AMBER LOVE 30-NOV-2013 The issue and debates of sexual harassment have really taken the stage in 2013. There are incredible awareness campaigns and efforts by people who will no longer sit idly by and watch our beloved social scenes (IRL and online) stained by those few bad apples spoiling an entire industry’s good time. And, no, of course this is not limited to comics, gaming and tech. It is everywhere.
Plenty of us have even felt the burnout of arguing about harassment and misogyny in comics. There are days when I can’t possibly put my energy into another Twitter storm of outrage. Maybe that’s because I feel like I’ve already spent the last year in a full-on Hulk rage over politicians and faux-scientists who have made it their missions in life to reduce women to less than human. So, after many an outrage has taken its toll on my system, I can’t always put myself out there. I can’t always deal with another day of tachycardia and migraines.
By now, you have heard of “victim blaming” or “-shaming” and know what it means in context. I’ve been the brunt of a fair amount of garbage in the work place, at comic conventions, and other public arenas because I am the kind of person to put myself out there in public view as a model, cosplayer, podcaster and random public figure who speaks up. I don’t think I know a person who hasn’t been affected by harassment in some way. It also isn’t only men doing these things. One of my worst jobs of all time was only awful because of power-hungry woman that thought her prestige in one of the tiniest towns meant she could treat everyone as she wanted. Seriously – she acted like she was royalty from a massive family legacy like the Rothchilds or Vanderbilts. She wasn’t. No one ever got her respect unless she was kissing ass. She made my life a living Hell on a constant 24-hour basis for three years. At that same job, I was then sexually harassed by a man in the position to lead the votes whether or not I kept my job – the job that I actually enjoyed doing at the time. The reason I need to bring up victim blaming is because sometimes people miss an opportunity here to make things better. If you know someone who has experienced a bad situation at con, you could see that as an opportunity to ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” which might open a necessary door to begin the evolution.
Some of us have reached out to convention organizers and asked if they have harassment policies and where they can be read on their websites and at the con halls. I had a very quick turnaround response from the organizers of Detroit Fanfare who took the few moments needed to post something and give it an easily found link on their site’s navigation menu. I presented an opportunity for a convention to improve and they listened.
It’s also important to bear in mind how huge the topic of harassment is. You have the version where it impacts your job directly. You have being stalked by disturbed people (like Sue from DC Women Kicking Ass disclosed regarding threats against her and her family members for years). You have stalking like the one cosplaying couple I know endures to this day because they’ve exhausted all the legal avenues. You have physical vs. non-physical. There is such a broad range of considerations that it’s partially why one post on one site can’t begin to do the topic justice and the rage on the social feeds continues to ebb and flow.
HOW TO SPOTLIGHT WOMEN
Our comic business is rife with misogyny but hey, so is Hollywood! We’re not alone, ladies of comics! First off, I’m one of “those women” that kind of hates “Women in Comics” panels at cons. I’ve been on one. I don’t think they do any good. If you think they do, please explain to me in detail why. If you are organizing panels, please include women. That’s really the bottom line. IF by some chance of the statistics, the panel you plan manages to be ALL women, then fine. There are things billed as “for women” or “for geek girls” with all the perfect intentions of fostering safe places for women in the business and fandoms. Good intentions that inevitably do not create any productive aspects outside their walls. I’ve never been to Geek Girl Con but I know there are men on the guest list and panels. Has anything come out of a convention like this once it’s over?
Misogyny against the female characters is always brought up. When people want to talk about the “strong female character” in entertainment, who do they call? They call Joss Whedon. I’m a Whedon fan but not a zealot. I shake my head whenever Joss Whedon is the icon of feminism in fiction. Is that really the best we can do? There’s no comic book tie-in (yet) but can’t we applaud women in entertainment like Shonda Rhimes who created SCANDAL? This is an extraordinarily successful show with a female woman of color as the lead. They’ve had female directors, writers, and strong supporting female acting roles. And not once have I ever seen transparent marketing calling this the “feminist” show you must see. It doesn’t need to be said.
When it comes to television, we finally have a fair amount of feminism to fill up our entertainment schedules. Shows like The Mindy Project, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Scandal, Ugly Betty, etc. But in comics… well… that’s quite a bit harder to identify when fan favorite characters go through egregious wardrobe changes like Harley Quinn or body changes like Amanda “The Wall” Waller. Basically, if you’re looking for feminist role models in comic books you may need to ask an expert like someone on the “geek girl” blogosphere or if you have a good retailer (AMELIA COLE, ATHENA VOLTAIRE, VAMPLETS, I KILL GIANTS, NIGHT OF 1,000 WOLVES – incidentally all written by men). I gave up mainstream books thinking it was only a switch to wait for the paperback collections. It was hard for me to drop FANTASTIC FOUR (whatever the title was at the time) but not hard to drop WONDER WOMAN. I kept on planning to get F4, CAPTAIN MARVEL, FEARLESS DEFENDERS, and X-MEN in trade. I never did. I wasn’t questing for feminism in my comics. All I wanted was a good solid story and I didn’t really care about the gender of the character nor creator. I also decided to read more from Image, Action Lab, 215ink, Monkeybrain and other small press publishers.
WHEN TO FORGIVE
Creators – yes, they’re human or so I’ve been lead to believe. Maybe not Steranko. Anyway, sometimes creators make mistakes that are truly are misogynistic or accidentally come off that way because they didn’t realize the implications of their actions. I have seen some amazing changes. People going through their own self-examinations because they were either called out or because they noticed the news about what has happened in comics. I had one dear friend apologize to me unnecessarily because years after we snapped a photo together, he worried about how he had his arm around me. I could not possibly type fast enough to say, NO, YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. YOU ARE MY FRIEND. Too many people have no awareness at all about something like posing for pictures with someone you do not know or only know through social media. When I pop behind a booth to get a picture with creators, I ask if it’s ok because sometimes it really is easier for them not to walk around the booths and having their displays visible makes for a better picture. Sure, sometimes I end up being kissed by Jim Steranko because I’m comfortable enough to ask if I can go back behind the table and that’s a time when comics is the best place in the world.
Maybe you know a creator that posted something stupid (like Tony Harris) or created a truly distasteful cover torturing women (like CROSSED). You absolutely have the right to call those people out. However, what I urge you to do is then monitor their paths. Have those creators consistently degraded women or was it something for a specific purpose like a story arc? Do you boycott? Sure, go do that if you want. Maybe losing some contracts will teach them a lesson. Does the offensive moment being an isolated incident make it all better? No. Of course not but it’s definitely easier to forgive than someone who is a hate-monger like Orson Scott Card. If someone does something once and learns a lesson from it, that is a very wonderful thing! It’s an evolution. It’s a growth in that person’s humanity that should be recognized.
CASE STUDY: TONY HARRIS
I decided to see what 2013 might have been like for Tony Harris since his December 2012 diatribe against cosplayers and their tits that dared to take up space at “his” comic cons. I searched on Facebook where this epic war originally took place. Couldn’t find him. Facebook has changed the privacy regarding searching by name. So I went to Google and tried to find “Tony Harris Facebook” and also got nothing. I did find him on Twitter. This made me wonder if he locked down his Facebook so well that only trusted people can find or if he left Facebook all together after the attack on female fans got out of hand.
His Twitter is remarkably uncontroversial now from what I’ve seen. It’s mostly instagrams of his art with occasional reminders about book releases and very little social interaction. In fact the only controversial tweets I noticed were in his disapproval of Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men show (on this we agree) and a rather lengthy and serious fight with @Jason_Farrell who called Tony a “thief” regarding a Kickstarter project. The screen captures are only snippets so if you want the big picture go look at Harris’ feed. However, I do find the Free Comic Book Day twitpic by celebrity costumer Riddler as Wasp with Harris, Joe Peacock, a Black Cat and a Rogue to be exceptionally telling that he’s still perfectly A-OK with cosplayers as long they’re drop dead gorgeous. Then and only then are your breasts welcome, it seems. Joe Peacock reached out to me on Facebook and said that the single photo doesn’t tell the whole story. According to Joe, Tony did in fact pose for pictures with every single person that approached him at that FCBD event.
Has Tony Harris learned any lessons about his misogyny over the course of the year? He’s certainly managed to learn the lesson about internet wars which he seems to avoid all together now. There are examples of him keeping his cool rather than losing his mind. I’m honestly curious if anything has crossed his mind to reconsider his piss poor attitude about women at conventions that fail to meet his standard of beauty. If anyone knows, chime in.