About James

James specialises in digital literary heritage projects. He spends most of his time in front of a computer screen writing about life instead of living it. Therefore, do not trust a word he says.

Changing Minds: Comics and misogyny

Unlearning your behaviour takes a long time. The wiring of our formative years is complex and rigid and untangling all of those assumptions requires lots of strength. Two people who have taken on this challenge to help raise awareness of everyday misogyny are language and criminology experts Louise Mullany (University of Nottingham) and Loretta Trickett (Nottingham Trent university).

In 2020, they approached me to write a script as part of their ‘Changing Minds’ campaign with the hope that it would help start a dialogue about male behaviour and eventually change attitudes towards women.

Their Nottingham Misogyny Hate Crime work has already influenced police and government policy, including the Upskirting Bill. In 2016, Nottinghamshire Police became the first force in the UK to make misogyny a recognised hate crime. The researchers hoped that this would become a national policy but on 28 February, MPs voted to scrap a proposal to make misogyny a hate crime in England and Wales as part of new public order laws.

For ‘Changing Minds’, Mullany and Trickett conducted a survey, focus group and interviews with 679 participants. The participants were asked about their experiences of harassment in Nottingham between April 2016 – March 2018. Their findings included:

  • 94% of respondents had either experienced or witnessed street harassment.

  • 75% of people who experienced street harassment reported that it had a longterm impact on them.

  • Only 7% of victims reported the incident to the police.

  • 94% of people considered street harassment to be a social problem

My job was to take this data and condense the findings into three pages of a comic. The narrative also had to contain a positive message to men to ‘call out’ offensive behaviour; include a diverse range of women; demonstrate how women experience misogyny in a wide variety of settings. This was quite a lot to fit into three pages, but constraint is the essence of creativity.

My solution was to take one statistic from the report and use it as a framing device for each page. This meant that pages could ‘stand alone’ (and be printed out separately) while also providing context for the narrative. Given the density of the research, this helped to split the story into three parts and create a narrative arc.

The script took about five drafts. The main problem was getting the tone right for the intended audience. My usual style of using humour to expose contradictions in human behaviour didn’t work and at times it read like a 70s sitcom. So I opted for a more formal and detached tone.

The commission tied in nicely with Whatever People Say I Am – an online comic serial challenging stereotypes – and so I was happy to be involved. In terms of an artist, I consulted with Steve Larder, who I’d previously worked with on Dawn of the Unread and Whatever People Say I Am, and he suggested Kim Thompson.

I would have loved to have published the comic on the Whatever website but at three pages it was too small and would have looked out of place. The comics in the series also delve deeper into specific lives and Changing Minds was too detached to fit the theme. However, Loretta Trickett was keen to expand on the idea and so we are now working on a longer comic that imagines a safer world for women.

We shared our plans for this during a talk on International Women’s Day. We asked women to share their experiences and running came up quite a lot. There was the fear of running in dark places away from people and the fear of having your movements tracked on running apps. From these conversations I had the idea for a comic where a woman is running and passing a baton to other women. Each person in this chain then tells their story. It was suggested by another participant that a baton could also be viewed as a weapon or for protection – thereby enabling other experiences to be brought in.

It was great weaving together this narrative during our talk as each person shared their experiences. Now the real work starts – lots of coffees and chats with people as we piece together possible stories. Our intended publication date is the end of June – so add on three months at least. If you would like to get involved, please get in contact.

References

All aboard with D.H. Lawrence

On 26 February 1922 Lawrence sailed from Naples aboard the R.M.S Osterley heading towards Ceylon to meet a friend ‘who is taking Buddhism terribly seriously’. As Lawrence was want to do, he had to convince himself he was doing the right thing in leaving the comfort of his home in Sicily. He does this in typically dismissive fashion in a letter to Norman Douglas on 4 March 1922: ‘Thank the Lord I am away from Taormina, that place would have been the death of me after a little while longer’.

His latest sojourn would see him travel at 5mph along the Suez where he would observe palm trees and Arabic men plodding by on camels. This tranquillity contrasted with Mount Sinai which he described in a letter to S.S. Koteliansky on 7 March as ‘like a vengeful dagger that was dipped in blood many years ago, so sharp and defined’.

Lawrence was acutely aware of his immediate environment and had the wonderful ability of being able to see the world from all perspectives. ‘Being at sea is so queer’ he wrote to Rosalind Baynes on 8 March ‘it sort of dissolves for the time being all the connections with the land, and one feels like a sea-bird must feel’.

When the land beckons him to Ceylon, everything appears to be fine in his temporary accommodation at Kandy. On the 24 March he sends his sister Emily a bit of hand-made lace and describes sitting high up on a verandah watching chipmunks and chameleons and lizards. But despite the lovely view, it is so hot he has to wear a sun helmet and white suit. ‘If one moves one sweats’. Lawrence is not very good at sitting still – he will later chastise the buddha for not getting up – and by the 28th March he has confessed to Anna Jenkins that ‘I don’t feel at all myself. Don’t think I care for the east’. By the 30th Robert Pratt Barlow is informed ‘I do think. still more now I am out here, that we make a mistake forsaking England and moving out into the periphery of life. After all, Taormina, Ceylon, Africa, America – as far as we go, they are only the negation of what we ourselves stand for and are: and we’re rather like Jonahs running away from the place we belong’.

Despite this temporary fondness for his country of birth, Lawrence never stopped running. Since his self-imposed exile of 1919 he would continue to big places up, get irritated by them, then move on. How short his life may have been and how little he would have written had he found lasting contentment anywhere.

The D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre, as well as my editorship of the Lawrence Society bulletin, has led me to reading Lawrence’s letters in chronological order so that I can map out what he was doing on each day exactly one century ago. If you would like to join me in this pursuit you need to pick up a copy of the Cambridge edition Volume IV (1921-24). As he dies in 1930, I only have eight years of this pleasure to go.

The contrast of our respective fates has not been lost on me. Lawrence is constantly on the move while I am constantly stationary. Whereas he is on the deck of a ship observing flying fish and black porpoises ‘that run about like frolicsome little black pigs’ I am googling phalluses for artefact three in the memory theatre and scrolling through Instagram wondering why one person got a Gregg’s tattoo on their bum during lockdown and another person had Lawrence’s poem ‘Self Pity’ tattooed on their arm. Something tells me nobody will be looking up this blog on this day in one hundred years time…

An almost identical version of this blog was originally published on The Digital Pilgrimage

Further reading