In all of the recent talk about sexual harassment in comics, many of the responses to well-documented incidents in bars has been “Oh, I never saw anything like that!” or “Maybe that’s not how it happened.” Well, here’s an incident that took place ON A PANEL IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE. That’s right, in front of people, and still a male comics person was able to demean and belittle a woman sitting right next to him with no one to stop him.
THAT’S HOW BAD THIS INDUSTRY IS.
Bay Area cartoonist MariNaomi recounts an incident that took place at an unnamed panel at the LGBTQ-themed Prism Comics panel. She was seated next to the sole heterosexual white male on the panel, an unnamed fellow who
certainly stood in very well for straight guys everywhere with the exchange illustrated in this cartoon:
There’s much more in the piece about the guy’s totally assholish behavior. What’s the most saddening is MariNaomi’s reaction; instead of feeling good about speaking out on an important topic, she felt embarrassed and shamed for…just for sitting in the wrong chair:
We get the hell out of there. I vent to my husband. We drive to my friend’s house and I vent to her and her partner. That evening, I distract myself with comfort food, wine and an engaging movie, and hope that I’ve gotten past it, but six hours after the panel has ended, I’m sobbing on the couch, feeling helpless and self-loathing.
I hate myself for acting like everything was fine, for not standing up for myself, for letting him disrespect me in front of all those people. Thirteen hours later, it’s the middle of the night and I’ve woken up in a rage. I’m not over it. In fact, I can’t think about anything except how victimized I feel. How there’s nothing I can do about it now.
Did the other panelists notice how inappropriate he was acting? Did the audience? Did his fans?
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Years ago, at another comic convention, a fellow panelist blatantly looked me up and down and said it was “getting hot in here” — onstage, humiliated in full view of an audience of hundreds. That time, like this one, I was so shocked and confused that I ended up saying nothing.
Why did this man go out of his way to humiliate a fellow professional on stage? Although guesses are made to his identity in the comments MariNaomi prefers he be kept anonymous, a situation which I abhor, but which reflects the reality in an industry so male driven that this situation passed without any notice.
I feel it’s so unfair when the accuser is known and the transgressor remains anonymous.
This piece from The Comics Journal has a better power ratio: both parties are anonymous, but there’s rock solid evidence of what happened, because it was a letter; the piece is called “How To Discourage Women From Cartooning” and it lays out a pretty good campaign for just that. In this case a male cartoonist saw a picture of a female cartoonist in a book and proceeds to write her a drunken mash-note. He did what some people think about but rightly dismiss as inappropriate:
I have photographic evidence for this one, but I don’t have any proof of the other sleazy “real life” encounters I have had in my career.
Every woman I know has had them. They add up, and combined together they go far beyond frustration. While some people might enjoy this type of attention, my beliefs are that:
-This benign-seeming, flirty yet slimy type of talk is how you discourage women from putting themselves out there.
-This type of behavior is how you make women wary of men who show an interest.
-Most of all this type of nonsense is how you discourage women from doing the things they feel most passionate about.
Men of comics, I am about to teach you a truth so astounding, revelatory and profound that I suggest you sit down first. Such is its power that you may never be able to think about women the same way again:
WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS WITH GOALS,
ASPIRATIONS, IDEAS, HOPES AND DREAMS.
THEY DO NOT EXIST SOLELY AS VESSELS
TO MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD.
Got that? Perhaps by engaging with these goals, aspirations, ideas, hopes, and dreams in a collegial way, you will actually become friends, and not just another in a long line of patronizing dream-killers.
I’ll be back in the new year with concrete proposals for things every one of us can do to end harassment in comics. You can send me your own suggestions here: Comicsbeat@gmail.com. I welcome your feedback.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.