thefourthvine: Batgirl looking thoughtful.  (Batgirl in glasses)
Keep Hoping Machine Running ([personal profile] thefourthvine) wrote2011-06-09 03:56 pm

The Women Men Won't See

My boyfriend for the first part of my college career was a comic book collector, which meant that he had three billion carefully stored comic books, all of which had to be read with the same care you'd use when handling the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, and then replaced in their individual plastic sleeves and their specific spot in their long boxes. (There was a special technique for getting them into the boxes undamaged.) He was extremely anxious for me to share his interest in comic books, and he spent a fair amount of time telling me about them, giving me important ones to read, and, of course, taking me to comic book shops.

Because he was a collector, he was well known to the comic book shop owners (I believe they gave little cries of joy when they saw him coming), and I was introduced as his girlfriend and welcomed into the fold. I spent a lot of time browsing at random while he chatted with the guys behind the counter, and I was young enough that it didn't occur to me that it might be significant that it was always, always guys behind the counter.

At that age, I was an easy sell on basically any story you cared to show me. I was happy to have new things to read. And I grew to love the comic books themselves, and especially the characters in them. My boyfriend didn't have a clue how to sell me on comic books - really, he should have pointed to two guys and used the words "unresolved sexual tension" and that would have done it - but he did pay attention to what I responded to. I loved Rogue. She was exactly the right character for an angsty sixteen-year-old girl. In particular, I obsessively read the issue in which she's trapped in her own brain; in there, it's strongly implied (or possibly outright stated; this was a long time ago, after all) that she's been raped. I loved that - Rogue had been raped, some time in her past, and she'd certainly made mistakes, but she was still tough, still on the team, still saving people. "Fucked up but strong" pretty much describes the Rogue characterization of the time, and that was exactly what I wanted from my female characters. I was fucked up, and I wanted to be strong, and there was Rogue, being my wish fulfillment in spandex.

My boyfriend assumed it was the rape itself that interested me, and offered more books featuring women being raped or abused. Since they weren't the heroes, and it wasn't about them getting over it - they were being rescued, or, you know, not being rescued - it didn't interest me. But I liked that he tried. And I was young enough that it didn't occur to me that it might be significant that he could find so many plotlines about women being raped or abused, and that all of them were told in precisely the way guaranteed to turn me off.

So, you know how it goes: we broke up. I ended up with Best Beloved, the woman I'm still married to. And I didn't realize it right away, but comic books were one of the things I lost in the divorce.

No, not the actual books themselves; I kept the ones that were mine, and in fact I still have them, five moves later. Not even the mutual interest in them - Best Beloved was a comic book reader, too, until she had so many series cut off from underneath her that she gave up and turned to things less likely to destroy her loves, like, you know, Fox. What I lost was my pass into the world of comic books.

The first time I tried to go into a comic book store without my boyfriend, I discovered that I had a superpower in the comic book world. I was invisible. I could not get anyone to acknowledge that I existed. There were guys behind the counter, yes, but they kept up their argument about Green Lantern while I stood in front of them. I had to interrupt, finally, to ask my question, and then I discovered my second superpower: I had a wall of silence surrounding me. They exchanged glances, gestured vaguely to the back of the store, and went right back to their argument. I left without finding the book I'd come for, but that's just as well; I don't think, based on future experiences, I could have gotten them to take my money if I'd found it.

I thought it was just that comic book store. Then I thought it was just that one and the next one, the one where I discovered that I could not force my money into the hands of the guy behind the counter; he walked away from the register when I approached with books in hand, then disappeared into the back of the store for, apparently, eternity. It was crazy; it was like I'd gone back in time a hundred years, and they still had Wolverine everywhere.

In the third store where my new superpowers came into play, I had what was, at that time in my life, an unaccustomed thought. Why am I doing this? I should not have to beg people to take my money.

I realized I didn't want to have to force my way in through doors that had "NO GIRLZ ALOWD" signs on them, doors I apparently needed a male escort to get through. I loved comic books, but I didn't love them enough to put up with that shit. So I didn't. And eventually I didn't love comic books anymore, either.

But that was more than fifteen years ago. Things have changed. I've seen the campaigns online. I've seen the maps of girl-friendly comic book stores. (Although, seriously, just that these exist is an indication of a major problem in the industry; you don't see maps of girl-friendly hardware stores, for example, because all hardware stores are girl-friendly. They employ women! They take our money! They provide us with non-condescending advice! They have gloves in our size! At least all the ones I've been in, and I'm a homeowner, so you can see that I spend a lot of time in hardware stores. The question isn't, "Which hardware store will treat me like a person despite my gender?" It's, "Which hardware store is closest to my house and stocks the items I need?" If you have to ask the former question, there is a big problem.) I've even read articles about how to get girls into your comic book shop, so clearly owners now understand that accepting money from only a fraction of the people interested in giving it to you is not always the world's most successful business strategy.

That's why, yesterday, I decided to stop into a comic book store. Totally on a whim. Just to see what it's like in there these days, how things have changed since the days of dialup. I thought I might want to get something with Oracle in it, to remember her by.

I walked in towing my unwilling three-year-old son, who had already come to the conclusion that this was a destination unlikely to have any trucks or Pigeon books in it, and therefore did not wish to go in. I blinked, letting my eyes adjust, and, man, comic book store interiors really haven't changed that much. I mean, the posters have - I think they've developed new breast enlarging technology, for starters, and it's not like the breasts were small before - but the interiors are still exactly the same.

"Hi!" the guy behind the counter said in cheerful tones, and I thought: But they have changed where it really matters.

Except he wasn't looking at me. He was looking at my son, who was clinging to my leg. "What can I find for you today?" he asked him. "Spiderman? Superman? Toys?"

"We're here for me," I said. "He's too young for comic books."

"You're never too young for comic books!" he said, still exclusively addressing the earthling. "I bet you like superheroes, huh?" (He doesn't.)

The earthling, apparently feeling threatened, asked to be picked up. I eavesdropped on a few more minutes of conversation that didn't involve me, even though I was the only member of my party willing to talk, and then I left. I pretty much had to; the earthling, distressed by this onslaught of talking despite all his Mama's attempts to redirect the conversation, had his face buried in my neck and was saying, "All done, all done, go home now?" very quietly into my ear. But in the time I was in the store, not one single word was addressed to me, let alone enough words to ask me, say, if there was anything I needed help finding. The guy never even looked at me. I was still invisible.

The only thing that's changed in fifteen years, apparently, is that I gave birth to someone who can be my passport into comic book stores. Except he doesn't want to be, and I don't want him to have to be, so that isn't going to work so well. I'm going to have to remember Oracle with icons and scans and fan fiction, instead of something that costs actual money.

But, hey, reboots happen regularly, and I'm sure Oracle will be coming around again. Eventually. So I'll see you in another decade or so, comic book store guys! In the meantime, thanks for keeping my money in my purse, where it belongs.
st_aurafina: Rainbow DNA (Default)

[personal profile] st_aurafina 2011-06-09 11:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Yep. That's about how it goes. *is not bitter in the slightest about this*

This is why I mail-order. (Well, this, and the fact that I live four hours from the nearest comicbook store.) With mail order, I get exactly what I want, based on reviews by people I respect. With mail order, they miss out on add-on sales and the things that might catch my eye on the shelf, but that's their problem. I have enough to read.

And our store isn't even that awful - the guys know us by now from our occasional drop ins, and don't ignore us especially. And I'm lucky in that [personal profile] lilacsigil is an encyclopaedia of comics canon, and I've never had to ask for help from the counter finding things. But that's taken twenty years of contact - twenty years, and the best thing I have to say is that the staff don't react particularly aggressively towards us while we fend for ourselves in their shop.

And there's still this atmosphere when we walk in the door. No, actually, it's more like a miasma. I know full well we're not the real customers.