In response to this post, (which was a response to this advice I gave to a young female aspiring artist) someone said:
"he chose to hijack my post, make fun of what I wrote and how I wrote it, make fun of my work, and belittle me and my positive attitude to make his point."
I’m the mother who asked Joel Watson for advice for my daughter who was starting a webcomic. I am overwhelmed at what has happened to Joel’s reply to my simple question. I appreciate that people are concerned that my daughter and others like her might not be prepared for the realities of being a woman in comics (though we really are talking about a webcomic, published without fanfare from her poster-laden bedroom), I think I need to speak up because she is so much more than a girl. That is the point, isn’t it? That we shouldn’t treat people like one aspect of themselves?
Would you be surprised to know that my daughter is a LGBT activist, having started and being the current president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at her school? She has had her fair share of hardships outside of gender inequity but fighting for gender diversity is one topic that has sparked a fire in her and it happened long before she started developing this webcomic. Today’s youth have a larger vocabulary and a larger awareness of gender issues than previous generations did.
Not all of my daughter’s particular hardships have to do with gender. For example, my daughter has Aspergers. Dealing with it is difficult at times and drawing has been a primary way in which she has coped with it ever since she picked up her first crayon. Although she is bright and college-bound, she also has some other learning disabilities. She also has a physically disabled father and that impacted her childhood significantly. Mostly, it helped her to understand that people aren’t what they appear on the surface.
Let’s remember that I asked for a piece of good advice Joel (a man) had received and a piece bad advice he’d received. How could he have received advice as a woman? It was exciting that he replied. And his reply was fantastic! The things he advised were good and, because they mirrored many of the behaviors I see in this daughter, it told me that she was on the right track.
This is not to say that there aren’t women who face obstacles in every level of their lives just for being a female. They do and it isn’t fair. It also doesn’t mean that the men who create comics shouldn’t encourage them as Joel did, rather than lay out the cold-hard, scary worst-case-scenario truth. His words were appropriate and they were correct. Because they don’t delve into feminism does not mean that they are wrong.
For those who think there should be more done to help girls like my daughter I say that there is but it has more to do with actions than words. And when it has to do with words, they should be words against poor treatment of women not words warning women. That’s like saying a girl who shows too much skin is asking for sexual assault. Essentially, my daughter was told, through comments, that she can “come in” to webcomics but she should dress modestly and be careful that nothing she does causes a man to realize she is a female because they may disenfranchise her. That is not helpful.
More help that can be offered: Men and women can raise daughters and sons well so that they see the value of everyone is not tied to whether they have a penis or a vagina or what they do with that penis or vagina and other consenting adults. Men can fight back against the idea of “fake” geek girls and every other thing that degrades or objectifies women because it’s right and because they have mothers, sisters, and daughters. But laying it all at the feet of a girl and saying it might be too hard doesn’t always cause the vehement anger to prove it all wrong. Because girls are often shifted to the side, they sometimes accept their fate so these words of warning might do the opposite of encouragement.
As to the girl in question, my daughter isn’t concerned that the world might not take her seriously as an artist. Really. The idea that she’s going to be underestimated because she’s a girl is not really a problem because she’s not into it for popularity. Do you think that’s the only thing girls want? Because, if that’s the case, a glaring exception lives under my roof and she eats macaroni & cheese and has had lasting, meaningful relationships with several Wacom tablets.
So it’s sort of like popping an inflating balloon when people said she should beware of her girlness and should be prepared to fight because of it. She is aware and she is prepared to fight because she has before for her gay and transgender friends, for her disabled father, for shelter animals, and for making the world a better place in the ways she can. Fighting for gender equality in geekdom is not why she’s creating a webcomic. In fact, her career goal is to be an engineer—a career field in which women are gaining ground in a way that echoes those same issues that have been brought up about females in all of geekdom. And she knows it.
My daughter is making a comic because she wants to make one, not because it will gain her something other than personal satisfaction. Building worlds and characters has been a means by which she has been gaining a deeper understanding about how the world and people tick. I think a webcomic is a truly inspired way for someone on the autism spectrum to relate to others and gain understanding.
As her mom, I want her to succeed in starting and regularly adding to her comic because she wants it and because I know she’ll work hard to do it. I wanted her to know how to work best at this particular endeavor. So I asked someone who knows about it for his take and he delivered.
The fact that comic creation is a way for her to process her understanding is a bonus. Maintaining a webcomic will also help her learn to develop long-term projects, gain momentum, and enjoy the process of working on something that she puts out in the world. For a person like my daughter, continuing the undertaking is infinitely more valuable than anything the comic itself could gain her. So, you see, it’s not about an industry or concept. It’s about personal growth and reaching goals.
I’d like to talk about Aspergers and how this comes into play because it hides its own gender inequity and it’s possibly more impactful than her gender itself. Maybe someone will see this and it might help them. There are far more boys diagnosed on the autism spectrum than girls. People think it’s mostly a male disease. Some experts, like Dr. Tony Attwood, disagree and say it’s far more equitable than that and girls often go undiagnosed. Girls tend to make better mimics of social behavior in general. They are often expected to be more social and therefore are often directed to take part in more activities which help with this. Society, parents, teachers, etc. often focus on the development of these skills in girls more than in boys. This is what all of the toys in the pink toy aisle tend to be for. Girls on the spectrum are often undiscovered because they develop these skills a bit better than boys and their struggles go unnoticed. So it’s not surprising that most of the girls on the spectrum, especially the higher-functioning ones, fly below the radar.
Like all high functioning autistics, my daughter has trouble with taking things too literally or not catching on to things that are implied. As such, social interaction could be problematic, especially when she was very young. She needed to discuss what was going on in the world around her because she didn’t seem to have as much instinct for social behavior as was typical. So trying to understand what’s going on in every social interaction and determine the best thing to do or say can be difficult and stressful for her. But she does it, and with far more grace than I see in 90% of what people say on the internet. While many of us perform our social obligations without a huge struggle, she calculates her interactions strategically. (Incidentally, this makes her a formidable D&D player and a really good Dungeon Master.) Just as with physical activity, lots of time spent practicing interactions was helpful. So explorations with characters are extremely valuable. Art was always her favorite way to accomplish this.
Back on topic. Yes, she’s a girl. But she does know about gender inequity. And while the breadth of knowledge of even the most astute 17 year-old might be less than that of a working adult who lives and experiences this discrimination first-hand, she is in quite a good place, relatively speaking. There are no fantasy scenarios that she’ll gain international fame for her comic. She’s doing it for her.
I’ll repeat that: My daughter is a girl and she is making a webcomic for her own personal satisfaction, not popularity.
She does know about discrimination, sexualization of women, and about the spectrum of gender and how it is perceived in general society. Yes, even geek society. She likes to draw attention to and fight for gender equity, and not just for women because they aren’t the only ones facing scrutiny.
While she is young and her ideas are constantly adjusting, she is a thinking, highly observant person—something I see in artists of all types. One of the jobs of art is commenting on society. As a keen observer, a genuinely inquisitive person (something that is both about curiosity and about coping with her autism), and a person in the world, she is capable of exploring these ideas in her art. And that’s all she ever wanted to do with her webcomic.
Slow clap. Damn, girl. Yes.