In the last several days, there’s been quite a bit of discussion online about a difficult subject – sexual harassment in the comics industry.
I won’t go into specifics of what’s going on currently, but it has to do with DC Comics. I’m a big fan of theirs, so that makes talking about this subject ever tougher for me.
In order to try and talk intelligently about all this, I went to the government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) site for a definition:
It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
What’s particularly disturbing to me is that DC’s characters are mostly iconic, which to me means they emulate high standards and goals. Marvel’s heroes tend to be more down to Earth, getting the Common Cold, having a bad hair day, and other everyday occurrences.
Granted, just because someone writes, draws or edits stories about heroes doesn’t make that person heroic. But in my mind, I can’t help but hope that some of these morals would mean something to the persons involved with the characters that uphold them in the comics. We’re still all too human, but we must be considerate of others as well, especially in this industry!
I don’t know all the details, and probably never will, but this past weekend I saw everything from people disavowing buying any DC Comics ever again to never buying any comics at any time in the future. We don’t need that happening, especially now.
This situation doesn’t seem to be resolved even though this person has apparently undergone training to help end this kind of behavior.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I rarely share this part of my life, but I went through something that makes this whole event important to me.
This took place several decades ago. I had just graduated from college and was working during the summer in the Washington, D.C., area to earn money from advanced education I would start in the Fall. I signed up with an agency that put me to work entering information on paper into computer files, now referred to as data entry.
I spent a week putting in extra time and doing my best to be accurate as possible. Apparently, this caught my supervisor’s eye, but not necessarily in the best way.
She approached me after the shift on the next Monday, saying that I had done so well that they were considering sending me to other cities where I would work with her to do the same kind of labor.
I was happy to hear that, but then she noted that we would be sharing a hotel room together. She touched me in an inappropriate manner, smiling all the time.
The next morning, I called out sick. The day after, I called to say I would not be returning at all. Luckily enough for me, another agency had found me work.
A day or so after that, I received a message that the first agency wanted me to call and talk with them. I returned their call the next day, speaking with a woman in their Human Resources Department. She wanted to know what happened to me, that I was doing so well only to suddenly quit.
I hemmed and hawed, saying another agency had put me to work, but she was persistent. It was almost as if she knew what had happened. Finally, I caved and told her everything, every detail. She listened quietly, and there was a pause after I finished. She said this would not happen again, but understood why I wouldn’t be returning. She said the supervisor would be punished appropriately. I thanked her, then said goodbye. We both knew there was nothing she could say that would make we want to work with them ever again.
THE INDUSTRY NEEDS TO ADDRESS THIS NOW
It’s not only DC, either. Not too many months ago, I heard about an incident at another company that alarmed many of us. I’m not sure how that resolved since I’m sure most organizations would rather this be taken care of quietly.
As long as I’ve been reading comics, there have been rumors of people using their name recognition and place in the industry to take advantage of fans and/or people anxious to break into the business. I find this reprehensible!
Personally, I can’t consider boycotting DC or any other comics-producing organization. I write a column, review books and create a podcast about the industry, and while I know this kind of behavior needs to be appropriately dealt with, I also don’t want to alienate the people at DC, many of whom have been so gracious and accommodating to Major Spoilers and me. If I could just stay away from a specific individual behaving this way, I’d do that. But I don’t know who else may be a part of this incident, so I don’t want to punish those NOT involved. Rightly or wrongly, that’s my point of view.
I would ask that the people at DC Comics to PLEASE resolve this matter in the best manner possible as soon as they can. We have to consider the industry and the future of DC here, not to mention people who have gone through the experience of harassment!
How should the industry handle this kind of thing? Please share your thoughts below, and please be considerate of everyone when you do!