Regarding Brian Wood, Tess Fowler, gender, and attitudes.
If you are not aware of what happened, here are some relevant links to get you up to speed:
(I am writing this because I feel passionately about it. My observations and conclusions are being drawn from my own experience and knowledge. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been shaping my opinion on these issues my entire life and I’ve never really put it into written words. If I’ve failed to explain something clearly, I apologize. I’m always open to discussion.)
Through all I’ve read, articles and comments, I think people are missing something CRITICAL in this situation.
Like Wood, I imagine most males who have done this sort of thing would also say, “I liked her, I took a chance, and was shot down. … I think the larger issues of abuse in the comics industry are genuine and I share everyone’s concerns.”
But I don’t think anyone, even Wood, is identifying or understanding the real problem. People are split on the wrong issue. Many find what Wood did harmless and Fowler’s reaction overboard, or vice-versa. They are talking about the wrong issue. The real issue is about expectations and respect. This is not only a problem in comics, but in life.
In Fowler’s account, she states, “I felt I knew Brian. He’d been talking to me on myspace for months, and was very nice to me online, about my art. Even going so far as to say he believed in me, and that I could go far. Even saying he might like to see more.”
This creates an expectation. The interaction between them was two creators-of-things sharing and giving advice. This happens all the time, amateurs and hopefuls reach out for connections with those who inspire them.
Unless I’m missing something, that’s it. That was the relationship. That was the established expectation. Regardless of when or why Wood became interested in Fowler, he should have approached her the same way he would approach a male/person/human/plant with which he had a creative/mentoring relationship.
There was clearly no respect here, but it’s not because Wood looks down on women or even thinks that he judges them differently. This behavior is so ingrained in almost everyone (all genders) that it doesn’t even come up. People argue about the actions and reactions, but it really is about the attitude. At no point should it ever have been appropriate in Wood’s mind to make a pass of that kind in that way at all at Fowler.
You may argue that the logic following this is that no one ever expresses interest in anyone, but that’s taking it too far. If someone approaches you as a professional, as a creator, as a peer, treat them as such. You should never falsely begin an interaction with anyone if the real intention is to explore something romantic or sexual. If that’s the intention, it should be made clear immediately. If it blossoms later on, tell them about it in a matter-of-fact way and accept a no if it comes up. Do not let it influence the way you think about or treat them. Think, “Is this how I would act if I had no romantic/sexual interest in this person?” If the fact is, you would never talk to them outside of exploring that interest, why present your approach as anything else? Many have this concept of romance and sex as a hugely dramatic and amazing thing that deserves all of our theatrics and attention. I think, as a society, we’re moving beyond that as a need or desire. But that’s an exploration and argument for another time.
In regards to Wood and Fowler, people argue about the actions and reactions because they feel the act is what makes it offensive, unequal, or wrong. In my mind, what makes it all of those things is that Fowler had to experience the realization that she was not being viewed as anything other than a “potential.” Regardless of how Wood actually felt about her, his actions marginalized their mentor/advice expectation and breached any respect for that relationship. She instantly knew that her art and her hopes for being in comics came secondary to the fact that she might be anyone’s wife or one-night-stand.
This entire spectrum is depressing for many women. I can draw a parallel to the concept of the “friend-zone.” It is upsetting to realize that anyone has placed you in any seemingly-permanent judgment zone. Being placed on the “wife to one-night-stand” scale is crushing, just as being “in the friend zone” is crushing. Though the relative actual weight of any “zone” I could fabricate is subjective, the overall message in any of these hypothetical places is that people would rather be judged on the terms they wish to be judged. This can obviously be used in a good or bad way, but I would argue that it would ultimately be good if people started identifying the fact that this “potential love/sex something zone” is an ingrained concept that seems like an automatic given when dealing with females. The sooner it is recognized as the real problem, the sooner people will (hopefully) realize it’s not fair.
I am not saying expressing a romantic/sexual interest in someone is wrong. I am saying that those interests, for whatever reason, naturally take priority for many people when dealing with the gender of their preference, and no one sees this as a problem. (Nope, this is not just a male-female thing.) In fact, I have seen many defend their actions as though having romantic/sexual interest in someone is a compliment and almost a favor to the other person. This assumption is a huge problem. Not everyone is looking for or even interested in romantic/sexual pursuits and some people see it as an extremely low priority.
Sometimes, when someone seeks advice on their art and breaking into the comics industry, that’s all they want associated with them. I think that Fowler was interacting with Wood online in a way that made her feel equal, respected, and excited about her love for comics. She was experiencing a relationship based on a mutual love for comics and a person she admired taking the time to see her as a creative peer.
How can anyone not understand how defeating it was for her to find out in one night’s events that there’s a chance that none of that is as important as what’s in her pants? And not to just to Wood, but to everyone in the industry, and ingrained so deeply that no one recognizes that it’s a problem.
There is a spectrum, and what happened between Wood and Fowler is likely a less intense example of the spectrum. But this event and all of the events related to it on every part of the spectrum stem from what I feel is the real problem. That problem is an attitude towards anyone that undermines the expectation of person-to-person respect and interaction. It’s the attitude that automatically turns a person into a potential romantic or sexual pursuit first, and whatever else second. It’s the attitude that many can’t identify as a problem because it is so ingrained, automatic, and familiar.
Let’s break this habit.
(I want to end this by reiterating what I said at the start: I am writing this because I feel passionately about it. My observations and conclusions are being drawn from my own experience and knowledge. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been shaping my opinion on these issues my entire life and I’ve never really put them into written words. If I’ve failed to explain something clearly, I apologize. I’m always open to discussion.)