Before you continue further, I must offer a disclaimer: this is a pure, unedited rant. I let my fingers work of their own accord and this is what happened. You have been warned.
Recently I moved into a new neighborhood – a small, trendy little place with cute businesses and pirate themed bars. I was delighted to find that a mere block away from my house was a tiny little comics shop – the sort of place where if you go in more than once the owner remembers you and there are always people hanging around just to be social. It’s about half the size of my apartment and it’s always open way later than the sign says because there are people playing Magic or having lively debates about recent events in comics.
I was really excited that a place like this existed so close to me – it reminded me of the toy shop where I first got comics when I was younger. In that sort of homey, tight knit way. You see, growing up I always lived in towns too small for their own comics shop, but I definitely know what the community is SUPPOSED to feel like after years of attending conventions and bonding with fellow comic book geeks.
The first night I wandered into the shop it was a few minutes before closing, so the only soul inside was the owner. He greeted me warmly, I said I had just moved to the neighborhood, he said they had boxes available, I talked shop with him a little bit and told him I wrote about comic books and other geeky things for a living. He was friendly and warm and I already loved the place.
The second time I entered the shop there were a couple of guys playing Magic by the front window. I had gone in to ask the owner if he would be interested in buying some comics from me – when I walked into the miniscule shop all conversation ceased, but I didn’t think much of it.
The third time I set foot in that shop is the reason I’m writing this article.
I have a younger friend who is a massive geek in a lot of ways but she just never really got into comics. But recently she has been intensely interested in them and I have been “learning” her, so to say. I’ve been lending her trades and when she comes over she curls up on my couch and reads comics for HOURS. One of my favourite activities is going into a comic shop with her and fluffing my comic book cred feathers – pointing out certain story arcs that are awesome, guiding her in the direction of some great indie titles, drooling together over action figures (we are both cosplayers so action figures are essentially costume porn to us).
It was one of those sort of evenings where I felt like dragging her to a comic shop with me so I could send her home with a huge stack of reading material, so naturally I decided to take her to what I was quickly considering my new haunt. We walked the block to the shop, entered, and while there were more people there than I had seen before nothing seemed amiss. We poked around back issues for a little bit, I stressed to her how important it was she read Sandman, I made myself feel better by showing off the character based off of me in T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents (Colleen is based off of me, if anyone is wondering), etc, etc.
We found our way to a stack of posters and started flipping through them. I made a sudden exclamation of delight over a “Women of Marvel” poster, and a comic book geek came over and started pointing out the characters to me. I kindly interrupted him to let him know that, yes, I knew that was Storm. He backed off slightly and I continued the trend of pointing out characters as I rifled through the posters. “Oh, Adam Hughes.” I sighed, stopping on a particularly wonderful print of Zatanna. The aforementioned comic book geek’s eyebrows shot into his receding hairline, and he said in a slightly judgmental but mostly genuinely surprised way: “Wow, you actually know your stuff.”
At first, the comment didn’t really bother me. I went home and gave my friend some comics and continued on my merry way. But it has been within me for the last week, festering like some sort of disease, bringing up a lot of unpleasantness – yes, I’m a girl, and yes, I read comics.
Now, now, before you begin to roll your eyes: I am an equal opportunist feminist. I really abhor the term geek “girl”, because geek is geek, no gender attached. I don’t feel that just because I happen to have geeky interests and also lady bits that I am entitled to anything that men aren’t. Sure, there are times when I have to flex my geek muscle twice as hard as the average guy just because I have boobs, but for the most part I live in a happy little magical land where geek is geek and what it says on your driver’s license under “sex” doesn’t matter at all.
I also spend the majority of my time on the internet, surrounded by strong women who also happen to be geeks, and we are, for the most part, on equal ground with our male counterparts as far as the geek realm goes. Twitter is my happy little bubble where it’s not surprising that I can identify every X-men on sight (even the most obscure), and that me dressing up in a leotard and thigh high boots isn’t weird at all.
But yet when I actually go out into the real world, that happy little bubble is popped. I’m sure the comic book fan at my local shop meant no disrespect by his genuine surprise that I – an attractive young woman – would know a ton about comic books, but the fact that he even had to be surprised just rubs me the wrong way.
I was at a convention last year where I got into a huge, huge argument with an insecure man who cornered me in the hotel lobby after a heavy night of drinking and accused me of only being a geek “girl” because I was insecure and needed male attention, that I was only looking for a “mate” and a boost of self esteem. And this wasn’t just directed at me – he was generalizing all women who were involved in the industry and who were attending the convention.
This intense misogyny really floors me when I run into it, because I like to think we have come a long way since the initial feminist movement. But in a lot of ways, geekiness is still a little stuck in the past. Women are accepted as engineers or computer programmers now – even Barbie promotes smart ladies! – but god forbid a lady know who wrote that particularly awesome story arc of Batman. THAT lady just wants attention. THAT lady just read a wikipedia article and has a loose grasp of their knowledge.
If a man walked into a comic shop, no one would question his knowledge about comics unless he made it abundantly clear that he was a n00b. But two women walk into the comic shop, and we have to prove ourselves against a jury of peers to prove that we are geeky enough to be there.
I know this is an uphill battle and will continue to be so, with the media still touting lady geeks as magical unicorns and the comics industry still obviously geared towards men (and with many, many laughable attempts to appeal towards the “female demographic” – here’s a helpful hint, big two: if we ladies already read comics, we are frankly insulted by all your pink hearts and puppies, dumbed down storylines, and transparent romances in your attempt to “appeal” to us).
So gentlemen (and ladies who judge other geek ladies! Stop the cattiness!), I implore you: don’t jump to conclusions the next time you see a girl browsing your comic haunt’s back issues. It’s highly possible she could school your ass in a trivia-off.
Molly McIsaac rants about things frequently (within a 160 character limit), on twitter. Or just follow her for cute pictures of her dog.