I am a professional woman cartoonist, or female cartoonist. I sort of loathe using such terms to describe myself. I identify more as “a cartoonist” and nothing else. “Just one of the guys.” I feel confident in my abilities as a comic book author. My work stands on its own. I don’t feel the need to defend it. I dislike being made a fuss over only because I am a lady. I dislike having people underline my gender. Still, I am happy to call myself a feminist. I have no problem with that.
I don’t normally feel like being a woman in this field is enough to justify having to answer questions about it all the time, most frequently: “What is it like to be a woman cartoonist?” Let’s face it, this is not dangerous work. This is not even physically demanding. I am not a police officer, I am not a fireman, I am not in the army. I don’t put my life on the line every day. Hell, I don’t even work in an office where some asshole could potentially pinch my butt. I work from home! I am practically a housewife. So please, stop asking that question.
Even though I view cartooning as a pretty smooth ride compared to other occupations, I am driven. I get absorbed by my projects, I stress out over deadlines, I argue with my spouse about whose turn it is to make dinner. I take up my space, I do my thing, I believe in it.
And there are struggles. I would be a fool to deny that. I face the same anxieties as many of my male counterparts, but the difference is that once in a while something kind of gross happens: a weird pass is made, a sexist comment is said, someone checks me out, or some creep corners me at an art opening. Those are the real challenges of being a woman doing ANYTHING.
This morning I received a fan letter that crossed the Atlantic Ocean just to bum me out. Here’s how the letter starts:
While I acknowledge that this guy (let’s call him “Slimer”) is probably just clumsy, I really wish he hadn’t started his letter that way. If you call me “Baby-Girl” and you are a total stranger, you’ve lost me. Whatever else you may have to say afterwards is tainted.
But the letter gets worse, maybe he is just drunk:
Slimer admits that he has yet to read my book and that my comics are not the reason for his fan letter. He also includes a photograph of himself at his desk, and the package everything came in reeks of cologne.
It isn’t clear if he is hitting on me, but I still don’t like it. Slimer talking about seeing a picture of me online makes me feel like never including a portrait in my interviews again. I don’t want European dudes to treat pictures of me like they are reason enough to get in touch, as though we were both members of the same dating service. His disregard for my actual work is upsetting. I wish he had the decency to read my book first and write the letter after. It would still be a bit creepy, but at least I would feel like something more than a face. Am I being checked out from half a world away?
Upon reading the letter for the first time I threw the envelope across the room. I don’t feel like having this guy’s SMELL, this guy’s FACE in my house. I know this is a strong reaction but I don’t have time for this shit. I don’t care what he does. He brags about being published by a well-reputed (fancy-ass) art book publisher and I can only think, “Screw you. You made me re-consider my profession today. You made me feel guilty for having any kind of presence online. You made me feel bad about being born a girl.”
This might seem pretty tame to a lot of people. But it is still very wrong. We have to learn better ways to talk to women, to talk about what they do for a living. The conversation should never be about what a cartoonist herself (or himself) looks like, but rather about what their WORK looks like. Their SKILLS. Let’s stop being insulting. And while I admit there is a strong possibility that Slimer was just a little tipsy, a little awkward, a little nervous — it is not an excuse. He should have thought it over before sending me that envelope.
I have photographic evidence for this one, but I don’t have any proof of the other sleazy “real life” encounters I have had in my career. Every woman I know has had them. They add up, and combined together they go far beyond frustration. While some people might enjoy this type of attention, my beliefs are that:
-This benign-seeming, flirty yet slimy type of talk is how you discourage women from putting themselves out there.
-This type of behavior is how you make women wary of men who show an interest.
-Most of all this type of nonsense is how you discourage women from doing the things they feel most passionate about.