June 28, 2010

Things That Matter

Filed under: Uncategorized — KPhoebe @ 11:48 am

After Heroes Con, fan Nevermore999 reported that, in response to an audience member saying that Stephanie Brown should have been left dead, writer Bill Willingham replied that he had actually fought for Stephanie to live.

Then he apparently said:

I wanted to gun down those girls who kept asking about the memorial case.

Which was a direct response to the campaign encouraged by Stephanie Brown's Robin costume in the iconic glass memorial’s Project Girl Wonder.

(You can read a full account of the panel in Nevermore999′s post on her general Heroes Con experience, or more succinctly in this summary of that particular section, with some discussion, in this Scans_Daily post.)

Let’s look at that again.

I wanted to gun down those girls who kept asking about the memorial case.

Feminist comic book fans are often accused of disproportionate response to things they find offensive. The reasoning goes that they’re making a huge fuss over something completely insignificant. Sure, okay, the art is boobtacular, female characters get killed off to further male characters’ story arcs, and the easiest shorthand for a traumatic character backstory is rape, but come on. It’s only comic books, right? In the grand scheme of things, how much do they matter?

Apparently, they matter enough to create violent fantasies towards feminists who want change.

Talk about disproportionate response.

While I was writing Girls Read Comics, I occasionally received threats to my physical person. Not a great many, but any number more than zero is unacceptable. Because I was, apparently, writing about unimportant things in comics that didn’t really matter, some people told me they wanted to cause me physical harm.

I thought it very unlikely that any of those people could and would actually hurt me, but the fact that they expressed a desire to was in and of itself harmful. Threats of violence support a culture of violence that negatively affects less privileged people – in this case, women.

I am likewise reasonably sure that Willingham is not really going to systemically slaughter every girl who stood up and asked about a memorial case for Stephanie Brown.

But I do think that in voicing a desire to shoot “those girls”, however insincere it actually was, he contributed to a culture that regularly uses the threat of violence against women to keep them in line. He enabled anti-feminists who don’t have his creative clout to make public their own creepy thoughts regarding righteous violence against feminist voices. He certainly engendered fear, because I read what he’d said, and was afraid, and sick, and angry.

The phrasing, “I wanted to gun down those girls” is not neutral dismissal of irritating fan persistence over something a creator considers insignificant. However innocuously it was meant, it is a statement of gendered violent fantasy.

Unfortunately, outside of comics, women are not mind-readers. We can’t use our psychic abilities to tell who’s just exaggerating out of pique, and who really wants to hurt us. And the world tells us over and over again, via the media, via rape culture, via our actual experience, that people, that men with guns, sometimes really do act upon a desire to hurt women.

As they did in the Ecole Polytechnic massacre of 1989, the Amish school shooting of 2006, and the Winnenden school and Collier Township shootings of 2009.

But of course when someone says they did want to gun us down, we ought to use our non-existent psychic powers to know they were only kidding. Check out the comments on that Scans_Daily post. While a number of commentators are appalled, some are dismissive. After all, though he probably shouldn’t have said it, Willingham didn’t really mean it. Hyperbole is a common tool of frustration, and those silly girls really riled him up.

A verbal contribution to a culture of violence against women doesn’t really matter.

* * *

This post contains the opinions and viewpoints of Karen Healey, and is not an official statement.

In line with’s aims of fostering discussion in a safer space, comments on this post can be made at this thread in our forums.


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