You might be wondering what the ruckus raised by the release of the Access Hollywood Trump video has to do with comics.
As it happens, quite a lot.
You see, if you take the partisan politics out of it, if you don’t talk about what Democrats or Republicans think, the Trump video and the response to it gives you insights into what women in today’s America go through every single day.
I’m not saying that every single American man is as vulgar as Trump. I’m actually pretty crude myself, and have been known to engage in locker-room banter when I find myself among my fellow women in comics. In my experience (and I know I am not everyone), women’s locker room talk tends to be more about who has the worst cramps and not who is getting the most action. If there is a list of which men in comics are the most well-endowed or give the best head, it has not been shared with me.
However, using vulgar words is different from bragging about criminal conduct. When Trump talks about grabbing women by the pussy, he causes every woman in America to shudder. Being grabbed by one’s vulva is not sexy. It’s assault. It’s a man asserting dominance over a woman. And, as near as I can tell, all women have experienced it in some form or another.
Women are reminded on a daily basis that they are considered an assortment of body parts, not real people. As such, we are there for the taking, and grabbing is not the only way this happens. We are often physically threatened non-verbally, and accused of being “too sensitive” when we point out this behavior. If there was anything positive to say about Sunday’s debate, it’s that women called this out in public forums, and were believed.
This is not something that only happens to women running for president. It happens to every woman who tries to live publicly as a real person, not a beautiful object.
I said this would have something to do with comics, and it does. Comics, now more than ever, are part of show business. As you could see on the Access Hollywood tape, show business in this country, despite a reputation for “liberalism,” is in fact quite patriarchal, racist and sexist. Straight cis white guys, especially when they are celebrities, feel pretty much entitled to their positions at the top of the heap. And, because our industry is so small, it’s easier to be a celebrity in comics than almost any other field.
In my experience, this meant that my opinions were not seriously considered at meetings. My objections to particular characters or storylines were dismissed. My suggestions for how to grow the market were ignored. And when I needed to go to the bathroom, the women’s facility was identified by a life-size illustration on the door of a version of Catwoman who was as anatomically impossible as a Barbie doll.
Traveling for business was even more fraught with peril. My husband and son came with me a few times, when I had to go to someplace really nice, but most of the time, I was on my own. I could listen to conversations at the convention booth or at the hotel bar, and find out which of my female colleagues were considered the most attractive and/or the most attainable. No one ever made a move on me. I tend to go to bed early, so I might have missed the more drunken revels. Maybe I wasn’t ever enough of a threat to need conquering. Or maybe I’m so unattractive that I’m beneath contempt. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.
This isn’t to say that every straight man who works in comics is a rapist, nor even a sexist. You don’t have to commit heinous acts to be part of the problem. You simply have to know about them and do nothing. You simply have to dismiss the experiences of your female colleagues as overreacting. You simply have to excuse a person with a known problem because he is popular or talented.
Just as African-American men must consider, every day, what they have to do to avoid getting shot by police, women (of all colors, nationalities, and affectional preferences) have to consider what they will do, or wear, or where they’ll go, and if any of those things will get them raped. All this mental and emotional energy could be better used at work, or in the kitchen, or on the playground with our kids. We could turn these energies to more creative pursuits.
If we treated each other with respect, as people, and not as stereotypes, we might get better comics out of it.