Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sexual harassment in comics

Over the last few days I have seen a few posts by women comic creators discussing their experiences of sexual harassament in the comics industry.  You can read them here:

Tess Fowler
Anne Scherbina
Mariah Huhner

Rantz Hosely gave his experience of seeing harassment towards women.

Rachel Edidin then offered her support for every con she goes to.

I've now just seen this post by Jamal Igle.

I was reading these women's accounts of harassment and they made me really sad.  Sad that women go through this.  Sad that men don't see how intimidating and scary their actions and behaviour is.  Sad that the women feel guilt and shame for something another person did to them.  After I'd read Mariah's story I talked to my boyfriend about it.  I recounted the times I've been harassed on the street and at work.  We talked about how I've never felt in danger when I've been drunk and walking home blitzed out of my mind.  My harassament stories all happened in broad daylight, in public spaces.  I won't recount them here.  I still feel shame at one of them, which I didn't talk to the boyfriend about, because it still makes me uncomfortable.

My boyfriend was quite shocked at Mariah's story.  At the email she'd received.  Remember that these are fellow professionals, colleagues, acting like this.  If someone in my work sent a sexually explicit email to someone else they'd be sacked.  Why is it different when someone is freelance?

As I was reading these stories and talking them through a few things occured to me.  This behaviour is not peculiar to the comics industry. It happens in all male dominated industries, and probably female dominated or equally balanced industries too.  For example, I believe that sexism is rife in the City - the financial people.  Blaming it on comics is not helpful.

This behaviour will continue if people continue to keep it quiet. I don't mean that the harassed women should be the ones to speak up.  I mean that people in the same circle who know that someone's behaviour is not on, is wrong, makes women feel intimidated, they should speak up.  When they see harassment occur they should tell the harasser to stop it. It is especially important for men to to do this because women aren't believed.  We are sidelined and dismissed.  When men think that other men approve of their behaviour they keep doing it.  We know this.

I know there are issues with speaking up and risking your professional career.  I would never expect the women going public with these stories to name names - that could be career suicide.  I understand how it's difficult to stick your neck out.  But, there have to be ways to deal with this effectively.  Maybe I'm in a third sector bubble. I know my working environments have on the whole been respectful and I've had next to no problems over the years.  Maybe at every publisher all the managers are dicks and engaging in sexual harassment.  I can't say for sure.  But unless people speak up about it and unless they back this up with their actions, women in the industry will never know who to be trusted.

If you know of a person in your circle who acts badly - tell other people.  Tell women. Warn them.  Tell a senior manager that you are not comfortable with what so-and-so did.  You don't need to issue a formal complaint, or bring up harassment charges.  You need to vocalise your feelings.  Add to (or start) a chorus of voices that says this is not acceptable. Start with throwaway remarks.  That's how cultures change.

I don't really want people to stop buying Brian Wood's books (or anyone else's).  If you want to, if you feel you can't give him money anymore, that's fine, that's your choice.  But I don't believe in mass protests like that.  It won't change his attitudes (if in fact they haven't changed since the incidents anyway) and it won't help the women he harassed.  I will add that I haven't seen anyone call for a boycott, and I haven't seen anyone sending hateful messages to him.  But I am concerned that this may happen, because it seems to happen a lot on twitter.  I just think that two wrongs don't make a right.

I am not excusing Wood's behaviour.  Of course I'm not.  I have less truck with Igle saying that the truth lies betwene both parties' version of events.  The truth for both Tess and Anne is what they experienced, let's not deny that.  Wood's truth is probably different.  That does not invalidate Tess and Anne's truth, and quite frnakly I have far more sympathy with them than I do with Wood.

I think that most harassers do not know they are being intimidating.  I think most think they are just being friendly or flirty.  But women are brought up to be scared of the rapist in the dark.  We are taught that we may get raped everywhere we go, and that it will likely be our fault, but nevertheless we can probably prevent it.  So when someone moves into our personal space, gives a strange remark, says something suggestive, looks at you funny, you get scared.  You don't shout back.  You make excuses, you stay polite, you go somewhere safe.  You hide.  We do this because if someone is already being threatening (whether they mean it that way or not) we do not know what else they are capable of.  Having your breast stroked, your bum or groin grabbed is not harmless. It's assault and it's scary.

What I don't want to see now is people derailing these women's conversations and talking about how people change, how they don't see sexism in comics, how the truth is somewhere in the middle.  I don't want to see people excusing Wood's behaviour.  I don't want to see tone policing.  I want us to listen to women's experiences and then improving how we react to sexism and harassment when we see it.  You don't have to be all high and mighty about it.  You can just say actually that's not on.  Or hey, don't do that.

What I don’t want to see is people feeling like they need to defend the comics industry, to say it isn’t all like that, that these are isolated incidents.  When this happens, it seems to insinuate that the women talking about their experiences are somehow outside of the industry, that their experiences aren’t valid and real.  It sets women against the industry.  Women are involved in the comics industry and they are being harassed.  I am sure there are plenty of people do stand up against harassment and casual sexism, just like there are in other sectors.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems.  I am concerned that there will be a closing of ranks.  An us and them approach.  That sort of thing is useful to no one.  There must be a way to talk about sexism and harassment that doesn’t make the women who have spoken up feel like they are being dismissed.  When that happens, (anywhere, in any industry), it encourages the feeling that you can’t speak up.  That people won’t take you seriously.  That in turn means that sexist remarks and actions keep happening.

The women that spoke up are incredibly brave and I think it must have been really difficult for them to write those articles.


SallyP said...

They are indeed brave, and unfortunately, they are getting exactly the sort of responses that they knew they would get. Blame. Blame for being there, blame for not doing something, blame for simply being a woman.

It's ridiculous. And it is true that it is pervasive in ALL of society, not just Comics of course. But it is still so infuriating.

Saranga said...


Annearchist said...

You have said so eloquently what I've been trying to say. Thank you.