The thing is, I almost never get catcalled. I mean, I acknowledge that it’s possible that I do get catcalled more often and just don’t notice, because I can be pretty oblivious to what’s going on around me. Like a lot of people in larger cities, I think I’ve achieved a certain practiced level of actively ignoring loud noises. But I can pretty much count the times I’ve gotten catcalled on one hand.
I consider myself a feminist; I define that as “a person who thinks women should basically be treated with respect and paid equally”, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. In the same way that catcalls kind of fade into the background noise of an urban environment, a lot of the soft sexism in the comics industry kind of fades into the background for me. It’s dumb, but it’s just what you have to deal with when you’re a lady participating in an art form that’s dominated by men. Since I don’t work for the mainstream companies, and since I self-publish, I don’t often run into the really overt discrimination that you hear about. Usually when people ask me what it’s like being a female comics artist, I say that the biggest difference is that I get asked “What’s it like being a female comics artist” a lot.
BUT. Reading some of the comics from the ladies at Adventure School, I had some memories come back to me suddenly, things I hadn’t thought about in ages. An example: I got my art degree from Beloit College, but I spent my first semester at a different place, a state school in Missouri. When I decided I wanted to major in art, I went and sat down with the head of the art department there. I had been drawing political cartoons for my high school paper, and I was toying with the idea of doing that for a living. The art department chair had a Gary Trudeau original drawing on his wall, so I was really excited to talk to him about it. But when I told him that I wanted to be a political cartoonist – without even opening my portfolio, mind you – this guy* started going off about how impossible it was to break into cartooning, especially for a woman, and told me I should forget about it and try to pursue a more realistic goal. I got up and walked out of his office, and started crying a bit on my way back to the dorm. The head of the art department was going to actively discourage me from doing the kind of art I wanted to do, and my gender was a part of that. I was already pretty sure that college was not for me, but that afternoon I called Beloit College to find out how difficult it would be to transfer there, and within a few months I was gone.
I hadn’t thought about this in years. And even when I had thought about it, I figured it was just one of those minor pieces of bullshit that I would have to deal with, working in comics. But as Adventure School Intrepid Leader Anne Elizabeth Moore pointed out, when I told them this story: the fact that this guy did this meant I had to go through all sorts of extra work to get the same major that a guy would have to. He made it pretty clear that I wasn’t going to get any support or encouragement trying to study cartooning at his school, so I had to interrupt my education and transfer to a different school in a different state.
Beloit was amazing, by the way. My professors didn’t know a whole lot about comics, and weren’t entirely sure what to do with me, but they were incredibly happy to help me set up an independent study, and never once did they show anything less than unbridled enthusiasm for what I wanted to do.
There’s been a lot of internet talk lately about the inherent sexism in comic book art, or the inherent sexism in how women get treated in comic book stores, at conventions, on the internet, on panels, etc. It seems every time someone brings it up, a chorus of defenders show up to shout them down, to explain why it’s objectively not offensive, and we’re stupid to be offended in the first place. Honestly, I start to get angry, but mostly it just makes me tired. I find my energy is better spent ignoring all the bullshit and just making comics.
Does that sound defeatist? I mean, that’s what I did with the catcaller, too. I just ignored him and kept moving. Maybe I should have turned around and yelled at him, but would it have changed anything? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have convinced him to change his ways. He might have even gotten a kick out of me getting angry, or the situation might have escalated. For my safety, for my sanity, my instinct is to just ignore the bullshit. Online, on the comics shop shelves, or in the real world; ignore the bullshit and just keep moving.
OKAY! That got a little more serious than I was planning on it. If you’ve read this far, let me throw some off-topic news into the mix. I will be at CAKE this weekend, at table 22!! Come get some books! I’ll also be on a panel there on Sunday with some ridiculously amazing and talented people. It’s about starting your own micropress, and it should be super informative if you’re into that sort of thing.
As always, if you can’t make it to this or any other convention, you can always buy books and prints from me at Shortpants Press.
PS: *I really don’t want to call him out, so I won’t name him or the school. He probably doesn’t even remember doing this to me. But I went and looked up the school’s website – the guy is still teaching there, and he’s still chair of the art department. Figures.
PPS: I’m really sick of how every post about stuff like this – discrimination or disenfranchisement in comics, and people vehemently defending it – turns into the same exact argument in the comments. Since Sauceome is pretty personal stuff, I’ve always moderated the comments with the passion of an insecure totalitarian dictator, and this post will be no exception.