Social Justice

The Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA) and Their Interpretation of “Feminism”

Or: Repeating History: “Feminist” PhDs & Activists Silence Women They Are “Saving”

princess bride-word

Me, to them, in regards to the words “feminism” and “pornography”

I am troubled to feel the urge to address the recent actions of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA) when their mission and work is urgently needed in Indiana. The state’s statistics indicate that the rape of high school girls is second highest in the nation and that only 18% reported their rape (WFYI), Indiana has inadequate laws and policies to support survivors (RTV6), in 2015 at least 70,000 rape kits weren’t tested (IndyStar), across our country there are 321,500 people raped or sexually assaulted every year (RAINN), and since the #MeToo viral campaign last week it is likely folks are more aware than ever of how many people they know have experienced rape, assault, and/or harassment (The Root).

Regardless of their good work, we must discuss the organization’s frankly disturbing take on what it means “to use a feminist lens”.

For those unaware, ICESA is hosting a 2-day free training this week titled “The Harms of Pornography: A Feminist Framework”. Hosted in downtown Indianapolis, ICESA says “Join us to learn about the harms of pornography through a feminist lens this coming October!” and the link describes the sessions and speakers, including “a panel discussion featuring feminist scholars and experts” consisting of Dr. Rebecca S Whisnant (University of Dayton, professor – Philosophy), Dr. Robert Jensen (University of Texas, professor –  Journalism)*, and Lisa Thompson (National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Vice President – Education and Outreach; this panelist operates from a Christian morality framework as does the organization so it is an…interesting addition).

*Edit 10/23/17: A bit of research on Robert Jensen reveals he engages in transphobic actions and listed alongside other academic TERFs. His inclusion to this event is even more insulting now.

Local feminist activists are angry about this event. As posted on Facebook, a protest against the training is taking place on Tuesday from 12-2pm at 450 Ohio Street outside the event. In the evening, a panel discussion featuring actual sex workers representing We Are Dancers USA (instead of people who just research sex workers) will speak on “Rights Not Rescue – Resisting A Single Narrative” at Butler University from 5:30pm-7:30pm, sponsored by Global & Historical Studies and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. These events are being organized by Cassandra Avenatti on behalf of Queering Indy and Dr. Beloso (Butler University – Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies)

What happened next is what led me to write this blog post, because I am sure some of my fellow higher education professionals plan to attend this training and they deserve a fuller picture of this social issue.

Dr. Mahri Irvine (Anthropology background + Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies Collaborative –  American University) is the Director of Campus Initiatives at ICESA and has done a lot of research within the IU system (my alma mater). She also wrote the most condescending letter titled “ICESA Statement in Response to Harms of Pornography Protest October 2017” that immediately made me wonder if she/ICESA knew what feminist theory was (as the event says it is from a feminist lens) and question how someone teaching in a critical studies department could write something so insulting. Everyone makes mistakes when they are doing justice work, and I just hope Dr. Irvine and ICESA recognize their mistakes here.

So what did ICESA do so wrong? Let’s start with the event itself:

  • Pornography is a nuanced topic that ICESA decided to steamroll with a machine built out of Indiana puritanical morality.
  • “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” as Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride) would tell them. Pornography is a V A S T industry. There is a lot wrong with it(!), but also there is a lot wrong with every industry (tell me why I work in a field that is predominantly women but men hold the majority of leadership positions and myself and women I know experience sexism at work?). Also, did y’all know that there are multiple branches of pornography, including feminist pornography (porn done by women creative teams for women viewers)?
  • What feminist lens are is ICESA using? One from 1953? Your program is designed in such a way that I do not see any resemblance to contemporary feminist theory and activism.
  • The National Center on Sexual Exploitation was invited to speak on the panel. This is the same organization founded by Christian leaders and originally named “Morality in Media”. The literal top victories on their website include: “Stopping a bill in New Hampshire that would have fully decriminalized prostitution” (which only HARMS sex workers, please do the research), “Ending the sale of pornography at U.S. Army and Air Force exchanges” (“please put your life on the line, but making sure you don’t have porn is so important we need to spend resources on this lobbying”), “Marsh supermarkets removal of Cosmopolitan from checkout lanes in its more than 80 stores” (EYEROLL), “Resolutions declaring pornography a public health crisis passed in four states” (again, what a waste of resources). While I see they are doing some good (on sex trafficking and child sexual abuse), this puritanical organization gets a seat at the table and actual sex workers do not?!
  • Speaking of…the disability rights movement created “nothing about us without us” and it aptly fits many underrepresented and marginalized communities. ICESA thinks PhDs know more about sex work than actual sex workers. Folks, if you want to ally right – you need to let folks personally experiencing the issue lead the conversation. Currently, you’re garbed in a dingy white cape of savior mentality and it is not a good look.

‘But, Niki’, you may say, ‘ pornography IS bad’! Again, the conversation is nuanced.

  • The porn industry is so complex and there are many negative societal effects. But it is clear that not ALL porn is bad and honestly? ICESA is using a heteronormative lens by neglecting the differences with [queer-produced] LGBTQ+ porn + neglecting to discuss porn not featuring a cis woman and cis man and engaging in sexism by not realizing/ignoring that not all porn is made by and for cis men.
  • Read this to start off with (sorry, readers with PhDs, you’ll have to get a gist of how some porn can be feminist with an online article like us peasants) an article by Everyday Feminism titled “What does Feminist Porn Look Like”.
  • Umm, queer woman-centered porn produced by queer femmes exists! Literally, I found this in my first Google search and its listed in the article above.
    • Check out Crash Pad Series. Description: CrashPadSeries is based on the 2005 feminist porn award-winning ‘best dyke sex film’ The Crash Pad about a clandestine San Francisco apartment where lucky queers share its key to rendezvous for wild sex. Adult filmmaker Shine Louise Houston brings to the web her unique cinematic direction, hailed for its honest depiction of female and queer sexuality. It can be hard to describe this site, since what you’ll see here may vary. Our queer porn casts ‘real life’ couples who identify as dykes and lesbians, femme, masculine of center (boi, stud, tomboy, AG, and butch) and can be cis or trans women, trans men, people of color, people of size, older queers, and people with disabilities (including neurodivergent). Performers choose what they want to do on camera, so it’s common to see things like safer sex, role-play with onscreen check-ins and communication, strap-ons, kink and BDSM, orgasms and aftercare”
  • Did you know the Feminist Porn Awards exists? The co-creator Chanelle Gallant wrote a HuffPo piece this year that explains the history of the awards, the criteria of what is “feminist” porn, and what they got wrong by missing the chance to include fair labor issues for women in the field.
  • Read a pro/con of why porn is/is not feminist by Ms. Magazine to gain different perspectives.
  • Sex work (a term that covers the broad expanse of work involving sex and sexual activities) in general is actually seen (I have met folks and I have read articles) as empowering for some people or at the very least just another job like any other. Due to systemic racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and classism, certain populations of people have difficulty obtaining a job and/or a job that pays a living wage. Sex work is sometimes a work that is chosen. Unless your critique of porn is also addressing these ‘isms and capitalism, then it feels more like moral policing than a desire to help make this world better.

Now we must review the “ICESA Statement in Response to Harms of Pornography Protest October 2017” to better understand their mentality.

Here’s where, to me, it jumps out as condescending, demeaning, and just rather ignorant.

  • Paragraph 1, line 1: “It has recently come to our attention that a group of pro-pornography/pro-prostitution activists..” – huh what now? If you are using a feminist lens – especially a CRITICAL feminist lens, drop this ‘prostitution’ business. It’s called ‘sex work’. The year is 2017. It was this word that leapt out at me and, to me personally, discredited the organization and people associated with it. If you propose that this two-day training is using a feminist lens but you can’t keep up with feminist terminology that respects the people personally experiencing the issue? Then I don’t think you are the right folks to lead this conversation. At all.
  • I know Indiana gets the trends later than the coasts, but “sex work” has been used by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) for years and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) all use “sex work” as well.
  • As Australian sex worker and Political Science PhD student Elena Jeffreys says “”The term ‘sex work’ has been and is an important tool for sex worker movement solidarity building. When used as an umbrella term, ‘sex work’ is useful to ensure inclusivity in organising, policy and service delivery endeavours. The way in which the sex worker movement has adopted – and continues to fight for appropriate terminology educates the world that sex work is work. The term also unites all sex workers, by definition, under a common banner. The term ‘sex work’, and the history of the term, has a huge impact on the way the sex worker movement fights today.” (see more of her research here; definitely read “Sex Worker Politics and the Term “Sex Work” because all of us who are not sex workers need to understand that sex workers have been writing and advocating about/for themselves for decades+!)
  • Paragraph 2: “…pornography industry is inherently exploitative…” Please go read all the resources above and also talk to women and genderqueer/trans/non-binary people who work in the industry.
  • Paragraph 2: “…We recognize that some individual people, including women, financially benefit from this industry and therefore, they may believe that they have been empowered by it. However, the financial empowerment of a few individuals is not enough of a reason for us to support an industry that intentionally promotes violence and misogyny” This is so incredibly condescending and ICESA is truly out of their element here (see: all my previous points). Also, please realize that this exact same thing about EVERY FIELD that exists because our culture is inherently violent and misogynist.
  • Paragraph 3: “We are also excited that some students will be attending this event, because this training will give them a chance to learn from a variety of experts who have spent extensive amounts of time studying the negative social and health impacts of pornography.” The mistake is you are bringing folks with all the same mindset to teach students. There is not diversity of thought, just your ‘all porn bad’ agenda.
  • Paragraph 4: “In addition to academic research on this topic, we have heard from colleagues as well as friends that porn has an extremely detrimental impact on intimate relationships.” I cannot take researchers seriously when they tell me their friends agree with them (how does one cite this in APA?). It sounds necessary to expand one’s circle of friends to encourage critical thought on complex matters. I am happy to make new friends, and love coffee meet-ups.
  • Paragraph 4: “For example, many women and teen girls feel obligated to act out scenes from porn in order to please their male partners, or they feel pressured to watch porn with their male partners as a “normal” part of their relationships. Clearly, these are situations of sexual coercion and violence, because no one should be forced to engage in sexual activities when they have not given genuine consent.” First, please cite this. I am unsure how many women feel obligated to act our scenes from porn. Also, unless their partner is actually coercing them to do sex acts from porn, this is not an example of sexual coercion or violence. There is a difference between someone feeling obligated (internal push) to act out something on tv, compared to someone asking/demanding/begging (external push) to do so. This viewpoint is quite inaccurate, will confuse folks who are still trying to understand concepts around coercion, and are not fitting for ICESA.
  • Paragraph 4: “…pornography has become such a normalized part of life that many women and teen girls feel pressured to engage with porn or behaviors that have been promoted in porn (like anal sex)…” Okay, so this is what we call kink shaming. And trust me, people would know about anal sex even if porn didn’t exist. I have a wide online network of women from many diverse backgrounds and one started a facebook post on the topic of anal sex – surprise! Many women actually wanted to/or did and enjoyed anal sex with their male partners.
  • Paragraph 4: “The ICESA team is extremely proud that our agency has decided to address such a “controversial” topic, because it would have been much easier for us, as an agency, to stay quiet about this issue and avoid any potential conflicts with people who disagree with us.” If ICESA were to host an event on this topic and invite guests from multiple backgrounds (academics and sex workers) with multiple perspectives, then that would be something to be proud of. Instead, ICESA is actually avoiding conflicts with people who disagree with them by not inviting them to have a voice at the table.
  • Paragraph 6: “If a protest will be held, hopefully it will not distract our attendees from the educational goals of our event.” *cringes* Actually, wouldn’t it be better to engage with the protestors and, ya know, actually have a dialogue? Wouldn’t that be a great educational goal?
  • Paragraph 7: “We welcome pro-porn industry activists at our training” No you don’t. Otherwise your language and descriptors for these activists would be much more respectful.
  • Paragraph 7: “Hopefully some of them will decide to attend so that we are all operating from the same evidence-based research when we engage in conversations with one another.” But literally someone working at a Christian-centered organization (NCSE) without an academic research background is at this panel but actual sex workers are not! And you are only sourcing from one area of academic opinion and not others. So how evidence-based is this? And more so, this sentence is just so arrogant. ICESA presumes they are operating from the best form and hope to have their critics tag along and learn, rather than them learning from their critics in mutual cooperation and community work.
  • Paragraph 7: “…so that we can ensure a safe learning environment.” But safe for who? The ideas that will be thrown around at the training may actually harm sex workers.

The bottom line is: Just because a person has a PhD doesn’t mean they are not ignorant. One can research all they like on a topic, but if they do not have the personal experience (and also do not have personal relationships with those who have those lived experiences since every experience with a social issue is different), then they will never be a true authority. And that is okay. None of us can be true authorities on every single aspect of life. That is why it is imperative to work in solidarity with individuals who personally experience the social issue and allow them to lead the conversation.

I will say, I do appreciate when the open letter says “ICESA is committed to preventing sexual violence and making Indiana a safer place, which means that we have decided to facilitate difficult conversations about the role that porn plays in sexual violence” in the fourth paragraph – we need to have these conversations. I, and many others, just extensively disagree with your framework.

In summary, this event is not feminist and its framing of pornography is incomplete. I hope folks go to protest and I hope folks at the event have dialogue with the protestors. I hope ICESA will think deeply and critically on their framework and their words in the statement, and I hope they apologize to sex workers for how this has been handled. But most importantly, I hope ICESA understands where they went wrong, learn from this, incorporate what they learned into their practice, and keep continuing to do important work in Indiana. We need it.

And one more thing – if you really care about sex workers and want them to not be exploited, support advocacy work for fair labor conditions. Check out this rad guide: “No justice, no piece! A working girl’s guide to labor organizing in the sex industry

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Comics for Social Justice Nerds: Reviewing “Moonstruck”

Note: This new blog series #ComicsForSocialJusticeNerds will highlight comics that are different from your standard White Male Superhero – in relation to the comic itself and the creative team behind the scenes. Many of my blog readers tend to work in student affairs & higher education, so if you are into social justice and media representation (and I hope you are!), then I hope you appreciate this new series (also I just want more colleagues nerding out with me!). If you are not working in higher education, but just like comics – this is for you as well! This is the 2nd post in the series; read the first post reviewing Hi-Fi Fight Club here.


The cover of Moonstruck struck me right in my feels.

I mean, a fat lead female character? Two black cats? A centaur? And coffee??!!

Instantly I bought issue 1 a few months ago and now I just completed issue three. I figured it’s time to let you in a secret to those of you not in the know: YOU NEED TO READ MOONSTRUCK.

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The cover for issue 1

Published by Image Comics, Moonstruck is the rainbow baby of co-creators Grace Ellis (She/Hers; well-known for her work on Lumberjanes as co-creator and co-writer, and now the writer for Moonstruck) and Shae Beagle (They/Them; Comic artist). It all came from their class project at Columbus College of Art & Design (in Columbus, OHIO aka my home state aka a city I’ve been too aka it’s like Ellis, Beagle, & I are practically BFFs, right?). As told to Entertainment Weekly, their professor Laurenn McCubbin (She/Hers) thought the story had potential and she helped pitch the project to Image (side note: she was once the Art Director for Image and has such an awesome list of work!). Talk about an amazing college class!

The first page of Moonstruck’s issue one is whimsical as you quickly realize this story will include a love of cats, coffee, and centaurs. Our Puerto Rican queer, fat*, heroine Julie works at the Black Cat coffee shop alongside her friend Chet, who is a non-binary centaur that brings joy into every panel that features them (*note: I am all about that body positivity and fat is a descriptor and not a moral issue. In fact, I am SO HAPPY to see a fat female lead character in a comic!).

Quickly the reader understands they are in a fantastical world as a panel shows a coffee shop full of decidedly supernatural-esque folks. Soon we learn that Julie has her a secret (and one she especially wants to hide from the world) – you may even say she has a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)” to keep this a secret (heehee). She’s dating the self-assured and beautiful Selena; every scene they are together is SUPER CUTE and will make you squee. And of course, there is a prophecy, a villain, and a magical mystery they must uncover…

moonstruck lovers

Look how cute Julie & Selena are!

I just love this creative team. Writer Grace Ellis loves her puns, and one of the best lines in issue one is Chet’s corny pun followed by “My gender identity is terrible puns.” Artist Shae Beagle’s illustrations have a soft and dreamy touch that makes it simple to fall into this different world. Every issue they bring in a guest artist to draw panels from the book Julie is reading ‘Pleasant Mountain Sisters’, starting off with the well-known Kate Leth in issue one! Online, Leth speaks a lot about her feminism and bisexual identity, so this paired with her adorable and vivid illustrations is a perfect fit (note: Her “Patsy Walker AKA  Hellcat)” was one of my fav comics of last year).

  • AND every issue includes extra content at the end, like an interview with a comics professional that the creators love! Issue one is Nilah Magruder, a writer & illustrator of the webcomic MFK and the first Black woman to write for Marvel comics! Issue two features Brittany Williams (illustrator, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat) and issue three features MariNaomi (cartoonist and creator of the databases Cartoonists of Color and Queer Cartoonists)

If I care about social justice, why should I read this comic?

  • The comic industry is still dominated by men, so a creative team only one cis man (my favorite letterer Clayton Cowles) is amazing! Discussed in their Twitter & Tumblr pages plus Rogue’s Portal, Writer Grace Ellis identities as a lesbian and Artist Shae Beagle identifies as non-binary.
  • In case you missed that, this comic is being drawn by a non-binary artist AND one of the main characters is non-binary. THIS IS IMPORTANT. #representation
  • Queer creators writing queer characters is so important (again)! As artist Shae Beagle said to Entertainment Weekly, “Well, I think it’s important to have these stories that involve queer characters by queer creators that are not, at their core, a coming-out story. These characters are comfortable in their identities and have a life outside of that. I really enjoy that kind of story, and it’s great that we’re expanding on that and putting it out there.”
    • Editor/Designer Laura McCubbin added “I wholeheartedly agree. It’s so important that there are other ways to experience queer characters that aren’t about trauma, that aren’t about the worst moment of a queer person’s life. That’s the only way audiences ever experience queer characters. The idea that we have to hear over and over about coming-out stories or getting beat up is silly. There are other aspects of queer characters’ lives, like just going to a café.”
    • Writer Grace Ellis added “I just want to add that this is the kind of book that I want to read, if I were not also writing it. It’s nice to have something that’s sincere and warm added to the LGBTQ canon.” She also told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls website “I just want this book to be a place that a queer person can go to and know that their sexuality is not going to be under attack”.
  • What I’m saying is: It’s awesome to have a comic that has queer, fat, non-binary, and people of color characters doing rad things in a visionary world! And it’s not just that these comics have diverse characters, but that they are drawn and written so damn well!
moonstruck colonialsm

Plus this moment in issue 3 is a great example of the social justice themes. Chet is great!

Overall, get this comic today! It makes me feel lots of feels + Ellis & Beagle have created a fun supernatural world. Pick up issues 1-3 now and issue four will be out November 1st!  New to reading comics and maybe, as someone who has a marginalized identity (or multiple), you are looking for a welcoming store? The Tumblr page ‘Hate Free Wednesdays’ (because new comics drop on Wednesdays) has a master list + you can submit your own. If there are no stores near you, order on Image, Comixology, or one of the many other sites.

Also, buy issue 0 for $_(whatever you want) online – all proceeds will support Puerto Rican hurricane relief (since the main character is Puerto Rican) and you can read the initial story for Moonstruck!

Follow the creative team on Twitter!

Review Round-up!

Notes: All images are property of the creators and Image.

 

Comics for Social Justice Nerds: Reviewing “Hi-Fi Fight Club”

Note: This new blog series #ComicsForSocialJusticeNerds will highlight comics that are different from your standard White Male Superhero – in relation to the comic itself and the creative team behind the scenes. Many of my blog readers tend to work in student affairs & higher education, so if you are into social justice and media representation (and I hope you are!), then I hope you appreciate this new series (also I just want more colleagues nerding out with me!). If you are not working in higher education, but just like comics – this is for you as well!


Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’d love to see a burgeoning young queer female romance + teenage women kicking butt, all within the main setting of a record store”?

Well, you won’t believe it, but the world has been given this gift!

Award-winning director, writer, and producer Carly Usdin serves as the creator and writer of “Hi-Fi Fight Club”. The book artist is Nina Vakueva (look up her webcomic: Lilith’s Word). The other members of the creative team are Irenes Flores (inks), Rebecca Nalty (colors), and Jim Campbell (letters).

Today my partner said “Find a new comic” so I scanned the shelves at my favorite local comic shop (Hero House, Indianapolis) and saw a cover featuring four badass-looking young women. The art was fantastic – artist Vakueva puts a lot of personality into her subjects and it has a bit of a manga vibe (and I don’t even like manga). AND, I figured any comic with ‘strong female types’ and from Boom! Studios (one of my preferred comic publishers) would probably be good.

It was better than good.

I was sucked into it by page 2, where our anxious and high-energy heroine Chris stumbles into the arms of Maggie aka “literally the cutest”, on the way to the record store where they both work. The moment was adorkable and there are not enough queer women romance stories in the media (especially where the “Bury Your Gays” trope doesn’t happen).

Hi-Fi Fight Club panel 1

SQUEE. The moment that sucked me in.

 

Instantly, as the reader, you feel thrust back into your teenager past as Chris navigates her workplace in 1998 New Jersey. There’s her crush Maggie (who may like girls and may even like Chris), the goth Dolores who has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Chris, cool girl Kennedy who knows everything about music, and their 24-year old boss Irene. The blend of dread (does my crush like me or not?), hope (they did x and I think that means yes!), and overall uncertainty about one’s future is brought to life by Chris and it’s easy enough to find a kindred spirit in this illustrated 17-year old character. The creative team does a brilliant job in making these characters feel real.

Of course, something strange is happening. Chris isn’t sure why she is not allowed to work after hours with the rest of the girls or why Maggie has strange injuries on her hands. When the lead singer of Chris’ favorite band goes missing before the concert, boss lady Irene brings Chris into the fold.

Her co-workers are actually a “secret teen girl vigilante fight club”! It’s amazing.

If I care about social justice, why should I give this comic a chance?

  • The creative team (except for lettering) is all women.
  • The writer and creator Carly Usdin is a queer woman. In an interview with Autostraddle (August 8, 2017), when asked “ How gay is this comic gonna be?”, Usdin said “Like, really gay. I’d say extremely feminist and very gay. And CUTE!”
  • The main character is Chris, a queer tomboy 17-year old trying to find her way in the world
    • Ergo, it is totally awesome to have someone with an underrepresented identity writing that identity into comic reality!
  • Seeing the blossoming maybe romance between Chris and Maggie will make you SQUEE. There are multiple cute moments.
  • All the central characters presented so far are women.
  • There is not enough racial diversity in comics, so it was good to see that the “impossibly cool” 18-year old Kennedy is a Black woman with braids and a nose ring amid a cast of White women. She’s in a happy relationship with her White boyfriend Logan who works at the comic book store. We’ll see how this area of representation goes – as I know there needs to be more Black women characters in comics but one must be cautious when there are not Black women serving as the writer or artist. In general, I also wish there were more Black women characters serving as the main character in comics and not just as supporting characters. It is important, however, that White writers do incorporate characters of colors since more White writers get published in comics – so this is overall good.
    • One area of concern: I did wince at seeing Kennedy punch her boyfriend (a bit playfully?) on the arm when he teased her, leading him to say “Ow! Honey, you know when you do that I’m bruised for like a week.” Society does often play up Black women as angry and Black folks in general as violent, so even though I think this is supposed to be funny and reveal a clue as to how strong Kennedy is (because she is in a secret vigilante fight club), I think it should have been done with a different character. At least Logan admires her strength and badass-ness, since in issue 2 we learned that he fell for her when Kennedy broke up a fight between two men fighting at the comic store. Overall, I look forward to getting to know Kennedy’s character further in the series.
  • Favorite quote so far: “Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is…fighting the patriarchy is great, you should try it sometime” (Maggie, issue 2)
IMG_6712-yes

#goals My favorite quote, found in issue 2.

Overall, I fell hard for this comic and read the first two issues immediately. Issue 3 comes out on October 25th so pick up a copy at your local shop! For indie comics, it is important to buy single issues as they come out to show support and not wait for the paperback trade. So please head to your local comic shop (call ahead to make sure they order it/have it!) or order online from its publisher Boom! Studios, nd or buy them online on Comixology (owned by Amazon) read as a PDF. Currently this is just a 4-issue arc, so it’s not like you’ll need to buy a bunch of comics to get caught up!

Also – I REALLY hope that while reports say this is a 4-issue arc, that Hi-Fi Fight Club continues onward!

Related Reviews of this Series:

Notes: All images are property of the creators and Boom! Studios.

A Day Without A Woman…in Student Affairs

Today is “A Day Without a Woman“, which is a national social-political campaign created by the same individuals/group that organized the Women’s March on Washington. This strike is in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike that is taking place in 30 countries. It is also International Women’s Day, which is “is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Today women are called on to strike from work if they can, as well as wear red in solidarity and don’t shop, unless it is at women-owned and minority businesses. Some folks have already complained about the “privilege” of taking off work but they have not read past a headline; the organizers are very clear that not all women can take off work and that’s why there are multiple opportunities to participate. Read this article to better understand: When Did Solidarity Among Working Women Become a ‘Privilege’?by  Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza.

Moving on…to Student Affairs.

Can you imagine if women in student affairs had all done a collective strike? There’d be barely any employees except the folks making six-figures.

laughing or cyring

To share: Personally, I am working today. I manage alternative breaks at my institution and 8 trips depart on Sunday – I don’t have an option because this is one of my busiest weeks of the year. But I cannot help but think of the gender inequality within the Student Affairs profession.

In 2013 I wrote the post “I’m shivering – Either winter is coming or there’s a ‘chilly climate’ in Student Affairs” Not much, unfortunately, has changed. We still are trapped by institutional sexism.At my institution and all others, I see it is a majority of men in upper-level positions while the coordinator level is mostly women.

There is a lack of research that analyzes the lack of female representation in SSAO positions, according to Yakaboski & Donahoo (2011), but here is a starting list of possible explanations (note: if there is more recent research, please share it with me!).

  • Institutional Sexism: According to Acker (1990) organizational hierarchies are male dominated and the institutional structure demands conformity to male norms. Simply put, men are more likely to be seen as best representative of university leadership and women are not seen ‘as a good fit’ for leadership because they do not fit into those male norms; if anything women must assimilate in order to get promoted (Dale, 2007) – or get put into a ‘binder full of women’.
  • Retention: Dissatisfaction due to sex discrimination and racial discrimination causes women to want to leave their positions (Blackhurst, 2000)
  • Female Socialization: girls are taught to be nice and take care of another person’s needs over their own and not ask for things for themselves. This results in women not asking (or even realizing they can ask) for raises and promotion (Babcock & Laschever, 2007).
  • Not on the ‘Right’ Track: Women, through their own volition or due to the institution, tend to work in roles that do not lead to SSAO positions. For example, studies show that Black women are concentrated in student affairs roles that are directly responsible for promoting diversity initiatives (Howard-Hamilton & Williams, 1996; Konrad & Pfeffer, 1991;Moses, 1997, cited in Belk 2006)
  • Fewer Mentors: With few women SSAO, there are fewer women to mentor other women, creating a full-circle affect (Sagaria, & Rychener, 2002, as cited in Stimpson, 2009)

 

One thing to point out – all the research I used is on the gender binary of women and men – and that’s all I could find when reading on gender in student affairs. We who identify as women or men need to acknowledge that in talks of sexism, often our genderqueer, non-binary, trans colleagues are left out of the conversation.

It strikes me as peculiar that a profession that embraces (to some degree) social justice can still allow sexism to play out. Granted, it is difficult to move out of institutionalized oppression. Men don’t want to give up power – either consciously or unconscionably. As sociology research demonstrates, people prefer mentoring people that look like them and have shared experiences. So of course men in power are more likely to resonate with other men and thus (consciously or unconsciously) mentor them and show them preference.

Well. That’s some bullshit.

Men – do better. I need our male university presidents, male senior student affairs officers, male dean of students, male directors, male associate directors, and male assistant directors to do better. I need our male coordinators and graduate students to recognize sexism in the workplace and call it out + redirect attention to their female colleagues who are also doing excellent work.

For example:

  • Don’t just recognize your male employees for good work but not women (if you are a male recognized publicly for something your female colleagues are also doing, speak out and redirect attention to them)
  • When women speak in a meeting, listen. There’s a documented tendency that women’s ideas don’t get heard until a man says them – don’t do that.
  • When hiring for mid-level and upper-level positions, actively seek out women (especially women of color, disabled women, queer women, trans women, and women from other marginalized backgrounds). Spend some time/money on digital flyers, get some inforgraphics, encourage women in your organization to apply, share out in different networks.

And everybody always better look out for their trans colleagues – call out transphobia and exclusionary practices, recognize their work, and actively recruit folks for mid-level positions and beyond.

And women…we all know institutionalized sexism lives within us and that we, too, have been socialized to believe inequitable things about our own gender. Actively push against this socialization. Bring other women up with you in the organization – we have to look out for one another.

Whether you are taking today off or not, everyone needs to get to work (or continue working) on women’s equality.

Share your thoughts in the comment section or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

resist to exist

An Open Letter to the Open Letter

I admit I can be a bit sardonic at times, which is where the title of this blog post comes from. I’m not quite a happy or whole person – and never have been –  but I am always trying.

Speaking of trying, I get where Dr. Ann Marie Klotz is coming from with her blog post on Nov 29th titled “An Open Letter to the Student Affairs Professionals Page Members”. I have many critiques of the group and do acknowledge the place is toxic. But as an active participant of the group for around 2 years, I do feel compelled to respond.

First, I acknowledge I am a Moderator for the group. This blog post is from Niki the Human and SA Professional, not Niki the Mod, but I know this may influence the lens in which people read this blog post.

That’s understandable. The world is nuanced and complicated, and we all perceive the world through the lens of our identities and our experiences. I would expect you, Gentle Reader, to read my words through your own lens, which will lead you to likely both agree and disagree on what I write.

Much like when I read Dr. Klotz’s post, I read it recognizing that I was reading the words of someone who has never strongly participated in The Group™ before and, based on her blogs and public talks, I know is someone who was a first generation college student that grew up in poverty in Detroit as a White woman, and now works in upper-administration at a university in New York City and is a speaker and blogger on higher education issues. I know her identity made an impact in how and what she wrote – because our identities & experiences always influence how we write; and I know my identities make an impact in how I interpreted her words.

I appreciate Dr. Klotz and many of her past writings, but am compelled to write a strong critique. I do not judge her as a person (at all! It is important to separate the person from the writing sometimes and I truly have appreciated other works of hers) and I am sure she has good intentions, but I do judge the predominant ideas in her writing.

You may judge my ideas as well. Here they are, addressing the post point-by-point in order to address both what I liked and did not:

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to be around.”
Definitely your preference! I personally enjoy ‘broken people who are trying’. That stems from my identities and personal experience; I am not open to writing publicly about them in detail but the root issue is poverty and the many issues that stem from it. Speaking of, Dr. Klotz’s #ACPA14 Pecha Kucha on her experiences as a first-gen low income student gave me LIFE that year. I just connect better with people who have ‘seen some shit’ as my people would say, than people who “live in little boxes on the hillside”.

“Happy, whole, people are positive.  They work hard on behalf of students.” 
Truly very few humans are happy and whole. Especially in a field like education (and specifically student affairs) where there’s always complaints of work/life balance, low pay, and other grievances. I mean, how is it I have a master’s degree and make around $35,000 annually?

There are many unhappy or sometimes happy and maybe not quite whole people who work hard on behalf of students as well! So, this was a bit offensive to me – even if I get where Dr. Klotz was coming from.

Also – did anyone else read this sentence and immediately think of the film Legally Blond?

legally-blonde-kill-people

“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands”

“Which is why I simply do not understand what is happening on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page. While impressive in members (over 25,000!)…”
Girl, yessss. There are so many people! And that’s what makes The Group™ so dang difficult. Let’s recognize that the happiest country in the world is Denmark – unsurprisingly it is only 5.5 million people, 90% White and 80% Lutheran. There’s little diversity and almost all people have the same majority identities, so no wonder they are so dang happy! (except for the minorities – read up on racism in Denmark, y’all). When you add numbers and diversity, you get multiple experiences and viewpoints, so deciding on “one way of life” is pretty difficult!

“It has become a place for unhappy, broken, people to showcase their brokenness.”
Yeah. I was annoyed before, but this judgmental statement made me clutch my fake pearls from JC Penney. As I said, I embrace my brokenness and my broken people! But this statement is so disconnected from the reality of what goes on in The Group™ that it’s jarring.

I will acknowledge that people are broken and unhappy. And you can definitely see how the unhappiness and hurt shines through in certain posts and comments in The Group™.

But…of course people are unhappy! See, this is why I – as someone who worked in social services before entering grad school for SA – cannot take Student Affairs very seriously when it comes to social justice. YES, there is great SJ work that occurs but then there’s moments like this where I feel there is a disconnect between the SJ values we preach and linking them to action and philosophies – and as we can see from the many positive reactions to Dr. Klotz’s piece, there are many people who either are not viewing the post through a critical lens and/or are unbothered by the silencing tone of the piece.

We live in a system of oppression and everyone has different privileged and marginalized identities (PS: I need people to stop saying they are a “marginalized person” because it just erases their privileged identity(ies) – which almost everyone has one).

It can be difficult to be happy when you are trying to survive in a career (student affairs) and a society (especially the U.S.) that was not.made.for.you. It was made for so few of us. Depending on the identities one holds, it is sometimes just enough to “survive” and hope one day we get to the “thrive” part.

The next time you see someone being bitter in The Group™ please recognize that yes, maybe they are unhappy and broken. Whether it is the “social justice warrior” lambasting someone or the “privileged jerk” who vehemently thinks you are mean for yelling at them – remember that we are all unhappy and broken in different ways and the ways in which we engage on the internet might stem from this brokeneness. Sometimes just recognizing it helps us get a step forward in understanding.

– Also – Let’s acknowledge that Student Affairs regularly emphasizes “authenticity” but I guess only when that person is happy and whole and life is awesome. And…also it seems authenticity is only okay when that person has no mental illness, because let’s be real: saying someone is “broken” is a long held discriminatory way to speak about people with mental illness. Again, I’m sure not the intent, but ‘broken’ was a terrible word choice.

“One criticism I have heard from group members is that more seasoned practitioners don’t often comment or contribute.” 
I totally get this. It is a public Facebook group and the higher your profile is, the more careful you have to be in your wording so you do not risk your job. Screenshots, and all that (which, btw, I disagree with intensely). Y’all have a lot more at risk and usually report up to conservative folks since traditionally old white men tend to be university presidents and chancellors.

Personally, I think that is a nice distinction of #sachat on Twitter – the ability to engage with seasoned professionals.

“It has become a place where people like to attack and judge each other.” 
I agree and disagree.

The issue with Dr. Klotz’s post is the lack of nuance in discerning the root of the issue in The Group™. Where is it that we see argument? Is something trivial like whether one should order pizza or subs for a program? No, it is almost always rooted in identity and social justice. The “attacks” often stem from someone with a marginalized perspective or speaking for a marginalized group to critique a post or comment that perpetuates oppression. OR, it occurs when a privileged person says something oppressive, someone gently calls them on it, and they react very defensively and go on the attack.

However, I do acknowledge the toxicity of the group and how the responses can be. There’s a lot of anger and most of it is righteous. When someone is triggered emotionally by content because their oppressed identity is targeted, they basically have 3 options: 1. Educate them. 2. Hold them accountable, 3. Ignore it.

The first two options are sometimes done at the same time and can be done in many different tones: mild, irritated, sarcastic, angry, etc. It can be difficult when one feels triggered emotionally to pull a Michelle Obama “when they go low, we go high” and speak all pleasant-like. Sometimes I believe the anger is righteous and the offending party should feel that anger – that is one way of becoming educated that what they did was not okay and they should not do it again.

There are limits, in my perspective, based on the intensity of the incident (from mistake to vicious ignorance to intentional) and the person who committed it (I hold seasoned professionals to a much different standard than grad students, for example).

BUT – overall, the people I see who usually gripe about being ‘attacked’? They are almost always coming from the privileged perspective on the matter.  So by making this statement, I immediately get the sense that Dr. Klotz’s perspective stems from a very white experience as traditionally most of the social justice debates/discussions/fights center around race (not always, but predominantly).

I completely believe The Group™ needs critique, but it needs it through a critical theory lens.

“The large number of members has created a mob-like mentality where people can feel safe to literally say anything (publicly criticizing their boss, institution, etc.) and know that they will be supported by hundreds of people.”     
Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………Yes AND No.

Anyone who spends time in the group knows that there have been many posts calling out that silly memes and stories get hundreds of posts but when people call out negative things like oppression, there usually is not a large response. I also don’t usually see people criticize their boss and institution that often (although it happens) but that’s their choice – and at the same time they don’t get hundreds of likes/comments.

However! It is possible that Dr. Klotz is here calling out the White, Straight, Cis, Able-Bodied identity groups. After all, so many folks with one or more of these identities have written truly tasteless and horrific things that I am appalled that people approve of it in a field that ‘values’ social justice. As it is completely true that in terms of “silent support” i.e. post and comment “Facebook Likes”, the privileged perspectives tend to get much more of this. Not always of course, as I see our marginalized folks holding it down and supporting each other often – shout out to how amazing many of our Queer, Black, Latinx, AAPI, Indigenous, & Trans colleagues are. And I’m seeing even more colleagues with mental illness and disabilities calling attention to these issues as well.

“I have heard of employers checking that Facebook group before they offer a candidate a position simply to ensure that they aren’t one of the people that have been contributing to this issue of attacking others”
Yep. That’s pretty scary. Again, there’s the whole idea of how are we defining “attacking others”. I think it is code for standing up for oneself and others of marginalized identities.

But again, it could also be referring to all the privileged and oppressive interactions. I mean, do I want to hire someone who openly discriminates?

It is also true that sometimes people on the ‘social justice side’ do take it a step farther than I agree with – but it’s also hard because often it’s in cases where I do not share that marginalized identity so…do I get to call something “too much” when from their perspective, it is deserved?

And also – if you are an employer and you actually don’t consider a candidate because they call out racism, sexism, transphobia, etc in a Facebook group of professionals who interact with students of different identities every day? Please reconsider. Your department could benefit from a strong supporter of marginalized students who are willing to take time to call out discrimination in a public arena.

Nuance. Is. Required.

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to serve students.”
Agree to disagree. Again, this feels like coded language that is biased against oppressed identities, like we must be seen but not heard – like children at a Victorian dinner table.

“I get the most nervous for these aspiring student leaders, the excited undergrads, the NUFP kids, and anyone else who is considering entering our field and sees these posts.” 
Me too! Sure, I had 5 years of professional experience prior to graduate school, but I’ve only been in the field 2.5 years post-master’s…and I cannot believe the amount of prejudice and ignorance that exists in the field. When I applied for graduate school I thought that Student Affairs professionals were highly educated on issues of social justice. And…they are more than some professions (I will give us that). But it has been an exhausting and frustrating experience to see so many SA professionals at all levels make racist, sexist, classist, and other ‘ist’ statements. I have lost a lot of respect for the field. And I know many aspiring SA folks – especially students of color – who see these types of ignorant posts and reconsider their career.

So yes, I am nervous.

“It is our job to role model how to engage in online spaces so that students can learn about respectful dialogue and how to have tough conversations.  Instead, it has often become a place where folks are sharing their pain in destructive ways.”
Yes, I will agree with some of this. ‘Civil dialogue’ is a real concept that one can read about and learn, and it would be great if all members read up on this. There is actually a way to speak about critical topics and disagree.

But of course, this can be difficult in practice. Like last year there was a certain ‘CEO’ who posted many disgusting things before being banned from The Group™ and once posted something quite sexist and would not respond authentically to my critique – this made me so damn angry and had no issue being “a bitch” (because you know people think that when women get angry and disagree) in my next responses.

Was that civil dialogue? Nope. But sometimes you have to cut someone with words in order to carve through the bullshit and get into an authentic space.

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to call on in the middle of a crisis.”
I…still don’t really know what is meant by happy, whole, people.

And in the middle of a crisis I want people who can get shit done – broken people are sometimes the best at this.

“Reclaim the page.”
…from who?

I’m sorry, I know this is meant with likely good intention but it is coming from an upper-level White female administrator who has not really posted a lot about social justice or critical theory and who does not engage in the The Group™. So naturally I have concerns.

As someone commented in the group, this really sounds like Trump’s anthem of “Make America Great Again” (with the resounding question of “great for who?”). I know from Dr. Klotz’s Twitter that she supported Hillary so I’m sure this was not her vision but it is my interpretation – and many others.

Jameelah Jones did a lot of labor in quickly analyzing the types of post in the group and the majority of it is asking for advice, job postings, and stories. It truly seems like the issue people have with the group is social justice conversations, so if you want to “reclaim the page” I can’t help but think this is a bunch of White, Straight, Middle-Class, Christian, Cis, Able-Bodied etc folks coming in to sweep others out.

I imagine this critique may sound harsh because this field does not truly value a critical lens and has a lot of fragility (white or otherwise) around privilege, so just me calling it out as I see it will sound harsh, I am sure.

And yet…I can interpret this statement no other way than to whitewash the group and turn us into robotic versions of ourselves.

“Make it a space for empowerment and grace.” 
I love this statement on its own, but connected to the other statements I am not sure who you want to empower…

However, I do think we could do a better job of giving each other (especially young professionals) some grace on mistakes made.

“Use it as less of a therapy session and more of a place where we can brainstorm how to help our students—and each other—when engaging with the tough work on our college campuses.” 
I am actively disappointed in this statement and frown every time I read it.

First, I’m not sure what “therapy session” means. Is it alluding to the comments where people speak openly about their marginalized identities and advocate for their right to live without oppression? Or does it mean when people complain about having to serve Midnight Breakfast? I have no idea but I assume the former due to the tone of this blog post.

What some people consider “therapy”, others consider “building community”.

“Let’s use this page as a space where victories are shared, staff successes are celebrated and resources are given.” 
I think all this is great! It sounds like a nice message board on a 1995 Geocities page – very basic and dry.

While these are all great to include, this idea excludes having engaging conversations around social justice and other issues. It also excludes the idea that we cannot as workers gather to discuss issues in higher education like low pay, ineffective graduate school programs, bias in the workplace, and others. In this day and age, it is important that we share our struggles so it is no longer ‘me’ but ‘we’. This will help us better advocate for ourselves and one another.

Again, I like the positive aspects but we need to be critical minded professionals as well. I am worried by only emphasizing the positive the end goal of this blog post is to cancel out authentic and challenging conversations among diverse folks.

“In the quest for this group to be inclusive, it has backfired to become divisive (young, edgy, pros vs. old curmudgeons) and let’s live up to the title of the group—Student Affairs Professionals.”
Does what makes the young professionals edgy are their commitment to social justice?

“All professional interaction and engagement with one another.” 
The term “professional” was defined by White, Straight, Cis-Men. It’s an exclusive concept that strips us often of our humanity – especially if you don’t have all those privileged identities. “You Call it Professionalism; I Call it Oppression in a Three-Piece Suit” is a great piece by Carmen Rios on Everyday Feminism that people need to read.

“That being said, “I volunteer as tribute!” to help whoever is interested to give this page a face-lift, a re-do, an upgrade.”
As both a Member and a Moderator, I just want folks to engage in the group critically with an open-mind, and participate as often as they can.

As someone who low-key likes research on these topics, it is very difficult to change the structure of a large and diverse organization (especially in a desensitized virtual space). I am not quite sure how to go about fixing things, but I know no matter what, people will leave. So, it comes down to values and what voices we value when we are upgrading a space.

“There is enough hate, anger, and pain in our country right now.  Let’s compassionately lead our campuses and be kind to each other.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I just think this is a “both/and” situation. We can be compassionate by also recognizing the unhappy and broken pieces within each of us and fighting for all of us.

Conclusion
What does this all boil down to – in my opinion?

Privilege and oppression.

And mostly – White fragility and systemic racism. While not all social justice posts in the group are about race (trans and queer issues are also frequent) it usually does come down to race. Which does lead me to believe that all this hand wringing about the tone of the group and a desire to return to the old model of mostly job postings stems from racism.

Which is honestly just sad. I hope we can be more open-minded, utilize a critical lens, and do better as we move forward.

Finally, let it be known that while Dr. Klotz wrote a rather viral blog post calling attention to issues in the group, she has the privilege of being rather high profile in the SA blogging/social media world. Remember: People of color – especially Black Student Affairs Professionals via #blksapblackout – have been calling out issues for a very long time. Many queer and trans voices as well, and many other marginalized voices. Please recognize this as the discussions about The Group™ continue online and offline.

***

Feedback can be left in the comments or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

Facilitating Dialogue: 8 Steps to Supporting People in a Post-Trump Era

Do you understand what this country has done in electing Donald Trump as President of the United States of America?

I do.

Donald Trump employed divisive fear mongering tactics to engage millions of people who are not happy with their lives by scapegoating minorities – women, people of color (especially Black and Latinx folks), people with disabilities, queer folks and trans folks (LGBTQ+), undocumented people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews…the list goes on.

So naturally in the aftermath of the election college students (and many folks overall) are scared for the safety and civil rights.

Fox News and other media outlets (and humans I know – SIGH) have made a mockery of how universities have worked to support students after the election results & in general mocked the “whining of liberals”. This is rude and unnecessary – they lack compassion.

This blog post is focused on talking to people one-on-one and in groups who feel upset and fearful by Trump’s victory and his looming presidency.

For those of you working in Higher Education/Student Affairs and wondering how best to support your students, here’s my recommendations. I spent all day Wednesday, November 9th meeting in small groups or facilitating large group discussions with students + colleagues and have engaged in dialogue since then – and I am sure will continue to do so for quite some time. These are my observations and hopefully they are helpful in aiding discussion.

1. Don’t Assume

Remember that long list of demographic groups I listed in the opening statement? Don’t assume people from these groups are against Trump. Out of the people who voted, exit polls say that 52% of White women voted for Trump. About 19% of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Latinx folks voted for Trump. Some (in much smaller numbers) Black folks voted for Trump too. No numbers for other groups, but I am sure some voted for Trump.

Likewise, people who don’t seem at risk for losing their civil liberties and/or the majority of the demographic voted Trump (rural folks, cis-men, straight people, white people), didn’t all vote for Trump and also disapprove of the election outcome.

Therefore, don’t assume anything when discussing the election.

2. Listen

This should go without saying but not necessarily a natural trait for some people. Even if you have the same/similar identities as the person talking, you may not have the same fears/hopes/experiences that they hold. If you hold privilege in an area that they speak of (i.e., a disabled person speaking to a non-disabled person), be very careful of how much “space” you take up. I have seen people with privilege taking up space in these post-election conversation; the more privilege they have the more they tend to talk. This is a time where we need to let marginalized folk say what is on their mind because they may not have other spaces where they can speak about these things. (follow-up with Everyday Feminism Article “The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice” by Jamie Utt)

3. Allow People to Discuss Their Fears

Fear is natural in this situation. This is not a normal election. It has been a long time since a candidate for the top office in a country has been outspoken against multiple minority groups and made heinous statements. This goes not just for Donald Trump and all the slurs and harassing statements he’s made but also for his VP Mike Pence. Throughout his political career, Pence was intensely anti-LGBTQ and pushes for conversion therapy and the right of people to refuse service to queer folks.

International students are afraid their VISAs will be revoked and they’ll have to leave the country before finishing their education. Women and survivors of sexual assault know that Title IX protection is in danger with a president with a long history of sexual harassment and alleged assault. Undocumented Undocumented Undocumented students and recent immigrants fear being deported and/or losing family members to deportation. Black students wonder how much less their lives will matter with a president who has made many racist statements. Muslims fear being placed on a registry. Jewish folks know what a leader with these sorts of attitudes can do and recognize from history & present-day events that they are targets (and have been grieving at synagogues this week). Disabled folks/people with disabilities know their health is at risk with a president who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act; without their medication they will be in pain and may even die. All these groups of people knew there was discrimination in this country and now know that millions of American citizens voted for a man with racist, sexist, xenophobic, ableist, transphobic, homophobic, Anti-Semitic views….so how honestly can they expect to be safe here?

Not to mention – in the three days since the election over 200 hate crimes and acts of harassment and intimidation have been reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center (very similar to the aftermath of Brexit in the United Kingdom). People of color, LGBTQ folks, and women have been impacted the most – from elementary school children to adults. Bigots have been emboldened by Trump – a bigot who made it to the highest office in the land.

So yes. People’s fears are real. Acknowledge them. Validate them. Let them talk about them.

4. Beware the Oppression Olympics

This has not occurred in any discussions I’ve hosted yet but I have seen a lot of it on social media.

Many groups of people have been targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and his supporters. Many are in fear of his stated policies that will eradicate their civil rights.

Not every group will be equally affected and that should be understood. Intersectionality of identity is critical to understanding how we will be affected. A lower-middle class & disabled cis-white woman in a relationship with a man will experience the Trump Administration differently than a middle-class & able-bodied cis-Latino man married to another cis-man.

It’s like Mad Libs – you can insert all these different identities and the story is the same: the majority of the American populace will be affected. The only demographic unaffected will be those who hold all the majority identities (a very small number of Americans). And of course, then there are the folks who have marginalized identities but still support the Trump Administration and do not expect to be affected.

Either way, cut this shit out – STOP erasing marginalized groups from the conversation on who will feel the impact of the Trump Administration. If it comes up in discussion, guide the conversation out of this loop of Oppression Olympics.

5. Don’t Be Optimistic/Try to Lighten the Mood (Without Reading the Room)

Some people are uncomfortable with conflict, negative energy, and sad/angering news (especially when they feel helpless to change the situation and/or don’t think they can change the situation). Their coping strategy is to “look on the bright side” and may make statements that they hope are meaningful and inspirational but actually are meaningless in practice at that moment. Sometimes, you just have to let people grieve. False platitudes don’t protect someone from being attacked for wearing a hijab, someone losing their Driver’s License when Trump revokes DACA, or when a disabled person’s monthly medication increases from $45 monthly to $1,000.

Of course – it depends on the relationships you have with the person/people talking, number of folks in the room, how the conversation has been going, and so on. This takes some finesse, so please be observant of what that space needs in that time.

6. Bring Hope into the Conversation

I know – I just lectured on how we don’t need to thrust optimism into every conversation.

What I asked my students was: “Do you feel hopeless? Or do you feel hope? And if so, what does hope look like for you?” – or some variation of this.

It’s important to note that not everyone feels hope right now and that’s okay – so bring up that hopelessness is an option. Yes, we want people to move through that feeling to find hope but this is when you need to “ meet students where they are” and just let them be humans for a second.

But this question is critical and should come after everyone has discussed their fears. Hope is instrumental in overcoming whatever policies and laws that may come at us as a nation in Trump’s presidency.

And there is a LOT to give us hope: Many people are beginning to mobilize and vow to do the work to protect the most vulnerable of us. And Tuesday night may have elected someone who openly boasts of harassing women, but also gave us the first Somali Muslim woman in the House, first Latina senator, first openly queer governor (also a woman), and so much more. Overall, many women of color won Congressional seats!

One of my favorite proverbs has been shared by many of my Latinx friends this week and it feels appropriate in this period of fear and hope for the future:

“They tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds”. (Mexican proverb, attributed to the Zapatistas but it’s hard to find an exact source).

7. Move into an Action-Oriented Phase

A smaller number of the electorate (eligible voters) cast ballots this year than the last two presidential elections. According to Five Thirty Eight about 1.4 million more Americans voted in 2016 than 2012 but the number of eligible voters had grown, diminishing this appearance of victory. Around 45.4% of eligible voters did not show up.

WE NEED TO SHOW UP.

So after discussing fears and then hope – ask folks what changes they will take in their life to become more civically engaged. This includes daily acts of radical self-care and caring for others – and it also includes engaging in community-based organizations. The only way we can progress the civil liberties of this country is to get organized. Have the group discuss ideas and work together to create a list.

Plus – making a plan of action is often helpful when managing fear and anger in the wake of the election.

8. Self Care

Black lesbian womanist writer and activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1932-November 17, 1992) said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I recognize this is said from her perspective as a black queer woman and I know this quote recognizes the unique stress experienced by black queer woman. I am not sure if Audre Lorde intended this quote to be colonized by people outside of her identities as she was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou who focused on the intersectionality of black women and lesbian identity. However, I will say that Audre Lorde inspires me to care for myself and has inspired many others who do not share her identities.

Therefore, please take care of yourself. You yourself may be experiencing the same/similar fears as your students and here you are listening to them speaking their truths. Even if you hold many privileged identities, you may fear for your students and other people in your life. This can be taxing. Take breaks when you need to, refer students to others when you need to, and do what you need to relax and replenish your soul.

For me, Wednesday night I cuddled with a cat, ate ice cream, and watched one of my favorite light-hearted shows “Jane the Virgin”. It helped – and then a solid 8 hours of sleep helped even further.

The “Other Side”

While this blog post is dedicated to supporting the folks who feel fear in seeing Trump elected by the U.S., I know that many people are happy and many are indifferent. These aren’t necessarily bad people (note: people who are committing hate crimes are bad people imo, but redemption is a possibility) and as a nation we need to work with these folks together. That doesn’t mean you specifically have to, but overall we do as a society. I would never ask someone who feels under attack in this period to work with their oppressors – so if you have privilege in an area, work with the people who hold that same privilege.

Conclusion

Take care of yourselves and each other.

 

[marginalized folks are] Always Educators in Student Affairs

The “Student Affairs Professionals” (SAP) Facebook group is a strange little beast. At 21,000+ members, it contains both the best and worst of the profession.

That’s harsh. And…not quite true.

The SAP Facebook group demonstrates the best and worst of the profession. There are incidents where folks share resources and best practices, support one another’s highs and lows…sometimes it is excellent.

Other times? Not so much.This blog post will address one of the “SAP Problematic Concepts” (a term I’ve coined for now to describe the incidents/statements we see regularly) titled “But we’re all educators!!”

But We're All Educators

Discussion of social justice concepts and navigating privileged experiences with the realities of marginalized (in regards to race, the term used often is ‘minoritized’ but I chose /marginalized/ since it is a more commonly understood term) experiences in our society is necessary to advance ourselves professionally and personally. Of course, it can be tricky to have a fruitful discussion online and often with people you’ve never interacted with before – and even likelier it was never face-to-face.

Some argue that it is pointless to have SJ discussions in the SAP group or any other online venue. I disagree, but I do agree that there’s a series of regular incidents that tend to occur with these talks. The primary one? When a person with one or more privileged identities gets frustrated and pushes on someone with one or more marginalized identities to explain that marginalized experience.

Their belief? That the person with the marginalized belief owes it to the person with the privileged identity to “educate them”. Of course the person in question should do it/should want to do it “because we’re all educators” and “we’re all learning”.

eye roll - B Apt 13

That’s not cute. It’s bullying. It’s entitlement. It’s exerting your privileged status on someone. The term “check your privilege” has become trite but for real, you should do just that. It’s a better use of your time then carrying out acts of oppression.

Just because someone works as a student affairs professional, as an educator, does not mean they owe it to all the folks in the world to do unpaid labor to teach 24/7. Not to mention, the more marginalized identities a person holds, the more likely it is that systemic oppression affects them and they are paid less than your average person with a greater number of privileged identities.

When a person spends their work day getting paid to educate, they are also likely doing it outside of work in different sectors. That’s tiring. Folks with marginalized identities – especially people of color – are forced to educate far more often than privileged – especially white – folks.

And let’s name it: I see this SAP Problematic Concept most often when fellow white professionals bully people of color to “educate them” on different social justice perspectives related to race and racism.

Franky, that is bullshit.

If you’ve graduated from a masters’ or doctoral program, go back to your assigned readings.If you didn’t, then the internet and your local library are wonderful resources. Check out some recommended books. Ask other privileged folks to educate you – for you to educate one another. And above all, please use Google (and GoogleScholar). Here, I started you off with a search for “systemic racism in higher education“.

Systemic Racism in Higher Ed-let me google that for you

And don’t forget – when you have a privilege identity it is your responsibility to call in your peers when they are saying something problematic. Race, mental health, gender identity, sexuality, first language…there are a lot of identities and experiences to learn about. We’re always going make mistakes and learn new things. Help one another out with that. Do it online and offline (as I’m sure this attitude is common in the ‘real world’ as well).

Bystander intervention is a cool thing. It’s unfair to let folks with marginalized identities fend off pushy entitled privileged folks.Let’s support each other in doing better. Which sometimes means tough love, and that’s okay.

***

Those are my thoughts. It’s been a while since I’ve written a critical blog post but I just can’t take seeing these patterns over and over. I took a long break (with only minimal check-ins) from student affairs’ social media spaces for the specific reason of how draining and demoralizing they can be. There’s some good stuff, for sure! But there’s also a lot of folks with advanced degrees who need to engage better with their peers and learn how to Google.

 

 

 

How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show” ( Part 1/3)

How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show”
A Full Report on the Less Than Friendly Side of GenCon 2015
By Niki Messmore, M.S. Higher Education & Student Affairs

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

You know what’s the perfect way to moderate a “writing women friendly comics” panel? To have a man interrupt every woman that speaks and then center the conversation on himself.

At least, that’s how the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon 2015 happened, with moderator Bill Willingham (writer and artist).

I know that if he is reading this, Bill Willingham may bristle at this introduction. He stated to The Mary Sue in an interview earlier this year that he bristles when conversations start off in an accusatory tone. Yet considering how he began Thursday’s panel, I think he can take it.

This is a report detailing the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon, hosted by the Writer’s Symposium, and resulting in quite a bit of press. I attended the panel, took detailed notes, spoke to both Bill Willingham and Marc Tassin (head of Gen Con’s Writer Symposium), and conversed with folks on Twitter.

Oh yeah – and I’m also the woman who called out to Bill Willingham at the panel, interrupting him and pointing out his consistent interrupting.

GenCon 2015: "Writing Women Friendly Comics" panel

GenCon 2015: “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel. L-R: Willingham, Ha, Pete, Zub, Roberson, Dawson

INTRODUCTION
This following report will cover the panel, provide background information on his this panel happened, Twitter talk, and will include some commentary. I hope to provide an account of what occurred with integrity, since there are quite a few folks who don’t believe the article The Mary Sue (TMS) published on Friday: “[UPDATED] Dissenting Opinions May Occur: Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s Troubling “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel”. I warn you, my report is over 6,000 words so I’ve broken it up into several posts (links will be included). But I didn’t want to leave anything out. If you like, I worked everything into headings by topic so if you are skimming you have an easier time of it.

If you have any questions about who I am, why I’m writing this, and why you can trust my word, see the FAQs.

Disclaimer: “Quotation marks” = direct quote. Ellipses (…) mean I couldn’t write fast enough to capture everything and I’ll put the quote in context. Since I was taking notes, I was not able to notate everything that was said but I do stand behind what I captured. Placing something in [brackets] means I, as the writer, add in context to the quote. As much as necessary I include hyperlinks to back up my references and give the reader the option to do further research. When there is a large amount of dialogue, I’ll write it out in a more-so script format that journalistic/research piece because this is a blog and already this report is long enough. Finally, I separate my commentary from the account to provide the reader with an breakdown of all the going-ons; it gets sassier as the report continues.

SYNOPSIS
In case you don’t want the detailed notes, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Bill Willingham (comic writer and artist) worked with the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con to establish a comic writing track, and he organized a panel called “Writing Women-Friendly Comics”
  2. The description for the panel gets published in May. It is written in such a way that it’s clear that males are the intended audience for the panel. When women are described akin to aliens (what comics do they like and it is even possible to please them?) and the text reads “Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership?”, well that is clearly not the way you would write if you expected women to attend. Following it up with a snippy “Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur” meant Willingham was immediately on the defensive and this women-friendly panel ain’t sounding friendly to women.
  3. Also in May, it is revealed that all the panelists are male. The Mary Sue runs an article and folks are rightfully outraged. Women creators volunteer as tribute and the panel is integrated.
  4. The panel occurs at Gen Con. The panelists are lovely but Bill Willingham as moderator has a clear agenda. He does not want to acknowledge that identity makes an impact when telling a story and he consistently interrupts women on the panel and in the audience.
  5. I called him out towards the end, interrupting him from the crowd. Another woman did as well. Bill is very displeased and doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.
  6. The next day I speak to Bill. He’s “said all that needs to be said” yesterday and doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He follows up a day or so later tweeting his official response on the panel, and it’s a YouTube video of dancing baby girls.
  7. I also spoke the organizer of the Writer’s Symposium to express my concern and learn how this oversight happened. It was a great conversation and this report will go further into it.
  8. I and other folks who were there tweeted about it; Gail Simone and others picked up on it (a Storify of tweets I sampled can be found here; quite a bit of outrage). The Mary Sue wrote a follow-up and quoted attendees along with reactions from the two women panelists. At least one bookstore, Tubby & Coo’s in New Orleans, have boycotted Fables due to Willingham’s mad mod skills (mad, as in not cool but he literally made folks mad).

BACKGROUND – BEFORE GENCON
On July 23, 2015, The Mary Sue (TMS) broke the story that GenCon (North America’s largest gaming convention) would be hosting a panel titled “Writing Women Friendly Comics” and that the panel was all men. This was to be hosted by the “Writer’s Symposium” (WS), which is a speculative fiction writing conferences in its 21st year and sponsors over 140 hours of programming at GenCon. They have different tracks and this year was the first “coming writing track”.

Considering that The Mary Sue and others had written articles on Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel with all men in May 2015, the all-male panel was certainly a *headdesk* moment. However, that same day, Marc Tassin (the one-person show of WS), stated that TMS’s article had multiple women reach out to him to be on the panel. Hooray!

NEXT – Part 2

PS: I know this is a fairly long blog series, so please just listen to Marko from Saga (Vaughn/Staples – aka they created one of the greatest series of all time)

saga please keep reading

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics – Panel Transcript with notes (2/3)

Part 2/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

THE PANEL
Featured on the panel were (in order of seating, L-R):
Bill Willingham (Fables), moderator and organizer
Gene Ha (Top Ten), panelist
Alina Pete (Weregeek), panelist
Jim Zub (Samurai Jack), panelist
Chris Roberson (iZombie), panelist
Delilah S. Dawson (Monkeybrain Comics, Hit), panelist

Identity, especially when speaking on identity issues, matters. Identity influences our experiences and perspectives. Therefore, based on self-identifying statements, bios, and observations (forgive me if I am incorrect and notify me to make corrections), the panel consisted of three White males, one Asian American man and son of Korean immigrants, one multiracial woman of Native American and White descent, and one White woman. No identifying information on sexuality, gender identity, disability, or class were provided.

WRITING WOMEN FRIENDLY COMICS – THE PANEL HAPPENS!
I arrived to the panel apprehensive but in good spirits. I chatted with some other women in line and found out that most of us had heard of the panel thanks to The Mary Sue (TMS). In fact, according to Tassin, that article increased registration for the Writer’s Symposium (WS). While I was indeed apprehensive due to how the panel was originally set-up, I felt hopeful since WS had accepted new women panelists so openly.

It starts.

The first thing that moderator Bill Willingham said?

“This is NOT a women in comics panel…A certain rabble-rousing website [The Mary Sue] with no journalistic integrity whatsoever tried to redefine this as a women in comics panel…”

I was taken aback. What a sharp-tongued remark. This was certainly not a friendly way to begin a panel discussing women friendly comics. It’s even more surprising because although TMS compared this panel to Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel they never called it that. Also ironic is Willingham provided an interview to TMS just a few months ago. I suppose TMS had integrity when they were giving positive publicity.

The rest of the panelists introduced themselves. Zub even said “when I heard there were not going to be any women on this panel I wanted to say ‘let’s not have it” and he was glad that there were now women panelists.

After introductions, Willingham followed up with stating that “I wrote this without trying to appeal to any audience…” and that he was here because he’s “been accused” of writing women friendly comics; providing rationale for his presence. He asked panelists if they try to appeal to different audiences in their work.

Roberson stated “Was iZombie designed to be women friendly? I kind of had an agenda. I’m quietly an angry progressive. I was intentional in constructing a cast that was representational of America…It was a little intentional…there are no straight white men [in my story].” He spoke a bit more on that.

Willingham moved from that question to addressing the audience. He asked for three women of what makes women friendly comics. Woohoo! What a kickass way to start things off! Women in the audience responded that they like comics where the woman has agency, where she’s not just a sidekick, and more.

Willingham followed up with audience members, seeking to figure out what exactly makes a comic woman friendly. He stated that he wanted “to construct the panel because that was the topic at the time, which is women friendly comics…”

Zub added how there are similar problems with kid’s books as well, and gave the example of how boys are taught not to empathize with female protagonists and that this carries on in their readings.

Wllingham: “…so are the rules [to writing women friendly comics]”?”

Zub: “I don’t think there should be rules. We shouldn’t pander – just not sexualize people [and do stereotypes].”

Willingham followed up by asking Delilah S. Dawson what was women friendly for her. She spoke of loving Wonder Woman as a kid and later as an adult walking into a comic store. She described her experience of scanning the comic book covers and how the featured women were over-sexualized. “Spiderwoman not for me…Wonder Woman not for me…and then I saw Saga with a woman breast feeding and said THATS FOR ME!” Essentially, the way that women in comics were over-sexualized was a major turn-off.

Willingham pushed back at Dawson, interrupting and saying “Are you representative of all women?”

Dawson seemed a bit surprised at that comment and stated “No! I said it was right for me.”

Then Willingham says that “yes, that’s [women] a broad demographic”

…and then Willingham added an anecdote of how a couple women enjoyed more of his erotica work; presumably working to argue that over-sexualized female characters can be appreciated by women.

Commentary: BILL. REALLY? So he speaks over a woman’s experience of disliking how so many comic characters are over-sexualized by throwing out a minor anecdote of how some women actually like that sort of thing. This is a covert act of sexism, to discount a marginalized perspective by overshadowing it with an anecdote of how ‘but actually you’re wrong.” Bill, if you wanted a panel on “Writing Women Friendly Comics” maybe you shouldn’t, ya know, actually discount what the women on your panel say and actually, ya know, LISTEN TO THEM.

Thank goodness for Roberson, who continued the panel stating “…this is why it goes back to the representation thing. I am a straight white middle-class man. I want to make the writing representative of the world but I don’t want to speak for other people.”

Commentary: This is a GREAT RESPONSE! Nice male allying action, Chris Roberson.

Willingham doesn’t get it. “Why can’t you speak for people?”

Ha jumps in, providing an example of the film “City of God” which is an Indian film and takes place in India. It was well-received in India but American audiences became too conscious of it and didn’t like the negative portrayals of India. In an attempt to support India, they denounced the film and encouraged people not to see it. Meanwhile, Indians in India were confused and wanted overseas audiences to watch the film and support its revenue. Ha explains that this is an example of why you cannot speak for other people – you don’t actually understand what they want or need.

Zub adds on. “You have to be careful, not to speak for other people…” His Japanese comic “Wayward” takes place in Japan. They work to maintain social consciousness of their story. Zub’s co-writer is raising a family there and they have a scholar to read over and give feedback. Zub states “there is value that we can tell a good character story” and describes how Japan has embraced the book – “and it’s not like they don’t have comic books.”

But “…we used to treasure outside views”, responds Willingham.

Alina Pete speaks up and comments on Warpath, Marvel’s Native American hero, and his very stereotypical outfit. She adds that “if you’re part of an underrepresented group you feel happy to at least be included, even if it is done poorly” and discusses the concept of appropriation (see: cultural appropriation). She states that appropriation is “bad”.

“Why?” Willingham is curious why appropriation is bad.

Pete gives the example of a writing about a Lithuanian ditch digger. She could write about a character who is a Lithuanian ditch digger, but she doesn’t know that experience. It’s very likely that a real Lithuanian ditch digger would read it and say ‘that’s not my experience’ and a slim chance that they would think it’s like their experience. That is why appropriation is bad (and speaks to the other panelists describing why you can’t try to speak for other people).

Willingham cuts in again, asking if people knew who wrote “Arabian Nights”. The panelists respond it was a French guy and Willingham is gleeful and says yes, a French guy. He describes how great the story is and that we have this story because of an outside voice.

Commentary: Bill incorporates white supremacy here – as in, he is working to uphold white voices above people of color by using this example to allow for white voices to tell the stories of people of color. Check your facts, Bill. Arabian Nights was NOT WRITTEN BY A FRENCH AUTHOR. It was translated by Antoine Galland into French from Syrian and other texts. Galland is not a trustworthy translator, as he added several tales not included in the original text and his Arabian Nights includes negative portrayals of Arab society and Africans that colored the lens through which Europe saw the people of these lands. So quite honestly, this is actually a great example of why people should not write about the experiences of people/societies with different identities without a great deal of research (if they write it at all) because it perpetuates systemic oppression. Great job, Bill!

However, then the BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE PANEL HAPPENED.

#LikeABoss

#LikeABoss (ps: so sorry I have an iPhone 4 and the photo is fuzzy!)

Willingham finished up his lecture with “Is appropriation bad? I bristle at that.” He goes on to say that if it was bad, “the sin of bad writing” will make sure it is not successful, evoking a capitalist argument.

Dawson jumped in. “…I don’t want to be that person but that’s because you’re a white dude! You have privilege.”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. The entire audience responded with enthusiasm – up to this point there were many frustrated and angry faces.

Sputtering, Willingham responds. “I don’t think being a white dude is a crime!”

Dawson: “I don’t think so either – I married one!”

Commentary: Omg yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Willingham: And I don’t think it’s [being a white male] a disqualification!

Willimgham then gave an example of a white dude anthropologist who learned Mayan things or something. To be honest, he rambled. The audience was mostly full of confused faces. Essentially he was comparing a white male anthropologist and a young Mayan girl, the former speaks English and the latter does not. If the white male anthropologist writes a book on it, that makes him an authority because the girl can’t write on it.  Willingham said “And we have someone who can’t really speak to it, who is the authoritarian here?”

Commentary: The Mayan girl. Duh. An outsider can never truly know the experience of a situation if they cannot, have not experienced it. Bill is really on some white supremacist bullshit if he thinks that a white man can write better on an indigenous society than the indigenous people themselves.

Zub spoke next to the concept of listening to other voices outside one’s identity. He said his wife really helped him grow to understand women’s issues and experiences. “My wife has been giving me insight…she says ‘please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ I look at her and think god dammit, you’re so right. I do feel with a story I can write well but I take care so I don’t assume my opinion takes precedent.”

Commentary:  PRAISE BE TO JIM ZUB’S WIFE! “Please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”, indeed! Perhaps after this panel it should be changed to “Please give me the confidence of Bill Willingham”. And way to go, Jim, listening to women’s opinions and taking it to heart!

“I don’t like the generalization!” Willingham is unhappy with Zub’s comment. Things are feeling tenser by the minute, with each interruption and denial of experiences and perspectives that Willingham delivers.

Pete responds to Willingham by sharing her story. Pete: “I am half native and my sister is fully. We have different experiences due to color. I walk into a store [and everything’s fine]…and she gets security on her.” Pete goes on to describe how people of color can’t talk back to authority, mentions police brutality, and other examples.

Commentary: All the love to Alina Pete for further introducing intersectionality to the conversation and sharing her experiences! I was very impressed that she spoke on Native American issues and also issues faced by other racial minority groups. It is important that this happens, for too often discussions on women usually equate to leaving all other marginalized identities out of the scenario. Again, this is why representation matters. A person with a multiracial background can speak to their experience and are also more likely to talk about race issues than a white person (note: this is a burden an unfair to them at the same time to always have to be the person to bring race up).

Then, the most “what the fuck” comment occurs:

Willingham: But “the most homogenous white group is the Appalachian and why aren’t they running the place?”

Bill, stop. This is getting embarrassing.

Commentary: What Willingham attempts to argue here is that the people of Appalachia are all white (which actually isn’t completely true) and are also in extreme poverty. So, he’s arguing that if white people are so supreme, then why are white people in Appalachia without power? Oh Bill.  This is almost a comical lack of critical thinking. There’s this thing called intersectionality, as in a human being has many intersecting identities. Race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status – these and more all affect how human beings move through the world. White people can totally have white privilege and experience discrimination due to poverty or other issues. People who perpetuate white supremacy enjoy using the people of Appalachia as a strawman argument against the concept of white privilege. But again, here is Bill trying to speak for a group that he’s not a member of – the people of Appalachia are not asking to be your strawman argument, Bill.

Anyways, that Appalachia comment got the audience very riled up – there were annoyed murmurs and rustles as folks turned in the seat to see how others were reacting. A half-dozen audience members raise their hands in the air.

Roberson speaks up, describing him as progressive, anti-racist, and more. He said “and while I am not overtly sexist I did realize I wrote male protagonists with last name and women always first name [i.e., more respect is given to males and women are treated as ‘girls’]….And I found I would do it in comic panels…” Roberson worked to share the concept that privilege limits our lens and a person can perpetuate sexism without consciously realizing it.  He stated, amidst his explanation of his privilege, “I am the product of a sexist society.”

Commentary: Um hai Chris Roberson, many shiny gold ally stars for you. That is a TERRIFIC RESPONSE! It’s wonderful when men help to explain the concept of male privilege and sexism to other men, as people with privilege statistically listen better when other privileged folks discuss oppression. Yes, we are ALL products of a sexist society. When we recognize that, we gain awareness and we can work on taking sexist actions and language out of our day-to-day lives and work towards making society less sexist.

Now Willingham takes questions.

There were many hands up and Willingham selects a younger white male audience member standing in the back. There are murmurs of dissent – after this people were rather outraged that the first person Willingham allows questions at a “writing women friendly comics” panel is a white male. LoLz.

The audience member defers; he clearly didn’t think he had it right. Willingham responds that overall he was there first. As an observer at the panel, I’m honestly not quite sure but I do think it speaks something that the audience member recognized that perhaps he was not actually the first one to raise his hand. Who knows.

This audience member? Amazing.

He states that he identifies as a person who is disabled and that he is on the autism spectrum, among other things. He stated “historically the disabled community has not been able to speak for themselves…and I think that speaks to how communities – disabled, women, black, [etc] and how we feel. We’ve seen it done over and over how it’s done in a paternalistic way.” The audience member really is trying to support this idea that people with privilege need to question whether they are the best ones to write stories involving marginalized groups. Fantastic! Issues of disability and ableism are far too often overlooked in discussions on media representation.

Zub follows up with “there are so few times to tell these stories” and we don’t give them to the communities to tell them. He provides an example of when he was asked to pitch a black superhero (he wouldn’t say who) writing project and didn’t understand why he was asked and questioned the publisher.

Willingham: “Should we get the best female that’s available or just any female…?” He’s clearly struggling with the idea that identity plays a role in who and how stories are written. In fact, the whole panel feels, at this point, like it is meant to personally educate Willingham on how to write women friendly comics.

Ha talks about writing a story on two white sisters and how he did his due diligence by talking to the daughters of friends to try to get into the mindset.

Commentary: It is awesome that the panelists are trying to educate Willingham on these issues. It just sucks that this panel Willingham created is so self-serving, as he agitates the audience.

Now Willingham asks for a second audience question. He calls on a woman in a white necklace.

Audience member: “Going back to misappropriation, I too am in a tribe and am light skinned. Their experiences are far different…” She speaks about how her grandmother worked to ‘pass’ as light-skinned and Bill interrupts her.

Willingham: “I know there have been blacks trying to pass as white did that happen to Native Americans too?”

Commentary: Bill, it’s GREAT that you want to know that. Really. But there’s this thing called Google. This woman of color is not here to educate you.

Audience member responds to his question and continues. “We have a lot of white people who follow our tribes and exotify us—”

Willingham: “sure, saying they are 1/32…”

Commentary: At this point, pretty much everyone in the audience wanted Bill to shut up. A moderator is meant to moderate the panelists and ask questions, not talk over 50% of the time, interrupt the panelists (definitely the women; the men as well but not as much) and the women audience members. A moderator is not meant to ask questions and then answer all of them too. SIGH.

Audience member discusses all the “wise Indian” articles and memes that go around the internet and how they were written by white women trying to win contests in Reader’s Digest.

Pete talks, seconding this concept.

Audience member: “…there’s a lot of disingenuous when white people write our stories…I’m fine with white people writing Native American stories if they reach out to the tribe…”

Willingham: “There’s not a thing I disagree with that…” and then he goes on to talk about a story he wrote; something about a Chinese person.

Commentary: Honestly I and the rest of the audience were confused. I could not keep track of Bill’s anecdote. I really feel like he just was trying to give examples of how he as a white male could write any type of story and it would work, and he almost came off as desperate to gain approval for this. Like he wanted the rest of us to be “Why, of course, Bill! You can write anything! You’re so great! It’s totally not racist or sexist, the things you do!” Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man, indeed!

Audience member talks about how people can do research.

Willingham: “…that’s what they did, was read..”

Pete: “Wouldn’t it be better if they read that up and then fostered that author?”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssss Alina Pete! That’s the big problem in media. Privileged identities think they can play Pokemon and “Catch ‘em All!”, i.e. catch all these exotic and different experiences and then write about them – and PROFIT FROM THEM. Our society would be much better if we strove for authenticity and supported people with marginalized identities on how to foster their talent so they can tell their own stories, instead of someone with no personal understanding distorting experiences in their work.

Willingham: “No other person would have written that story.”

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not "lying" perchance, but I bet Saga's Lying Cat would have something to say...

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not “lying” perchance, but I bet Saga’s Lying Cat would have something to say…

Commentary: At this point, Willingham is truly pushing an agenda that promotes privilege. He desperately wants to prove that his methods are excellent and require no questioning. It’s quite sexist and racist of Willingham to presume that no other person could have written that story. Having a white penis doesn’t make you God, Bill. You can’t tell all the stories. You have a limited perspective as a white cis male human in a society that values white people, men, and cisgender folks above others. And that’s okay. We all have perspectives that are limited to our experiences and identities. Just stop trying to appropriate the stories and experiences of other people without critical thought.

Wllingham approved the third and final question. He selected the woman behind me who I had been chatting with in line.

The third audience member follow’s up on Willingham’s previous question earlier in the panel of whether it was better to hire good female writers or just any female writer. There is a lot of sexism within that question/statement that Willingham stated (the notion that only a few good female writers exist when it’s more likely that Willingham’s lens is sexist and he doesn’t give credit to many people outside his perspective), and while she doesn’t explicitly say that, she does elaborate that in this day and age there are plenty of women writers.

Willingam interrupts. Again.

I SPEAK UP. I had been growing incensed at Willingham’s behavior this entire panel.

I called out “Could you please let her speak? You keep interrupting the women on the panel and in the audience!”

Willingham looks flabbergasted. Hard to say why. Perhaps it was because I was interrupting him, or questioning his authority, or honestly surprising him because he didn’t realize his behavior this panel was awful. Or maybe a mix of all of this.

Willingham: “I respectfully disagree.”

He goes on to argue against my assertion and then just looks at me (I sat third row, on the end, almost directly in front of him) and goes “Really?” with a squint and scrunched-up face. I respond affirmatively. Willingham just looks angry. I’m not quite sure what else he said but Gene Ha began to talk.

However, as Ha begins to speak, Willingham interrupts him.

The audience is quite unhappy.

A woman in the second row on the opposite side of me shouts to point out that Willingham keeps “interrupting women, and now minorities!” In my account on The Mary Sue, I mistakenly identified her as a woman of color, but I realize I was looking at the woman sitting near her (hard to see from my perspective. This woman has identified herself on Twitter and in The Mary Sue comments as Jamie Isfeld (@jamieisfeld), a writer for Winnipeg is Nerdy.

Willingham’s ‘aghast’ face is quite comical when you realize the irony of him hating to be interrupted.

Ha continues what he was trying to talk about – that one needs to talk to the women in the communities to gain insight.

Willingham still isn’t buying it. He challenges Ha’s ideas by saying …” but what if I really wanted you but nope, you’re not qualified” due to Ha’s identity, and giving an example of writing about a military experience.

Ha has a really beautiful moment where he discusses how he could interview someone at a deep level to try to gain all the insight he could on how to write a character from a different background, or that person with the insight could write the story themselves.

Willingham provides another example – this time it was on a WWII Ice Carrier and what if he found it, does he just get someone else to write about it?

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Commentary: Willingham is like a pitbull, clinging relentlessly to his tired ideals. Except, pitbulls are cuddly and not sexist or racist.

Ha responds but I honestly tune out at this time. Willingham is just desperately seeking a stamp of approval to do whatever he wants.

All of a sudden, time is up. Willingham ends the panel. The audience grumbles. Roberson quickly shouts out tips for writing and Pete informs the audience to forget publishers and the option to self-publish exists.

The panel didn’t go as expected, but the rest of the panelists: you were wonderful, and thank you.

deadpool awesome

~FIN~

NEXT – Part 3

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics: Follow-up (3/3)

Part 3/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

FOLLOW-UP
I tweeted about my experience the following morning (Friday) and began working on this blog post. I gave a quote to The Mary Sue, but I was not comfortable with writing a report documenting this panel without first speaking to Willingham or The Writer’s Symposium. I saw via a quick internet search that the former has previous documented issues with women and minorities via his comics and public talks. Clearly Willingham’s past issues haven’t affected his popularity. It’s likely that this report won’t do that either. However, if I am going to publicly decry someone on the internet, I like to provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue first. My ultimate goal is to work towards ending sexism, and I have a better chance of doing that if I dialogue first with the people responsible for creating a sexist environment.

bill willingham

FOLLOW-UP WITH BILL WILLINGHAM
I attended another “Writer’s Symposium” panel on comic writing with Willingham moderating. It was remarkable how much more subdued he was, although he still took up most of the air time. Bill, you just need to stop moderating. You’re not very good at it – you enjoy giving your own opinion too much.

I waited to speak to Willingham after the panel, even giving him directions to the restaurant that Zub was telling him about; they were going to have dinner that night.

I greeted Willingham (I was the last person waiting at that point; his assistant was the only other person there) and asked if he wanted to have a dialogue on what happened at the panel yesterday.

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

I try to talk to him, because it was a pretty dismissive response that he gave me.

Willingham speaks a bit more about the panel.

“…That thing about me interrupting people was hogwash!”

I allow myself a small smile. The day before I was dressed in regular clothes. Today I was dressed in a cloak and fortune telling outfit. I guess he didn’t recognize me?

“That was me, actually.”

He pauses (surprise!), and then proceeds to say “Do you get how moderating works? You have to interrupt people to make sure they don’t dialogue too long.”

“Yes, but you really weren’t letting people talk.” I decline to ask Willingham if he actually understands how moderating works, because observation shows he clearly doesn’t. I also think about the linguistic research that shows how men perceive women to speak more often than they actually do and how men are prone to interrupt women in order to demonstrate power and status (read up on it: source1, source2, source3…).

Willingham responds by saying he really didn’t interrupt or talk that much.

“I kept track of how much you spoke”; I took careful notes.

This conversation is going nowhere. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Ah, to have the confidence of a mediocre white man

I don’t know how to end this experience. But I hold out hope. “Okay, well I just wanted to offer the chance to talk.”

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

Yep, you sure did. You sure did.

We parted ways. Hey, at least I tried.

genconWS

 

 

 

FOLLOW-UP WITH MARC TASSIN, ORGANIZER OF GENCON’S WRITER SYMPOSIUM
The day of the panel (Thursday) I had tweeted to GenCon’s Writer Symposium (WS) with a question on if I could arrange to talk to Bill Willingham. Tassin responded and gave a contact email so I could share my concerns with him. I emailed Friday morning and then Friday afternoon, after I spoke to Willingham, I approached Marc at the WS tables.

He greeted me warmly and invited to me sit with him at the back of the open author’s room to speak privately. I appreciate him doing this – critique is not easy to swallow and as a man, I wonder if he was worried at me being an angry or hysterical woman. Of course, I was apprehensive about meeting him as well – how could I be sure he, as a man who was in charge of putting Willingham on that stage, support my concerns and work to make sure they don’t happen again?

We had a promising forty-five minute talk. Here are some take-aways, separated by subject for the folks who don’t have time to read this incredibly long report and just need to scan:

Who is Marc Tassin? What is the Writer’s Symposium?
Tassin is a one-person show. This was his 4th year organizing GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposum.

Why is GenCon even hosting a comic writing track? That’s for Comic Con!
Tassin is a fan of comics but his realm is fiction writing, as that’s what WS is really geared towards. Somehow he got connected to Bill Willingham, who agreed to be on a WS panel. Willingham was enthused about a comic writing track and agreed to plan it. Tassin took the opportunity of Willingham’s perceived expertise (I say perceived because while he’s a popular comic creator he was not an expert on the panel we are discussing). Essentially, it was delegated to Willingham. However, Tassin said “the buck stops with me” and takes full responsibility as the person in charge for what happened.

Why a “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel? And why no women??
If you read the beginning of my account of the panel, you saw that Willingham wanted to do the topic because women in comics was a trending item at the time. Tassin spoke to me about how he envisions the diversity of WS to grow every year so it becomes a richer experience as it provides many different perspectives.

Tassin wrote about the process for selection panelists on his website addressing the all-male panel. Essentially, they had about 50/50 invites to male and female creators. The men who received the invitations responded affirmatively but the women did not. I addressed the issue that only four women were invited and one can’t only ask the busiest women in comics. Tassin stated that since the male panelists had Eisner awards, he wanted all the panelists to be at that level in their career, speaking to experience of how difficult it can be to be relatively inexperienced on a panel compared to the other panelists.

In regards to the confusion that Gail Simone expressed on Twitter, Tassin stated that it was a third party who asked her at a convention and she stated that she couldn’t do the panel.

Tassin decided not to cancel the panel when there were no women because he thought the topic was important and hoped if there was audience participation it could work.

From how I see it, Willingham asked people he knew well (thanks to Twitter and in person, I’ve seen him engage with at least 2 of the male panelists in a friendly manner) and that’s probably why those folks said “yes”. I’m going out on a limb and thinking that perhaps Willingham doesn’t know many female creators and if so, it’s not a friendly relationship. If you only extend invitations to your friends, you’re only going to get a group of people you know – and since humans generally interact with people that have similar identities, that’s why there is not a lot of diversity on panels organized like this.

For the record, Tassin stated that he tried to get the word out and ask people for suggestions so he can invite people who he is unfamiliar with, so please send WS many suggestions for the future.

ANALYSIS OF THE PANEL
This panel really didn’t stand a chance. The contributions of the panelists were amazing and beautiful, but Willingham was the wrong person for the job. Although he is praised for writing women, he has a poor history of interacting with them at cons – and frankly, Fables has quite a bit of critique for its portrayals of women as well.

Then there’s the panel itself. It’s described as:
–    Short Description: What is a comic for women? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Explore this topic with our distinguished guests.

–    Long Description: Writing women friendly comics has gathered a a lot of attention in comics these days, and it’s become a source of much debate and controversy. What is a comic for women? Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur.

Straight off the bat, this description is NOT friendly. It’s written to a male audience – take note at how it speaks of women like they are aliens. Clearly, Willingham’s audience that he had in mind were male aspiring comic creators; hammering down the irony of the description wondering if something should be geared towards a specific audience. Then the “Are you damned no matter what you do?” signifies that the hackles are already raised on the part of the organizer – it indicates frustration and bitterness at the idea that women just can’t accept what they have and move on.

The fuel behind “this isn’t a women in comics” panel is laughable. If you are discussing women friendly comics then you ARE discussing women in comics. Comics that are friendly to women feature well-written women characters and one typically finds that women writers and artists do a great job at capturing female characters. The attempt to separate themselves from the scandal at Denver Comic Con is misguided.

Finally – dissenting opinions may occur? Yup, this panel sounds hella friendly to all the ladiez.

SO WHAT NOW?
GenCon’s Writer’s Symposium
I feel confident after my discussion with Marc Tassin, the organizer behind GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposium, that he took my concerns seriously. We spoke about how to work to improve the process of finding creators and I believe that next year will be better. I recommend that everyone who wants a diverse line-up at future events email Contact@genconwriters.com with suggestions. Tassin is a one-person show and we can never expect one person to find a way to create something that speaks to everyone. GS needs support by having recommendations sent their way. I hope that Tassin works to find an advisory team who can provide solid council and ideas, as ‘many hands make light work’.

Bill Willingham
Considering that Willingham’s “official response” to all of this was to call it “hysteria” on Twitter and show a picture of twin baby girls giggling and dancing, I don’t think he gives a damn about our opinions.

So, I encourage you to make him give a damn.

  1. Tweet him using #BillFriendlyComics (since that panel was really just about comics that were friendly to him)
  2. Email the coordinators for any convention that invites him to speak and request that they not provide Willingham yet another forum to espouse views that discredit women and other minorities.
  3. And money talks. I don’t want to advocate for a boycott of his products (for complicated reasons that can be read in the FAQs) but I do advise that you recognize your options.
  4. Tell the folks running conventions to invite folks from diverse backgrounds onto their panels – even if (and especially!) if the panel is not about a specific identity/diversity talk! There are folks who are putting together lists to make your search easier! Check out Comic Book Women, the Cartoonist of Color database, or Prism Comic’s database of LGBTQ+ creators! 🙂

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, AND CONCERNS

Feel free to leave them in the comments. Don’t be surprised if I take 2 weeks to respond, as my schedule is intense this month. Please be respectful. Any rudeness, threats, or more will result in a screenshot, deletion, and (depending on the severity), reported to the FBI’s local office. Please don’t be a dick, and remember that I am an actual human being. It seems when women talk about sexism on the internet, people think it’s cool to forget what it means to be human and engage in greater savagery than beasts. So be cool, folks.

Also, see FAQs for further wonderings about who I am and why I wrote this.

deadpool cool story bro

Thanks, Wade…

***

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]