This post is even more personal than I usually get, and since I’m basically an open book on the internet, that’s saying something. But these are thoughts that have been on my mind, and since they’re all about the things that normally make me too scared to write, I’m pushing past my fears in the hope that those who aren’t able to do the same might feel a sense of solidarity.
I want to be a better activist, but it is not an easy road.
I wrote in my last post about being a generally timid and quiet person, and it’s true. It’s not my natural tendency to rock the boat, to make my voice heard, to engage in arguments with others in an attempt to bring about change and make the world a better place. I’m a polite, placating person who tries to be nice to everyone; I want people to like me, and I hate confrontation. But natural tendencies can be modified. If that was all that was holding me back, and I truly wanted to do things differently, I could.
What really holds me back is a pair of twin demons named Fear and Exhaustion. And those are far, far more difficult to overcome.
The fear is not irrational. If it was, maybe I could ignore it. But seeing what Janelle Asselin has gone through in the past few weeks just because she criticized a comic book cover has driven home how ever-present the things I’m afraid of are. I have never been threatened with rape, violence, or death. I’ve never directly been sexually harassed. But the experiences of the people I admire, my activist role models, prove that these statements would be very likely to change if I were to become a louder voice in the community.
And it’s not like I’m ignorant of the indirect harassment I’ve received, even if it wasn’t sexual in nature. I made the mistake of looking, just once, at the comments on the YouTube copy of one of the many AR videos I made while I was working for Marvel. After that, I swore, for the sake of my mental health, that I would never look at the comments again, but I have no reason to believe the other videos contained anything different. If those were comments I received simply for being a woman who looks like I do and doing my job in front of a community full of men who believe women only deserve to exist if they’re considered masturbation fodder, what would I get if I was louder about my activism?
I’ve survived my tiny and ever-shifting position within the comics community relatively unscathed because I’ve kept my head down and my mouth shut at critical moments. Sure, I’ve written articles about feminism; in my days as a comics reviewer, I praised diversity and criticized the lack thereof. I’ve written, and will continue to write, papers for grad school, which might one day make their way to little-read scholarly journals. But I’ve never thrown myself into the center of the maelstrom; I’ve never done anything on a stage big enough that people would take notice. Starting a job at Marvel only made me quieter, though it did allow me to make activist interventions in small ways from inside the industry. In the time since I left Marvel, however, I’ve barely spoken up at all, for a number of reasons:
1.) Because I don’t want to be accused of having a conflict of interest, or of being a disgruntled ex-employee.
2.) Because, as a result of my NDA and/or my affection and respect for the people who still work at Marvel, there are certain things I’m legally or ethically unable to say.
3.) Because the above two reasons only amplify the fear I’ve always had, about the consequences of speaking up.
I realize that my ability to keep my head down and ignore things, my ability to do what I’ve done all this time, is a mark of privilege. I know others, particularly people whose identities cross more axes of oppression than mine does, haven’t had the luxury of avoiding the worst this community has to offer. I want to be a good ally to those people; I want to put my personal fears aside to focus on others, on the big picture. But that doesn’t make those fears any less legitimate, and being honest about them is important.
Then, on top of everything else, there’s the exhaustion. It’s hard to be a woman adjacent to the comics community and not feel ground down by the things that never seem to change, the problems that come up again and again. The harassment. The objectification. The dismissal. The constant messages, implicit and explicit, that you don’t matter, that you don’t count, that you shouldn’t even be there in the first place. I don’t know how it is for anyone else, but sometimes, an hour spent reading the latest comics news, or just my feminism-heavy twitter feed, is enough to make me want to crawl under a rock and hide from the whole world. Like many others in both the creative fields and academia, I suffer from clinical depression. When it’s difficult to even get out of bed in the morning, it seems dauntingly impossible to summon up the energy necessary to identify and combat the problems in the comic book industry, and then deal with the harassment that inevitably ensues, all for very small – or nonexistent – gains. Some days, I just don’t have the fortitude.
I still want to be an activist, because I know that, without strong voices fighting the good fight, the situation for women in comics (and anyone else outside of the “white, straight, able-bodied, cis male 18-49 with disposable income” demographic) will never get better. And I, personally, am still trying – I haven’t given up yet. If I was giving up, I wouldn’t have written this post, a post I’m honestly terrified to hit “publish” on. But I also can’t criticize anyone who, like me, has mostly kept their head down. Fear and exhaustion are legitimate reactions to the bullshit women have to go through in the comics community, and I can’t blame anyone who isn’t willing, or able, to push past them. I can’t get angry at women who are willing to “play the game” and keep quiet so they can enjoy their hobby, or advance their career, in peace — because I’ve been there, too. The same patriarchy that created this mess has made speaking up about the problems a war unto itself. And that’s not a war everyone can fight.