Dave Sim's blogandmail #169 (February 27th, 2007)
Hey! It's "Feminists Get a Free Ride in Our Society" Day here on the Blog & Mail! Okay, all you feminists! Fingers in your ears and…(REAL LOUD, NOW!)
"LALALALA I'M NOT LISTENING!"
From Cerebus #206
THE LAST WORD
I'm not sure if I'm taxing the reader's patience with this stuff but I'm certainly taxing my own. This issue wraps up the "Dear Friends of Lulu," and next issue wraps up "Why an Aardvark?" All apologies are duly rendered for the Don Quixote tilting-atwindmills digressions. I hope to be back to normal by 208:
Friends of Lulu
4657 Cajon Way
San Diego, CA 92115
January 23, 1996 Dear Dave:
Your letter to Friends of Lulu (FoL) made us realize that some people have misconceptions about our organization. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to clarify who we are and what we're all about.
As indicated in the enclosed brochure (which, by the way, was given out by exhibitors at several of the Spirits of Independence stops), Friends of Lulu is open to both women and men, professionals and nonprofessionals. The only requirements for membership are a commitment to our goal of getting more women and girls involved in comics and payment of the nominal. membership dues. Friends of Lulu was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in early 1995 and now has over 250 members, a third of whom are men. We have active chapters in both New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, and regional chapters are springing up in other areas as well.
We think that getting more women and girls to read comics is vital to the future of the comics medium. Increasing the number of female readers has been an area of concern for decades, even during periods when the industry was seeing increases in sales. Back in the heyday of comics, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, females made up half the comics audience, and numerous genres (but primarily teen and romance comics) were aimed at them. By narrowing its focus to primarily teen-age boys over the last two decades, the industry has turned its back on the segment of the population that by far does the most reading and buys the most books.
FoL's efforts to increase the readership of comics are aimed at all levels of the industry. We encourage publishers to produce comics of a wide variety of genres to appeal to a broader readership. We also challenge them to continue to improve the quality of their comics, with well-written stories, interesting characters, and appealing art. We encourage retailers to carry a wide variety of titles and to make suggestions to customers of titles they might try. We also encourage retailers to make their stores more inviting to customers, which is just good basic business sense.
One of the things we're doing to back up our suggestions to publishers and retailers is conducting surveys of readers (both male and female) to determine what sorts of existing comics are most often read by women and girls, and what females say they would like to see both in new comics and in the retailer environment. The bookmark you saw (one of four versions) listed some comics titles that were gleaned from the initial use of that reader survey at comics shows earlier in 1995, including the Alternative Press Expo that you attended in San Jose. The bookmarks list titles that received multiple mentions by the females surveyed. The publishers of a number of the books listed were contacted to help defray the costs of printing the bookmarks. Those publishers that responded are featured prominently on the bookmarks and turned out to be all self-publishers and small publishers. (By the way, these bookmarks were a project of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of FoL.) We are in the process of tabulating the surveys from additional conventions where FoL had booths throughout the year, and the results will be sent to comics publishers and the comics press sometime this spring.
FoL also conducted a survey of retailers, asking them what sorts of comics have the highest female readership and what sorts of promotions have been successful in bringing more females into their stores. Those survey results are also being tabulated and will be supplied to publishers, retailers, and the comics press this spring.
FoL has many other projects in the works, all of them related to the overall goals our members have set for themselves. Those of us on the Board of Directors love comics, and we want to see the medium continue. Advocating censorship of any kind would not only be against our firm belief in freedom of expression but is diametrically opposed to our goal of expanding the comics market.
We on the FoL board have nothing but admiration for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and think it is a vital element in the comics industry. Many of us have made contributions to CBLDF and have supported various of its fund-raising efforts. Furthermore, many prominent people in the comics industry are both FoL members and active supporters of the CBLDF. We think comics need both these organizations, each with their separate but complementary goals, if the medium is to survive.
Friends of Lulu Board of Directors:
Anina Bennett Heidi MacDonald
Jackie Estrada Liz Schiller
Deni Loubert Martha Thomases Cheryl Harris
Box 1674, Station C
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4R2
24 January '96
Dear Friends of Lulu:
Well, as someone once said, you've answered everything except my question.
I believe there is a great potential for the Friends of Lulu and the CBLDF to be separate organizations with "complementary goals." That was the point of my letter and the core of my question.
I probably shouldn't have been surprised by the fact that your answer arrived over seven names (the Board of Directors is my assumption). I shouldn't have been, but I was. I was making what 1 thought was a seriously intended proposal and made clear (I thought) that — leaving aside the possibility that the Friends of Lulu in toto might endorse such a proposal — there might exist a faction within the group of some number of female professionals willing to participate in a document which made clear that they view the First Amendment to the Constitution as taking precedence over individual tastes and preferences in literature.
"Advocating censorship of any kind would not only be against our firm belief in freedom of expression but is diametrically opposed to our goal of expanding the comics market."
I guess I just find this confusing. Maybe it's just me. Although there have been rumblings of censorship and advocacy of censorship from people I have talked to about FoL, I take you at your word. You don't advocate censorship. It was not n y intention to accuse you of advocating censorship. What I was doing was sketching the parameters of a simple program which might assist in the fight against censorship. I am alarmed by the Planet Comics bust in Oklahoma. In examining what I can do to assist the retailers and their customers to defend their First Amendment rights, the answer I came up with was "not much." I can continue to donate royalties and payments for various "outside Cerebus" projects to the CBLDF. But in terms of directly affecting the situation in Oklahoma City, the answer, alas, was "not much." I did an interview with a student newspaper in Oklahoma in which I tried to state the case for freedom of expression. But, beyond that, addressing letters to the local daily newspaper or alternative paper or what-have-you would be an exercise in futility. No one has heard of me or Cerebus in that context. My words would carry no weight —most likely I would just be viewed as another "smut peddler" jumping to the defense of other "smut peddlers."
Because Friends of Lulu has a roster of female professionals as active members, because censorship has been linked historically with . . . if there was a valid synonym for "feminist," I would use it here . . . feminist movements, because we are very short of resources in the comic-book field which have a snowball's chance in hell of swaying mainstream public opinion to the cause of creative freedom in the comic-book field . . . I took a stab in the dark. As an outsider examining the situation board — a non-American, non-CBLDF board member, a non-Friends of Lulu member.
Having put my case as eloquently as I could, I find it very disappointing that the reaction amounts to little more than the regurgitation of platitudes capped by a rhetorical cul-de-sac that amounts to little more, in my view, than "We're going to sit this one out, Dave."
The fact that no effort is (evidently) going to be expended even to determine if there is a level of interest within the ranks of the 160 or so female members of your organization to assist in ending censorship and that your seven-member board views the offhand 'enunciation of a "firm belief in freedom of expression" to be sufficient when two retailers are apt to be imprisoned possibly for a total of eighty years (to me) belies your expressions of support for the retail community.
I mean, come on!
Sincerely, Dave Sim
P.S. This letter will be printed with your reply in a future issue of Cerebus — along with any further comment you would care to provide.
A Fax from Friends of Lulu
This fax is for: Dave Sim
Number of pages besides this one: 2
Here is the refaxing of the letter that you requested. I also put a copy in the mail to you yesterday via snail mail.
What sort of deadline are we looking at for our "reply to your reply"?
I'll have to paraphrase my reply. So certain was I that I was asking for the merest crumb of consideration that I didn't hang onto the original letter. I basically offered four pages in the back of Cerebus, for a Friends of Lulu membership drive, in trade for a mention in their newsletter of a proposal for interested female professionals to compose and sign a petition or statement expressing their support for the First Amendment as preeminent over their personal dislike of comic books that could be seen to exploit or degrade women. I also pointed out the deadline for each issue of Cerebus and expressed a willingness to debate the issue month after month with the FoL executive until some compromise could be achieved. I did advise that phrasing along the lines of "anyone interested in this stupid proposal by that misogynist pig Dave Sim can write to . . ." would be unacceptable so far as the newsletter mention was concerned. Some weeks later, the following fax arrived:
A Fax from Friends of Lulu
This fax is for: Dave
Number of pages besides this one: 0
Thanks for your offer of four pages. We are grateful, but we would prefer not to accept. We will not be continuing this correspondence.
Friends of Lulu Board of Directors
So that's that. I'd like to thank the female comics reader who wrote to me expressing her support for the First Amendment as taking precedence over her personal likes and dislikes. And.. . well ... that's that.
Okay, time to take a closer look at the note from Jackie Estrada to Sgt. Claude Flowers in response to his questioning the lack of response both from Jackie and Heidi Macdonald to my (by now) five months old, every 25th of the month "Feminists get a free ride in our society" reminder as well as the lack of response from the current directors of the Friends of Lulu.. I'm going to get Jeff to preface this with the full text of "The Last Word" from Cerebus No. 206 just so there can be no mistaking what it is that Jackie's referring to.
I doubt that anyone currently in the Friends of Lulu would even know what Dave is talking about.
I haven't been involved with FoL since 1999 and don't have all the records or paperwork, but as I recall, back in 1996 Dave issued a challenge in Cerebus to FoL to "prove" that the organization wasn't made up of anti-First Amendment feminists by coming out in support of the CBLDF. In that challenge he made a number of erroneous statements about the organization. For instance, Friends of Lulu has always been an organization of women and men, adults and kids, professionals and non-professionals, not of "all female comics professionals." The FoL Board of Directors wrote to Dave (via fax, which is the only way he would communicate) thanking him for the opportunity to clarify what the organization is and to correct the misinformation he had printed. We then pointed out that under FoL's non-profit charter, the group could not do fund-raising for other non-profits (which is what he in fact asked FoL to do for CBLDF). We also pointed out that most of the FoL board members were also members and supporters of CBLDF.
Dave then sent a fax expressing his disappointment that FoL didn't come back with some kind of confrontational response so we could get a "rivalry" going. The FoL board simply refused to play that game since Dave had no interest in knowing what FoL was really trying to accomplish, which was to get more women and girls involved in creating and reading comics. CBLDF is a separate organization with separate goals, period.
I have no idea why Dave is trying to revive something that happened 10 years ago and was a non-issue even then. There is no "story" here other than Dave wanted to get some attention.
Okay, I don't think you have to go over my initial overture from 1996 with a magnifying glass to determine that I wasn't asking the Friends of Lulu to do any fund-raising for the CBLDF, that all I was asking from the very beginning was that they canvas their membership to find out if there were any female comics professionals who would be willing to sign a petition deploring censorship that the CBLDF could use (attached to press releases sent to media in jurisdictions where they were fighting censorship prosecutions, etc.). I was well aware that the Friends of Lulu was not a female comics professional organization exclusively and I never said anything to the contrary. I did assume (and I think I had a solid basis for the assumption) that there would be a relatively large roster of female comics professionals in the membership of the Friends of Lulu and that that organization would be the best means to contact as many of them as possible with my suggestion through their newsletter. I still think that's a solid assumption. I also assumed that anyone who would join an organization like Friends of Lulu would be in the "activist" category and, thus, more likely to participate in the sort of petition that I envisioned.
At this late date—with the close-to-zero response that I got to my overture, from the Friends of Lulu, from the female comics professional community and from the Cerebus readership—I think it's very easy for Jackie to misremember my suggestion as a challenge to "prove" (why the quotation marks?) that FoL wasn't made up of anti-First Amendment feminists since I think that's very possibly what I ended up proving entirely by accident.
No, my thinking at the time and the reason that I didn't retain my follow-up fax was that it seemed to me a very straightforward "freedom of speech" issue. Issue 186—where I had made it obvious that I was not, personally, a feminist—had been published less than a year and a half before. I think it's safe to say that the Friends of Lulu was (and is) primarily made up of feminists. What I was saying with my suggestion was: "Look, I'm not a feminist and I'm opposed to feminism. You're all feminists and vehemently in favour of feminism. You're not going to convince me of your viewpoint and I'm not likely to convince you of my viewpoint, but can we at least agree that the important thing is that the First Amendment right to express a viewpoint is the more important issue at stake and that whatever either of us can do to protect the overarching principle of freedom of expression—yours, mine and everyone else's—as an absolute in the comic-book field is an inherently good thing?" I sincerely believed--given that the vast majority of the 1996 FoL Board were American citizens--that they would see that that was what I was saying: that the defence of First Amendment freedoms always needs to be proactive and needs to be fought from both ends of the political spectrum.
The reason that I'm reviving this now is to illustrate another large point that I consider of comparable importance to freedom of expression: that feminists get a free ride in our society and I think the complete amputation of any dialogue on the subject of a "female comics professional petition against censorship" ten years ago with nary a dissenting voice to be heard (or ANY voice to be heard) illustrates that point admirably. The fact that I titled that column "The Last Word" illustrates, as well, the extent to which I allowed myself to be a party to giving feminists a free ride in our society. No one was willing to discuss my suggestion (which I still think is a good one if for no other reason than I think that a lot of censorship results from "misguided chivalry"—the notion that women need to be protected from explicit content and that obscenity prosecutions are the best way to achieve that. It seems to me that we need more female voices to counterbalance that supposition. "No, I don't need to be protected from any form of freedom of expression and I'm appalled that you would think that I would be." That kind of thing) so I just accepted that there would be no further discussion and did so without uttering so much as a peep for the next ten years.
It was only when Mimi Cruz recalled the whole thing to my mind by suggesting that I had been intentionally rude to Jackie--that I "wouldn't talk to her" as her husband Batton Lash told Mimi (ultimately I had allowed that what I saw as an intellectually dishonest response by her and the FoL board the year before may have coloured my reaction to her at Will Eisner's 80th birthday party in Florida)--that I started wondering at that "Free Ride for Feminists" syndrome. "How do they keep getting away with this stuff: being intellectually dishonest and still somehow always managing to hold down the `victim' slot?"
I have to admit that I can't believe that people are still able to get away with dismissing me as "just wanting attention" as Jackie attempts to do here. The last thing I need is to get more personal attention of the kind that I've gotten for the last twelve years from the comic-book field. I don't know how anyone could still think that my opposition to totalitarian feminism is some kind of whim or some kind of game to make myself the centre of attention. I do want attention, but what I want is attention to and for the issues at stake: that there is a group in our society that has been getting a free ride by having the luxury of closing off debate by demonizing men and casting society in "0" and "1" either/or frames of reference: you are either a feminist or you're a misogynist and that anyone who disagrees with them or dissents from their political program is in the latter category and if you are in the latter category you are dismissed, shunned and vilified. It seems to me that the last twelve years in the life of Dave Sim make a pretty strong case that that is what's going on in our society.
Tomorrow: Jeff Tundis weighs in on the discussion
There's MORE for you
In Today's Blog &
REPLIES POSTED ON THE CEREBUS YAHOO! GROUP
If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:
Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2
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