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We Need All Voices in Comics (Or I Started the #FireRickRemender Hashtag and I’m Only Kind of Sorry About It)

Republished with permission.

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I’d like to clear the air.

The past 96 hours have been some of the most stressful, anxious, and rewarding of my life.

Wednesday evening, following my first read of Rick Remender’s Captain America #22, I posted a series of entries to my blog reiterating my distaste for his work, and my renewed (and long-held) belief that he should no longer be writing it.

In my haste and anger, I asked other people who shared my opinion to tweet Marvel Comics, Rick Remender, and Captain America editor Tom Brevoort with their concerns, using the hashtag #FireRickRemender.

And I’m sorry.

I understand that the hashtag, and the arguments held under its banner, could have been (and were) seen as personal attacks. And for that, I apologize. I was coming from a place of upset, discomfort, disgust, and outrage, and I acted solely from that place.

I am genuinely sorry for any personal affront my actions may have caused.

What I am not sorry for is everything that came afterward.

Following is, I hope, a better explanation of the thinking behind #FireRickRemender. And hopefully, this will finally allow for the dialogue I’d hoped to create.

1. This was never about just Captain America #22.

By now, nearly everyone is familiar with the particular sequence of Jet and Sam’s sexual encounter as it played out in the issue. Jet Black Zola, genetically engineered daughter of Arnim Zola, resident of Dimension Z, plied Sam Wilson with wine and the two ended up sleeping together, an act that Sam almost immediately regretted.

Let me explain something that to me has always been obvious, but is perhaps less so to people who have not led their lives being hypervigilant about sexual assault and all of its precursors:

As a survivor of sexual assault, I see it everywhere.

I see it everywhere because I’ve been conditioned to. Because, as a person who identifies as female, I have spent my entire life being told how to act, dress, hold myself, and interact with others in order to keep myself safe. Because I live in a culture where nearly all types of media traffic in stories that excuse, glorify, or erase sexual assault.

I am thankful that this is not the case for many, and I wish I could say the same for myself and my sisters who have suffered the way we have.

But – I am willing to accept Jet’s admission of age at face value. I am willing to disregard the way she was originally introduced, as a child, and the way that the tricky timing differences between Dimension Z and Earth-616 interact. I am willing to accept Tom Brevoort’s assertion that Remender’s authorial intent was to create Jet as a fully-grown female.

What I am unwilling to accept is the fact that Jet’s age remained unestablished in canon until the exact point that it became time for her to engage in sexual intercourse.

The fact that her age remained undefined (i.e., left open to reader interpretation) for so long, while Jet was presented in increasingly more sexualized costumes and poses, is either a gross editorial oversight or a hard grab for sensationalism, depending on where you’re sitting.

The entirety of the controversy over Captain America #22 could have been fixed a year ago with a short editorial note or in a single expository panel. Instead, her age (and therefore her ability consent) was left up to interpretation as a means to titillate.

It is not the fault of the reader for being offended.

It is the fault of the editorial and creative team for leaving things as serious as this to interpretation.

We could argue the finer points of authorial intent ad nauseum – and I, personally, have – but the fact remains that the author’s parentheticals and the editor’s redlines cease to exist once the book itself has been drawn and printed. The words on the page in the final issue are all that’s entered into canon.

One cannot leave something as serious as the age of an oft-sexualized female character open for interpretation and then react negatively and aggressively to the fans’ discomfort at the same fact.

Additionally, my personal – and many people’s – problems with Rick Remender’s run on Captain America began from the very first issue. To insinuate that there has been no outcry, or that this new outrage is unfounded and reactionary, would be untrue. His missteps in the title have been chronicled in multiple places by many people with more skill and patience then I – but believe me, I would not be where I am had my original concerns over his treatment of Sarah Rogers, his handling of Steve’s mental state in Dimension Z, and his violent and arguably unnecessary killing of Sharon Carter had been addressed.

2. Representation is not a consolation prize.

As a comics fan who’s been reading actively for nearly ten years, I understand that there’s a certain ebb and flow. Titles come and go, creative teams change; some arcs are more interesting or resonate more deeply to certain people.

I am not asking, I have never asked, for all comics to cater to me and my tastes.

The point of #FireRickRemender – the dialogue I’d hoped to start – goes above and beyond that.

I am asking, respectfully, as a female fan who has spent a good deal of time being a fierce supporter of a medium that has more often than not made me feel unwelcome – for comics culture to change.

Because we are at a breaking point.

As long as we continue to support a community where the go-to way to cause pain to a male hero is to kill his love interest, where the idea that a female character cannot exist independently but rather on a team of men remains, where the tired, time-worn trope of the sexualized woman who has no control over her own destiny continues, we are party to the disenfranchisement of thousands of other fans.

Being a female comics fan is difficult. At times, I have felt uncomfortable with what passes for plot development and storytelling. When Rick Remender’s poorly-handled sexual encounter between Jet and Sam spun out in Captain America #22, it was the last straw for me.

I am tired of supporting a medium that continually finds ways to tell me that me and my gender are not of value. I am tired of speaking out for and financially supporting a community that tirelessly tries to devalue my opinions, my ideas, and my existence. I am tired of attempting to create dialogue on issues that are important to me – issues that affect my life – to be told that I am hysterical, that I am overreacting, that I am wrong.

It is long-past time for comics to welcome all voices.

Marvel can do better. And it has, in recent years, with titles like Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Elektra, with the introduction of the all-female X-team in X-Men, with Hickman’s ethnically and sexual-identity-diverse Avengers team.

But representation is not a consolation prize. Rolling out books with all-female teams, or finally offering solo books for long-standing, popular female characters is a good start, but it is not what I’m asking for.

What I’m asking for – what I will keep asking for – is comics that respect women. Comics that do not treat women as pawns to be played or prizes to be won. Comics that celebrate female friendships, comics that celebrate female heroes, comics that show that female heroes are equals, and rightfully so, with their male counterparts.

Comics that do more than reinforce negative, damaging stereotypes.

Rick Remender’s consistent misuse of the female characters in his books – including the violent deaths of Scarlet Witch and Rogue in his run on Uncanny Avengers, his glorification of the abuse Sarah Rogers suffered at the hands of her husband, and his continual depiction of Jet Black Zola as a sex object long before her age was established – is just the most glaring, most despicable example of just how entrenched this sort of lazy, sexist storytelling is in comics culture.

In actuality, his work is just the symptom of a larger disease. Comics as a whole is ripe for an overhaul, one that brings it up-to-date with a world where barriers are being broken everyday.

We live in a culture where it is still illegal in many places for LGBTQ individuals to wed. Slapping Rictor and Shatterstar’s wedding day on a cover isn’t good enough.

We live in a culture where women are consistently told what they can do to avoid getting raped. An all-female X-team is not good enough.

Positive representation of female characters, of characters of color, of queer characters means very little when endorsed by a company that is simultaneously complicit in the continued treatment of those same characters as objects and non-entities.

Actions speak louder that words, Marvel.

That’s why I’m not sorry about #FireRickRemender.

I’m not sorry, because in a few days, I raised more awareness and generated more discussion and attention than I have writing letters since Captain America debuted in November 2012.

I’m not sorry, because I know Marvel can do better.

I’m not sorry, because the amount of creator and fan backlash, the amount of sheer vitriol that’s been spewed, the amount of cruel jokes and sarcasm and outright offensive and revolting behavior has served only to drown out my concerns.

I’m not sorry, because I’m tired of being silent. I’m tired of the tacit participation of fans, creators, editors, and executives. I’m tired of the pervasive acceptance of the fact that these themes, and the attitudes they breed, are acceptable.

I’m not sorry, because as a female fan, I’ve always had to be three times as loud to get my voice heard.

I’m not sorry, because in the past few days, I’ve endured rape threats, slurs, name-calling, unwanted sexual advances, and threats to my personal safety for speaking out.

I’m not sorry, because a culture that perpetuates the stereotype that women are sex objects in fiction is a culture that is party to every horrific consequence of that belief being played out in reality.

I only hope that a dialogue can be created. I hope that the voices of fans will one day not be silenced based upon the content of their opinion.

I hope that I’ve done a small bit of good.

This article originally appeared on WeinerSoldier.Tumblr.com under the name We Need All Voices in Comics (Or, I Started the #FireRickRemender Twitter Tag and I’m Really Only Kind of Sorry About It) and is reposted with permission.

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