Stop Telling Women How to Feel


This is not a piece of hard-hitting journalism. I didn’t bury myself under a mountain of research before sitting in front of my computer to write, and that is on purpose. I’m here to talk feelings, because I am sick of women being policed for expressing their real and legitimate emotions.

Let’s back up a few steps. On October 1, Graphic Policy published a piece written by Janelle Asselin that exposed Scott Allie’s history of abuse. In an important and powerful move, Asselin accurately refers to Allie as “a symptom of the problems in our industry.” If you live under a rock and missed the news coverage of this incident, it’s important to note that Asselin was able to write this article partially because Joe Harris, a male comic artist, came forward about being harassed by Allie.

Fast forward to October 5. Julia Wertz, an experienced cartoonist known for her comic Museum of Mistakes (formerly The Fart Party) and more recently for her New Yorker comics, published a blog post explaining how a fan had been harassing her via email and twitter, and provided an incredible overview of how terribly women are treated when they speak out about harassment. You should read the post in its entirety, but I’d like to focus on the following point:

“The idea of the “angry militant feminist” is losing ground, but it definitely still exists. We’re also often accused of overreacting, which is infuriating and demeaning. All of it is infuriating, and sometimes it’s even scary, which is why when women address being harassed, we bring to it all the harassment of the past, and because we keep it all bottled up, it comes out with a lot of emotion and anger.”

After Graphic Policy released Asselin’s piece, several comics journalists released fantastic pieces that broadened the discussion, including Emma Houxbois, who connected the conversation about abuse in comics to conversations about abuse on college campuses. I went to one of those schools where men who committed sexual assault lined the school’s pockets with money. The women who were assaulted or whose lives were touched by those assaults did not walk free, and those conversations and healing processes (or lack thereof) are still very present in their lives. The men who assaulted them did walk free.

I hold so much hatred and anger for those men, and that anger has been useful comfort for myself and for friends trying to heal. However, when I read Asselin’s article and the subsequent commentary, I felt numb. What’s another betrayal from another beloved community? Just another day being a woman, or being trans, being queer, or being a person of color. 

Julia Wertz noted on twitter that after she published the blog post quoted above, she did not stop receiving hate mail that criticized her reaction to her harasser. Each of these horrible interactions reinforces the point that it is incredibly difficult for women to speak up about harassment not only because they will likely have to fight tooth and nail to see any kind of justice, but also because they will suffer more harassment in the process. Even worse, the people speaking up are often trying to open dialogues, and instead receive a barrage of one-sided hate.

Tons of people are bothering Julia Wertz, telling her how she should have reacted, and how she should feel. Few are bothering Joe Harris. Incredibly, Mike Richardson had the audacity to complain that Janelle Asselin hurt his feelings because she implied he isn’t sensitive.

There is no wrong way to feel about experiencing harassment. Whether it’s anger, numbness, grief, or any other emotion, that response is a natural reaction, and hopefully can be the starting point for a healing process.

If you’re a man learning about a woman’s (or nonbinary person’s) experience with harassment or assault on twitter (#yesallmen), kindly work through the following checklist before posting, tweeting, or making your viewpoint public:

  1. Does the statement you’re about to publish tell the person in question how they should feel about the situation? Don’t post it.
  2. Does the statement you’re about to publish tell the person in question how they should have reacted to the situation? (This includes taking actions, such as speaking up sooner, as well as immediate emotional reactions.) Don’t post it.
  3. Have you failed to meet the requirements of points one and two, but still want to post? You’re an asshole.
  4. Is your post a statement of support or a share/signal boost for the article, post, or statement? Congratulations, you’ve finally written something you can publish!

Before writing every article I’ve ever written that was personal, negative, and critical of an industry or environment that was doing something wrong, I’ve felt fear. I am most afraid to speak about these topics because I see so many women (and queers, trans and nonbinary people, and people of color) attacked on the internet for pointing out flaws in the system that cause people harm. So, this is me, speaking up and telling you that sometimes I am afraid, often I am angry, and occasionally I am so tired that I am numb.

I’m a queer woman with feelings, on the internet, talking about comics. Deal with it.


About Author

Alenka Figa is a queer, feminist, wannabe librarian. She spends her days teaching people how to attach things to their email, watching Steven Universe, and twittering nonstop about comics and her cat at @alenkafiga.

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