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.