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.