Toxic Masculinity, Part Deux

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Toxic Masculinity, Part Deux

Part one — of what wasn’t originally intended to be a series of writings but needs to be — turned out to be more egocentric than I intended when I first sat down to write. So this time around I want to address one of the scourges of toxic masculinity: harassment, particularly in comicbook fandom.

Ask any woman you know, and they will have stories of being harassed by men, and worse. Yes, all women. Harassed for speaking for themselves, harassed for not smiling, harassed for not responding in the “correct” way to a man’s “compliments”… harassed for being women. Sadly, this is a serious issue with a contingent of comicbook fanboys who feel threatened by the increasing number of women who read and create comics. We see it in comments under comicbook news and reviews, on Twitter, on Reddit, on Facebook, and anywhere on the web where comics are discussed. Grown men with the mentalities of angry teens trying to exclude the very population they lamented for not understanding their fandom as teens.

Of course, it’s more complex and nuanced than that, but it baffles me how any comicbook reader wouldn’t want women reading and creating comics. I’m old enough to remember when comic shops were dark, dusty dens of folded and stapled newsprint, holes-in-walls where no girl dared enter, even if she liked comics. I know now that even back then girls and women were reading and making comics and patronizing comicbook stores, but I don’t remember ever seeing anyone but dudes in comic shops back in the ’80s. I would have been psyched if I had seen girls there, not necessarily because a common appreciation for the medium might lead to a date, but because I have always been psyched to find out someone else reads or creates comics.

But every week we see a bunch of assholes hiding behind their computers and attacking women in general or specifically targeting the latest focus of their ire online. They whine that a woman now wields Mjolnir as if a fictional character’s worthiness to do so is an attack on their own masculinity when it’s a woman holding Thor’s hammer. They see women making costumes and attending cons as “fake geek girls” as if the women who cosplay are just in it for the dudes. Rare is the woman “just looking for attention” from men who is going to pick a comic-con to do so. These “men” should be welcoming newcomers to comic and genre fandom; instead, they attack, attempt to discredit, and harass women who dare set foot in the realm once dominated by the boys.

The crazy thing is, during the Golden Age of comics in the ’30s and ’40s, the comicbook reading females outnumbered the males. It was the narrowing focus of the genres publishers chose to publish that led to women and girls turning away from comics. As superhero comics took over and tended to cater to adolescent male fantasies, the industry suffered from the exodus of female readers, in spite of the eventual success of Marvel and DC. That diversity of content, of readership, of creators, is paramount if comics are to survive, or to thrive.

But toxic masculinity has a strangle-hold on our society, and entitled men that have been told to expect to be in control, particularly my fellow white men, have found the anonymity of the internet dangerously empowering; these douchebags feel their hold on something is being “taken away”. It’s tempting to paint these harassers, these misogynistic and self-proclaimed gatekeepers of fandom, as “sexless losers” still living in their parents’ basements, but while there is a kernel of truth in this stereotype, it’s dangerous in my opinion to assume these guys fit that caricature. I posit that most of these guys have girlfriends and wives, even if there was a time when they were sexless and lonely and frustrated. And anyway, being sexually frustrated is neither a precursor nor an excuse for harassment of any kind. The attitudes and hatred have little to nothing to do with these guys not being able to get laid.

The harassment is worse when women of color are the targets, both in the harassment itself and in how people speak out or come to the defense of the harassed. Often lost on my fellow white dudes in comics is that as they condemn sexual harassment of a white female professional colleague, there were numbers of women of color who spoke up when they were harassed but had few come to their defense, even had their concerns dismissed, as if they were being too sensitive. There’s that “too sensitive” thing again; toxic masculinity seeps over into white privilege, and it’s difficult for people of color, particularly women of color, to feel safe in the comics community. I can only imagine how heartbreaking it can be to be dismissed or minimized by the very people who should be making comics a truly welcoming, diverse, and safe.

At the risk of turning egocentric again, allow me to try to place myself into the picture. As a white man, I inherently benefit from white privilege daily. Acknowledging this privilege doesn’t take away from my hard work or accomplishments, it simply puts things into perspective; all things being equal, if I were not a cisgendered white male, it would have been harder to achieve said accomplishments. Now, when I broke my neck in 1990 in a surfing accident, unwittingly joining “the wheelchair club” (as my cousin once said when she was 4), I instantly became a part of a minority group. It is the largest and most diverse minority group in America, people with disabilities, but a minority group nonetheless, one that is still marginalized and discriminated against passively and actively, even 27 years after the passing of The Americans with Disability Act. Waking up as a member of this group I’d barely noticed before opened my eyes to a myriad of ways people can be dismissed, diminished, and pushed aside in this world. When I first read the term microaggression I immediately understood its meaning, the very real hurt that can be caused, even by well-meaning people with good hearts, people who don’t know that the seemingly innocuous words they choose can hurt someone who’s been marginalized for years, decades, or a lifetime, by society.

I am not saying I’m somehow all woke and Super-Diversity Man here. My white privilege still gives me an edge over the those with disabilities of color, females with disabilities, LGBT with disabilities, and combinations thereof. I’m just saying that I’ve gained an ever-growing perspective as I’ve had to navigate a world that was not built for me — or my “kind” — a world that often sees the changes necessary to allow people with disabilities to fully participate in society as burdensome, too expensive, or inconvenient. So my ear is in tune a bit more than many of my fellow waspy euro-mutts to those voices decrying how toxic masculinity breeds an entitlement in some men to harass, denigrate, and otherwise try to exclude.

I’d like to think that my nature and my proclivity for seeing the varying sides of an issue would have brought me to this understanding without having become paralyzed, as I am most likely the “Mediator” type (INFP) in the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum, but I can’t help but think that just as my acquiring a disability hastened my maturity in my early 20s, it probably hastened the growth of my sensitivity and empathy for the struggles of others. I’m far from perfect in this area, as in all areas of life, but I’m trying to grow. I realize that it’s not enough to just try to be a good guy who strives to treat women well and with respect, we men who don’t consider ourselves misogynists, who should consider ourselves feminists, need to also push back publicly against the “male chauvinist pigs” (to use an old-timey phrase I learned from my Grandma Wooton back in ’79). We also need to recognize when these assholes go after women of color, or people of the LGBT community, and we need to fight back just as quickly and with the same level of camaraderie we see when it’s a white woman being harassed by these fucknuggets who don’t deserve the monikers of fanboy, geek, or nerd.



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