On the Brian Wood thing: safe spaces.

16 Nov

  I’m resurrecting this long-neglected blog because I’ve got things to say that are overpowering my school and work distractions. Yep, that’s right: I’M GOING TO WRITE ABOUT THE BRIAN WOOD THING.

  First, let me set a few things straight: I’m not calling Wood a misogynist. I’m not siding with Tess Fowler. I’m not taking a side. What I’m doing here, on my own personal blog of my own personal ramblings, is making a statement that I hope many other women can agree with:

I don’t have to be nice to you.

Let’s unpack that a bit: I’m not saying that I won’t be polite. I’m not saying that I’m going to blatantly insult or belittle you. I’m not telling you that I don’t like you, even.

But if you approach me, and you’re hitting on me, or touching me, or otherwise being in my space in a way I don’t like, you can count on the fact that I’m going to tell you to back off. Now, if this takes the form of a “hey, can you please not do that?” or “fuck off and die immediately” (or, like I said to a creepy Finn cosplayer at NYCC last year who kept trying to hug me, “Under no circumstances.”) , you need to take that to mean that you need to stop what you’re doing.

Yes, people have called me a bitch, or a “hard ass”. And yes, there are a lot of women who don’t feel comfortable saying this kind of thing to guys who are in their space, and might choose to express this differently: moving away from you, or politely exiting the conversation. But regardless of what form it takes, if you get the sense that a woman is trying to actively not be near you, you need to quit it, whatever you’re doing, immediately.

Tess Fowler’s account of what happened between her and Brian Wood is a really clear example of this. Fowler tried to avoid him, and he didn’t let her. Does that mean Wood is a misogynist? It might, I don’t know the dude so I can’t really say, but what it really speaks to is something much larger: a sense of privilege that men feel in a space that has been seen as traditionally theirs. I’m a girl who works in a comic book store. I’m a girl who attends comic book conventions. I see this privilege all the time.

“But I’m not trying to have this privilege! Girls are always overreacting! I’m just being nice!”

It doesn’t matter if you think you’re being nice. Any reaction to your actions that a woman has is valid. What is breaking my heart about this whole Wood/Fowler scenario is that it is coming down to this discussion of “intent”: Wood didn’t intend to upset Fowler with his actions, so the point is moot. Fowler is overreacting. His apology was genuine! Case closed!

 Or, the other side: Wood is a monster! Stop buying his books! Call for his blacklisting!

Guess what? Neither dichotic mode is correct. Instead of defensive side-taking, take a minute and think: why does Fowler feel upset? Why does she need to bring this to light? Why is this being made into such a big deal?

Because we, comic nerds, are not yet at a place where we are really treating any gender interested in comics fairly. Fowler is still “a girl in comics”, and her reaction to something that could happen to any woman– in any career field– is seen as revolutionary. Why? Because a woman reporting sexual harassment is a risk. Suddenly, you’re being questioned from every angle: what were you wearing? Did you say no? If you felt threatened why didn’t you defend yourself?

The fact that Fowler came forward and unflinchingly told her story without fear of consequence is incredibly brave.

Breaking this down into Fowler versus Wood is missing the forest for the trees. Women are still fighting for their place at the table in the comics world, and for us to do anything but smile and work hard is, like I said, a risk. But it’s a risk more women need to take, and one more men need to respect. Remember, misogyny is much more insidious than just catcalling or groping women at shows. It’s things like starting your questions at the comic shop with “I don’t expect you to know the answer to this, but…”, it’s using the word “friendzone”, it’s telling your friend, who has experienced sexual violence herself, that she is “overreacting” about Mark Millar’s use of rape as a plot device (all things that have happened to/at me, by the way). It’s the expectation that I will be nice to you no matter how condescending or flirtatious you act.

So read both Wood and Fowler’s statements. Take away what you can. But don’t take a side. Don’t apologize for either party. Examine your own privilege in your own space, and adjust where necessary. Remember, many of you who are interested in comics have come from places where you feel marginalized or belittled. This should be a safe space for everyone, period.

5 Responses to “On the Brian Wood thing: safe spaces.”

  1. Lilith Wood November 16, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    This seems like a very reasoned take on the subject. I relate to the “I don’t have to be nice” angle. Sometimes when men I don’t know on the bus or on the sidewalk tell me to “smile” or “cheer up” in passing, it strikes me how weird this is and it makes me feel like… On some level men still think we serve at (exist for) their pleasure. Can’t imagine a woman ever ever telling a man she doesn’t know to smile!!

  2. Justin Martin (@RsquaredComicz) November 17, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    A very balanced and needed perspective. Thanks for sharing.

    Justin Martin

    R-Squared Comicz

    http://www.rsquaredcomicz.com/get-comicz/free/store/

  3. xmenxpert November 17, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Yeah, there’s definitely a problem, in the comic book world, with misogyny. I don’t mean the publishers, though they still have far to go in terms of treatment of women. I don’t necessarily mean creators, though some of them can be pretty misogynistic. It’s a problem among the audience. Tess Fowler’s gotten a lot of hate over her allegations, and that is both awful and, sadly, predictable. It happens any time a woman accuses a man of sexual harassment. (And, let’s be clear, that’s what Fowler is alleging: In her account of the story, Wood complimented her work and said she had a future in comics, and used those compliments to try to invite her back to his room. The unspoken implication that she naturally would’ve picked up is that he was offering to get her work if she slept with him. When she didn’t go, he then publicly disparaged her work, attempting to sabotage her career because she turned him down. That is sexual harassment, pure and simple. It’s attempting to use a position of power to solicit sex, and then using that same position to make life more difficult when the other person declines.)

    The criticism of Fowler has been disgusting. And it goes along with how women are normally treated by too large a section of the comic book fanbase. Too many male comic book fans see comics as being their thing, and feel intimidated by women who get involved. So they make accusations of being fake geeks and the like. It’s the same mindset that leads to complaints when a female character stops wearing a bathing suit and puts on some damned pants.

    I think the only solution to this sort of problem is for other people, when they hear this sort of thing, to say, “Shut up. You’re wrong, and you’re stupid, and you’re offensive.” Unfortunately, that’s hard for a lot of people to do. Myself included.

  4. Michael Anyanwu November 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    To me, the whole Brian Wood thing is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s been an open secret for quite sometime that sexist, racist and generally discriminative attitudes are rife in the industry but it’s taken a specific sequence of events to blow the lid off of the cess pit of sexist attitudes that make the majority of women associated with the industry very uncomfortable.

    The fact that so many have turned a blind eye to this crap for such a long time is quite disheartening and it really doesn’t help when a plethora of clowns jump up to shout down women who actually pluck up the courage to speak out when they get harrased in this manner.

    One can only hope that Tess Fowler’s stepping up to the proverbial plate to name Brian Fowler will now focus the spotlight on an issue that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the light.

    People should be free to be a part of a subculture and work in an industry attached to that subculture without having to worry about being sexually, racially or otherwise discriminated against by anyone let alone a professional creator claiming to be down with the cause when they’re anything but.

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