Let the Lady Have Her Say—Sailor Twain and the Problem of a Sexist Publishing Culture

sailortwaincoverIn reading  Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid on the Hudson, I found myself thinking about a very contemporary problem for the comics industry, namely that of the lack of voice and projects that female creators are given in mainstream publishing, especially at the house of ideas and DC. Siegel confronts gender bias in his work, and in my mind parallel in the 21st century world of publishing by creating a famous reclusive writer, C.G.Beaverton. Beaverton is a writer of myths and the fantastic, and in the world of Sailor Twain is unbelievably popular with people lining up around the block on the release of a new book. Siegel makes the author reclusive, pulling a Pynchon-esque feat of remaining out of the public eye (which was much easier in the pre-garagantua media world), but the people of the 19th century assume the gender of such a popular writer to be male. However, the expectations and stereotypes that erupt once the reveal of Beaverton’s gender as female causes an interesting sub theme in the work and mirrors I believe a contemporary problem of sexism in the  mainstream comics publishing industry.

The best example of this is found in Part II, chapter four, entitled “Eclipse”, which finds the now scrutinized Camomille surrounded by a dinner party of primarily men. In little time, a sexist joke is made by Mister Comet in a cross conversation with the daughter of the publisher Scribner:

Mr. Comet- (addressing Miss Scribner) “Would your father have signed her up, Miss Scribner? Not knowingly?”

Miss Scribner- “Would you have reviewed her work any differently if you’d known she was a lady, Mister Comet?”

Mr. Comet- “Absolutely. I might not have reviewed it at all!”

(after some laughter)

Mr. Comet- “But seriously…why mislead us for so long?”

Miss Beaverton- ” I never misled, Mister Comet, I just didn’t counter a prevailing assumption.”

It’s the fear of coming out as a woman that is the most heartbreaking in thinking about the character of Camomille Beaverton in this scene. Here is a talented writer, a great voice, that is instantly derided upon revealing her gender. While women are treated as sexual objects for the bulk of the book via the Frenchman Layefette (whose nose is probably the best visual sexual pun I have seen in quite some time), it does not diminish the small powerful moments of Camomille establishing a) who she is and b) attempting to confront the chaos she knows will come about through her reveal at a dinner on board the doomed vessel upon the Hudson. I would love to think that this is just an example of showing us how antiquated our society, our various cultures, once were, especially in holding such a scene up to the world of comics. But it is not so, as on a daily basis the info pumping out on social media and indie blogs continue to show that women are still ostracized as a creative force for mainstream work. While I can celebrate Alison Bechdel and Lynda Barry on the indie circuit, I see the struggles of Gail Simone, Kelly Sue De Connick, and others who love writing flights and tights narratives for the larger public, and continue to get less respect, visibility, and variety of creative projects that male counterparts gain or are given access to work with because they work in a male dominated industry. I would be very sad if one day it was discovered that they had to use psuedonyms to get their work out in the LCS on a regular basis for people to order and buy, but I would not be surprised.