Thursday, May 24, 2007

It's Hard Out Here for a Fangirl

I know that a lot of different people read my blog - people that don't always agree with each other and people that don't always agree with me. So, I try to keep my blog light and fun for the most part, discussing a variety of pop-culture and comic topics, with some glimpses of what it's like to be a comic book retailer thrown in for fun. Occasionally I'll get into topics that are a little stronger and more opinionated - like feminism. With the whole Sideshow's Mary Jane statue flap of late, it seems like the lines have really been drawn and that girls who read comics have started to talk more about what is happening, and what they'd like to see happen, in the genre of superhero comics.

People might not realize it, but it's hard out here for a fangirl! Take, for example, the experience KellyAnn had in the store the other day. A young girl comes into the store with her dad and tells him how she would rather have the Teen Titans Go! comic over the Barbie comic. Now, KellyAnn doesn't say if dad encouraged the Barbie comic over Teen Titans Go!, but one could assume that he at least pointed it out to her - encouraging the young girl to go with the more traditional Barbie over a superhero comic book.

Another in-store example: A mom walks into the store with her son and her daughter. The son is around 10 and the girl around 7. She shows the boy our all-age section and tells him to pick something out. He excitedly looks around. The daughter begs and begs to look too, but mom says, "there's nothing in here for girls, Honey." I walk over and show the mom a couple of things for girls. (I make sure we are fairly well stocked in the all-age section with books that would appeal to young girls and not just Marvel Adventures and Archie.) The mom just kind of shakes her head at me and tells her son to hurry up and pick something because they're going to go to KMart (across the street) so his sister can get something and then they've got to get home.

A third in-store example: We have had a young girl come in here ever since we opened. She was probably around 10 then, and is 13 now. Her and her cousin both enjoyed reading the Teen Titans Go! comics a couple of years ago, and even had a drawing they did together end up in the back of one of the TTG issues. This girl would come in every couple of weeks, on her bike or with her dad, to spend some of her hard-earned newspaper delivery money on comics. A few months ago her dad came in without her to look around for a gift. He mentioned that the girls cousin, the same one that did the TTG drawing a couple of years ago, no longer read comics, unlike his daughter who still comes in and buys comics here. His daughter's cousin was having a sleepover and told his daughter (the one that shops here) that she couldn't bring her comics because it was too embarrassing. I guess comic books are not widely accepted in middle schools among groups of girls.

On occasion I will run into a gal from my past - from before I owned the store. Maybe high school or college. They'll ask me what I'm doing now and when I say I own a comic book store they usually say, "What?" Then, when I repeat myself her eyes will glaze over. Or, to try to seem interested, she'll say something like, "yeah, my brother used to have a bunch of those comics around." or "My dad said he used to have some old Superman comics." But there has never been any excitement - not for my owning my own business or for the fact that it is a comic book business. It's like the very mention of comics has them so uninterested they just can't muster up any enthusiasm. Sometimes shock, where she'll say, "comics?" or "oh, your husband must like comics, how nice of you to help out." Sure, it was his idea to open a comic book store. And no, I hadn't read many comics before this. But I never had any problem with people who DID and now that I do own a store I read them all the time.

Here's another point that I borrowed from a couple of blogs I've read recently - if a man walked into a store that had pictures of nearly naked men wrestling around with each other, toys of half naked men, and t-shirts that had pictures of half naked men in costumes on them - they probably wouldn't come back to that store. But somehow women are supposed to simply accept images of half naked women on comic covers, on toys and on t-shirts. We're just supposed to let it be OK, but no male nudity, for gosh sakes! That's quite the double standard. It is present in most of pop-culture, not just comics, but it definitely exists, and makes being a fangirl all the more challenging.

We have men that shop here that are roommates and both of them buy and read superhero comics. How many women could say the same? None that I know of.

Some women have even thrown in the towel, basically saying that superhero comics aren't for women. We just shouldn't bother because there are enough good non-superhero comics out there and the superhero comic book industry doesn't care if we like what they make or not and frankly, doesn't make it for women anyway. How sad is that? Give up on action? Give up on adventures? Give up on escaping to a world where people can fly and lift cars?

And the worst part - often when women go online and discuss with other fangirls the things they don't like about the current status of superhero comic book fandom men find them and rather than accept the fangirl's take or stay out of the conversation, they go in and insult, even threaten these gals for simply expressing their opinions. They're OK with women in very sexual situations with each other in comics, but if a woman comments negatively on that sexual situation, well she's a dyke - and it's now a bad thing, because she must be ugly too, and fat, otherwise she'd welcome these displays of girl-on-girl comic action. (yeah - because hot, straight girls LOVE to see other half-naked women throttling each other) It's like they're so threatened that the current state of comics might change and they won't be able to see half naked, unrealistically thin women with even more unrealistically large breasts that they have to try to scare us away. Seriously - at least let us have our opinions. After all, with the current "establishment" in superhero comics there's little chance we'll get much change.

9 comments:

TayJK said...

I wonder if there has been any roundtable discussions with some of the female creators of comics (Gail Simone, Barbara Kesel (I think that's her name) are the writers I can think of off the top of my head, and I know there are some female artists out there) on this sort of topic.

On that line of thought, any attempts/successes to have a female creator do an in-store appearance?

Taylor

Devil Doll said...

The dad pointed out the Barbie book as something she might be interested in, and she picked TTG instead, and then he said, "Are you SURE you don't want Barbie instead?" And she was very adamant she did not. *g*

That woman who wouldn't let her little girl even look makes me sick. And just think what that little boy is going to grow up to be like. Another asshole fanboy, in the making.

Lisa said...

Taylor - unfortunately the only well known woman creator in the area, I think, is Jill Thompson - in the Chicago area. There might be some indie creators around, but none that I know or who have contacted us.

DD - parents! Don't they realize what they're starting? Don't force GI Joe on the girl, but if she doesn't want Barbie don't make her get it. And if your son gets to pick out a comic book and your daughter wants to too - just let her. It's a dang $2.25 comic book! I doubt it will ruin her life.

Marg. said...

If it helps, I'd gleefully and excitedly ask you about your business.

But, then, I was a female SF/F bookshop clerk for several years, with sidetrips into working at a comic shop and a book distributor, so I'm biased. Eventually I became what I went to school to become, a graphic designer, and left retail behind with a sigh of relief.

The mere fact of there being a comic shop owned by a woman makes want to work retail again.

Thank you.

Toriach said...

I honestly don't understand a great many of my fellow male superhero comic readers. If a girl in school had shown an interest in my comics I probably would have fallen at her feet in worship.

When I was young I loved (and still love) classic mythology. It was so obvious to me that superhero stories are a clear successor to those myths. I so much want these stories and characters to be given the respect they deserve and to be deeply investigated for what they say about us as a people. Everytime I hear about the kind of knuckle dragging that so often goes on, on the web I feel very discouraged. I want art. Art is about evaluating a work in all facets, seeing the good and the bad, digging into the text, the subtext, the meta text. Many out there apparently just want porn. Flash with no substance, no discussion of deeper meaning or context.

But I can't give up. I love super hero comics. They give me a feeling that I just don't get reading other genres. So I've no choice but to do whatever I can to try to elevate what I love out of the muck and keep it there.

Thank you for doing your part on the frontlines. I can imagine how dispiriting it must get for you.

Peace
And
Long
Life

Toriach

Lisa said...

Thank you Marg & Toriach! It's people like you that make it a little easier to be a woman in comics.

Tamora Pierce said...

I'm here via When Fangirls Attack and Paladin/Christians Read Comics, and I just had to say, this is a wonderful post. This comment in particular hit me like a punch between the eyes:
Here's another point that I borrowed from a couple of blogs I've read recently - if a man walked into a store that had pictures of nearly naked men wrestling around with each other, toys of half naked men, and t-shirts that had pictures of half naked men in costumes on them - they probably wouldn't come back to that store. But somehow women are supposed to simply accept images of half naked women on comic covers, on toys and on t-shirts. We're just supposed to let it be OK, but no male nudity, for gosh sakes! That's quite the double standard. It is present in most of pop-culture, not just comics, but it definitely exists, and makes being a fangirl all the more challenging.

I haven't seen its like anywhere else, and it just made me sit up and shout, "Yeah!"

I am sorry for those girls who were turned away from comics, because there is good stuff here. And I think it's so boss that there are women like you helping to introduce it to them.

Tamora Pierce

Lisa said...

Thanks Tamora! Keep on writing - and supporting those of us who are on the front lines working to get gals into superhero comics.

Mythophile said...

This is exactly what I've thought for some time. It's so hard to find women who don't sort of glaze over when they hear about comics. I think maybe manga has changed that for younger women since most buyers of manga are female.

I just want to encourage all my fellow female comic fans to stand your ground and be true to yourself.