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.
aris_tgd: Personal avatar Phumiko (Default)

[personal profile] aris_tgd 2011-06-09 11:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Can I pass this onto my friends who are more into comics and feminism than I am? (I am into feminism, but not so much comic books--or rather, comic book shops.) I think they would find it relevant to their interests.
helens78: A man in a leather jacket, seated on the ground, looks up hopefully. (Default)

[personal profile] helens78 2011-06-09 11:12 pm (UTC)(link)
ARGH!!!!!! That is just appalling. *hugs you*
marina: (Default)

[personal profile] marina 2011-06-09 11:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow. That is an IMPRESSIVE level of fail. I've been to the few comic book stores we have around here, and I've always been treated with courtesy and given attention like I'm a real customer and honestly I never paid much attention to stories of comic book stores not being friendly to girls when I read them online because well, surely it was just that one store or that one asshole or whatever.

But damn. No words for how messed up that is.
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)

[personal profile] melannen 2011-06-09 11:16 pm (UTC)(link)
I am occasionally reminded of how lucky I am that the first comic book store I ever bought something at had a woman behind the counter (and as manager.)

Then I remember that actually I'd previously attempted to buy comics at other stores and felt too unwelcome to actually go up to the counter or touch anything...
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (Default)

[personal profile] ilyena_sylph 2011-06-09 11:19 pm (UTC)(link)
*shakes head*

That is an awful level of fail. I mean, my comic guys have never...

Not the Magic Shop, not Rock Bottom, not Pair-a-Dice Hobbies...

That is not to say I don't believe you, I do! I just... wow. So different than my experience.
out_there: Perfect reaction to so much of the internet (Scrubs: Aaaah! by Oxoniensis)

[personal profile] out_there 2011-06-09 11:27 pm (UTC)(link)
I think in my comic book days (read: 14-16 y.o, where 91% of my monthly allowance went on X-Men titles, and yes, Rogue was awesome and totally my favourite), I was young and quiet enough that I didn't mind being overlooked a little. Not that comic store guys were ever outright rude enough to ignore direct questions -- they were polite when serving me, but I never really asked any questions -- but comics stores remain one of those places where I can wander in, browse, and very rarely get asked if I need assistance. It's great for window shopping when you don't want to be disturbed.

But you're right about hardware stores. For something with a history of being "typically male" oriented, hardware stores today aren't biased against female shoppers. The assistants are just as willing to help a woman find where the 3/4 brass screws are and, oh, have you got this drill bit because it will make that job easier, and all of the helpful, friendly service that results in me always spending more than intended.

But comic book stores that approach the Earthling as the only shopper worth paying attention to? Short-sighted to the extreme. (And it's that basic underlying bias, isn't it? The idea that if you're a girl, you can't really be a comics geek. *rolls eyes*)
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.
lolaraincoat: (feminist)

[personal profile] lolaraincoat 2011-06-09 11:28 pm (UTC)(link)
You know, if you wanted to dead-tree-publish this, I bet The Comic Book Journal would be happy to take it.

And yeah, that is just about exactly my experience too. And I used to go to comic book stores in Manhattan, for fucks sake - not Manhattan, Kansas, but New York City. Downtown, even! And I was studying cartooning at the time! (And I was one of maybe three women, other than the teacher's pregnant wife, in a packed 200-seat lecture hall at the School of Visual Arts for a course in comics history, and the prof [famous comix guy Art Speigelman!] explained the Massive Breast in Comics phenomenon, when I asked, as follows: "see, readers have to be able to see who the man is in the scene right away and since superheroes don't wear skirts, well..." but that's another story and not at all relevant, right?)

There's a terrific world-famous comic book store where I live now which I will only enter with backup (it's harder to ignore three women than one, because we can loudly make remarks like "huh, I wonder if everything in here is free? Cause there's nobody at the register") but I prefer the struggling little store down the block with much less cool stuff in it but where the nice couple whose store it is both want to talk (and talk and talk) to anyone who walks into the place. Also they have an especially nice toddler who is learning to draw. It's a completely different experience and not one that I've had often in visiting comic book stores in seven countries on three continents for three decades.

Sorry to rant at such length. It's just, yeah, that's my experience too, and I love comics and it makes me insane with frustration and rage.

[identity profile] 2011-06-09 11:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow, my random comic book store visits weren't that bad... I think it's also because I visited a store that half concentrated on manga and Japanese related items too. They were helpful when I asked them questions. I guess it's either a hit and miss for many stores and that's definitely a shame. I hope that you keep trying and maybe find a gem out there!
neotoma: Lego Vader facepalms (Vader Facepalm)

[personal profile] neotoma 2011-06-09 11:43 pm (UTC)(link)
GAH! Yeah... I'm not actually shocked, more is the pity.

Locally, I know of a few good comic shops -- where there are women behind the register and everything! -- but I also know of one where I could walk in the door, browse the stacks for 15 to 30 minutes and never be approached by staff. It's kind of depressing that it exists, especially when there are nearby bookstores that stock the graphic novels I buy as well, and *their* salespeople are certainly eager to help me find stuff and take my money.

As to the women-as-plot-device storyline... well, there's a reason why the Women in Refrigerators site was created. And why Stuffed Into the Fridge is a huge entry on TvTropes. [Trigger warning -- lists of sometimes gruesome deaths of female and supporting character]

On the upside to being a female comics fan, however, I live close enough to attend Small Press Expo every year, where I get to see a plethora of comics other than superhero comics -- like Finder (gorgeous SF comic by Carla Speed McNeil) and Owly (adorable all-ages book, Earthling could read it to *you*) and Kate Beaton [ profile] beatonna of Hark, a Vagrant, and G.T. Labs, publisher of Dignifying Science and Two-Fisted Science, who gave me a copy the autobiography of Charles Knight when I basically bought his entire list the first time I went to SPX, and talked with me about dinosaurs for the better part of an hour. There's some really neat stuff happening in the small press world -- sadly, not a lot of it is trickling up into the Big Two.
laurashapiro: Aeryn Sun looking pissed off (frell)

[personal profile] laurashapiro 2011-06-09 11:45 pm (UTC)(link)
OMG that is so fucking fucked. Poor Earthling, poor you, fucking comic store guy...just...RAEG.
ratcreature: Say no to creatures (& women) in refrigerators. (refrigerator)

[personal profile] ratcreature 2011-06-09 11:48 pm (UTC)(link)
I've had comic store experiences like that. I once went to a store with irregular opening hours announced on the door that then weren't even correct, so I had to come back a second time, and the store was in a side street, in a basement, and I had to climb down a narrow stair partially blocked by some boxes, and then climb over a dog, but the comic store guy somehow still assumed I had wandered in there accidentally, and was disbelieving when I asked where the Batman back issues were. Incidentally he couldn't even let me browse, because the boxes were just then blocked by some more boxes, and he didn't want to rearrange them just for me. I ended up ordering the back issues I was looking for on an internet store...

My regular comic book store isn't like that though, maybe because it is co-owned by a m/f couple, and other women work there too.
reflectedeve: Pearl from Steven Universe, in a tux and top hat (male gaze - feminist criticism - reversa)

[personal profile] reflectedeve 2011-06-09 11:49 pm (UTC)(link)
Ugh, god, I'm so sorry. I haven't been into a bad comic shop in years - I'm blessed to have several great ones in the city where I currently live, and in the places I visit most often. I'm so lucky. But I grew up with that, and I remember what it was like. In the first shop I ever frequented, the guys who worked there only spoke to me when they'd occasionally yell at me for reading too long without buying first.

It maddens me every time I see a story like this. For years, the only female friends I had who'd read comics only got into them through my (sometimes aggressive) recommendations. I'm getting ready to go to school for cartooning myself (very indie-focused), and I know that my class is going to be full of women ... the parts of the indie scene I'm familiar with is, more and more, these days. Which is great! But it just makes the absurd backwardness of the mainstream (represented by, say, the DC editorial offices - or shops like that one) that much more bizarre and rage-inducing.
sage: Still of Natasha Romanova from Iron Man 2 (girlwonder)

[personal profile] sage 2011-06-09 11:53 pm (UTC)(link)
You make me miss the store I used to run. We were the most female-friendly and queer-friendly store in the city, and I made sure the guys bent over backwards to *listen* to what the women customers wanted and then recommend appropriately. Granted, I ran the place more like a bar than anything, with people bellied up to the counter happily arguing storylines and characters, but it was full of good camaraderie and customers of multiple genders, ages, and orientations.

I will say, though, that kids made me crazy because they inevitably trashed the books if let out of their parents' grasp. (See the comics section of any Borders.) I would chat up moms about what their kids MIGHT like...and then I would get really, really bite-my-tongue angry at dads for letting their 9 year old sons read "Punisher".

That said, I've had both good and bad experiences in stores run by guys -- but the more positive ones were in stores that were more geared towards games and had comics on the side. The worse experiences were much like yours, and each time I left my books on the counter after minutes of being ignored and walked out.
foursweatervests: Natasha, hidden (scrubs scream)

[personal profile] foursweatervests 2011-06-09 11:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, that just made me really sad. I've never had a problem in a comic book shop, but that might have something to do with the fact that the only ones I frequent are right around a very nerdy women's college, so I think they were probably pretty used to women. This actually reminds me of helping my mother buy a car earlier this year... Not the most pleasant experience ever.
pentapus: (Default)

[personal profile] pentapus 2011-06-09 11:58 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm sorry to hear about your bad experience in comic book stores. That is enormously lame. >:( When I was in high school and undergrad, I kept coming across the cliche "Wow, a girl who reads comics!" (as seen in various fictional mediums or mentioned by real, live men) and my first reaction would be, "I'm so confused. The only people I know who read comics are girls." Though I had the benefit of an older sister who walks into comic book stores like she owns the place, buys literally every single issue she likes the look of, and then engages the staff in conversation whether they want to or not.
wrabbit: (bb: bang bang)

[personal profile] wrabbit 2011-06-09 11:59 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm constantly surprised by how unbelievable people can be.
bethany_lauren: (bovina sancta!)

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[personal profile] bethany_lauren 2011-06-10 12:01 am (UTC)(link)
Wow. That's I mean I can believe it but ouch. And now I'm even more appreciative that the guys and awesome chick that run mine are excited and happy enough for customers that they called me by name the second time I went in. I was so excited that they bothered to remember my name that I've never bothered going anywhere else, even after I moved and it's not the closest one anymore.

stasia: (Default)

[personal profile] stasia 2011-06-10 12:07 am (UTC)(link)
One of the reasons I'm happy to be Not With My Ex is that he didn't believe me that this happened. See, he was a comics guy, so when we were in comic shops together, of course we all got attention - I was with him. Also, we did (at first) frequent his "local" comic shop, so if I did go without him, I had a "ghost" him that they could perceive.

He was great about noticing racism, but flat out refused to believe in sexism. *sigh* Whattaguy.

I'm sorry your recent foray back into comic shops was such a FAILTASTIC experience. And poor Earthling, being hounded like that by such a jerk of a clerk.

staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

[personal profile] staranise 2011-06-10 12:11 am (UTC)(link)
Ugh, that sounds terrible. I had a really good experience when I was a comic-reader--the younger fanboy who ran the till of the local shop tried to tell me "Uh, the manga are on the other side of the store" but his boss facepalmed at him and talked to me like a real human being. I had a good run of six or eight months where I was in there every week or two, and then I discovered that Joe Quesada literally turned my favourite character into a crackwhore and gave up.

[personal profile] tevere 2011-06-10 12:20 am (UTC)(link)
Oh man. You'd think some things would've had to have changed, but, uh. Apparently not, huh?

For myself, I've discovered the hard way that there are two broad categories of gender-fail locations:

(a) Where people who are not men are invisible; and
(b) Where people who are not men are patronised and demeaned.

The former: the comic book store, certain Important Meetings, hotels in the more conservative of the world's countries.

The latter: car dealerships, car repair places, bicycle stores selling any kind of bike over $1000, any place dealing with motorcycles, technical book stores.

Each has the potential to enrage in its own special way!
dreamatdrew: Spider Jerusalem's shades (sort of) with the text "I hate it here" hovering above (ihateithere)

[personal profile] dreamatdrew 2011-06-10 12:24 am (UTC)(link)
This comment is a placeholder for violent co-rage at being the wrong gender to even remotely be possibly interested in what a store sells. Intelligent discourse not possible. Please pass the booze.

(To clarify, it apparently shocks the hell out of some people that a guy could possibly be looking for a G afghan hook or stitchmarkers.)
Edited (Clarification) 2011-06-10 00:27 (UTC)

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