover” from Stan Lee. They were presented with new costumes and no longer wore what they did during the auditions. Some were better but plenty of times the makeovers were actually less attractive than the original concepts. Major Victory’s look didn’t much at all but he had the “underwear on the outside” briefs like Superman. The new version of them were black PVC briefs and he said, “Shiny pants!” when he first stepped out in them.
Like a jerk, all I cared about when I met Chris the Actor not the Character, was his silly shiny briefs and I grabbed his ass while we were posing for a photo which my husband took. And I was proud of that! I told everyone. I was so happy that I got to molest this guy that I liked and thought had a wonderful personality and endearing “stripper with a heart o’ gold” backstory. He was a very cool and kind person. I was a complete jerk and I didn’t even know it until many years later when I faced a lot of crappy harassment as a cosplayer and comic reviewer on YouTube. Karma made sure of that. I guess this is the only time anyone could say I was “asking for it” as an action of the Universe rather than an action of conscious people in order to teach me a very valuable lesson about consent and harassment.
When I realized it, I didn’t once justify myself either with excuses that he used to be a stripper so he’s used to that behavior. He wasn’t at the time and I wasn’t shoving a dollar in his pants. I was terribly unquestioningly wrong. I was not heroic in the least. I lost track of Chris and a lot of the people from the old days of WWTBASH when the drama of the message boards got to be way more than I was willing to deal with on a daily basis. There’s a substantial foundation of us on Facebook that keep in touch and care about each other immensely. I’ve watched these friends get married, have kids, seen their kids go on to great achievements and they’ve seen me through a divorce, several job changes and some deeply terrible times. I never apologized to Chris and I wish I could take back my stupid mistake.