If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time spent writing eighty-nine entries in the IN YOUR FACE JAM series, it’s that instincts are the worst. I mean, they’re usually the best, sure, but they’re also the worst — specifically when it comes to writing weekly opinion pieces. There are topics I expect I’ll write about, topics that I might even do a little research for, and then things happen and I can’t think about anything else. It just gets stuck in my head, worse than “Tik Tok” ever did during its reign of terror/pleasure. So for the second week in a row, my dissection of the early ’90s “G.I. Joe” issues that introduced me to comics — and the term “eco-terrorist” — will have to wait; there’s something more important to talk about.
The reaction to Janelle Asselin’s thoughtful evaluation of DC Comics’ new “Teen Titans” #1 cover has become a bigger news story than the initial critique. Asselin, a comic book professional who has, among other things, editing DC’s Batman titles on her resume, has experienced a number of vile, misogynist, and violent threats lobbed her way for merely speaking honestly. And this is 2014, so all of those horrible comments can probably found in comment sections and Twitter feeds, preserved like hate speech mosquitos in HTML amber. The predominant takeaway I’ve seen in supportive essays and comments online is that this issue also affects men, and that the male-identifying portion of the population has to solve this issue. So let’s talk, guys.
All Asselin — a woman — had to do to get rape threats thrown her way — by men — was write a few hundred words about a comic book cover. Think about that; a woman writes an op-ed about a comic book cover, and men immediately bust out the rape threats. Comic book cover, threats of traumatic sexual violence. Come on, all you fedora-wearing self-proclaimed “nice guys,” who’s your real enemy? The woman speaking from her personal and professional experiences to voice an opinion about a piece of comic book artwork, or the men that refuse to listen to reason and unleash their rape fantasies online as part of a perverted sense of bro-justice? Women are not in the wrong here, men are, and this has to change.
Let’s get to the root of the problem. What’s really bugging y’all? I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assume that all of this lashing out, all of these threats of violence, are fear-based. You guys are afraid of change, and pieces like Janelle Asselin’s represent change. I think it’s safe to guess that the vast majority of men angry about the “Teen Titans” #1 criticism may be among those that got mad when Miles Morales became Spider-Man, or when Alan Scott became a gay man, or when they cast Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, or when they launched an all-female “X-Men” book. The kneejerk reactions and overwhelming vitriol are all racist, homophobic and misogynist, and they’re all reactions from men afraid of the comic book changing from the “Mad Men” style boys club it’s been into something — different. Something where a woman writes an essay on their website critiquing a book that’s aimed at them and what does she know, anyway? Face facts, true believers — she knows a lot. She knows a lot about comics because, again, she edited Batman comics — most likely some of your favorite Batman comics from recent memory, too. She also knows a lot about the subject because she’s a woman. And guys, this is the other root of the problem. Yeah, this misogynist tree has more than one root.
Guys, we don’t know everything, and other human beings have different life experiences that just allow them to know more about certain things. Period. And this is not a bad thing! I’ve never lived in Sweden, so I don’t claim to know more about Swedish life than any of the members of the Hives. Similarly, I’ve never identified as a woman, and I’ve never lived as a woman, so I have no idea what it’s like to experience life like them. The same goes for all the other men out there that identify as male and live their lives as male. All those ’90s comedians are right — men and women are different, but those differences can’t be boiled down to cutesy and regressive notions like “women love to shop” and “men are dumb asses.” Men and women are only different because our male-driven society makes them different. This society has somehow given you guys the idea that it’s okay to belittle, threaten, and ignore another human being just because of their gender. Why isn’t it cool to listen and learn?
Truth time, guys! Up until June 2011, I legitimately thought we lived in a post-feminism world, where every human being enjoyed equality at least in regard to their gender. I’m from the South, so I know racism and homophobia are still very present problems, but I grew up with a mother, a sister, and a lot of aunts that are all my definition of fearlessly independent, take-no-crap people. I never, ever thought of them as less-than, and I grew up assuming that everyone can be and do and live whoever and whatever and however they want, regardless of gender. This same idea stayed with me through all of high school and college, where my friends were predominantly female. I did not identify as a feminist because I did not think the term was relevant anymore; I thought that was at least the one area we had succeeded in. I thought that the strong women in my family, in my friend group, and in leadership positions in my life were examples that we had come a long way; I never saw them accept anyone treating them as less-than, but It wasn’t until June 2011 that it dawned on me that I had seen men actually try to belittle them. This strength that I had assigned to the women in my life was born out of a society that places unfair and limiting expectations on women.
So in June 2011, a fellow comedian — one that I always looked up to and enjoyed watching perform every Saturday night for the first few years of my life in New York City — posted a story on Tumblr about being sexually harassed on the subway. The story shocked me, but — to get all Upworthy on y’all — not as much as what happened next. For the next week, every single female friend I had on Tumblr posted their own stories of harassment. My friends. The people that I love, the people that I perform alongside, every one of them had a similarly horrifying story. To quote myself on June 9, 2011:
“I do not understand the world we live in. I do know that I love my friends and the least I can is reblog their stories to raise awareness of this insane bullshit. This stuff needs to be said, because I genuinely had no idea this stuff happens this often.”
That moment changed me. Forever. It changed me because I listened to people sharing their personal experiences without judging them. Hearing those stories woke me up to the fact that things are not okay, and that feminism — which is the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men and not making women superior to men — is a very relevant term. Since then I’ve become aware of how other guys would handle seeing every one of their female friends open up about sexual harassment. Here are a few examples:
“But that’s not all men!” This one ignores the fact that there are enough men around that feel that women exist solely for their visual — and sometimes physical — pleasure to provide every woman with at least one story of sexual harassment.
“Let me play devil’s advocate –” This one reveals that the guy values the reputation and motivations of the harasser over the pain of the victim — a victim that’s ostensibly his friend.
“We can’t help it!” This one should get all men riled up, as it implies that we’re all illogical pelvis monsters, driven by Neanderthal urges.
The comic book community is changing right now, and it’s changing because of the Internet. The Internet has given women a platform to speak up about the medium they love in a way that the male-driven comics industry never did before. And guys, we cannot be upset about the absolute worst of us getting called out for being sexist monsters. No, they’re not all men, but we have to hold them accountable and stand in support of our fellow human beings, the ones that are being victimized. We can’t dismiss their truths, we can’t try to silence them, and we definitely can’t harass them. If you’ve sent a rape threat, or dismissed any comic book criticism written by a woman as the “rantings of a feminazi,” then you are part of the problem. Comics are leaving you behind.
Comic books are changing, and there’s no magic amount of Twitter indignation that can put things back the way they were. Women write comics. Women draw comics. Women color comics. Women letter comics. Women edit comics. Women write about comics. Women go to conventions. Women go to comic book movies. Women buy comics. A disgusting vocal section of the male population seems incredibly annoyed by this, but it’s not going to change and — spoiler alert — it’s only going to make things better. No matter how many threats these “nice guys” make, female-focused comic book communities are going to thrive on Tumblr and women are going to keep making comics because they love this medium and the super hero genre as much as everyone else does. Conventions are going to have “Women In Comics” panels, and they’re going to be in the biggest rooms, and they’re still going to be standing room only. Equality has to win. Women aren’t going to stifle their creative urges and bend to the will of gross men. They’re going to be like my mom and my sister and every other woman I know; they’re going to fight, and they’re going to win. Get with the winning side, guys.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).