On Brian Wood and Changing Harassment Culture

Brian Wood, writer for one of Marvel’s X-Men runs and Dark Horse’s ‘Star Wars’ series, has been accused of harassing female convention goers. The Mary Sue reported it here and Beccatoria has a detailed and very insightful rundown here. Read these posts for more information if you’re not up to speed, particularly Beccatoria’s. Additionally, please read Dunc’s latest post on harassment.

It goes without saying that this is going to be a post that will probably elicit some very charged reactions. So before going too much further, three points I want to make clear.

First: I’m not going to call for Brian Wood to be fired strictly for what he confessed to in the links above.

Second: If the additional allegations beyond what he confessed to turn out to be true or if more individuals come forward with accusations of misconduct by Wood, I believe Marvel/DH/LFL should re-evaluate their working relationship with him.

Third: This issue goes beyond infidelity between Wood and his wife. There are much broader fandom and societal issues this brings up that should be discussed.

To the jump.

Briefly: On Brian Wood and Appropriate Actions

Even if you take Brian Wood at his word, it doesn’t look good. Ignore that he was married at the time of the incident, ignore everything else that Fowler and others have accused Wood of.  At best, it can only be framed that Wood is guilty of (in his words) making a pass at a fellow industry professional while on the job at what nominally is a professional industry event for him. Let’s be clear, hitting on someone while you’re on the job doesn’t look good and is extremely unprofessional. If any of us were to do something like that while acting as a professional in any professional environment, we’d be opening ourselves up to discipline from our employers.

If Marvel, LFL, and Dark Horse decided to let him go for just this incident while a DC employee, they’re within their rights to do so. If they come to the conclusion that Brian Wood can’t be trusted to behave in a professional setting like San Diego Comic Con, then they are free to terminate his employment with them. If they view this incident and confession as bad enough press that can hurt their respective brand, they are free to separate from Brian Wood.

So to be clear: For his confession alone, I’m not calling for Brian Wood to be fired. However if his employers decide to let him go, it wouldn’t be some sort grave injustice and they would be well within their rights to do so (provided they pay whatever contract termination or buyout clause is stipulated in their signed agreements).

However, if the accounts continue to stack up and others step forward to corroborate Fowler’s other allegations of Wood’s behavior (that he yelled at Fowler the next day on the convention floor, that she’s not the only person he’s harassed in these professional settings*), I do believe that Dark Horse and LFL need to think long and hard about whether or not they want to continue working with him.

Should it become apparent that Wood is guilty of these allegations, continuing to work with him could be viewed as a tacit endorsement of his behavior. Essentially, “It’s okay that he harassed convention goers because he’s sold out a bunch of print runs of the Star Wars comic.” That’s not a response you want fans to have, especially in this day and age.

As far as I’m concerned, this is all that really needs to be said about Brian Wood right now. What he’s confessed to doesn’t look good, and if he’s let go for that it’s hard to argue against it. What he’s accused of looks even worse and that sort of behavior really cannot be tolerated anymore.

Which brings us to the next subject

*Edit: Former D.C. employee Anne Scherbina details additional misconduct by Wood. 

The Problem with Innocent Until Proven Guilty

We have to consider how we all reacted to this news. One thing that I noticed was that Wood’s words have been heavily weighted over Fowler’s. That is, the general reaction seems to be that Wood’s words were taken as truth while Fowler’s were considered more speculative, even though she was the other party in this scenario. Even in my writeup above, I’ve sort of done that because I spent most of it just taking his words at face value. In the interest of hedging my bets and attempting to be fair to Wood, I’ve downplayed the severity of just what he’s been accused of, and perhaps in a way that’s being unfair to Fowler and those who have tried to report and document instances of harassment. In this scenario, does our “innocent until proven guilty” mentality put an unfair burden on the accuser that keeps them quiet instead of speaking out and bringing these issues to light?

On the surface, innocent until proven guilty is a fine and fair concept. But what do we do when that only seems to protect the accused and exposes the accuser to a host of snark, disdain, hostility, and even threats? Often this is what happens when a woman attempts to report and expose harassment, and when that happens, it increases difficulty of finding people and evidence to corroborate the story tenfold. If the accuser faces that much risk when speaking out, any other witnesses (particularly other women) who may be able help the accuser could be exposed to the same level of vitriol.

It seems, then, that the harassed are guilty of lying until proven innocent.

Don’t misunderstand me. We shouldn’t form lynch mobs on the drop of a hat when an accusation emerges, but we have to create an environment where those who have been harassed can call attention to the problem and seek help to ensure they’re not put in that situation again. Yes, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn’t mean the accuser is lying. Taking that attitude only creates a culture where it’s safer to stay quiet than to speak up, and by staying quiet, those who have harassed others can continue to do so unfettered.

We have to start taking these accusations more seriously than we do right now. Truthfully, we have to start taking harassment a lot more seriously. We have to talk about why things like what Brian Wood has confessed to have done and what he’s accused of having done aren’t okay. We need to talk about how these actions deserve repercussions. We have to stop assuming that people like Tess Fowler are lying by default when they bring these accusations to light.

What does it say that it took eight years for Fowler to come forward with these accusations and for Wood to confirm at least part of them? It says that as a society (especially a fandom society), it’s far and away safer to stay quiet than to expose the transgressions of harassers. Then, of course, when they do speak up years after the fact (when they finally feel it’s safe to do so), they’re raked over the coals for not having spoken up sooner and accused of being disingenuous or exaggerating or lying or trying to seek attention or trying to destroy someone’s career or…

While discussing this with Nanci earlier today, she said something extremely sobering.

This is why we’re having this conversation, because the environment as it exists now is woefully unacceptable. The environment as it exists now actively discourages reporting harassment by punishing those who do. Look at the pushback Tess Fowler has gotten since making this public, or the pushback virtually anyone has gotten for exposing this sort of behavior. We have to come to terms with the fact that incidents described by Fowler are not isolated events. We have to stop assuming that people who bring harassment to light have some sort of ulterior motive.

Those who have been harassed need to feel as if they can speak up safely and without retribution.

We as a fandom and culture have to do our part to create an environment where they can feel safe and free to talk and expose harassment. First step? We’ve got to stop treating the harassed like liars.


3 thoughts on “On Brian Wood and Changing Harassment Culture

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