Friday, November 3, 2017

an open letter to dan didio

Dear Dan DiDio,

In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, I’ve been thinking about the women of DC Comics. I don’t know them and I don’t know you; I don’t read your company’s comic books. Still somehow, despite this degree of remove, I’m sitting here at my computer in Chicago, Illinois with certain knowledge of the names of sexual predators who you currently employ, or have employed in the past.

Reports of sexual misconduct are like cockroaches; when I see one, I understand there are many more that haven’t made themselves known. There’s this particular strain of banality that offsets the horror and disgust. My first roach was a boy named Brian who masturbated at me in math class in the ninth grade. Did you even know that was a thing? That someone can just crank one out at you in Algebra I? Soon after that I learned there were others like him living in the walls.

No one wants to broadcast that they have a roach problem to the world, Dan. It’s shameful and embarrassing. Gross. People will think you’re doing something wrong with your life to have attracted roaches in the first place. You must be doing something wrong still if you can’t make them go away.

Lately circumstances have aligned such that there’s been an unprecedented Airing of Stories. I haven’t read most of them, but they’re hard to avoid. They make my muscles crackle under my chiropractor’s fingers during the part when they’re supposed to softly yield. They make it hard for me to concentrate. They make it more difficult to fall asleep and, not much later, to get back up.

No one has talked much about DC yet, so far as I know. I’ve kept an eye out because, like everyone else on the Internet who follows this sort of thing, I’ve known the names of DC’s sexual predators for years—Eddie Berganza, Brian Wood, and Mike Carlin, off the top of my head. The names of some others, like the senior art director who tried to rape an artist at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015, are not known to me. Yet.

Why aren’t these women talking? Partly it’s your company’s reach—your lawyers and your influence and your money—but the other part, the sadder part, is no one cares. No one cares, or at least no one cares enough. For every high-profile piece of shit like Harvey Weinstein there’s a gang of faceless weasels terrorizing women in an industry no one cares about, and I’m writing you today because, at DC Comics, the person who is supposed to care is you.

There’s no way I can know if you truly care, of course, but I believe that you do. I believe that you care despite the fact that you’ve done nothing, and worse than nothing, when you’ve been told about the actions of the sexual predators who work for you.

Let’s talk about the group of women who came forward to report the misdeeds of Eddie Berganza, who still works for you. You should have fired him immediately, all those years ago, long before his name ever trickled down to the likes of me. But I think I get it, at least to some degree. Sacking someone you like and mostly respect—I can’t imagine there’s any joy in it. You knew the things he did were despicable; that much was clear. But your discomfort made it complicated. You convinced yourself that, deep down, you knew his heart. Probably that’s easier when you haven’t known his greedy hands. His tongue.

With enough reluctance to convince yourself of your own goodness, you offered absolutions that were not yours to give. When DC treated Berganza’s storied history of misconduct as a single incident—I mean, Jesus, is that even legal?—no doubt some of the men there felt…encouraged. Meanwhile all the “good” guys under you who had their own vague misgivings figured no one else was doing anything either. I’m sure they felt it was a real shame. Dan, I’ve spent my entire life trying to understand what good men tell themselves. I have to conclude that you genuinely feel bad about it. Just never bad enough.

Obviously, with figures like Carlin and Julius Schwartz, sexual predation had been part of the culture at DC long before you rose through the ranks. I wonder at what point in your career it became normal to you to accommodate it. Was it part of your orientation? Was it after Wood, or as late as Berganza? I can almost hear your train of thought. The women seemed fine, did they not? That’s what you told yourself. Blah blah blah, they were strong, and men are fallible. Every time you wondered if you should act on another complaint about whoever it was, your conscience raised objections. Maybe he promised he’d get a handle on his drinking. Maybe you were friends with his wife. Maybe you were thinking about his kids, bless their hearts, or you were in the middle of a difficult project and he was your main man. Very valuable (to you), no doubt. Maybe you were worried about your own job. Whatever it was. Nefarious cover-ups happen—of course they do—but just as often I think that for guys like you, there are degrees of letting go that are almost imperceptible. Almost.

Dan, I’m thinking about this man who owned the software company where I worked right after college. There was an unspoken rule that his terrible personality had to be accommodated as though it were a disability. He wore leather pants to the company parties, if you can even imagine. Named our meeting rooms after the seven deadly sins. Avarice. Lust. The first time I ever talked to this guy he asked weird, aggressive questions about my sex life. We were sitting in a semi-circle, me and him and his stupid leather pants, plus my boss and maybe four other guys. You can hear when a “joke” doesn’t sound right—that’s a sense you develop very early on—but the thing is you still look to other people for social cues. Maybe this time it’s you, as you’ve always suspected. In fact, that would definitely be preferable.

What I need you to understand is how, looking around into the faces of those good men, how normal and not normal it was. There is a paradox in how you are required to hold both feelings at once. Some of those guys were my friends. All the empathy I can summon for them now, all the excuses I have made for the way they went along with it—what I’ve come to understand is that there wasn’t reciprocity. I doubt any of them ever stopped to imagine what it was like to be me. After I left the company my boss and the leather pants man would go on to have what was described to me as an affair. That’s the word my male colleagues used, so I guess that’s how they saw it. She was 24, I think. Older than I was at the time, but probably less than half his age.

Even now I’m resisting the urge to type a million disclaimers about how of course I understand this leather pants man’s sex quiz wasn’t that bad. I mean, it wasn’t! Certainly it’s nowhere near as bad as the stuff that’s gone down at DC under your watch. Worse things have happened to me. Worse things have happened to me at work, and my only other real office job was in high school. What I’m trying to describe is the pressure to assimilate inappropriate behavior into something normal or palatable. I felt the pressure back then—and I feel it now, though it’s different. I wish to impress upon you my anxiety regarding whether I have chosen the right story to share, one that falls within the window of what I’m willing to talk about and what even registers as unseemly in our dumb nightmare world. Understand that assimilating even a trespass as small as impromptu sex questions from the man who owns your company into something “OK” requires tremendous resources. It’s like scuba diving, with all the compensations and calculations that a hostile environment demands to be able to breathe. It’s a lot of work on top of your job.

I think the women in your office have been working at the bottom of the sea. Perhaps related, I can’t help but notice there aren’t very many of them. Just look at all that blue.

Source: Bleeding Cool

Dan, I want to tell you about an article I read in the New York Times. A misguided journalist reported that important men aren’t taking meetings with women because “one accusation, one misunderstood comment, could end their careers.” The writer pins it on what she calls a season of sex scandals, but she is incorrect. More than a decade ago there were male professors at the University of Chicago who refused to meet with female students alone. People laugh about Mike Pence and Mother, but his policy isn’t especially unusual. What I wish all these fearful men could understand is how hard women work to turn unacceptable behavior into some semblance of Normal—how acknowledging when something isn’t normal somehow feels like a last resort.

Ronan Farrow’s first Weinstein piece masterfully illuminated the work of Making It Okay. His sources have been so hard on themselves, but the truth is it’s possible to deny the obvious even to yourself in the service of making life livable. Whatever women tell themselves to Make It Okay isn’t a stupid mistake that requires self-castigation or forgiveness, nor is it weakness; it’s a defense mechanism or the logical consequence of our broken culture. Sometimes it’s both.

But there’s a very bright line between women employing this mechanism themselves and people like you, Dan. Beneath the tough exteriors of your female employees, what did Berganza’s “punishment”of working only with men cost them—the ones he had assaulted and the ones he hadn’t assaulted (yet)—in terms of opportunities? Is it an equal-opportunity workplace if a senior staffer requires a segregated office for however many years? By simply hanging a ‘no girls allowed’ sign on Berganza’s office, do you imagine that women at DC were made to feel safe, much less valued? This is of course a rhetorical question, as I don’t think you ever went so far as to imagine what they felt—not for a moment. No, not at all.

Dan, we don’t know each other, so I forgive you for not knowing what this is costing me. But the women who reported Eddie Berganza—I think you must know them better. Did they come to you? Did they think you seemed like the kind of boss they could trust? I don’t need to know their names to understand what your choices must have done to their mental and physical health. Their careers. I can hear the excuses they made, not for Berganza, but for you, even as you tasked them with the impossible burden of making themselves feel safe at work. How much did they pay, professionally and personally, because you weren’t willing to bear even the slight inconvenience and emotional upset it would have required to fire a sexual predator?

While you have much to answer for, it’s with some disappointment I conclude that you’re not a cartoon villain. You’re just selfish. Whatever story you’ve told yourself, your actions haven’t served what’s right, what’s lawful, or even what’s best for DC Comics. They have served what’s best for you, at least in the short term. That isn’t the behavior of a leader; that’s pathological self-involvement. You’re unfit for your job, but I barely care about that. I’m writing because you have come up short as a human being.

Dan, open letters are a dispiriting business. You’re a very important person whose life’s work is providing a friendly workplace to sexual predators, and I’m the nobody who this news has trickled down to in Chicago, Illinois. It should astound me that nearly everyone in this industry knows the names of at least some of DC’s roster of sexual predators, but it doesn’t, not even a little. The world hasn’t yet heard a full report from the women who have endured sexual assault and harassment during your tenure, but it is my fervent hope that day will come. I would like to hear—finally—what you have to say about it, unless of course you plead the Fifth.

Kim O’Connor