Why, in this modern era, are many male comics fans hostile toward women? I’ve seen speculations that they’re poorly socialized and afraid of women, or are angry at past rejections, or looking to exploit their gender’s clout in this milieu, to make up for powerlessness elsewhere in their lives. All likely causes. But there’s another likely cause which I haven’t seen theorized, and don’t expect to see theorized within the comics community. And that’s because this would cast a skeptical eye at a corner of the industry which is near and dear to the hearts of many male (and female!) cartoonists and fans. I’m referring to porn.
Porn, whether in comics, films, magazines, or online, is notorious for celebrating the rape and humiliation of women. Certainly NOT ALL porn fits this description, but it’s uncontroversial to say that many porn users enjoy scenes of forced and/or humiliating sex as part of their porn diet. Now, imagine you’re one of many comics fans who enjoy fictional scenes of women being raped or degraded. Pretend the high point of your day is climaxing to the sight and sound of gorgeous, nude women being forced to endure all sorts of depravity. Then, imagine some woman on the internet saying things you dislike about another hobby with which you strongly identify. Will your response be balanced and cordial? Will you view her thoughts with respect, as those of a fellow human being? Or will your mind return to the evening’s groveling, nude supermodels, their faces covered in something wet?
The comics community hates, hates, HATES to say anything critical of porn. This is because comics and porn have long been closely yoked in the war to defend free speech. To condemn porn is seen as undermining the right of comics folk to draw and read what we please. “They came for my neighbor and I said nothing; then they came for me.” Further, many cartoonists create porn themselves, including many female cartoonists. For these, condemnations even of “rapey” porn may strike uncomfortably close to home. How does one cut off a hand without injuring the wrist?
A thorny problem, but it must be confronted. Men’s view of women as degradable sex objects will not change as long as it is reinforced by powerful, orgasm-inducing imagery. If we wish women to stand tall in this industry, we cannot afford to be permissive on that point.