No Sexism At DC

Still here.

Haven’t been posting due to health concerns, but still here and pondering what’s next. I never received a response from Time Warner to the letter I sent, and while the retailer responded and shared my concerns, DC’s response to both the retailer and myself was the same press release everyone else saw.

In organizational change management, punishing undesired behavior typically yields short-term results, but generates little in the way of long-term sustainable change. Encouraging / rewarding the desired behavior, although it takes much longer, is a vastly more effective tactic.

What’s Next?

In the wake of DC’s announcement, the question then becomes what to do now.

Obviously, making sure DC follows through is important. But - if DC does - what to do after that? Or in conjunction with it?

I was excited to hear about Miles Morales becoming the new Spider-Man - why not write Marvel some letters congratulating them? Or what about “Mystic,” G. Willow Wilson’s newest book, starring two girls trying to make sense of magic?

It’s an old lesson from organizational change management, training, consulting, etc. - telling people what they did right encourages the behavior you want to see, but it takes longer. On the other hand, people are usually far more willing to listen when you pull them aside and say, “That was really a fantastic idea.”

And given that people seem to be hammering on Marvel today, and promising never to buy a book that they were already not buying, maybe they could use a ray or two of sunshine.

But as interested as I am in Miles Morales, drawn by the always fantastic Sara Pichelli, I’m really excited about “Mystic.” And I can’t wait until my little girl and I get to sit down together and read it.

A Response To Some Comments

Someone smarter than I am once suggested that people seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Over the past day or so, I saw a few reblogs appear that criticized comments and suggestions I made in posts here. I read those responses and talked to a few people about them; I tried to get different perspectives on it and see it in different ways because I have blinders on which mean I don’t see certain things, and I wrote about that a day or so ago. We all have blinders and it’s difficult to recognize where our blind spots are.

As one example, I don’t usually read critical theory. I haven’t read it in any meaningful way since my undergrad days. I only found out about the term kyriarchy when I started a Tumblr account a few months ago. I freely admit there are things I’m not aware of, but I like learning. Kindly forgive me for not knowing about things like tone arguments, intersectionality and the like - I hadn’t heard of them before these responses, and my physical ability over the past day or so has been sufficiently limited that I haven’t been able to look into them (but hey, seriously - if you have a place you’d recommend starting to read, PLEASE tell me - I’m not kidding when I say I love to learn new things - I taught myself how to quilt over the past several years).

So here’s what I understand about the comments from the past few days, and if I’m wrong or misunderstanding anything, please correct me:

  • Some people saw some of the advice as condescending.
  • Some people thought I was telling them to behave, or be good girls.
  • Some people thought the rules of engagement excluded other subjects or concerns, or focused exclusively on straight white women.
  • Some people thought the comment about being reasonable instead of angry was questionable.
  • Some people thought the comment about communicating in ways that parents or children or English teachers wouldn’t object to excluded them.
  • Some people thought that the entire approach was sexist and oppressive.

If I’ve misunderstood any part of this, please correct me.

So here’s where I’m coming from.

I’ve been getting paid to write since before I was a teenager. I spent 15 years doing journalism, half of that at daily newspapers. I spent a decade working in corporate communications, often as a consultant, almost always with Fortune 500 clients. I spent the last several years of my career dealing with organizational change management and the role of communications and training in change initiatives. I freelanced extensively developing ad campaigns and working on marketing and advertising textbooks. My academic background includes extensive studies in sociology, psychology, structural and socio-linguistics, and law. Before becoming disabled, I had been accepted to law school and was looking forward to pursuing my J.D.

In short, I have a very broad range of direct, practical experience with corporate communications and how to use communications to achieve goals.

I never wanted anyone to feel excluded in any way - that’s exactly why I did this, so that people who were frustrated by the situation but didn’t see a way to help could participate in trying to make things better, and had tools they could use to express their frustration in a productive way that would generate results.

I never imagined people would feel controlled or stifled or oppressed by it - if you felt that way, I’m sorry. That was never my intention and it’s actually the opposite of what I tried and hoped to do.

The rules I laid out are communications practices that are remarkably effective and frequently generate the desired results. They are communications practices that are in place at corporations like Time Warner, that are used in counseling, that are used in negotiation. In short, it’s telling a business what’s wrong in a language the business can understand. For those familiar with linguistics, it’s using a different register.

The flip side of that is not speaking their language makes it that much easier for organizations to dismiss valid concerns because it isn’t in their language. Insulting them, cursing at them and the like also make it easy for businesses to dismiss those concerns. I’ve seen this happen first-hand, and it not only results in that message being tossed aside, it makes it more difficult for a business to treat  additional comments on the same subject with the proper degree of seriousness. In dealing with matters like this, civility goes a long way toward getting someone to listen.

Likewise, my comment about parents and children and English teachers wasn’t intended to exclude anyone or their life experience - it’s just a slightly different spin on the old adage of whether you’d be embarrassed if your mom saw it, again, pointing out that civility generally works better than hostility. If Dan DiDio had known or practiced that at SDCC, it’s unlikely we’d even be having this conversation. And under the circumstances, civility would place his inappropriate comments and behavior in even sharper relief, making his behavior look even worse, hence the suggestion to be reasonable instead of angry. DiDio already showed DC what anger looked like - in situations like these, contrast helps.

With that said, I understand not everyone has a stereotypically normal family. The point wasn’t making an issue of anyone’s experience, but just to be civil.

I wasn’t trying to tell DC to hire straight white women - I simply wanted DC to hire more women and tell more stories involving women that meet the Bechdel rule, stories that my 10-year-old kid can enjoy and that make her feel included.

In the last 24 hours or so, DC announced they’re making greater efforts to hire women and tell more stories about women. That’s great news and I sincerely hope they follow through. In that same time, some people have been complaining that this means anyone can advocate for anything in the same way, like people in Northstar costumes showing up and arguing for more GLBT characters in comics.

I hope people do. I don’t know if my little girl is going to prefer men, women, neither, both or something else, and I don’t care. I want her to be happy. That’s it. As long as she’s happy, I could care less, but that doesn’t mean I won’t fight for her to be happy, or that I won’t stand by her if society is telling her that she can’t marry or be with the person she loves for some stupid reason.

And here’s the thing of it … the toolbox? The letters? The rules for engagement? All the rest of it? It can be applied to any company, anywhere, for any goal. I tried to make those tools as flexible as possible, so that people can advocate against white-washing movies like “The Last Airbender” or “Akira,” or argue for greater inclusion of trans-gendered people or disabled people or whatever. I tried to make them as flexible as possible so that, even before the idea of Northstar costumes popped up, they could be used for things exactly like advocating for that.

And I hope people do use them to encourage more inclusive media - we live in an amazing world with all sorts of stuff in it that falls outside our individual experiences, and fear controls too much of what people think is moral or ethical; one very effective way to challenge that is through representation in media.

So, to sum up, here’s the tl;dr version:

  • I didn’t mean for anyone to feel hurt or excluded.
  • If I wrote something that made you feel hurt or excluded, I’m sorry. I never intended or wanted that. I was just trying to put together some tools that people could use to help express themselves in a language that a corporation would understand since I have experience in corporate communications.
  • These tools aren’t limited to telling DC to hire and / or tell more stories about women; you can use them for anything at any company, media-related or otherwise. And I hope you do. And if you do, please let me know and I’ll add my voice to yours. I think it’s ridiculous that we live in a world which is so diverse and that this diversity is so incredibly underrepresented in a media that we all obviously love.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I appreciate it.

    The Toolbox

    The point of this account to date has been to create tools that people can use to effectively communicate dissatisfaction with DC’s content and the behavior, actions and comments of DC leadership. I’ve posted sample letters, contact information, and suggestions about what to say and how to say it. Here are links to specific posts you may find useful in drafting your own responses, as well as a link to a petition on Change.org, listed in sequential order:

    1. Rules Of Engagement
    2. Possible Corrective Actions
    3. A Sample Letter For Your Retailer
    4. Time Warner Contact Information
    5. A Sample Letter For Time Warner
    6. [Change.org] A Petition Asking DC To Hire More Women

    Those tools are now yours to use in whatever way you want to use them. Print them out, reblog them, copy and paste them on forums, in emails, in tweets, whatever. All you have to do to take action is make a few minor changes to reflect the actions you have taken in response to Dan DiDio’s comments and the changes in the DCnU, then click send or drop it in a mailbox.

    Please pass this on to people who are frustrated about these changes, but feel helpless to act or don’t know where to start. And please make use of these tools yourself. If enough people send letters, if enough people take action, things will start to change, no matter how slowly or how small those changes may be at first.

    It’s important to remember that tools have no intrinsic value until someone picks them up and uses them. In this case, let’s all use them to build something better and more equal than what we have now.

    A Letter To Time Warner

    Here’s a letter written to Time Warner about the behavior of DC’s executives at Comic Con and gender inequity in the DCnU. Since this is a letter intended for actual mailing, you’ll note a lack of links, although sources are still cited. In 10 point Arial with 1” margins, it totals two pages so a single first-class stamp should cover mailing costs.

    Please feel free to use this letter as a template, or for ideas about content or structure. People in other countries will need to add different postal codes or additional information as part of the address, but the basic block format should still apply. You will also need to insert your own information about the financial impact of changes you’ve made to your pull list to business partners and Time Warner.

    And especially remember the Rules Of Engagement. You are writing to someone who likely had nothing to do with these changes and may not even be aware of them, but is in a position to bring these concerns under greater scrutiny. Don’t be angry, be reasonable. Be logical. Focus on the inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. Focus on how the behavior and the changes at DC conflict with Time Warner’s corporate diversity policy. Focus on the economic impacts to DC and DC’s business partners.

    As one final note, remember that you’re communicating with someone who may not be a comics fan, so avoid jargon and comic terms. As one important example, don’t talk about the DCnU, talk about the DC Comics relaunch. It’s San Diego Comic Con or the convention, not Comic Con or the Con or other shorthand.

    With that, I’m off to the post office. My letter is signed, sealed, stamped and ready for delivery.

    ———————-

    [Your Street Address]
    [City, State Zip]

    July 29, 2011

    Susan Fleishman
    Warner Bros. Entertainment
    Executive Vice President, Worldwide Corporate Communications and Public Affairs
    Time Warner Inc.
    One Time Warner Center
    New York, NY 10019-8016

    Dear Ms. Fleishman:

    I am a fan of DC comic books and the parent of a little girl who turns 10 in September and is also a fan of DC comic books. I am writing to express my objection to the recent behavior of DC Comics Co-President Dan DiDio at San Diego Comic Con.

    A number of reports from well-respected comic news Web sites such as Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance and others indicate that attendees at the convention questioned Mr. DiDio about the decrease in female artists and writers working at DC Comics. Specifically, before the DC relaunch, women writing and drawing DC comics represented approximately 12% of creators. After the DC Comics relaunch, that percentage decreases to less than 2%. In fact, only three women will be writing or drawing DC titles beginning in September.

    Furthermore, reports from these same sites also indicate that attendees questioned Mr. DiDio and DC Comics Co-President Jim Lee about what appeared to be a reduction in female characters in DC comic books. Tim Hanley performed a statistical analysis after San Diego Comic Con, and found that the number of titles starring or prominently featuring women as part of a team actually had declined; comics starring women such as “Wonder Woman” and “Power Girl” declined from 19.4% of DC’s on-going monthly titles to 13.5%. On-going monthly comics prominently featuring women experienced less of a decline (34.7% to 34.1%), but a decline was still present.

    These statistics would be troubling enough by themselves, but when combined with Mr. DiDio’s responses - which are available as downloadable audio files on the Internet, and I would be more than happy to email you a link (my contact information is included below) - they seem to point to a larger problem. Mr. DiDio asked convention attendees who he should have hired and also asked people what the reduction in female creators means to them. In listening to the audio file of his actual comments, his tone of voice sounds aggressive. Even more telling, DC Comics writers Gail Simone and Paul Cornell sought out the people who asked Mr. DiDio those questions and tried to reassure them that they were committed to representing diversity in the books they had any control over.

    I applaud Time Warner’s corporate diversity policy, especially the recognition that audiences today are broader and more diverse than ever before, and that Time Warner’s employees and publications - including comic books - need to reflect that diversity to meet consumers’ needs. However, the current staff of DC Comics does not seem to reflect that diversity, nor does the content of DC comic books seem to reflect that diversity. As a key example, Barbara Gordon was one of the most prominent and visible disabled people in comics, and after September, she will no longer be disabled. Although I try not to bring it up in letters like this, I am disabled and I can’t ignore that change when my little girl doesn’t see anyone in DC comics who looks like her family.

    It is also worth noting that Newsarama quoted Mr. DiDio as saying “We want the best creators on our books, who should we have hired?” As a brief answer, Pia Guerra won an Eisner Award and was part of the team that won a Harvey Award for “Y: The Last Man,” a DC publication. Jill Thompson and Becky Cloonan are both Eisner Award-winning artists who have worked for DC. There are more Eisner Award-winning female creators who have never worked for DC, and yet the DC Comics creative staff after September is overwhelmingly male, featuring many creators who haven’t even been nominated for any awards, much less won awards as prestigious as the Eisners and Harveys.

    In the wake of these comments and the ratio of women to men in both staff and content, the appearance of gender bias at DC Comics is hard to overlook.

    As I mentioned earlier, I am a DC comics fan and the parent of a little girl who turns 10 in September and is also a DC comics fan. As of Monday, July 25, I was a subscriber to 26 separate DC Comics titles with a total cover price of $74.75 per month. Although some of the titles I currently subscribe to are being canceled as part of the DC relaunch, I would still have had $50.83 worth of DC Comics before adding titles which I planned to subscribe to.

    In the wake of Mr. DiDio’s comments, I canceled 16 of those titles on Tuesday, July 26. Of the remaining 10, DC is discontinuing three at the end of August, and I will cancel my subscriptions to two more titles at that time. As a direct result of what appears to be gender bias at DC in staffing and content, as well as Mr. DiDio’s aggressive and hostile treatment of DC fans and customers, I will have canceled 21 separate titles, representing a total decrease in my spending on DC comic books of $56.81 per month. I have already contacted the retailer who provides my comics and explained why they are losing this revenue.

    It is unacceptable for representatives of an organization as prestigious and respected as Time Warner to treat consumers so disrespectfully, particularly when those consumers are asking why the creative teams working on magazines and the content of the magazines they read reflect so little of the diversity present in our world, as well as the diversity in staffing and content that Time Warner’s corporate diversity policy seems to require.

    Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. If you would like to discuss these issues and concerns further, I can be reached via email at [Edited] or via telephone at [Edited].

    Sincerely,

    [Edited]

    Answering Dan DiDio’s Question

    Thanks to the always-awesome DC Women Kicking Ass, here’s another compelling article explaining why diversity in the creative staff is important.

    [Comics Alliance] Answering Dan DiDio: The Problem With Having Only 1% Female Creators At DC Comics

    The other day, I chatted with a department manager at Best Buy for a while. We had spoken before about Best Buy’s video game pre-order process, and I had explained to him how and which parts of that process could be difficult for disabled people like myself. When I spoke with him a few days ago, I explained what parts of his department were accommodating to disabled people, which parts weren’t, how aisle widths affected accessibility and so on. He isn’t disabled, and he noted that he never would have considered kiosk locations as an accessibility accommodation as well as good customer service, or thought of how wider aisles made it easier for disabled people to shop without undue obstacles to them or other shoppers. He had blinders on through no fault of his own, and to his credit, he listened and was obviously thinking of things he could personally do and policies he could put into place to address those issues.

    And we all have blinders that we simply aren’t aware of. When I started this account, I felt incredibly awkward doing it and raising these issues as a straight white guy, and I actually asked a couple of people to act as figureheads, because I don’t feel like I’m especially qualified to talk about these things and I know I have blinders about gender issues and all sorts of other things, as much as I try to remove them. I didn’t want my blinders to somehow cause a problem or make the existing issues worse. I just want comics that both I and my little girl can read that don’t make her feel like there’s no place in comics for her or for women in general.

    Like the Comics Alliance article above notes, having a more diverse staff reduces the risk of inadvertently offending people because your staff isn’t aware of something that might be an issue. In short, a diverse staff means that blinders get removed, that characters are more realistic and compelling, and that the stories are better as a result. Not only that, but a diverse staff opens up entirely new ideas and new opportunities if an organization is willing to change. New people bring new stories - that’s been true for the entirety of human existence and storytelling has always been one of our richest shared experiences.

    Time Warner’s diversity policy recognizes and reflects this. DC needs to catch up with its corporate parent, not move in the opposite direction.

    Possible Corrective Actions

    It’s easy to complain about things. It is much harder to identify potential solutions.

    There are, as I see it, a few actions that DC could, and in my opinion should, take to address these concerns. Before it’s mentioned, asking Time Warner to remove DC executives from their positions is unrealistic and creates unnecessary ill will which in turn makes identifying and implementing solutions vastly more difficult and can create a poisoned environment which would be worse for everyone involved and affected.

    The goal here is to create a win-win situation for Time Warner, Time Warner shareholders, DC, DC executives, women creators and comics fans. Any action which can hurt or harm one of those groups will create resistance and make a solution more difficult to identify and implement.

    Taking all of that into account, I suggest the following:

    1. As executives of DC and representatives of Time Warner, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee should apologize for their comments at San Diego Comic Con, as well as for apparently treating a customer disrespectfully.
    2. DC executives should take a communications course to learn how to stay on message, and calmly and respectfully discuss difficult subjects with customers. Recent reports and audio files suggest that DC executives have been unable to communicate effectively with customers and have become angry and expressed that anger at consumers. That does not leave customers with a positive impression of DC or its parent company, Time Warner. While some comics fans have difficult personalities, reports from San Diego Comic Con indicate that DC executives responded with hostility to reasonable questions about the role of gender in staffing and content of books.
    3. Tom Spurgeon has suggested that comics companies should implement something like the NFL’s Rooney Rule. It is inevitable that some DCnU titles will be canceled, and due to various reasons, members of some creative teams will need to be replaced. As these events occur, DC should actively seek out and ask women creators to join these teams as artists, or ask them to pitch stories and arcs as writers. Why? Dan Harmon, creator of “Community,” explained it very well. However, this must be done as part of a transparent process in which a writer is either the only writer asked, or in which they are aware that other creators will also be pitching at the same time. Warren Ellis wrote about this concern just the other day; DC must not treat this as a process to generate story ideas which will then be given to other writers - such behavior will only alienate creators and discourage them from working with DC.
    4. As a short-term mitigation strategy, DC should immediately commit to giving female creators significantly more work in the form of one-shots, mini-series, tie-ins and other short-term projects to see how fans react to a particular creator’s work. DC cannot honestly claim that it hired the best talent available considering how many women who have won Eisners were excluded, but DC also can’t honestly argue that it hired only creators with proven track records, considering that some of the creators really don’t have much of a track record to speak of. One-shots, mini-series, etc. allow DC to test the waters with established characters and limited financial risk compared to launching a new series.
    5. Within a given time span - say, the next four years - DC should commit to ensuring that a given percentage (25% is a realistic target which is more than double the percentage of female creators before the DCnU) of its creators on on-going monthly series will be women. This is still woefully lower than the percentage of women in the population, but it’s a place to start.
    6. If retaining creators is part of the problem, DC should find out why creators leave, and do so in a way that allows creators to remain anonymous so they can provide honest feedback, knowing that potential future work from DC will not be affected due to their comments, whether complimentary, critical or both. Typically, a third party acts as an independent buffer in obtaining such feedback.

    It’s important to note that I don’t want to see anyone lose their job over this. Threats and fear create resistance; they don’t lead to understanding.

    It’s important to note that I don’t blame any of the creators involved with the DCnU for this - they’re just people trying to earn a paycheck and I’m sure at least some of them are incredibly excited that they’re getting a chance to write their favorite characters. I’d love to write Aquaman or Apollo and Midnighter some day (and don’t get me started about my love for Jenny Sparks) so I can understand that completely.

    The focus here is identifying why so few female creators are involved in or part of the DCnU and what can be done to change that.

    We Want The Best, Who Should We Have Hired?

    I’ve seen a few comments suggesting that Dan DiDio’s comments do not constitute a clear gender bias.

    Considering that DC’s percentage of female creators has declined from 12% to less than 2%, let’s flip this idea on its head.

    In what other industry would people accept or tolerate a ratio of 98% women to 2% men, and the excuse “We want the best [men] on our [payroll], who should we have hired?” In what other industry would that not immediately trigger litigation for discriminatory or exclusionary hiring policies on the basis of gender?

    Would you, for example, accept a mayor of a major city staffing a city department with only 2% of male applicants and then saying “We want the best police / firefighters / paramedics / lifeguards / emergency responders / etc., who should we have hired?”

    Would you, for example, accept a president of a major university only admitting 2% of male applicants to an undergrad or graduate program and then saying “We want the best students / scholars / academics / etc., who should we have admitted?”

    Would you, for example, accept the CEO of a major medical research facility only hiring 2% of male applicants and then saying “We want the best doctors / researchers / scientists / etc., who should we have hired?”

    Would you, for example, accept the armed forces only recruiting 2% of male applicants and then saying “We want the best soldiers, who should we have recruited?”

    In response to another criticism, would you be able to name people who should have been hired on the spot?

    It’s easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback with these issues, but how many people could have answered that question - at that moment - with a list like G. Willow Wilson, Fiona Staples, Colleen Coover, Nicola Scott and so on?

    By the same token, taking the lack of an answer to that question as evidence that people don’t want to read work from female creators is a logical fallacy in many ways. It takes one person’s lack of an answer in that moment and attempts to extend that across an entire spectrum of readers. It’s a hasty conclusion drawn from a limited sample size over a very brief period of time. And those aren’t the only ways in which it is logically unsupported. Click the logical fallacy link above and you’ll see more.

    I don’t think that the undesirability of a gender ratio of 98% men to less than 2% women in the workplace is something that needs to be debated, particularly when - with even a brief amount of research - it is easy to identify women who are more experienced, have worked with that employer and have won awards for their work in the field, yet were not hired in favor of men who may not have as much experience, may not have as long of a tenure with that employer and who have not won the same or equivalent awards for their work in the field.

    To put this in even more practical terms, think of it as being laid off, then watching people who didn’t work there as long, didn’t have as much experience and didn’t have your level of recognition in your job get rehired before your former employer gives your job back to you … if you get it back at all.

    And this issue really is that simple.

    Time Warner Contact Information

    To achieve the greatest impact, letters should be directed to one person in an organization who is at a sufficiently high level to take action.

    In this case, it seems appropriate to direct communications to:

    Susan Fleishman
    Warner Bros. Entertainment
    Executive Vice President, Worldwide Corporate Communications and Public Affairs

    Time Warner Inc.
    One Time Warner Center
    New York, NY 10019-8016

    As the Executive Vice President for Warner Brothers’ Worldwide Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Ms. Fleishman will understand the need to present a clear, consistent, respectful message to Time Warner’s customers and will also understand how the public comments made by DC executives can counteract marketing efforts and harm revenue streams.

    In addition, in any emails sent to Time Warner, document Dan DiDio’s comments, the drastic decrease in female creators in the DCnU, and then compare these actions and comments to Time Warner’s publicly-stated corporate diversity policy, found here:

    http://www.timewarner.com/our-company/corporate-responsibility/diversity/

    It is far more difficult for DC to claim it has the best creators possible (either in terms of critical or commercial success) when that does not match available data and also does not abide by Time Warner’s internal policies governing this subject.

    The main switchboard telephone number for Time Warner is (212) 484-8000, but leaving voice mail is significantly less effective than written communication.

    In the next day or so, I’ll draft a letter to Time Warner and post it here; as with all documents posted here, please feel free to reblog them, tweet about them, email them and use them. I want to stress that these documents are tools, and that I’m trying to build a framework for engagement so that people can participate at whatever level of commitment they choose.

    In return, please submit your comments, your letters to retailers, Time Warner or other related organizations, and your suggestions. I’d love to publish them here and your letters may be useful to other people who might be struggling to find their voice.