FEAR AS A WAY OF LIFE: WHY WOMEN IN COMICS DON’T ‘JUST REPORT’ SEXUAL HARASSMENT
By Juliet Kahn
“If the harassment is so bad, why don’t women just report it?”
“I want to believe these women, but if they’re not willing to come forth and put their name to these accusations, I just can’t.”
“These claims of harassment are all so overblown. I never see it happening.”
I have been a woman in the comics industry for a few months now. It has been wonderful. It has also been terrifying.
Terrifying in a way I’m used to, though. When you grow up enveloped in the miasma of “tits or GTFO,” “attention whore,” and “fake geek girl,” fear becomes the price you pay to enjoy your hobbies. You don’t even think of it as fear most of the time.
Sometimes you join in the fear mongering yourself, enjoying the a**hole glamour of not being too pussy to call another girl a slut. Sometimes you hide in woman-heavy spaces, which go maligned elsewhere (“Tumblrinas!”) but do a pretty solid job of keeping you safe. The fear comes back eventually, though, as a slew of graphic rape threats or a simple joke about “feminazis” you are expected to chuckle along with. It might be in response to a screed worthy of Andrea Dworkin—or maybe you just tweeted something about disliking Guardians of the Galaxy. What matters is that you were a woman with an opinion on the internet, and now you must be punished. You must be made to fear.
Fear is also meant to keep us safe from sexual harassment, assault and abuse. We’re told not to stay out too late, not to go out alone, not to drink, not to lead anyone on, not to go home with anyone, not to ever feel safe in any situation that a man might take advantage of. If you fear the (implicitly common) worst from the men around you, you will escape it. When harassment, assault, and abuse take place anyway, fear is often a distinctly purposeful element of the encounter. Sometimes, this is subtle—it might take place in a deliberately secluded spot, or the perpetrator might be in a position of power over your future. Or, in the case of rape-and-death-threat style online harassment, the naked point of it might be to instill fear. After the harassment, assault, or abuse has taken place, it is fear that keeps women from speaking out. Fear of being branded the whiny bitch, of enduring the Anita Sarkeesian experience, or having one’s career torpedoed by a thousand nerds high on a lifetime’s worth of entitlement and vitriol.
Fear is what keeps us silent. Fear is what keeps men from understanding the ubiquity of these experiences. Fear is what keeps us from attaching a name to our allegations. Fear is what makes harassment, assault, and abuse a rite of passage for women in this industry and the world beyond. Fear, in this society, is what makes you a woman. And fear, in extinguishing discussion of its cruelties, keeps us from understanding its nature and better dismantling it.