Tagged: sexual harassment

Mike Gold: Coping With The Horror

After Martha, and Joe, and Mindy all wrote about the sexual harassment and rape scandals that have been getting so much attention, and doing so elegantly and with well-considered reasoning, you’d think I’d move on to some topic that is more focused on pop culture.

Well, if you thought that, then you don’t know me very well, do you? I’ve got 52 years of political activism under my belt (covering 67 years of Italian beef, Jay’s potato chips and sundry forms of barbecue) and, seeing as how this is my next-to my next-to last column for ComicMix, I’m going to follow both my heart and my head.

These are very sensitive times, and understandably so. Therefore, I’m going to define my worldview up front. I am not talking about women. Or men. Or straight. Or queer. Or trans. Or of any specific race, ethnicity or religion. I’m talking about Earth and every single person who resides on it. I also make a distinction between sexual harassment and rape. This is not to trivialize either; both are ugly, dangerous, and violent acts, and both are terrible acts of Power upon the Powerless.

Actually, that last part is borderline ironic: if it were about sex, people in power acting reasonably and following our more noble instincts would get laid. Power, for some, is quite seductive. So, when these clowns impose their power upon their victims, they reveal themselves as cowards.

The one response I’ve heard over and over again is “It’s about time.” Yup, this is so. As I told a dear friend of mine – and I love quoting me – sexual harassment is as old as time. Cavemen bashing cavewomen with clubs. We’re actually several millennia past the time this shit should have stopped. Sexual harassment has been seen in every industry, every society, and every neighborhood. For example, look at all the teachers who’ve been busted the past few years for sleeping with their students. In the past that was treated with laughter. Well, maybe now, not so much.

Of course, everybody who has been near any media outlet over the past decade is familiar with the travails of children in the Catholic church and the Hide-The-Priest game Rome has been running for centuries. That’s sexual harassment, and, often, rape as well. Or, to put a point on it, these are violent acts of power upon the powerless.

The hash-tag on all this is #MeToo. In that spirit, I would like to mention that I was raped when I was 14 years-old. At the time, and that time was in 1964, I first found the situation confusing. I liked this person, I trusted this person, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. It wasn’t until I started working with rape crisis programs five years later that I really began to come to grips with what happened.

Please note that I said began. I never ratted out the creep – not because I was afraid of that person or I was afraid I wouldn’t be believed, but because the thought simply hadn’t occurred to me. If it had, it would have been way down on the list of things I had to do to deal with the experience.

The solution to all this is simple to say but very difficult to do. You have to stand up. You have to tell people what happened to you and who did it. You have to remember every detail you can, as horrible as it is, because the greater the detail the stronger the likelihood you will be believed. You’ve got to stop the predator from doing it to others and, possibly, again to you. You are a victim, but you have to rise above pathos. You have a job to do.

There’s something else that needs to be done, and it’s a lot harder to pull off. For cases such as these, we have to work out a non-adversarial judicial system where the victim is not the one who is put on trial. The defense lawyer is ethically obligated to do everything possible to free the defendant, and overall that’s a good thing. But we need to work out a somewhat different system that is equitable for both sides.

Given my youth social service work, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in family courts and children’s courts and similar places – they tend to have different names in different states. Here, children often are used as pawns if, indeed, they are not complainants. They are treated differently and, often, with more consideration than the folks in the post-adolescent courts. So, there is a starting point.

Like I said, it’s all really hard to do. But it will get easier.

Thanks to the courage of those we’ve been hearing from these past weeks, it is already getting easier.

Be strong. Be human.

Stand up.

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.

Martha Thomases: Super-Harassment?

Although I have worked at an event he attended, I’ve never been sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein.

There are several possible reasons for this:

  • He was intimidated by my ferocious beauty and talent,
  • He knew he had no power over me since I didn’t work in the film business
  • He was too busy watching Nicole Kidman. because the event was for was her movie.
  • Or, most likely, I’m not his type and beneath his notice.

The Weinstein story has quickly morphed from the story of one man’s fall from power and into a more nuanced conversation about politics and the media. And by “nuanced,” I mean angry hurled accusations back and forth.

In a nutshell, the argument posits that Weinstein isn’t suffering as much for his crimes as Roger Ailes or Bill O’Reilly because he gave money to Hillary and Roger and Bill are conservatives.

Apparently, there was ample evidence to suggest that a lot of people knew about Weinstein’s disgusting behavior. The conspiracy theorists insist that word didn’t get out because his liberal friends were covering for him.

It’s not that simple. Really.

For one thing, there are a lot of assumptions in this perspective that don’t stand up to the light of day. One is that all of Hollywood (and journalism) are Democrats, and all Democrats are progressives. This is simply not true. There might be a lot of progressive actors, writers, and directors, but the money people — the ones who can get a movie or series produced and distributed — are like money people everywhere, and most likely to be at least fiscally conservative.

Another erroneous assumption is that to be a Democrat and/or a progressive, one toes the line on all progressive issues equally. Someone who supports environmental issues is also a feminist who wants to end economic inequality and have trans teachers in fully-funded public schools. Progressives, like conservatives, are more complicated than that.

A third erroneous assumption is that Weinstein got away with something for a long time. There were rumors, and there were reporters who investigated the rumors for years but couldn’t get anyone to speak on the record. Once they did (last Thursday), it took less than 100 hours for Harvey Weinstein to be fired from the company he co-founded, by a Board of Directors that included his own brother. That happened much more quickly than the dismissals of O’Reilly or Ailes.

Like almost every other business, Hollywood respects and honors success, not a virtue. And like any institution that involves humans, it is imperfect in its attempts to do the right thing.

So. What does this have to do with comics?

For one thing, we have similar stories about men in positions of power and the way they treat women who seek employment. In almost all cases, these rumors are just that — rumors. Our industry is small enough that it’s mathematically difficult to collect a large number of accusations against one person. And women are still new enough as freelancers that we don’t always talk to each other the way we should.

Speaking for myself, I’ve heard stories about men in comics who demand sexual favors for jobs, men who have physically abusive relationships with a partner, and men who are pedophiles. In all of these cases, my first reaction is shock and even disbelief. Understand that I don’t necessarily think the person stepping forward with such accusations is a liar, but the behavior is so far from my perception of the men in question. Sometimes I know that man’s children or other family members.

I’m only suffering cognitive dissonance. I don’t have to make a decision about hiring and firing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a solution? I don’t, at least not one that is a quick fix. As long as we live in a climate that assumes that men are naturally the people in power and that women in business must learn how to work with men (instead of men and women learning how to work with each other), women will be at a disadvantage. As long as women are seen as sexual objects or decorations first and foremost, and as valued workers second (if at all), we will have a problem with sexual harassment in the workplace.

We need to speak out and to present ourselves as whole people. Men need to complain about the bad behavior of other men, and women need to call out other women (which we do, constantly, but that’s another rant) when we allow it to continue. We need to be professionals and set a higher standard than Hollywood.

Martha Thomases: The Solution

three monkeys

Once again I’m going to talk about the sexism in the comic book industry. Yeah, I’m kind of sick of it, too. However, this week, in a wave of optimism, I’m going to suggest a solution!

The subject is in the news once again because DC Entertainment finally issued a statement about the continuing charges that members of its editorial staff engage in sexual harassment.

As far as I know, there are no new charges this week. Instead, the pressure of fan reaction online and in the press must have finally reached the attention of someone at Warner Bros. corporate HQ, and the issue could no longer be ignored. It’s obvious that DC would like this to be ignored, and as evidence, I offer the fact that they released their statement on Friday afternoon, a time well known to publicists as a dumping ground because journalists, like everyone else, like to get a head start on their weekend.

I’m starting to feel bad for Eddie Berganza. He screwed up — badly — several years ago, and he accepted a demotion and did all the other things that the HR department demanded. He’s not the only person in comics to behave badly, but he got caught and he has paid at least a part of the price. Everything else that has happened since, up to including the alleged edict to ban women from working in the Superman office, is a mistake committed by management.

If Eddie really can’t control himself enough to work with women, he needs professional help. If there is a provable pattern of discrimination against women in the Superman department, that is a criminal offense whose blame goes to the people who enforce it. Unless publishing has changed monumentally in this century, editors — not even Senior Editors or Executive Editors — cannot ask a company to break the law on their behalf.

The solution is not to ban women from the Superman office (or the Spider-Man office or the Hellboy office, etc.) but to hire more women. Fill the place with women. Make acceptable and respectful behavior towards women something that happens all the time, every day.

I realize this is a radical concept, and it may be a lot to expect DC Entertainment to change when all of Hollywood behaves differently. Except that Hollywood, or at least a tiny part of it, is changing.

, the people who made the new movie, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, which opens today, were afraid they would be unintentionally sexist in their depiction of a modern-day sorority. To avoid this, they hired two women to consult about the script and the female characters.

Before the poor, oppressed straight cis men out there start hyperventilating about “censorship” or “political correctness,” thats not what’s happening here. The women are both writers and professional comedians. They were there to make sure the characters were real and funny, not bimbo stereotypes or delicate virgins.

I’m not suggesting that DC bring in consultants to vet every script or every page of art. Movies are a different medium, with one script (which may be rewritten constantly) and one production schedule. DC publishes more than 50 titles a month. Movie productions tend to each be a specific project, often with its own corporation or partnership, while comics are a continuing process from one legal entity.

Still, I think diversity consultants could be useful. In fact, I think there is an opportunity for just such a business. It would include people of color and people from other continents and people of diverse ages and sexualities and gender identities.

I think this company’s holiday parties would be so much fun.

If this works, it might be more efficient for DC to hire an actual Chief Diversity Officer. Yeah, it sounds like more bureaucracy, but companies are always adding new C-level executives. When I worked at DC, there was no such thing as a Chief Creative Officer. Now, DC and Marvel both have them.

Creativity and diversity go together. The sooner comics (and movies and music and television and theater and dance and publishing) realize this, the sooner we can talk about something other than Eddie Berganza. And won’t that be nice?

Molly Jackson: Dark and Seedy Side of the Con

Dark and Seedy SideThis past weekend was Star Wars Celebration. With the trailer released and more movie details announced, there was certainly enough to celebrate. However, just like at every con (unfortunately), a story emerged of a cosplayer being inappropriately touched and harassed.

You can read the full account of what happened here but, sadly, this isn’t new. Cosplayers get harassed at conventions all the time. It’s something that I have never understood, especially for a group of people who literally hero-worship. The instigators in this particular case were dressed as Jedi. That’s how guys who revere “guardians of peace and justice” decide to act? Have they learned nothing from the story they supposedly love?

Cosplay Is NOT Consent. That’s it. It’s that simple. We go to comic cons to celebrate superheroes and the fight of good vs. evil. How can we let this go on?

This is a call to action for every convention attendee. Conventions are working on the problem but they need help. We can’t leave this only to convention signs and security guards. We need to look out for each other. If you see someone being assaulted in any way, step up. Say something. Be the one who says stop. If it’s your friend, put an end to them harassing cosplayers. Make sure they understand how disrespectful it is to grope or harass a cosplayer. If they get angry at you, maybe all that proves is they might not be the kind of person you want to hang with.

To be clear, I am not advocating violence. If the situation looks to be going that way, get convention staff and security involved ASAP. However, most of the time, calling a person out makes them feel ashamed enough to stop. It’s time we started acting like the superheroes we read about.

Comics conventions are about having fun while immersing yourself in geek culture. This dark and seedy side of cons needs to end. Let’s work together to make comic cons safe for everyone.


Martha Thomases: That San Diego Con

San Diego CosplayIt’s that time of year again. All the cool kids are getting ready to go to the San Diego Comic-Con. And by “cool kids,” I mean people who are younger, stronger and more patient than me.

Every year, I kvetch about Comic-Con. And every year, I kind of want to go. I mean, not go to the Comic-Con that will actually take place. I want to go to the Comic-Con of 1993, when I was an important part of a major publishing company and everyone kissed my ass and I could get a table at the restaurant of my choice at the time of my choosing.

I would also like a unicorn, but that’s another column.

Anyway, this year, what I mostly regret is the opportunity to meet my future husband, Chris Hardwick, who is podcasting his program from San Diego all week. Not only would I enjoy meeting him, but I’d like to see the look on his face when he realizes we are fated to be. Either delight or horror, it would still be a treat.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us back to a subject that has concerned this column all year: The changes women make to pop culture, and the way pop culture is adapting to women.

You may recall my previous columns on the subject (here, for example), that women at comic conventions have a problem with sexual harassment. By which I mean, men and boys harassing them. It’s a big enough story that even non-comics news sites cover it.

Many people want SDCC to prominently post its policy on sexual harassment on signage around the convention, so that offenders cannot claim they didn’t know they were doing something wrong. Others would like to make the policy more specific. Here’s what it currently says, according to the website:

“Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy. Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner.“

For more about the various arguments, here, in a nutshell is the debate.

Now, I love David Glanzer with all my heart and soul, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is completely devoted to making Comic-Con a fun and educational event for all who attend. I understand that he wants to make everyone who comes to the show comfortable, and this includes families with young children, who might be spooked if they see signs warning about sexual harassment. He might also think it puts ideas in the heads of kids who want to show how great they are at this rebel stuff.

Still, I respectfully disagree. I think it’s entirely appropriate to say that, because of incidents at other shows, SDCC wants to assure everyone that they are committed to a safe and friendly show. And I’d make a big deal about meeting with law enforcement before the show starts, so that if crimes are committed on-site, there is a system in place to get rid of the criminals who assault women and others. For all I know, they do this already. Still, I’d make sure everybody knew.

And, as I’ve said before, I’d have more women as special guests and expert panelists. It’s not easy to stop people in comics from seeing women (real and fictional) as simply sex objects. One step to fix that would be to feature them as talented professionals.

Which brings me to the next huge show on the horizon, New York Comic-Con. It’s still a long way off in convention time, but they’ve started to announce guests, which gives us a hint as to what the programming will be. So far, they have announced a dozen guests in the comics category, and two of them are women. That’s better than last year, when only ten percent of the guests were women, but not by much. I should note that there is also one literary guest announced, and that is Kim Harrison, who is female.

Not enough, but a step in the right direction.

So, if you’re going to San Diego, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. Wait, wrong city. Be sure to have a great time. Bring me back stories.

And points.