I had another amazing time at C2E2 last weekend and had originally intended to write a Winchell-esque piece about “who I saw and what I did and where I ate” and all that, but the best panel I attended: a magnificent conversation about being a woman on the Internet moderated by The Mary Sue co-editor and (now) excellent published author Sam Maggs inspired me to change the tenor.
Because this is important to me. Very important. In the past few years, this has become the major shaper of my writing, my political leanings, and my overall public demeanor.
Some of you may choose to see this as a firm declaration, others as the start of a conversation that I’ll be happy to have. It is both.
I am a feminist.
I was not always a feminist.
Growing up, I was fortunate to be raised by an exceptional mother and many equally formidable aunts, grandmothers, and older female cousins, who instilled in me that women needed to be treated with respect. But I had only the vaguest idea of what feminism meant. In high school, the suffrage movement and the 1960s-1970s feminism were taught in much the same way the civil rights movement was taught, as something that happened, worked, and made America a better place, period. It was history that had no bearing on the present because, our teachers and textbooks implied, the problem was solved. Then in college, I was taught feminist theory, but what a person gathers from dense philosophy, especially with the air of liberal indoctrination that Boston college professors often possess, can be a hard abstraction, just as remote from your understanding as stories of times you were not around to see.
This changed in 2011, the year Amelia was published and I started building a name for myself in the comics world…and discovering just how many wonderful people were part of that world.
I remember waiting for an airplane out of San Francisco, where I’d been celebrating my brother’s 21st birthday, and reading a recap of the convention season I had so enjoyed, and what leapt out at me the most was the twin strands of harassment and misogyny. I read stories of what would become more apparent over the next few years and culminated in #GamerGate: women being sexually harassed or worse at conventions. Women attacked on the Internet. Screeds decrying women in comics and the fantasy/sci-fi worlds. A continuing sexual double standard in our storytelling.
The thought immediately came to me that all of this wasn’t right.
By that time, I was in the middle of the best artistic collaboration I’d ever had in my life working with a female artist. Female critics were the first to champion Amelia. Female writers and artists had rattled and inspired me with their talents. These women had become my friends, and I could not imagine the comics world without them. And now is a good time to add that since 2011, I have closely collaborated with another fantastic artist and two editors who have the most brilliant minds I’ve ever come across. All of them are women.
Women in geekdom are essential and indispensable for the further development of the art we love so dear, and it sickened and repulsed me that my partners and friends could be the target of inhuman behavior simply because of their gender.
And in examining myself, I knew I had my share of guilt in the matter. I had blindly assumed Amelia would primarily be hit with women after talking to Archaia’s marketing group, and in early interviews described it with varying language and explicitness as a comic for girls. I wish I could take those words back.
The first resolution I made for myself in 2012 was to change this behavior, and to do so I needed to know more about what was going on. Fortuitously, the Obama-Romney election brought a lot of the issues women face in America and the world today to light for me, and even more fortuitously, two wonderful people I knew from Emerson, Carrie Polansky Nelson and Emily Steers, talked to me about feminism and steered me towards books and other sources on the subject.
This resulted in a giant awakening for me to how the social systems in the USA and elsewhere have an inbuilt patriarchal bias with varying levels of misogyny. How women are still paid less and hold fewer leadership positions. How attempts by women to make their voices more felt in traditionally male-dominated realms result in oppression. (See #GamerGate). Worst of all, how, forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, women are being denied the most basic human right of all, the control of their own bodies. Their ability to choose and to have access to medicines and procedures that protect their well-being is being stripped away by men who, in their worst rhetoric, seem to see women as only homemaking breeding machines.
When I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I sobbed at the passage outlining the imaginary life and death of Shakespeare’s sister, thinking of how many people were denied the right to help change the world for the better due to unfair circumstances. Now I know that Woolf was writing in the midst of a terrible chain of actions and beliefs that have resonated through history and hold back our ability to be a truly civilized, good society, and I weep all the more.
On that note…once I had learned all of this, a final factor shaped my feminism, and that factor might surprise some of you.
My Christian faith.
I say this because some of the loudest strands of American Christianity come across as antithetical to feminism.
But what it comes back to for me is how Jesus spoke of God’s kingdom as a place of equality, where there was no system of domination or oppression but a state of every person feeling the love the Lord has for us all. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus not only speaks out against the religious and political leaders who assert domination, but He also always showed a special regard for women as a reminder that they are NOT inferior. Indeed, a close reading shows that the apostles and male disciples betrayed Jesus, deserted Him, and disbelieved the resurrection, while the women–Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene–are steadfast, faithful, strong enough to be present at the crucifixion, and the ones, especially in the Gospel of John, whom Jesus first reappears to. This theme was actually further developed by Paul, whom I think is the greatest follower of Jesus, and whose letters advance the concept of equality under a life of faith.
Most of all, there is one line in the Episcopal baptismal covenant that sticks out for me: God commands us to “respect the dignity of every human being.” For me, this means we cannot infringe on another person’s existence and well-being, but we have a duty to work towards a world where everyone has the same rights without question. And it means that when I see a woman who is underpaid, who is threatened with death for speaking her mind, who is treated with scorn and embarrassment because she was raped, who is told that she is worth less than other souls, including those developing inside her…I see a human being whose dignity is not being respected.
I now count it as my duty to be a feminist.
I am only one and I am imperfect. Indeed, I was talking to one of the most awesome feminists I know at C2E2 about how hard it is sometimes for a man to be a feminist ally. There are questions I constantly struggle with: when do I speak up for women, and how do I do so in a way which will not bring further attacks and threats upon them? How do I tell which battles are mine to join in the fighting? When am I still ignorantly guilty of the behavior I deplore?
But being one and imperfect, I can still do something. I’ve committed myself to continuing to work with extraordinary women in comics, and now to telling stories that portray women in a strong, egalitarian, and empathetic light. I continue to search for avenues where I can work to further feminist causes. And next year, in an important election, the largest factor that will decide my vote is which candidate stands for equality the most. And I don’t intend to be shy about this.
You can expect more posts from me along this line in the future. I will still struggle with the questions raised above and the best ways to be a good ally, but I think of all the women mentioned above and know I can do no less.
Feminism is a duty I am proud to take on in my life.