The most common rules for avoiding sexual harassment include the following:
- Keep your distance from members of the whispernet’s black list.
- If you want to only discuss your work, you don’t need to go to anyone’s room.
- Be careful what you say to any comic book creator.
- Be careful what you wear.
- Don’t talk about sexual harassment.
I would add another. If you’re invited to join an artist’s super-secret on line inner circle, you’re not allowed to discuss what happens in the circle to outsiders, and you’re not allowed to report or block offensive posts, decline.
Of course, all those rules are nonsense, as they place the burden of responsibility on the wrong people. They should read:
- If you have trouble keeping your hands to yourself, keep your distance from other people.
- If someone wants to discuss their work, let them do so wherever they are. Don’t invite them to your room.
- Don’t twist people’s words around and blame them for hitting on you.
- Even if a person’s walking around naked, you’re still not allowed to sexually harass them.
- If you make a pass at someone, and they say no, be a good sport about it. If someone wants only to be friends or professional colleagues, that’s much better than them being your accuser.
- If someone says they’re being sexually harassed, take them seriously. Don’t shift the blame onto them, and especially do not sexually harass them.
- If someone in your super-secret inner circle is being harassed, and you do not allow them recourse outside your circle, it’s up to you to tell the perpetrators to stop it and kick them out if they don’t.
I was invited to join the on line “inner circle” of a very big name artist. Out of respect for his family, our mutual friends, and for the friendship we once had, I will not use his real name. But out of well warranted disrespect for what he allowed to happen in that circle we can dub him something ridiculous like Illuminatus Bilderberg Totenesser von Finklestein. I’ll call him Fink for short. I had a gut feeling accepting his invitation might not be a good idea. After all, rule number one there was to not talk about the group to outsiders. I also was not allowed to report or block other posts or members. However, I also trusted that the Fink would not let anything bad happen, so I joined.
We had some fun goofing around with movie titles. (I thought Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon over Parador and Fifty Shades of the Grey were pretty funny.) We poked good-natured fun at politicians and other worthy people, and I was beginning to enjoy myself.
Then another artist I’ll call Charlie Foxtrot posted a picture of a drawing Tess Fowler did, and commented that she didn’t have any feminist- or as he called it “feminazi”- credibility because she drew a nude woman. By this, Charlie of course meant that just because Tess Fowler drew a nude, she somehow lost the right to complain about Brian Wood or anyone else sexually harassing her.
Of course I disagreed and kept disagreeing as Charlie and a chorus of male sympathizers offered more and more excuses for Wood’s behavior. “He was just trying to get his meat wet,” he said.
Excuses turned into false accusations against me. “What, you think a guy can’t even ask a girl out?” Then came the demeaning language, especially courtesy of a guy I’ll call Darryl Lipschitz. He chose to only address me as “chicky,” “sweetums,” and other insultingly saccharine, emetic terms especially after I made it clear I prefer simply being called “Valerie.” I’m only slightly exaggerating, calling them emetic. Over the course of this unpleasant exchange, I felt increasingly nauseated and I nearly did throw up. That happens sometimes when I’m really upset. I responded to the increasing barrage of insults, lame excuses, and false accusations- I’m only somewhat sorry to admit- with equally insulting language of the sort I don’t usually use. They needed to know that funny business ended the moment Charlie started insulting women who stand up against sexually predatory behavior, and that their behavior was genuinely unacceptable and needed to stop.
Fink knew all along that the whole ugly situation distressed me greatly, but rather than take a stand in favor of honoring a woman’s right to say no or using his authority as a big name creator and founder of the group to stand up for a fan and a friend, he blamed me for bringing people down. I don’t like being the bearer of bad news, but the group was taking on a creepy He-Man Woman Haters’ Club, bros before hos vibe, and somebody had to try to do something about it. Fink then kicked me out, even claiming that it was for my own good.
It would have been bad enough had it ended there.
First, Charlie Foxtrot sent me a private message claiming he’d sincerely apologize for what he’d done, but, as he gleefully admitted, he wasn’t sorry. This was after I’d already told him in the group to leave me alone. I told him again. So far, it appears he finally got the message.
Adam Kast, a member of Charlie Foxtrot’s chorus, didn’t get it. He sent me repeated messages he knew were unwelcome, making numerous propositions involving me, my husband, and (urg!) him. I told him just as persistently to leave me alone. For some odd reason, I could not block him, and I needed my messager on for work related reasons. I knew he didn’t mean a thing he said, but using sexual propositions as a weapon to deliberately distress people is still sexual harassment, and at that point, I was beginning to get scared every time anyone sent me a message. I don’t like being scared. Something like that calls for dramatic action. So I did the only other thing I could think of. I’m using Adam Kast’s real name because I already called him out for his behavior in public.
Proving that we really need to have an open and serious discussion on sexual harassment and stop protecting the perpetrators, it worked. He stopped contacting me immediately. And then I succeeded in blocking him.
As for those for whom I used pseudonyms, I don’t think they’re complete fools. If they see this, they’ll likely suspect I’m referring to them. A lot of other people might, too. Some may be right, some not, but regardless, if you even suspect you see yourself in here, just know that it’s easier to stop sexual harassment yourself rather than rely on others to make you.
Finally, lest somebody write experiences like this off as typical for being a woman in a male-dominated field, I’m no stranger to working in a number of similarly male-dominated professions. But never while working in firefighting, EMS, or even construction did I ever experience treatment this bad. So what’s the comic book industry’s excuse? Nothing.