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09 June 2011 @ 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.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comments.
junnightsjunnights on June 9th, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC)
Wince - sounds awful - can believe that they're that sexist - STILL!... it should be more about 'customer! - help buy lots so she'll return to buy more' than 'Woman! - ignore or risk getting cooties!'...

Just glad I never truly started reading comic... O_O

- a fellow woman

... just wish that true equality between sexes was more than spoken words.
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
I hear that there are places - even comic book stores! - where women are treated just like ordinary customers. It's kind of sad that that's a major selling point for them, though. "Come visit us! We'll act like you're human!"
Thornthornsilver on June 9th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)
I didn't have this kind of experience in the comic book store near my job, but I had this experience in the gaming store near my job. While I was browsing around the counter guy looked at me like I was going to possibly turn into a human eating monster if he was not looking. Seriously, obviously the nearly completely empty store did not need my money at all.
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 03:17 am (UTC)

But, hey, obviously they were better off without your pink-stained money!
Smitty: Girls Rulesmittywing on June 9th, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)
Ugh ugh ugh. This is epic levels of fail. I have been fortunate enough to have had a "home" comic book store that was the exact opposite of this. It was in a college town and it was owned by a gentleman in his thirties who worked for and purchased it from the previous owner. This gentleman had a wife who was also a comics fan, and she often worked in the store. (Their daughter was named Aeryn, after the Farscape character, which gives you an idea of how awesome they are.) Not only was I welcomed, treated like a customer, and even as a friend, they also went out of their way to ask my opinion on various storylines and co-opted me to explain storylines on books they didn't keep up with or recommend good starting comics or expansion comics to women who walked into the store. In addition to that, Joe once busted out his Friends of Lulu pamphlet on making comic book stores female-friendly and asked me to evaluated his efforts. He had kiddie comics in the front with toys and a little table and chairs for younger audiences (I do have to agree that one is never too young for comic books! although I probably should have been older than seven when I got that X-Men one with Rachael Summers in the dominatrix outfit) and the giant boobies are pushed back toward the cordoned-off adults-only room.

In the interest of full disclosure, Joe did admit that they put the Sandman trades on a higher shelf so the undergrads taking the English Lit course on graphic novels would have to either stretch or ask for help. No one's perfect. :P

So yeah. I am so sorry your comic book store experiences still suck. If you are ever in Delaware, let me know and I will drive up and meet you and introduce you to the best comic store ever. It makes me sad that they are the exception and not the rule, because even though I haven't really read them in several years, I love comics and I love superheroes and it's so so hard to be feminist and enjoy comics as a hobby without the dichotomy bringing about head explosion.

tried to eat the safe banana: Big eyesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 03:25 am (UTC)
Wow. I would love to visit that comic book store. Child friendliness! Limited giant boobs! (I actually cut from this essay, since it is already too long, a side note about another comic book store I used to live near, which advertised its presence with a statue of Leia outside. Except they modified her white outfit to be sexy - slit all the way up both sides, and with a bra instead of, you know, the actual top. I never bothered going in there.) Tormenting of undergraduates! Sounds awesome.
(no subject) - raisintorte on June 16th, 2011 02:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
Perri: dw wtf roseneonhummingbird on June 9th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
Huh. It's fascinating -- and depressing -- to read this, and realize that my experience 15 years ago was so antithetical. I remember being one of only 5 women, on average, at the comic cons I went to, and getting quite a lot of attention from the men I interacted with. At the small comic store I frequented in college, I was quite good buddies with the counter guy and his best friend. They were both genuinely nice guys, darlings really -- and they were both in their 20s, and had apparently figured out that "girl who likes comics" = "my best chance of getting laid". And it honestly baffles me that you apparently kept finding comic book store guys who hadn't yet made that connection.

(I'm not saying the possibility of getting laid is the only reason for guys to treat women like they're, you know, people and/or paying customers. Because that's stupid and annoying. But as a guy motive, it's often compelling....)
tried to eat the safe banana: Elektra is angrythefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 03:28 am (UTC)
I have to assume that the stores I visited 15 years ago were manned (and I use that term advisedly) entirely by persons uninterested in women on any level - conversational, economical, sexual. It's a mystery how they managed to FIND that many guys like that.
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 03:31 am (UTC)
I cheer for your comic book store! And, uh, sorry about the sports thing. (I have minimal interest in team sports, but I am always willing to talk about them. I love hearing about things other people find interesting.)
shayheyredshayheyred on June 9th, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
You said it, Shay.
the pirate queen of norwayashkitty on June 9th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
Wow. That's pretty horrible. I've been to a lot of comic stores in three different countries, and in all but one, there were guys tripping over themselves to show me stuff. (The one exception was in Portland, and staffed by a girl with pink hair and a nose ring who I would have loved to talk to, but oh well.) The same happened in gaming stores (often the same places, admittedly), but on a bigger scale--I just wanted to go in, buy my miniatures and a magazine or two and leave, but there was usually somebody who felt the need to tell me all about how their 18th level paladin killed Tiamat or something.
tried to eat the safe banana: Big eyesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 05:58 am (UTC)
Oh man. I will confess to kind of secretly loving the "Let me tell you about this one campaign we had this one time" conversations. I love hearing how other people play, what modifications to the rules they use and so on. But, really, that kind of conversation should require advance consent, because for so many people it is the ESSENCE of boring. Even for people who do RPGs, it's incredibly dull.

I have also had the guys tripping over themselves to show me stuff reaction. Overall, it bothers me less, although of course for other people that might not be true. But, really, what I would like is to be treated like a human being. Not the Girl in the [Comics, Gaming, Etc.] Shop.
(no subject) - ashkitty on June 10th, 2011 11:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
whipsy: *facepalm*whipsy on June 9th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
Ugh, horrible and frustrating! Had the same experience, down to my son being addressed and not me. We don't frequent that particular comic book store anymore, but have found one that's the complete opposite! =)
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 06:01 am (UTC)
My sympathies! Obviously! I'm glad you found a store that works for you, and I'm sort of hoping I can do the same.
Proactively Untwist Octagonal Hippopotamus Pants: kestreldramaturgca on June 9th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
My comic book store in Canada was awesome. (There were three in a row, one of the "ew girls" variety, one of the "give us your money" variety, and one small awesome really friendly variety.

Unfortunately, the one closest to my house here is of the "OMG GIRL WHAT DO I DOOOOOOOO?!?!?!?!" variety. :( I'm going to a thing at Meltdown in Hollywood on Sunday and I'm hoping that they will prove non-stupid.
Spectacles H. Decolonizinglolaraincoat on June 10th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC)
You aren't, by any chance, talking about Toronto?
(no subject) - dramaturgca on June 10th, 2011 12:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lolaraincoat on June 10th, 2011 12:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - foi_nefaste on June 10th, 2011 02:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lolaraincoat on June 10th, 2011 02:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ide_cyan on June 10th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dramaturgca on June 10th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Adinaadina_atl on June 9th, 2011 11:44 pm (UTC)
I only have experience with two comic book stores, but both of mine have been positive. The one twenty years ago was more than willing to take my money (less willing to give me money for some old ones I wanted to get rid of *grin*, but still friendly and helpful about it). Most of my questions were of the "Has issue [X] of [Y] arrived yet?" but they always got answered and the owner seemed to remember me from visit to visit. The more recent one is owned by a woman, but quite frankly she's one of the most abrasive and least helpful of the staff--but as far as I can tell, she's as abrasive to guys as to women. The other employees, both male and female, have been universally helpful and non-condescending. Other than the store cat, of course, who is *always* condescending--and usually sleeping on the box you want to look at.

I'm sorry your experiences have been so negative. I wouldn't think that Michigan and Ohio would be hot-beds of comic book egalitarianism! Both my experiences were in college towns, though. Maybe that makes a difference?
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
College towns do help! Also, I think, it may just be random luck. I looked at the Yelp reviews of the one I went to when I got home; if I'd done that before going, I never would have.

I'm glad you've had such great comic book store experiences, though.
A pink plastic crypt that fits in your palm: Blood Ties [Vicki/sword]fiveforsilver on June 9th, 2011 11:54 pm (UTC)
So I've never been dismissed as a customer (no, I probably have, I just don't remember offhand), but I went to a science fiction book club with a guy I was dating (which was of course almost entirely men) and they all thought that I was just there to hang out with my boyfriend. Like, they reassured me that I didn't have to read the books, there was always a lot of non-book-conversation.

Thanks, but I read almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. They didn't even ask, they just assumed.
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 04:09 pm (UTC)
Yeeesh. Girls like books, too! Even SPECULATIVE FICTION BOOKS, sometimes! Arg.
(no subject) - fiveforsilver on June 10th, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
JaneDavittjanedavitt on June 9th, 2011 11:59 pm (UTC)
Oh my gosh. I've never had that experience. We all, as a family, went into two comic stores in London (Ontario) a month or so back and the men owning them were very chatty and friendly to me and Eleanor, fetching stuff from the back when she said what she was into, suggesting alternatives.

It sucks that you had that experience ::hugs::

Maybe it's Canada :-)
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Possibly! Although I am hearing (on DW) about some bad comics stores in Canada. It's a sad day when even Canada is not immune. But I'm glad you've had excellent experiences. That is how it should always be.
winter_elf: Not Normal-Danielwinter_elf on June 10th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
My local comic book store - the counter person was a girl (who was a Buffy fan) and we always chatted and I was never ignored. Unfortunately, this shop closed and I haven't been able to find one I like since. I tried one, and it was all superhero type comics, when I like more independent stuff, so I haven't been back.

I guess that's why I like Comic Con so much - and crawling the 'independent' comic book row. Often you can't get them to STOP talking to you, and you feel guilty for not buying a book.
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, Comic Con. To me that sounds like a world of Too Many People. But I love looking at the pictures and seeing all the various people who are into comics. (And so many of them have such amazing sewing skills.) I admit I'm a little surprised that so many geeks go to Comic Con and then come back to their stores and continue to believe that only guys are into comics. A mystery!
Minim Calibreminim_calibre on June 10th, 2011 12:06 am (UTC)
The comic book store I shopped at was so girl-friendly that I kept my pulls for YEARS after comics and I were On a Break.

Other ones... Yeah. No.
tried to eat the safe banana: Batman in the spotlightthefourthvine on June 10th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC)
Yay for the girl-friendly one, though! *focuses on the positive*
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on June 12th, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
For me, the over-solicitous shop guy was much more likely to happen in a video game store. "HI I CAN POINT YOU TO ALL THE FARMING SIMS." (I do actually like farming sims. I just also like other games, dude.) "WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO TELL YOU ABOUT MY WARCRAFT CHARACTER?" (No.) "LET'S TALK AT LENGTH WHILE I STAND TOO CLOSE TO YOU!" (No.) Apparently comics stores hire that same guy! He gets around.

And, man: Hi, you're a girl! Obviously you need some ROMANCE in your comics! (I sincerely hope sweetestdrain said, "Actually, I wanted Captain America. Later, I plan to write about Cap and Iron Man fucking.")

I cheer for your favorite shops, though!