Monday, October 10, 2011

Well. What Did You Expect?

A comic Kate Beaton posted to her twitter account recently really caught my attention. Beaton is a cartoonist hailing from Nova Scotia, Canada, and is the author of the hilarious web comic Hark! A Vagrant. The comic she posted is called What Did You Expect, and is a revealing autobiographical cartoon depicting a situation that arose during her time working in the Alberta Tar Sands.

Click here to see the full length comic.

Beaton’s experience is teeth-grindingly familiar. As she tries to nervously laugh off her humiliation I found myself twitching and grimacing just as I’m sure she did in the moment.

There are so many different layers of sexism at work in this one comic: the kind Kate laughs off (“you shoulda worn those pants that make your arse look good”), the kind she unhappily swallows (“I can’t be giving anyone special treatment”), or just plain ignores (“you in trouble doll?”). Tellingly, the only other woman depicted in the comic is a voiceless receptionist.

Her boss’s attitude is classically dismissive. He assumes that if she isn’t being directly threatened by the men then it isn’t anything serious. She is the one not being a team player and it is she who is causing problems (by merely breaching the subject). Beaton is the one who ends up apologising for herself, in a plea to keep her job. The boss claims he can’t give her any special treatment… because not getting judged like a country fair hog by her male co-workers would be special treatment right? He ends up sending her back to the U+O box, and Beaton helplessly thanks him. Uaghagh.

The comment Beaton writes below the comic is: “been a while since I made a comic about working in the Tar Sands no? But I feel like I hear ‘what did you expect’ all the time, all the same.” This kind of treatment is not exclusive to women working in the tar sands, or in any male-dominated trade. This kind of attitude is everywhere. When a queer person is bullied, it’s because they were in the wrong place with the wrong people. What did you expect? When a woman is raped it’s because she was wearing the wrong clothes and out too late. What did she expect? Whenever someone is belittled because of their skin colour, well, they just should have been born whiter. What did they expect?? Why should the perpetrators ever have to change? The victims should stop putting themselves into situations where they can be victims.

I wish I could provide some sort of profound solution or answer to this problem here. But I can’t. All I can do is stand, up to, and against, these inequalities as I face them, just like you can. I think that ongoing education, activism, and awareness is key for these kind of attitudes and limits to be destroyed. One thing I really desire is the teaching feminism in Canadian public schools, which I really feel would help. How come they don’t do that yet btw?...never mind though, that's another tangent.

On a happy note, Kate Beaton is pretty hot shit right now, one of the most in-demand cartoonists in the world; her book Hark! a Vagrant has just hit the top of The New York Time’s graphic novels best sellers list. This is a pretty BIG deal for lady cartoonists, who have always had a rough go of it in the male dominated cartoon industry. I am really looking forward to seeing her feminist-lens-filtered comics infiltrate mainstream publications, and more postings of personal, thought provoking pieces such as this.

Beaton will be in Toronto October 29th and 30th for IFOA, BTW. I highly recommend checking that out.


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