Excellent Comic About Sexism By Gabby Schulz

There’s been this huge shitstorm on twitter (and subsequently on blogs, websites, and forums everywhere) over the last few days regarding a comment cartoonist Kate Beaton made about sexism.  It was a mild comment, intended, I believe, in goodwill, to just educate people about being aware of some stuff that’s pretty offensive and not okay to say to cartoonists – of any gender really, but yes, specifically women, since that’s who 99% of these kind of things are said to.  If you follow any comics professionals on twitter you probably got an eyeful…though it’s ridiculous trying to follow cohesive arguments on twitter…so you may have thrown up your hands in frustration and given up as I often do.

I’ve been thinking about this for days.

I thought about writing about it here, but after getting in a massive fight about it with my significant other, decided it was a third rail I just shouldn’t touch.  But then today I read a comic by Gabby Schulz and I realized that it’s my responsibility as a woman that works in the comics world to stand up for what I believe – which is that Kate Beaton and the others that have stood with her publicly are 100% correct.

The bottomline is, regardless of the perfectness or accuracy of Beaton’s initial example, it’s just not okay to say sexual and intimate things that put people’s bodies on display to professional people, even if you think it’s a compliment because she’s HOTT.  We (again, all comics professionals, but especially women comics professionals) work very hard to divorce our personal physicality from our work, because it’s not something that should have to go together.  The same way no man should be expected to be SUPER sexy while he’s busy being brilliantly talented and bringing me awesome comics, it’s unfair to tie a woman’s hotness (or lack thereof) to her work, again, yes, even if you think you’re being nice and complimentary.

The two things don’t go together, and should in fact have nothing to do with one another, and linking them is a problem.  Consider that what you find to be a compliment, is immediately and inexorably linking that woman’s work to her sexuality and level of attractiveness to YOU.  What you think you’re making about her, you’re really making about YOU and how she applies to YOU.  And in many cases, for many women, it feels threatening.  Consider – at a minimum – women who are not straight and not interested in YOU and women who have been victims of sexual abuse (which at 1 in 6, makes the odds pretty high that you’ll eventually say this to a woman who has had a history of sexual violence perpetrated against her at one time or another).  But even if you’re lucky enough to say it to a straight woman with no history or triggers that doesn’t seem to mind – it’s just not appropriate.

Ladies are tough, nine times out of ten, we laugh this kind of stuff off or ignore it because we are used to it, because we’ve trained ourselves to try not to care, because we’ve learned that it’s usually a bigger hassle to deal with it than to sweep our feelings under the rug (case in point, the exact shitstorm that is going on now).  But that doesn’t make it right, and sweeping it under the rug means that nothing gets fucking better, and in many cases people don’t even know that what they’re doing is offensive and wrong, because they didn’t intend for it to harm anyone.  But if we needed any proof that this stuff goes on in high numbers it’s evident in the vitriolic sexist response to Beaton’s simple bit of advice to fans, which was essentially – make it about the work, the same way you would for any creator, and not about whether you’d bang us or not with your awesome penis.

Let me lastly say that there are TONS of dudes that are supportive and progressive and that get what Beaton and others are talking about and have been and continue to be wildly supportive in breaking down these barriers and making things equal and civilized so that we can all just be treated like human beings.  There are also tons of dudes that might have made the mistake of saying something like this to a creator, without ever realizing why it was wrong, but have now learned something (which was the intent I believe of Beaton’s tweet in the first place)…so this is not some JUDGMENT OF ALL DUDES.  It’s not.  Plenty of you are awesome and show it every day.  But there are also plenty of asshats that need some education and unfortunately they’re a big vocal aggressive group, one that’s especially prevalent on the internet.  And I’m not going to pretend there aren’t asshat chicks too.  There’s plenty of them.

Anyway, I don’t have the time, energy, or emotional fortitude to go further – and I certainly can’t do it with as much charm and grace as Gabby Schulz, so I’ll just put myself out there publicly with Kate and her supporters and post a page of Gabby’s strip, and link to the rest of it.  Check it out.

by Gabby Schulz

14 comments

  1. ross’s avatar

    damn, i guess i joined twitter a week too late.

  2. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    Don’t worry there will be tons more shitstorms for you to participate in. :)

  3. ross’s avatar

    i think your post here probably sums it up best, anyway, i’m not sure if it could have been said better.

  4. John’s avatar

    Hah, I just used Ms. Beaton’s comics in the composition class I teach. Her comments would have added to that conversation.

  5. Greg Burgas’s avatar

    Here’s a question. From Beaton’s own twitter thing, the person (a male, presumably) wrote something along the lines of her comics being so good he wanted to marry her and have her babies. Yes, that’s essentially the same as Schulz’s cartoon, except for the absurdity of a man having a woman’s babies. I may have said that a comic by a man is so good I want to have his babies, and I’ve DEFINITELY come across women making that comment about a man’s comics. Is the absurdity enough to mitigate the foolishness of saying something like that, which links Beaton’s talent to her looks? I just wonder, because there’s a difference between saying Beaton’s comics are so good the man wants to fuck her and Beaton’s comics being so good the man wants to actually bear children.

    I get the objectification angle, and I also get why Beaton was insulted. But I also wonder where the absurdity of the statement comes into it and if that tempers it at all. Which is why I come to you to ask!

  6. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    @ross: Thanks. I feel very passionate about this, but I’m also very emotionally empty right now and I had a hard time putting my feelings down well…so thanks.

    @John: I wish I’d get to be in a composition class in which the teacher was awesome enough to use Beaton’s comics.

    @Greg: And that was (I think) the crux of my argument with Adam about this situation.

    There are a couple things/problems.

    Problem one is that in the tweet I saw from Beaton it did not say “your work/comics are so good I want to marry you and have your babies” It said something closer to just “I want to marry you and have your babies”. And while I’m sure work/comics may have been implied/assumed…it wasn’t in her actual statement about what was said.

    THAT said, Beaton’s been quite upfront about her original tweet not being perfect/accurate/direct quote….which has caused a lot of problems in this “debate”.

    I think that the person who said whatever it was they said to Beaton (and many people who say these things) had ABSOLUTELY the best of intentions…I’m sure they believed they were paying a compliment – I mean they “love her” so of course the goal is not offense. But I do think that’s why it’s worthy of being brought up and discussed – because for many artists it might be fine…but for equally as many (if not more) it’s threatening, offensive, uncomfortable, and inappropriate…and so it’s better to just not do it. I’m sure most “fans” just do not realize some of the implications and adverse effects of their (to them) harmless words/jokes.

    Which is, again, a good reason to bring it up. Because it IS offensive to a lot of people and as far as I’m concerned, inappropriate, and the only way people can start to learn that the behavior is wrong, is for it to be discussed.

    For a shoe on the other foot example, on the show Bored To Death in which Zach Galifinakas (sp?!) plays an indie comics creator/artist his recent book (about a character – Super Ray – with a giant super penis) has become a cult hit all of a sudden and on the last episode a reasonably cute girl at a comics shop (shout out Bergen Comics, Brooklyn!) was in my opinion, completely inappropriate with him and even kissed him. Now, first of all that’s fiction, so it’s interesting more than alarming, but I will say that I was horrified in that scene that she would so brazenly make assumptions about him, tie him to his work like that…and worst of all…invade his personal private space sexually.

    So while it’s interesting for the fictional aspect of the show…and though it’s a much more extreme version of what we’re talking about than what Beaton mentioned, I was horrified to see something similar being done to a male cartoonist. Totally inappropriate.

    All that said, I think that the end of the day what you’re really asking (maybe?) is…are jokes dead. Are we so worried about not offending people or insulting them or being sexist that we can’t even joke with people…and I guess I would say, “yes, it’s better not to joke with someone that you don’t know, even if you somehow perceive that you know them.”

    Would I be offended if you made a joke/comment/absurdist statement to me (when we finally meet IRL?) No. I feel like I know you, I feel like we are friends and colleagues. I know enough about you, and hopefully you of me, that we could both take whatever was said within the context of our relationship. I think it’s usually fairly easy to see where those kind of boundaries are when you know someone. It’s harder if not impossible to see those boundaries when that person is a stranger.

    However, if you’re someone I don’t know, and you’re a fan of me and we have no context to our relationship because we are strangers, but you think you know me because you read stuff I write or follow me on twitter, then no, you shouldn’t make a joke/comment/absurdist statement that is possibly offensive. You should just say you love my work and leave my looks/body/procreation/marital status/sexual orientation/etc. out of it.

    Does that make sense? That’s where I come from…which I’m hyper aware is not where everyone comes from…but given everyone doesn’t come from the same place…all the more reason to err on the side of caution.

  7. Greg Burgas’s avatar

    That’s interesting about Bored to Death (I’ve taped it but haven’t watched it yet). That is partly what I’m talking about – most men might think it’s great to have women throw themselves at them, but it’s still not terribly appropriate.

    You kind of hit it on the head – where’s the line? For most people on the Internet, unfortunately, there is no line. And even if there are certain lines they won’t cross (racist stuff, even blatantly sexist stuff), the way the world has evolved has left a gray zone with regard to something like this. I’m certainly not blaming Beaton for anything, but the interaction on the Internet, especially in a relatively small community like comics, has led some people to think they know creators better than they actually do. I love the fact that creators are often very accessible on-line, but unless I’ve met them in person and spoken with them extensively, I don’t think I can make any joke that might be perceived as offensive. But I agree that the line is blurred on the Internet, and it’s a dicey situation because I think the access that creators give to themselves is wonderful. I would hate it if that went away.

    Of course, now I’m totally going to make inappropriate comments to you! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!!!!

  8. Bex’s avatar

    Great analysis. I’m not familiar with the shitstorm, but I did happen across this comic and thought the second to last panel was the most telling and sad: “I’m sorry I said anything.” So many women just don’t say anything to avoid the shitstorms, and the comments continue, the inappropriateness of them never being pointed out.

  9. Jenn’s avatar

    *THAT* caused a riot among anti-feminists? ……

  10. Keith Bowden’s avatar

    I’ve read a lot of the online posts over this – and actually made it through all of the Robot 6 comments – and I’m still stunned by the vemon spewed over this, by people (men) going out of their way to not understand what’s specifically said nor the context. We need a new word; “mysogeny” simply doesn’t encompass this.

  11. carol’s avatar

    I meant to tell you how much I appreciated this post during said shitstorm. But said shitstorm also occured while I was sick during a considerable part of it. All of this is well-said and thoughtful.

    Just as an additional thought, no matter how many times I see it play out, I continue to be amazed that the hurt feelings of someone who was unintentionally upset by what was intended as a compliment are dismissed in favor of the imagined hurt feelings of someone who thought he was being complimentary and zomg how mean and irrational it is to be upset by it. Everything else aside–if it upsets someone, it’s not a compliment. If you meant well, apologize. Done. Hooray for manners!

  12. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    @Greg: I guess in all of this, what I don’t get is the reaction. The reaction of “I WAS COMPLIMENTING YOU? WHY AREN’T YOU PLEASED? YOU MUST BE A FEMINAZI BITCH.” When you compliment someone on something you’re trying to be nice…if you realize you’ve fucked up somehow and that they’re not flattered…how is the response not “Oh, I’m sorry.” How is it…”YOU ARE WRONG FOR BEING UPSET BY THAT CAUSE THAT’S NOT HOW I MEANT IT”.

    I just plain don’t get it.

    And I welcome said “inappropriate compliments”. Perhaps we can have an “inappropriate compliment off”? ;)

    @Bex: Thanks. Agreed!

    @Jenn: Yeah, it doesn’t take much I’ve noticed. And I’m sure they wouldn’t call themselves ‘anti-feminists’ which may be part of the problem…?

    @Keith Bowden: Thank you! The reaction – the venom – as you said – was shocking. All for such a simple non-incendiary statement.

    @Carol: Thanks Carol, I appreciate you coming by to say something. It’s nice to know my generally incoherent ramblings were effective this time – as I often feel they aren’t :(

    You couldn’t be more right about the strangeness of it all, and just the loss of manners. As I said to Greg above…why is the response not just “Oh, I’m sorry.” ? What happened to that part of the equation? Why does it have to jump to “you’re wrong for feeling that way”…? Honestly feminism be damned it’s just a damn impolite way to behave.

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