plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Refrigerator Culture and Privilege

So it took a scandal to bring the Heap out of its semi-retirement, but I felt like I had some thoughts to add. By now everyone knows about the creator who was sexually assaulted by an industry peer, and several people have had some really great and insightful things to say about it. Too many to link, in fact, so please head over to When Fangirls Attack and scroll down. I noticed that Elayne Riggs mentioned how few of the men who blog about comics have weighed in on this thing, so I thought I would contribute some thoughts that I have about privilege, avoidance and distraction.

There has not been a single post made by a woman on this subject that did not have, somewhere in the comments, a variation on the theme of "most men in comics and fandom aren't like that." This is a statement of distraction and avoidance. For one thing, it goes without saying. People who are not the problem...are not the problem. By shifting the focus off of the offenders and onto all of the decent people, we allow the offenders to keep on keeping on, and that doesn't do anyone any good.If I get mugged, I don't want someone who is ostensibly a well-wisher to come up to me and say, "well, the majority of people don't go around mugging, so relax." It doesn't help. It distracts.

Focussing the attention on the good people of comics has a net effect of zero when it comes to making it a less hostile environment for women. It sends the message that you can't change the way it is, but at least you can ignore it. For men that's true. That's part of what it means to have privilege. For women, however, it's not true. They can focus on the good guys all they want, but the bad guys are still there, leering, grabbing, assaulting, making unwanted drunken advances, and when rebuffed, blaming the women for being uptight, not having a sense of humor, being dressed a certain way, or only liking jerks or something. Most men in the industry/fandom are decent? It doesn't matter. The environment is hostile to women either way. Why isn't it hostile to the gropers, instead? Why aren't they the ones who feel uncomfortable?

When you point out again and again that most of the men are decent, what you are in effect doing is waving your hands over your head saying, "Yoo hoo! Look at me, I'm one of the good ones, don't hate me!" You're making it about yourself. Don't. It's not.

Another fun avoidance/distraction technique is mentioning that things like sexual assault/harrassment happen outside of comics too, it's a larger problem, whaddyagonnado...etc. But you know, you can fight against it inside and outside of comics, if you want to. And if you just fight it in the world of comics, it's certainly not going to hurt. Hell, if everyone who was a geek for something fought against sexual harrassment in their own subculture, say Sci-Fi, auto racing, gaming, hunting, fishing, whatever, that might make a fairly good sized dent in the problem. If comics is what you know, it's as good a place as any to stand your ground.

And of course, the "what can I do if I don't know what to boycott" line is a good one too. Look, nobody has to boycott anything; it won't make a difference to anyone but your DM outlet proprietor (of course, if your LCS owner is one of the jerks...). As long as the movie gets made and the toys and video game tie-in merchandising happy meal stuff gets made, you cannot hit them where it hurts simply by changing your comic buying habits. What you can do is listen and think. When women speak about their experiences and their discomfort, don't try to make it about yourself. If you are not contributing to the behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, then they aren't talking about you and there's no need to defend yourself. Listen. Find out what it is that bothers them. You may not think it sounds like a big deal, you may think they just need to lighten up, but when you think that way, you are approaching the problem from a position of privilege. Always remember that. Please don't try and pull their attention away from the things that bother them. If someone's giving them trouble and you say, "Oh, he's just like that, ignore him" or "What about all the good people," well, that's a little patronizing, isn't it? You might as well be saying "you're too pretty to be having such unpleasant thoughts." Which pulls you squarely out of the decent guys column and puts you in with the creeps. Even if you mean well.

The anger is legitimate. The harrassment is not. And while I and my sex can get past this and move on if we so choose, it is only because of our privilege. The women who love the medium as we do don't have that option. And I am not moving on until they can, too.


Lolo said...

I just fell a little bit in love with you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you so much for putting that into words better than I ever could.

Janet Harvey

Anonymous said...

That was fantastic, thank you.

-Lisa Jonte

Lea Hernandez said...


I was beginning to wonder how many people'd noticed the minimizing behavior, the "Yeah, but" birds flying over, twittering.

It's good to know someone DID notice, and articulated well why the behavior doesn't help.

Stevie Wilson said...

I must agree with the rest, that was well said and refreshing to read. Thank you.

Elayne said...

Thanks for the plug, Dan! I do want to add the disclaimer that it was only the guys on my blogroll who hadn't mentioned the toipc, and that the When Fangirls Attack! gals did inform me that a number of male bloggers have posted about it. In fact, their compilation for 1/12/06 was how I found this post! By the way, I love your sentence: " People who are not the problem...are not the problem." It's a variation of what my husband says a lot - "if you don't think the post/comment is about you, it's unproductive to take offense on behalf of someone else; if you DO think the post/comment is about you, you have far bigger problems than someone pointing this out!" Oh, and might I suggest you submit this post to the next Carnival of Feminists (which is focusing on pop-culture)?

Dan Jacobson said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. And I'm really sorry.

I'm glad that there are enough women and fairly sympathetic men who are interested in comics now that this was able to be brought up and that this creator could find some support.

Given that the bulk of the creators of comics in the US are the fans of years past, I can be cautiously optimistic that the growing presence of women as a market force now will result in a growing presence of women as a creative force in the future. As that happens, hopefully a large part of the discomfort and general creepiness will go away. Even so, it's sort of a shame that it has to happen that way, that we can't just say, "Stop it!" and have it go away. Not that that should keep us from expecting it to just stop; after all, if we are willing to accept less, than less is what we'll probably get.

Elayne, thanks for the recommendation. I will look into it, as I've been looking forward to the carnival for a while now.


B. Clay Moore said...

Pretty well stated, Dan.

A recent example of absolutely outrageously inappropriate behavior was revealed to me not long ago, by the offended party. She asked if I thought she should allow the experience to be revealed in a public forum. My answer was a resounding "yes," primarily because the person who made the offending comment (at an industry gathering) is a complete asshole who is looked upon as a shining beacon of the industry's retailing community. She apparently disagreed with me, not wanting to put herself in the spotlight, but to me it underscores that the comics community plays be a different set of rules from the rest of the world.

It's not my place to bring the incident to light, but it's one more black mark in my mental notebook.

The comment he made would have drawn censure in any other industry.

That type of sexist behavior is just one more example of what happens when socially retarded men (of which there are a disproportionate number in comics) find themselves in positions of prominence, and it's not going to stop anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you sir, for articulating so well what I could not in the three column series! You made some very thought-provoking remarks and have my deepest repsect.

-Ronée Garcia Bourgeois
"What A Girl Wants"

Jon Silpayamanant said...

Nicely put Dan.

Anonymous said...


I have much to say, but no good way to say it. Thank you.