Sexual Harassment Reactions

Laura Gjovaag has a powerful emotional response to recent stories of sexual harassment. She comes to the conclusion that

Superheroes are constrained by their own success. And it’s a dubious success at that. As long as superheroes dominate the market, the stories will continue to pander to the fanboys… the lowest common denominator of the fanboys. They will continue to be the kind of stories that embarrass the casual reader and drive people away. And they will continue to be the type of stories that reinforce the twisted notions of power and physical control. And sales will continue to fall.

And women will continue to be harrassed.

This ties into something a long-standing comics reader of my acquaintance was saying, that the problem isn’t just sexual harassment, it’s that the people with the power in the American comics industry are mostly bullies. They pick on people of different gender, but they also pick on those of different races and temperaments and tastes. The fans are intolerant (whether fans of a particular superhero company or character or those sometimes characterized as “art comic snobs”), and since only a fan would care about working their way to the top of a comic company with low pay and little respect, the “power” they obtain within a small field goes to their head.

Or that’s the theory, anyway. The Howling Curmudgeons have also made that connection, pointing out

Aside from the fact that sexual harassment and racism are flatout, no exceptions, no debate, unacceptable from a social and business perspective, they’re also unacceptable from the superhero perspective. If there are sexist, racist assholes in place at superhero comic companies, it’s a double betrayal because they’re violating what they’re preaching…. I was raised on comics. Superman and Spider-Man wouldn’t stand for that. Their bosses shouldn’t either.

8 Responses to “Sexual Harassment Reactions”

  1. David Oakes Says:

    I was prepared to go all intolerant on this:

    “The fans are intolerant (whether fans of a particular superhero company”

    Until you said this:

    “those sometimes characterized as ‘art comic snobs'”

    Which is good, because – damning as it is – I totally agree with:

    “the ‘power’ they obtain within a small field goes to their head.”

    I mean, when you can make twice as much editing children’s books, or ten times as much doing storyboards for car commercials, no one in their “right” mind is going to plan their life around a carreer in comics. And “love of the medium” can only get you so far.

    But it got me thinking, is this really just an *American* comics industry question? Is Manga really so popular and widely accepted in Japan that a budding art student can equally choose between professional careers? While there are more female “names”/”stars” in Manga, is this parity or just a numbers game? With ten times as many chances, it’s not unreasonable for one woman to hit the fame lottery. And even ignoring the sub-genres of Manga that make Avatar and Broadsword look child-friendly, Japanese culture has never really been held up as progressive in it’s treatment of women. What horror stories might we hear if just spoke the language? (And if the Japanese were the type to pass on those stories in the first place.)

    In America, a career in comics might get you seated at the table ahead of Sanitation Engineers. But in Japan, is Manga going to be seated even up with Quality Assurance Engineers, much less Doctors, Lawyers? Are all the “benefits” of Manga not ones of type, but merely of degree? (A larger pond simply holds more, both good and bad. And a smaller pond is more easily tainted by a single act.)

    Almost makes me wish I had a PhD in Asian Studies and a large grant with nothing to do. Que sera sera.

  2. Johanna Says:

    I don’t know much about the details of the manga industry — and I like it that way. I know too much about the American superhero industry; it becomes more interesting to me than the books themselves. I don’t want that to happen with manga for me.

    I’m sure that there are sexist and racist stories in every medium and genre.

  3. Michael Denton Says:

    I guess I know far too little about the comic industry – just what I read online – so I continue to be somewhat surprised to learn that fans are the ones who are getting the jobs. Yeah, it makes a large degree of sense – who wants to work in comics that doesn’t like comics – but the implication here is that it’s the worst type of fan getting the jobs (the fanboy) instead of people who have an interest in comics, among other things.

    Regardless, although I believe a lot of the problems with the quality in comics stems from inbreeding – people only reading other comics for insipration and not looking nearly enough to other media or, I dunno, life – the best novelists and filmmakers almost always talk about getting their ideas outside of their own medium – I’m not sure if sexism and racism is so simply linked to this phenomenon.

    In many male-dominated fields and industries, sexism is rampant. I know for a fact that the airline industry has a BIG problem with sexist treatment of women, especially women pilots. That _seems_ to the primary factor here, with a good helping of trying to write to an adolescent audience and having some of the audience also being adults with arrested adolescence issues.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Based only on my personal experience, it’s very difficult not to let the sausage factory warp you once you become part of it. While I was at DC, I hung out with other people who worked there, my hobby was my job, I went home and talked to more fans online or read more comics… it quickly becomes your whole existence. Plus, having to live in the NY area is its own weirdness. You don’t have a lot of time for other things. I think all of that contributes as well.

  5. Stuart Moore Says:

    I agree completely, except for the following nitpick: The top people at DC and Marvel are actually paid very well. I’d argue that fans tend to rise at these companies because they know the material and because they push hardest for it, not because it’s an undesirable position for anyone else. (I also don’t think the hardest-core fans are necessarily the ones who get the farthest, if that makes sense.)

    As for NYC: I actually like it because it’s so EASY to get away from comics — I can walk to a coffee shop and there’s dozens of people around who’ve never heard of Deathlok or Fruits Basket, for that matter, each involved in his/her own private drama. But it’s a matter of personal preference.


  6. Johanna Says:

    Stuart, thanks for adding your thoughts; I always appreciate your perspective.

    Yes, the top handful are well-paid, but especially at DC, there’s little chance of making it there without a death. :)

    And yes, I agree that too much fannishness is considered a detriment — that was one of my questions when I interviewed there, actually — but “too much” is very relative.

  7. Hannah Lee Says:

    Sorry to butt into your conversation but I find the debate fascinating. I’m currently writing a dissertation on Women in comics where they’ve excelled and where they’ve been excluded, which is how I found this page as I’m researching as we speak. I suppose it’s an issue for me as I’m a huge comics fan and a women. I always got the impression from fans, shops and the industry that it was considered a male interest which was utterly frustrating so when i met a female comic creator and asked her why she thought the industry was male dominated she looked perplexed and said it’s not. So my research has been looking at the perspectives of the industry from inside and out. One thing I’ve noticed is Super Hero comics in the early days were marketed towards boys particularly fanboys, it was were the money was at, collectors who prized special editions and buying two issues. This I believe has led to fanboy shops where those who don’t know comics, including girls who have been disuaded from reading them, are given the frosty treatment. No wonder the industry is over run with fanboys noone else has been able to break through.
    The nature of the fanboy unfortunatly does often display social disfunction, an inability to interact comfortably with the real world and finding a way to escape could prevent someone dealing with their issues espiacally if they’ve made a huge success of their interest. I don’t think the sexism experience is intentional but syptomatic of indivduals who’ve never had the chance to overcome their social phobias. I hope thats not too harsh it’s currently just a theory.

  8. More History on the Groping Scandal » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] My original comments when the story first broke in January. My more recent thoughts went like this: My reaction? That it’s terribly disheartening that we’re having the exact same conversations I had on the subject when I worked in the industry ten years ago. That there’s still no reason for anyone to change, especially those in a position of power to do something. That this is only the most obvious, hurtful example of a sexist industry, and that you can’t separate this kind of assault from most of what’s published from the “big two”. That while I appreciate both sympathy and strength in numbers, a bunch of guys telling women what they should and shouldn’t do about the problem seems closer to being part of the problem than the solution. […]




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