Friday, January 06, 2006

The 1st Annual "Women In Comics" Speech

(a.k.a. Tired of This Bullshit)

Ragnell's Note: The following was e-mailed directly to me by Beatrix Kyle. It's not written by any of the maintainers here, and does not represent our views on the Issue at Hand.

The 1st Annual "Women In Comics" Speech
(a.k.a. Tired Of This Bullshit)
(a.k.a. Lea Hernandez Rocks)

I was recently asked to participate in a women-in-comics type thingie. I turned it down for two reasons:
1) I felt the pressure (mostly internally) to take my usual bullshit wishy-washy stance and point out the positives of the industry while glossing over the negatives. The thought of doing this in-person in a public forum just made me ill; columns & postings are one thing, but to do this tap-dance in front of living breathing people was just too much.
2) Given the mainstream comic industry's track record on the portrayal of women in their publications and the promotion and cultivation of female talent behind-the-scenes, I made a crucial decision--I WILL NOT DEVOTE ONE MORE SECOND OF MY LIFE PROMOTING THIS BUSINESS UNTIL THINGS SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGE!!!!!


What I would have said, had I chose to attend that women-in-comics type thingie, is the following,

My comic-loving brothers and sisters,

I have been involved in comic fandom & the comic industry virtually my entire life. And I have to say that while I have met some nice people and had some good experiences, on the whole I feel that mainstream comics is not a good place for women to be. I would not encourage any young women to enter this particular field; alternative comics, sure, but not mainstream comics.

Here is a news-flash, ladies: mainstream comics are NOT written for women. They are mostly not written for mixed-gender audiences either, but almost exclusively written for--you guessed it--men. Oh wait, let me clarify that--written for white, straight men. There. Now you know. You know why female superheroes are mostly drawn in costumes resembling lingerie with their boobies and ass hanging out? Because they are written for men. Why are female superheroes so often murdered in sadomasochistic, sexualized ways while the male heroes die heroically? Because they are written for men.

These books are NOT being produced for you--I address this to the women, people of color, and LGBTs in the audience.

In fact--and here is a shocker--I have encountered a significant portion of people in this business of comics who do not respect women or African-Americans or gays or anybody who does not fit their spongy pale couch-potato 40-Year-Old-Virgin immature concept of the universe. By "significant" I don't mean most--I don't even mean that these cretins are in the majority. But they are of enough influence to have an effect on the way people are treated and how stories are written. And I'm done--DONE--associating with these assholes, or making any excuses for them whatsoever.

But how can you be in the comics industry and not deal with these individuals? Misogynists in the comic industry...why that goes back decades and decades, it's as all-American and classic as Ebony White or Chop-Chop! To even look back and point a finger at it sacrilege. It's being a big party-pooper, is what it is. You're not going to get anywhere with that attitude...

Ah...stories of porn, gropings, stalkings, blah blah blah. The war stories. All hearsay, of course. And the women...the women were all crazy, who mentioned it, at least according to the men who told back the stories to me. "Sexual problems," the women had, that's why they complained...that's a quote, by the way. "Sexual problems."

Even a supposed figure of female empowerment like Wonder Woman--I can't even cherish that. I never truly found Wonder Woman to be an empowering figure. She started out as a S&M fetish pin-up girl to titillate boys. Then after the Wertham stuff blew over she was back to being a S&M fetish pinup girl. Perez redeemed her. Jimenez turned her into a drag-queen, but at least he respected her. Is it Jim Lee who's gonna draw her next? You think we're gonna see a bondage cover soon? We gotta have a bondage cover soon--that's Classic. That's Classic Comics. It's okay because it's nostalgic. Just like John Byrne waxing rhapsodic about the old Marvel bullpen and the props they gave "The Brothers".

No. Wait. Back up. Reverse it. Nostalgia for the good old days of sexism and racism ISN'T classic. It's bullshit. It's complete and utter bullshit.

Wonder Woman for me's like if you took Amos and Andy and updated it and cast Samuel Jackson and Will Smith in the title roles and it had no resemblance to the original concept whatsoever. Would African-Americans embrace this new Amos and Andy? Or would it be tainted? That's how I feel about Wonder Woman. Tainted.

But that's hardly a big deal.

What IS a big deal is that mainstream comics has a history of misogyny both in their comics and in their field that has gone largely unaddressed.

Nobody wants to talk about it. And I can understand that. What would anybody in the industry--talent, editorial staff, media--have to gain by honestly and forthrightly discussing this issue? It's a small industry. You fart, people run away. Heck, you stand near somebody who farts, people associate you with the foul emission and run away. So you stay "positive". Don't make waves. You conveniently don't see things. You make excuses for your less couth brethren. You donate some money or time to "female" organizations & causes, as long as they're not too threatening. You say that you totally support more women in comics. But you don't really put your money where your mouth is.

Has anybody read that reprint of the old "Daughters of The Dragon" stories that Marvel put out recently? Made me want to burn my eyes out. But of course that was decades ago. What? All-Star Batman? What? Have we really grown as an industry? Have we really come so far from that Golden Age of yore that is so lovingly reprinted in heavy white gloss stock?

When I was a teenager I worked at my local comics shop. The staff consisted of the kindly and cantankerous older middle-aged comics fan and a cast of lovable zanies. I had a great time. Until my boss asked me if I could stay late at work one day to help him bag some comics. And so I stayed late and started bagging the comics. And my boss took the opportunity to tell me that he found me sexually arousing. And he asked me to have sex with him. And I started to silently cry--pretty babyish of me, huh? Should I have punched him in the nuts? I didn't--I cried silently. I was 16, he was in his late 50s. The man expressed complete bewilderment that I responded in this matter. He said that he assumed that when I consented to stay late with him there to bag the comics I was "inviting" him in some manner. Gee is "bagging comics" some sexual euphemism that I am unaware of? I totally trusted this guy; he was like an uncle. So I was devastated, and I'm sitting there crying into this copy of Ghost Rider or Darkhawk or whatever--totally de-minting it, I might add. And the guy gives me some promotional buttons for this comic or that as a "gift". He asks if I can just keep this between us. And you know what? I did. I actually fucking did. But that wasn't good enough. He didn't trust me. So the next day, I come into work. The environment has now completely changed. The other workers--all male--are extremely cold to me. It's freakin' weird. Then my boss says to me that a set of comic-book trading cards went missing, they were found near my work area, and that he suspected me of stealing and that he had to let me go. Which was, of course, complete and utter bullshit. But I STILL don't put it together in my head that this is all happening because I turned him down the day before. So I leave. And days later, it dawns on me--this is all misogynistic bullshit! So I go back to the store and scream at this guy for 25 minutes straight. I was literally thrown out of the store. I left a big crack in the Plexiglas of the door where my fist connected with it on the way out. So I stood up for myself. Or maybe I just have "sexual problems". I mean, what's the big deal if he wanted to have sex with me, right? Why couldn't I just flatter his ego somehow and not make waves? Gosh...

So you would think that after such an incident I would have been this balls-out feminist warrior who would have nothing to do with the industry or take any crap from anybody. But that's not what happened. I graduated college and took on a couple of jobs in comic book publishing. And despite some encounters with very enlightened individuals, I would say that basically NOTHING FUCKING CHANGED. And part of the blame goes to me. Because instead of learning from that really hurtful incident when I was a teenager, I just went back into "victim/enabler" mode. I made excuses. I kept silent. I didn't want to create waves. And even now, as I write this, a part of me feels ashamed. Because nobody wants to read this. Nobody wants to read another "female victimization" story--you know, unless it's sexy.

Well, if you don't want to hear it--fuck you. This is MY dime.

So Lea Hernandez has quit comics. I guess I have as well--or at least my heart has quit it. It comes down to respect. And until the comics industry (including the its news media) begins to seriously examine the issue of women in comics--which, from my personal observations has not significantly happened (present blog excluded)--this medium really doesn't deserve to be taken any more seriously than professional wrestling. If as an industry you feel it's ok to not take things like sexism & racism seriously--if you think it's ok to have a misogynist series as your headline-book or only a handful of African-American superheroes so long after the 60s--then you can't ask for the respect as a medium.

And that, my dear comic-loving sisters (seems like the brothers have left the building after paragraph 2), is my talk on women in comics.

Oh, and don't forget to wear sunscreen.


Meredith said...

So glad you guys are speaking up.

Markus said...

Awesome! Thanks a bundle!

Sleestak said...

Remember the TV show Hunter. In one season the female partner cop of Hunter, Det. Sgt. Dee Dee McCall was assaulted and raped. The episode detailed the price women pay in society for being a victim of a crime and the struggles they go through in the search for justice. It was an educational and very moving and sympathetic episode.

Then in the next season Dee Dee got raped again.

Anonymous said...

Very well said and even if no other creators in the industry are trying to push more diverse characters in their books, know that Approbation is!

P.S. I wish I could log in but I can't find the stupid password. Ah, well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ms. Kyle. Of course, it makes me wonder if Alan Moore was right when he said that the American comic book industry should perish in a "catastrophic fire". It needs to be cleansed, not destroyed.

For the record though, I'm a guy.

Saranga said...

Fuck. Powerful post.