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Sorry To Burst Your Masturbatory Comic Bubble (No, I’m Not)

Essay

[Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on Jill's tumblr, The Bird and the Bat. Trigger warning for language about sexual threats.]

I have a theory on why a small segment of men who read comics send rape threats to women who write about comics. To put it simply, they think we’re destroying their masturbatory fantasies (literal or otherwise).

You may laugh but it’s quite possibly the source of all the hatemongering. They’re under the impression comics are for men. Men only. And the characters therein, specifically the female characters, are there for them to ogle. The mere thought of that being taken away from them is frightening (even though, you know, porn and porn comics!). So frightening they will do anything to stop it. And they think silencing women with threats is the answer. 

Can’t blame them for that thinking completely. After all, comics have been marketed at men 18-34 for a long time. But, and this is always what gets me, if you want your precious comic books to exist in 20 years, you need other demographics to read them.

The first time I was called a “cunt” online (Oh, boy! I must have missed the day in my college journalism courses where they went over that part of the job!), was when I wrote an op/ed titled, “Aquaman Needs a New Costume” for Newsarama back in 2010 (at least this is the first time I remember). I had written for Comic Book Resources previously but before then, had only written convention coverage or interviews. Here I was, writing my previously Heartless Doll-hosted comic book column “Hey, That’s My Cape!, a woman, giving an opinion on a comic book character’s costume (a male character at that), and I was harassed for it.

It was incomprehensible to me at the time, having only really been on the receiving end of the warm and fuzzy part of the comics community before then, that someone would have such vitriol over a comic book. Of course, it wouldn’t be the last time I gave my opinion online and therefore, was just the first in a long line of misogynist hate directed toward me (I have a “shithead” folder in my email as well as one on my desktop filled with screenshots of the offenders. This is, sadly, necessary for legal reasons.).

We could call them assholes. They are. But so is the driver who decides they need to get in front of me in rush hour traffic. These people are worse and they shouldn’t be excused with a wave of the hand.

When these issues are brought up, there are always responses to the effect of, “I haven’t seen it so it doesn’t exist.” My guess is, they have seen it. They either ignore it, or it’s such a part of the way they were brought up it doesn’t even register. [Edited to add: You also might not see it because community managers delete them before you get a chance. We do that frequently on this website.] But for a larger portion of people seeing others bring up issues of misogyny in the comics community, it’s a no-brainer. “This is bad.” “This needs to stop.”

Janelle Asselin, a good friend and colleague of mine (and former TMS weekend editor), spurred this recent round of discussion thanks to a critique she wrote on CBR of a new Teen Titans comic book cover. Because one of her critiques happened to include the size and shape of a teenage character’s breasts, she received all manner of harassment, including rape threats sent via a survey she was conducting on…wait for it…sexual harassment in the comic community.

What Janelle experienced (some more details in her own words here), was not new. Let me repeat. Was. Not. New. It’s happened for years, to countless individuals. Not just in comics, obviously, but every industry.

I’m happy to see folks like Dan Slott, Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, and more – probably big names to the disgusting offenders – publicly decrying the behavior as abhorrent and unacceptable. Fellow journalist (and dude) Andy Khouri just added to the growing pile with a piece on Comics Alliance, “Fake Geek Guys: A Message About Sexual Harassment.”

But a part of me is also sad. Why? One, because this has been going on for far too long (This is just the latest outcry. Remember when Mark Millar got involved after hearing about a notoriously vile troll who went after myselfdcwomenkickingass and others? That’s just one of many.) and because these men’s voices seem to carry louder in the community than the women who’ve been experiencing it first hand and speaking out about it for years. And two, because I’m not sure it will have any effect whatsoever on the offenders. That minuscule segment of the community is set in its ways. Comics are for them. Don’t let anyone else in. This set of Double D’s are for me. Period.

It’s also important to remember there are numerous women without someone famous speaking on their behalf. I know women who have quit doing what they love because of the threats they’ve received and how scared they’d been made to live as a result. It’s unacceptable. So what do we do?

Rachel Edidin had some good thoughts in her recent Tumblr post but bottom line? Shun them. Seriously. Shun them. Do not accept them in our community. You may say, “I’ve never seen someone make a rape threat online,” but can you say the same about a rape joke, or a man telling a women she’s being “too emotional” or “she needs to get laid?” My guess is no. And guess what? That’s where it starts. Making someones’ gender an attack point.

You see it. You know you do. Next time, say something.

(top pic via Wonder Woman #19, Cliff Chiang art)

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