Tagged: sexual harassment in comic books

Martha Thomases: The Casting Couch

Now even Louis C. K.

How far we have come in the one year after Trump was “elected” President, despite his boasts about being able to grab women by the pussy and being able to walk into the Miss Universe dressing rooms while contestants were changing. Women and queer people of all genders refuse to obediently walk off and let the men-folk run things. Instead, we are speaking up and telling our stories.

In January, with the Women’s March, I think we realized that, together, we could create our own system. We could create an environment in which we would be believed, and from which we could create change.

You may remember a time, lo these many weeks ago, when Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was first held up to the glare of publicity. In the last few days, we’ve heard horrible things about Kevin Spacey and Charlie Sheen.

Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly had already fallen victim to the news of their own bad behavior. These new revelations demonstrate that sexual harassment in the workplace is not a partisan issue.

Not all of this kind happens in show business, although the so-called “casting couch” gets its name from the exploitive behavior of people in charge of hiring casts. It exists in every business that has a hierarchical structure, including tech, politics and so much more.

Including comics.

Yes, that last link is to an old story, but it is newly relevant. Because the problem isn’t only the people in power sexually abuse people in their employ (yes, this sometimes includes women. The problem is also that, even when the abuse is known, the company will often cover for the abuser.

The Weinstein Company knew about Harvey. Netflix knew about Spacey. Fox knew about O’Reily.

And DC Entertainment knew about Eddie Berganza. Their response was to protect him by limiting his exposure to what I think the Catholics call “occasions of sin.” In other words, women were not allowed to work with him.

I don’t want to sound like I’m excusing sexual harassment and abuse, but the problem is not always only with the perpetrator. When I read about Weinstein and Berganza (and Scott Allie) and Spacey, I feel terrible for them. I mean, they are horrible people and they shouldn’t have any authority over anyone else, much less command big salaries and respect, but I think they have a sickness.

The real crime is committed by those who choose to change the workplace to protect them and not the people they abuse. Instead of setting up a fund to pay-off victims, run businesses so there are no victims. And instead of limiting the opportunities of women to work on Superman comics, limit the authority of the man causing the problem in the first place.

The next steps are to connect the dots from actual abuse to other, more subtle ways of marginalizing women. I know that I’ve been the subject of gossip, suggesting that I slept my way into various jobs. I’ve heard parallel stories about other women — and men. As long as we are body parts first and humans with skills and talents later (if at all), we will never get the credit we deserve.

I’m part of a few on-line groups of women in comics, and in the last few weeks, there have been more than the normal number of warnings about other professionals in the business. Some are well-known, and some are new to me. I’m not going to name any names here because 1) the stories are told in confidence and I’m not going to violate a trust and 2) the laws about slander are much tougher when the stories are published, and I don’t have the first-hand knowledge. Also, you, Constant Reader, don’t need to know the specifics.

You need to know that we talk.

Women have always talked among themselves about predatory men. We’ve always warned newcomers about who was too “handsy,” who told lewd jokes, who to being alone with.

Now, we’re warning you.

Mindy Newell: The Letter

Is being the target of an uncouth, offensive, foul, and vulgar letter the same as being sexually harassed?

At the time it occurred – let me do the math here, hang on… okay, it was 29 years ago – I didn’t think so, because I thought of sexual harassment as being defined as (a) some goon putting his unwanted hands and other parts of his body on me; (b) the classic quid pro quo scenario of a sexual favor being demanded in return for professional advancement; and (c) something that happens face-to-face, as when, waaaay back in time when I was 19 and working as a receptionist in a Wall Street firm, the VP of my department called me into his office as I was doing my mail rounds and told me that “everyone” was talking about my sweater:

“What’s wrong with my sweater?” I asked him, trying to brazen it out. “Too informal?”

No, he said.

Too tight?” I asked, thinking of Lana Turner, the original “sweater girl,” in an attempt to dare him to say yes.

No, he said.

I was stumped. What the hell was he getting at?

It’s what on it, he said.

I looked down at my sweater, which was extremely fashionable for 1972 – I’ve always been a fashionista – when animal prints on sweaters were all the rage. “You mean the cat?”

He stared at me a few seconds, and then…

“I mean the pussy.”

I didn’t really know how to handle it. I just looked at him, then turned and went back to my desk. The only thing I did that day was to tell another girl about it; all she said was, “Don’t let it bother you. He’s a prick.”

But I didn’t go back to work the next day. I told my parents that I quit, without telling them why, which of course led to a big fight and hurtful words about me and my abilities and work ethics, and to me sitting in my bedroom, disconsolate and believing that I had let everybody down, including myself.

Years and years later, as an adult who had matured into the “F-bombing” woman I am today, I brought up the incident with my parents. All was cleared up, and my father said that I should have (1) kicked the guy in his balls, and then (2) called human resources. My mother scoffed, and said, “HR wouldn’t have done a thing.” She was a wise woman.

•     •     •     •     •

Anyway, about that letter:

It was from someone in the comics industry, and here is an example of what it contained:

“You have no talent. The only reason you get any work is because you come strutting down the hallways in your short skirts and your fishnet stockings and your FMP’s…”


There were lots more sentences and accusations. All concerning my sluttiness and inability to construct a sentence. The words filled the front and back of the page. I was horrified. I saw red. I didn’t want this disgusting diatribe in my house, where my 10-year-old daughter lived.

And I was burning mad.

So I burned it.

Yep. Set it on fire, held it over the toilet, and flushed the ashes away.

And I swore that I was finished with anything to do with comics…

Right in the middle of a project.

I didn’t call anybody. I didn’t do anything. I don’t remember even telling my friend and co-worker, Karen Berger.

I don’t exactly remember how long it was. Maybe a few days. Maybe a week. Maybe two. I didn’t write a thing.

And then I got a call from Dick Giordano, who invited me to lunch at the Top of the Sixes. I told him it didn’t matter, that I was through – but it was Dick, and he was always a gentleman to me, and kind, and encouraging, so I agreed.

I don’t remember what Dick ordered, but I had a shrimp cocktail. And we talked.

He asked me if I still had the letter.

I looked down at my plate, then looked up at him.

“I burned it.”

Without the letter, he said, he couldn’t do anything. I said, “I know, and I know it was a stupid thing to do, but I couldn’t have that thing in my house.” Dick got it.

He asked me to finish the project. He talked about professionalism and how there were other people depending on me. He talked about my future in the industry. He talked about how I would regret walking away. How, ultimately, it would hurt me, while the perpetrator would continue on his merry way.

I finished it. For Dick. And for myself.

•     •     •     •     •

And no, it wasn’t Len Wein, may HaShem grant his soul peace and bless his family. It wasn’t Bob Greenberger or Julie Schwartz or Marv Wolfman or Alan Gold. It wasn’t Sal Amendola. It wasn’t Mike Gold or Andy Helfer.

But I know who it was, and so does he.

•     •     •     •     •

So, is being the target of an uncouth, offensive, foul, and vulgar letter the same as being sexually harassed?

29 years ago, I didn’t think so.

29 years later?

Hell, yeah.

And 29 years later, I’m still waiting for an apology, and a thank you.

An apology for that piece of drek.

A thank-you for burning that letter…

Instead of your career.