Sexual Harassment in Comics

I’ve only been dancing around the fringes of Ronée Garcia Bourgeois’ columns on sexual harassment in the comics industry. Her latest (link no longer available), though, puts it all on the table, as Colleen Doran and Lea Hernandez go on the record with some of the outrageous and atrocious sexism they’ve faced. These two women are incredibly talented, so no one can scream “sour grapes”. They’ve established long careers on their own terms, so no one can say “they’re just seeking attention by lying”.

That’s the kind of industry we’re talking about here. The superhero comic world is full of fans who don’t care what happens to real people so long as they keep getting their four-color fantasies. Those kinds of excuses (and worse) are often made by those who like blaming victims and who always believe the guys’ side of the story, even to the extent of making up extenuating circumstances.

(The superhero comic world also contains great guys who are very informed on gender issues and considerate guys who stay shy because they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing when it comes to women. I’m not talking about them here because my focus is on the negative things that can happen to women who don’t keep their mouths shut.)

(And sometimes, I think that the guys who think of women as a completely separate species, one they can’t understand or even resent for controlling whether or not they have sex with them, are as dangerous as the outright attackers. Because it’s a lot easier to demonize, even unconsciously, something you think of as Other, as not like you and never like you. But I’m not intending to talk about Dave Sim here.)

Colleen isn’t clear in the interview, but one of her attackers was fanboy icon Julie Schwartz. When that came out a couple of years ago, after his death, I saw her savagely attacked online for daring to besmirch his memory. He played his “kindly uncle who loves the ladies” persona for years if not decades, and few of the boys who grew up reading his comics wanted to hear about how devastating his inappropriate behavior could be to a teenage girl. The memory of someone few of them had ever met was more important than the truth of his harassment, and as she says, they assumed she was “asking for it” or lying about what happened.

There’s a third person interviewed as well, a pseudonymous “former employee of a major comics publisher” who doesn’t otherwise identify herself. I think running disguised comments will continue to muddy the waters, but it seems to allow her to be the most forthright:

I put up with this sh*t from one of my bosses for many months and it just about killed my health from the stress. Because if I told–I was not going to be a popular individual. The humiliation, worry, self-hatred…it takes a toll. These were my friends–I didn’t want to lose my friends. This was my career, my livelihood–and I didn’t want to lose that. But long story short–I told. And I lost my “friends”. And I lost my “livelihood”. And the damage to my body that had spiraled out from the stress was done, and I had nothing to do but heal. But I did heal. And I stood up for myself, and I am a much stronger person for the experience. But the sheer amount of misery and suffering that one immature person can cause by being unprofessional? Like the commercial says: priceless.

Women who complain are told they’re misunderstanding the situation or have no sense of humor or take things too seriously. It’s still a boys’ club. Telling doesn’t make things better. It should, because the superhero comics tell us that we are all supposed to try and do the right, heroic thing, and that makes the world better… but we’re talking about corporations who are only interested in protecting the entrenched. One of them responded to an official complaint of sexual harassment by trying to move the harasser into an office next door to the harassee. Idiots.

On the individual level, while it’s cute to see guys who seem to have rarely thought about this saying “it makes me so mad I want to punch something”, I’m waiting for the backlash as guys get tired of hearing about what women in comics face all the time. I give it another two weeks before the crowd wants to turn its attention elsewhere and start resenting the women who want their stories told and respected and acted on.


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