There is a graphic novel called Whore.

It was Sunday afternoon at C2E2. I was riding high on feminist success, post-panel elation, and cosplay gorgeousness. I was wandering the show floor with friends, peacefully residing in an empowering world of nerd heaven. 

As a result, when I saw this booth, I couldn't believe my eyes. I wasn't really seeing this, right?  

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But it was. In the middle of Chicago's best convention, the same convention that had just given us the space to speak out against sexism, was the world's most blatant example of that very same misogyny. 

Believe it, readers. There is a graphic novel called Whore. And the organizers granted the author/publisher a large, prime-location booth to promote it. I was speechless. 

As if the banner weren't enough, to the left side of the booth there was a cage. Yes, you read that right. A cage. And on the cage was the following: 

Cage Rules 
1. Whore yourself out to us for 20 minutes, and get a free WHORE shirt.  
2. You can't buy one. This is the only way. 
3. We know you want to. 

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Later at home, I did some research. This graphic novel really exists. Written by Jeffrey Kaufman, published by Zenoscope Entertainment. The story centers around Jacob Mars, an utterly immoral assassin and general hit man downsized by the CIA, who will take every and any job he gets, no matter what it requires him to do. One of these jobs involves a Saudi prince, who pays him to get his daughter pregnant so the prince can raise the resulting child to kill Mars. Reviews say that most of the comic involves him having sex, or else killing people so that he can keep earning money to have more extravagant, exploitative sex. The first line of dialogue in the book is as follows: “Listen you soul-sucking bitch… ”

Typing those last words made me unspeakably angry. I guess that it shouldn't have surprised me that a book with such a title had a first sentence like that. But it did. 

I don't have the time or energy or anger to try and deal with all of the issues Whore brings up. So here are some of the more obvious ones:

1. The title. Kaufman claims      that Jacob Mars is the whore of this book, because he's someone who sells      himself and his services for money, to utterly immoral causes. Let's      examine this. This assumes that (a) someone's value is tied to how much      sex they have, (b) women who engage in sex with a number of partners must      be of dubious morality, (c) every woman who provides sexually-related      services for money is immoral, and (d) sex, for women, is equivalent to      murder, or worse.

The argument that it was meant to serve as a nickname for an utterly immoral assassin is baseless and bullshit. Kaufman knew full well what he was titling his novel. And he knew full well it was a problem. 

2. The cover.  Just like the title, it is not about      Jacob Mars. At all. It is about the three naked women who are featured.      Jacob Mars sits on one of them, and the other two are draped sexily over      his shoulders. In other words, the women in this cover are furniture. They      are decoration. They do not matter, and they never will. The book is about      Mars, so there is no good reason to have three naked women on the cover,      other than "sex sells"--which is the worst excuse I've heard for      anything this century. The man with the gun is incidental on this page--if      he was photoshopped off, it wouldn’t change a whole lot--and yet he's      still clearly in a position of power. 

How's that for utter submission to patriarchy. 

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And here's the clincher: there have been a few online debates about this before. And the author, Kaufman, doesn't even seem to notice that he's done anything at all sexist. He cites the pretty traditional debates we've all come to expect: he has female readers, the cover drawing was done from an actual photo so "at least we didn't over emphasize certain female parts." Oh, and he killed more characters in his previous graphic novel . So apparently that makes it okay that there are less deaths, and more sex scenes, and three naked women being used as furniture on his cover.

This isn't just about the title, or about the cover. It's not even just about the novel in general. It's about a society and culture that lets Kaufman (a) think this idea was not only a good one, but a permissive one, and (b) get away with it. How many times have you heard the word "whore" flung around to describe someone who was not a sex worker? Pretty frequently, unfortunately, and it's usually used to describe any woman who has sex with more than one partner, who is open about her sexuality, or who enjoys and takes pride in her sexual activity. And that's just wrong.

This doesn't just affect sex workers. Not that it should affect them, at all. To be clear, I don't approve of the term whore in any context. If you're referring to someone who works in a trade where sex is exchanged for money, the correct term would be prostitute. To examine why Kaufman hasn't titled his graphic novel "Prostitute" would be another article in itself. The short answer comes down to the word "whore" being more catchy, and more disparaging, so we'll just stick with that, for I have digressed long enough.

Covers and titles and graphic novels like this affect each and every woman who lives under the patriarchy--ie, all of us. When one person--man or woman--gets away with calling a woman a whore, that sends the message that he can do it again. When a writer like Kaufman gets away with calling a mainstream graphic novel Whore, he's likely to do something like it again. He's said that he wanted to up the ante from his last work. Apparently that means being more misogynist. He's also said that he loved writing Mars as a character, and he empathized with him. And then he said this:

More women go Michael [Weston, from Burn Notice] is cute but this Mars guy…he’s terrible. We like him. People are going to say that he’s misogynistic, but I do let the women kick the crap out of him at the end. And that’s what I think the important thing is.
— Jeffrey Kaufman

Oh, I get it. So as long as some women injure a man, once, then every woman who was ever impacted by his misogyny has suddenly been brought to justice. Wrong. So many times wrong. Having that character meet a bad end does never, EVER justify the utterly sexist beliefs that that character brought to bear on the fictional world. And that character's end fate does not, in any way, excuse Kaufman from every horribly sexist assumption that he made, and therefore possible acts that he licensed, by writing and publishing this graphic novel.

When I walked up to that booth at C2E2 to take the second picture, featuring the cage, I was noticed by the man standing there, presumably Kaufman. I took the picture, and moved back to my group of friends, so I was luckily out of earshot by the time he started talking to me/about me, his finger pointing straight at me standing in the middle of aisle, his face hateful. I didn't need to hear what he was saying to get the gist of what he thought of me.

It would be easy to dismiss Kaufman as a crazy misogynist. But I can't. Because he's not the only one. His friends, his artist, his publisher, even the staff at C2E2--all approved of his cover and his title. Granted, his publisher has taken their name off the cover and stopped promoting it, and a few stores are refusing to stock it. But it's still here. And still at my con. I've seen enormous amounts of sexualization of women at cons. But never something quite as horrible as this. The patriarchy--in the guise of Kaufman--is invading my space--my safe, wonderful, supported space. And I will not let that happen.