08 June 2014

More Comic Book Musings

As mentioned yesterday, getting into comics can lead to some pretty interesting interactions that very much serve to remind us that subtle entrenched sexism is alive and well in geek culture.  I am very glad that I entered this realm in the internet era so I can, should I so choose, access these materials without navigating the minefield that being a geek-woman in public can sometimes be.  Granted, I am very protected from some of the more treacherous misogyny and sexism by my position in life.  As someone who is well past the culturally assigned female prime age, who sits well outside the curve for acceptable female weight and has some affluence to back herself up, I am usually ignored by most people I encounter in any given day.  Not being a blip on anyone's radar generally makes my life pretty easy even if only as a side-effect of greater, far more nefarious, cultural trends.   None the less, going to my local comic book store is a constant exercise in navigating a world where white-cis-dudes rule.

Our local store is pretty nice and run by a husband-wife team. Honestly, I try and time my visits so I go when she is manning (personning? staffing? yeah, staffing is good gender neutral wording) staffing the store because he is what I think is the worst kind of gatekeeper.  He is perfectly friendly and not openly hostile to my presence, but he just sort of happily chugs along mansplaining and downplaying my opinions because he "knows better" about comics.  It always leads to that irritating sensation that nothing was really wrong, yet you leave feeling like smacking your forehead repeatedly into your steering wheel would be a reasonable response to the futility of your conversation. Basically,  he talks at me about what I should think about the comics, whereas she talks to me about what I actually do think of the comics.  It is nothing huge, but I can see how if your introduction to comics is basically some middle-aged white dude telling you everything you should be doing about comics, I can bet that many women find their first foray into a comic book store is also their last.

He also refuses to learn my actual name constantly referring to me as "Mrs. Chris'LastName" despite our multiple interactions that should have made it clear that I am, in fact,  "MS. MyOwnFuckingLastName."  I try not to get too irritated by the Ms/Miss/Mrs thing or the assumption that partnered people share a last name, I guess that is still the norm. However, I feel like in 2014 having various last names circulating in a household is not so uncommon that professionalism doesn't require actually verifying each human being's name of choice. So there is that.

What really slays me though, is the advertising within the comic books.  Here is where you get the clearest reminder that this is "dudes in their 20s and 30s" central. All the ads are aimed at men. Designed by men, for men, talking about manly things in gender-policing, hetero-specific ways.  This is even true in the advertising seen in Charlie's My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comics.  Now I know that MLP has a large male following and I would never presume that liking MLP was gender specific, but many cis-white-dudes in the traditional comic demographics would label that as a "girl thing."  So why then is all the advertising, even in gender-normalized girl books, still aimed almost entirely at men and boys? While I could discuss forever all the ways that that is just plain bad business I think the bigger theme here is that when comic companies only attract/enter contracts with companies that only wish to advertise to  young-white-dudes and therefore only create spaces of interest for young-white dudes...what does that say about the overall level of desired inclusivity?

Like everywhere else this creates the vicious cycle where people think there is no money in marketing to women, so no one markets to women (or for women) so then no women show up (or no one seems to show up for "women things") so now we have "proven" that women/women's things are not financially viable, so we don't market them...and on and on forever and ever.  I have no immediate solution for this, I know that I am not saying anything new here, but I am shocked at how shocking it was for me to see this.  I knew it was a thing. I knew of other women's lived experiences yet somehow, seeing it right there was still surprising.  It had been a long time since I undertook a new hobby or interest and was so quickly reminded that I am not the desired participant.

It is amazing to me that even as someone who often interacts in advanced feminist spaces, seeing sexism at work still sucker-punches me every damn time.