Angry women of the day: Comics shops and Wonder Woman

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§ In the never-ending discourse over gender and comics, one of those classic anecdotes — this one told by a man:

And the sad thing is, in many shops, it still is a “boy’s club.” I will never forget the stares that Casey got when I took her into my local comic shop for the first time. The guy behind the counter stared her down like she was going to steal something. In fact he followed her around and examined every book she picked up and browsed through to make sure she didn’t screw it up somehow. After that, she never wanted to go back to the comic shop, and I can’t really blame her. The sad thing is, she would still sit at home and flip through the books I picked out for myself, she just didn’t feel comfortable to go and get her own. When you compound this kind of treatment with a lack of merchandise for women, how can they feel it is anything BUT a boy’s club?

Link via Johanna .

201101121300 Angry women of the day: Comics shops and Wonder Woman§ The Tumblr blog DC Women Kicking Ass recently ran a contest to pick THE most memorable moment in DC Comics history for a woman. The poll was started after a wider poll on CBR had a scarcity of moments including women. After a series of essays describing various great moments, the winner has been announced: Wonder Woman killing Max Lord in WONDER WOMAN #219 by Greg Rucka and Rags Morales. Although many were disappointed it wasn’t a more ennobling moment, as some commenters point out, it is one of the most recent ones, and it was meant to be a big moment:

Let’s just get this out of the way first: part of the reason this moment is so memorable is, quite simply, that the powers that be won’t let us forget it. If you were reading DC titles in 2005, you saw this scene. A lot. It was repeated half a dozen times each across three dozen titles, from varying perspectives and to varying purpose but always to the same ultimate effect of burning it permanently into the fanbase’s brains. Even half a decade later we’re still seeing lifts and copies and references occasionally. The creative types at DC wanted it to be a big moment, and they made it one.

Comments

  1. Charles Knight says:

    “it still is a “boy’s club.”

    I tend to think of them more as werdio clubs than boyclubs, I’m no more comfortable in the average comic shop than any woman, I doubt I’m alone.

  2. Meta-irony moment of the day: I followed the link to the site where you pulled the first quote from, and at the top of the page was an animated banner ad (apparently for a webcomic called “Wayward Sons: Legends”). The content of the ad? A leering young man surrounded by a bevy of bikini-clad sexy women, with the tagline “If this is a dream…don’t wake me up!”

    How’s that for an unfortunate random ad placement?

  3. Bryan L says:

    Years ago I convinced my wife (then my fiancee) to go into a comic book store with me. It was a fairly large store (now defunct) with quite a few racks of science fiction along with the usual comic stuff and I figured she might like to look around. It also came complete with a number of “regulars” who were there pretty much any time of the day or night discussing the normal geek stuff. They fell silent upon seeing her, and stared at her, some with mouths open. I made the mistake of leaving her side, and a couple of them followed her around the store, staring. One literally ducked and hid when she turned around to see what he was doing. She dragged me out of the shop less than a minute later.

    It was 20 years before she ever set foot in a comic shop again.

  4. I’ve never been followed around a comic book store like I was going to steal or screw something up. If anything, my bad experiences in comic book stores have mostly involved being completely ignored (not even a polite “Can I help you find anything?”). It’s not even a matter of that I’m not a worthy customer in their eyes — I can’t possibly even be a customer.

    And mostly, stores that have treated me like that are right — I just leave without buying anything. They don’t deserve my money.

    I am a big fan of supporting your local comic book store. But I’m only a big fan of that when your local comic book store doesn’t treat you like crap. I think that’s more the reason why people are buying more and more online.

    (Me, personally? I don’t care about the 20 percent or whatever discount on Amazon if I can support a store I like. But that’s only for stores I like.)

  5. Geez, stories like this make me really thankful that the two stores I’ve frequented the most over the years had female co-owners and weren’t nearly so….creepy about their female clientele.

  6. Spike says:

    They must live in Hicksville USA. I never see girls getting “followed” or “stared down” at in comic shops. Sounds more like someone is trying hard to make a stereotype real so they can complain about it.

  7. I would recommend Another Dimension in Calgary and Astro Books in Montreal as very female-friendly shops.

  8. “Sounds more like someone is trying hard to make a stereotype real so they can complain about it.”

    I have to admit this crosses my mind now and then when I read anecdotes like this. I live in Oklahoma and there are about four comic shops I go to fairly regularly. Two of them have at least two females on staff. At none of them have I ever seen behavior like what is described in this story and others like it. Granted, I’m a male, but I’ve seen girls in the stores before and no one treats them weirdly.

  9. Anyway, I meant to end with this but forgot. I’m not trying to say none of that behavior is actually real. Maybe I’m just lucky that no one at the shops here acts like that.

  10. J. K. Simon says:

    Though I’m not in any way disputing the accuracy of this rather depressing account of comic store culture, I think it’s past time to question whether this Comic Book Guy / Android’s Dungeon stereotype truly represents the norm anymore.

    They’re certainly not the norm in my neck of the woods. Even if you separate out the high-profile shops in the greater area, most stores here appear to be reasonably well kept and professionally run, and those that aren’t one-man operations usually have a least one girl/woman on staff.

    And I’m not talking just about the city where I currently reside either. In the medium-sized town/city I grew up in, my childhood LCS was pretty great. Though it had some Android’s Dungeon-y characteristics (dark interior, narrow aisles, cluttered shelves), it was a Mom ‘n Pop family operation where ‘Mom’ was just as likely to ring up your purchases and intereact with you as ‘Pop’ was. One could (and I did) bring girlfriends (as well as platonic female pals) there without incident. And as of a brief visit during my Xmas break, that remains the case.

    The same could also be said of the other two stores nearby. They were also run by a husband and wife team — she managed one location, he ran the other.

    Heck, at my last ‘true’ LCS (I still like visiting comic shops, but I’m not a ‘regular’ anywhere in particular atm),female staff outnumbered their male counterparts by roughly 3 to 1. Admittedly, it’s not purely a comic shop (they do a brisk business in toys and collectibles as well), and most of the girls are more employees than enthusiasts (I wouldn’t have asked them for recommendations) — but they always provided excellent customer service.

    Maybe the really awful shops are products of environments where new stores (that could offer better experiences) can’t take root for whatever reason?

    Whatever the case, I think at least some of the fixation on the Comic Book Guy stereotype as reality has at least as much to do with the subliminal self-loathing endemic to far too much of the comics community as it does to valid grievances. Hating on our store culture, its extreme bad apples excepted, is just another way of hating ourselves and our fellow travelers — and I wish we’d ease up on that a bit.

  11. Bedrock in Houston not only has a nice upscale look but employs female-type employees as well.

  12. J. K. Simon says:
    “Though I’m not in any way disputing the accuracy of this rather depressing account of comic store culture, I think it’s past time to question whether this Comic Book Guy / Android’s Dungeon stereotype truly represents the norm anymore.”

    I said something very similar in the PREVIOUS “Creepy Comic Store That’s Hostile to Women” thread. I don’t think it went over well, so I’m glad to see that over people are voicing this very unpopular opinion.

    I’ve been to a couple of comic books stores where nearly EVERYONE was treated badly. There was one in southern NJ where the owner literally watched and/or followed people around the store. The owner managed to stay afloat, never realizing that his own behavior was keeping him from being successful.

    I agree with Spike that some people are probably exagerating their mediocre visits into horrific experiences. But then, the internet is built on hyperbole.

    Bottom line: Find a better comic store.

  13. I would recommend Another Dimension in Calgary and Astro Books in Montreal as very female-friendly shops.

  14. Funny Coincidence Department: On this weekends Simpsons, Bart and Lisa visit The Androids Dungeon and Baseball Card Shop and Lisa gets pretty skeeved out by being there.

    And, for the record, my skin crawls whenever I go into Barnes and Noble.

  15. Bryan L says:

    I didn’t say my experience represented the “norm”. I distinctly pointed out the experience was more than 20 years ago and the shop is defunct — in fact, it went under more than 10 years ago.

    If you’d like my current impressions, I’ll be more specific. I travel extensively for work and try to visit all the comic shops in every area I visit. There are still dingy, poorly run comic shops out there. They aren’t usually in Hicksville — for the most part those shops closed many years ago. They are generally in mid-tier cities and suburbs (population 250K to 1 million or so). Shops in larger cities tend to be much more businesslike and well-run.

    My unscientific estimate would be about 10% or so of the shops still in existence are not run in a professional manner (five years ago I would have said 20%, so my impression is that they are dwindling). Of that 10%, about half are the type of shop that I leave immediately.

    Why would I leave? I normally try to make a purchase or two at every shop I visit — sort of my own little LCS charity. But I will not buy from shops I consider excessively poorly run (example: piles of comics and graphic novels and other debris stacked on the floor leaving only narrow channels to walk — that was two weeks ago, BTW, and I have no idea why the local fire marshal allows it) or offensive (yes, I have walked into a shop and found pornography playing on a television). Pornography doesn’t really upset me but it shouldn’t be on display in a place of business, unless that business is adult entertainment. That shop is also out of business now.

    As someone else noted, there has been a sharp upswing in female staff in comic stores, particularly in the last 5 years. In my experience, female staff correlates with nicer, more professional stores (though I do remember one awful store that had a woman behind the counter).

    To sum up: My observation is that for the most part, the Android’s Dungeon has gone the way of the dodo — but I assure you they were a LOT more common 20-25 years ago. And it’s still possible to find them, though it may take a little looking.

  16. archway says:

    I can think of a few comic stores in my old stomping grounds that are/were subpar. They weren’t dens of iniquity, but they were kind of crowded, awkwardly organized and VERY superhero oriented. A couple of times I felt like I was putting the store owner out by asking about something not carried.

    This was not terribly overt (I never saw leering, or creepy behavior), but it really doesn’t need to be. They certainly didn’t scream “hey come check me out” to bypassers.

  17. Glenn Simpson says:

    I don’t go in shops often enough to say how they treat women, but I know it struck me when one local shop, who seems to be doing everything else right – nice location, brightly lit, well organized, even promoting themselves well – had mostly-naked Red Sonja-type statues and posters all over the front of the store. It’s not just women-readers you turn away with this stuff, it’s also mothers of potential readers.

  18. When we took over an existing comic shop that was failing and ready to close up, we change the model of previous comic store, we made it clean and bright, put all the kids books up front, catered to YAs, teens, girls and moms, and put the superheroes in the back.
    The result? We have doubled the monthly sales of what the previous store was doing the past year.
    Oh, and we have only been open less than 3 months.

    If the standard DM retailer business model is failing, change the business model.
    All you people wanting to know how to put more comics and books into people’s hands?
    Try and open a DM store instead of blogging about the problem.

  19. “And the sad thing is, in many shops, it still is a “boy’s club.””

    Ah yes. The mythical “unfriendly comic shop”. Heard of by many, seen by few. This works conveniently as a double edged sword which is why it’s such a popular (if meritless) argument. First, it’s an effort by “some” to let women off the hook for being responsible for actually going to where the comics are and buying them. Secondly, it perpetuates the decades old stereotype of the scowling male fan boy, territory threatened by the presumptuous female daring to venture into his marked territory. Something that I haven’t heard of happening since the late 70s.

    I’ve been around the comics scene for a while. Rented plenty of convention floor space in my time at conventions across the country. Had plenty of female customers purchase my wares. I sell comics online and at conventions and have friends across the country that own or at one time owned or at the very least worked at comic shops. So I take major issue with the adjective “Many” because frankly, aside from a virtual handful of anecdotes continuously propped up as the status quo, anecdotes that may or may not have mitigating factors (if they happened as told at all). It’s an un-provable cliché that very cleverly removes the onus from the female customer from having to go where the product is sold over to the comic companies who now must catch flack because there isn’t a comic stand at supermarket check outs or Starbucks or where ever women want their comics catered to them.

    Let me submit a little of my own anecdotal evidence. I know at least a dozen shops that heavily promote a “ladies night” or in some cases a “ladies afternoon” at the comic shop. Some even hire temporary female staff, either friends or college students to run things. In most cases (say 7 or 8 out of 12), they’re relatively successful. This takes into account the different percentages/ratio of male to female customers, amount of traffic (most of these in college towns or heavily trafficked areas where the owner felt a ladies night was warranted and had the possibility to be successful as opposed to a stunt for drumming up biz for a flailing shop) To their credit most continue to do this even when they’re not all that successful. Some simply can’t, in this economy, close their doors to the majority of their customers for even a few hours, plain and simple, and who can blame them?

    This argument portraying women as being frightened to enter a building where a man sells a product is ridiculous and the effort by “some“ to continue to perpetuate it is “telling“.

    Ever been to a Walmart or a Target or any dept. store? Check out the returns desk sometime. I’ve seen women getting dirty looks from the customer service folk and guess what? They give dirty looks right back! These must be aberrations or mutants of some kind. I mean, a woman facing down a snotty sales clerk? And then they continued to shop! Unheard of!

  20. You know, my LCS has an almost entirely female staff, which of course makes it a lot more comfortable for my girlfriend to shop there.

    Unless the owner is there, and then he ignores us because we mostly buy manga.

  21. “I never see girls getting “followed” or “stared down” at in comic shops. Sounds more like someone is trying hard to make a stereotype real so they can complain about it.”

    THANK YOU Spike!

    If we get nothing else out of the 2011, I hope we get to lay this myth to rest. I started reading super hero comics when I was 14. The shop I got my comics from was in the local mall and run by a kind older couple who were more than happy to welcome all types into their store. Which I might add, was clean and brightly lit with lovely displays of the merchandise. This was in Gallup, New Mexico in the 90s.
    When I moved to Boston in 1999, I found that a number of local shops were also well maintained and had women on the staff. My best friend’s mother read Plastic Man and Superman when she was a little girl, she’s in her 70s now. My friend Mercy is in her 50s, has been reading comics since she was a kid and still does so to this day. I’m a member of the Boston Comics Roundtable which not only features a large number of female members, three of those women are working cartoonists in their own right.
    Women read comics, we’ve always read comics, we’re always going to read comics. The problem isn’t that women don’t read comics, the issue is that the only people reading comics are the hardcore fans regardless of gender.

  22. Steve says:

    Depends on where you go as most places are run as a business not as a club house. In my experience, some of the fans lack social skills.

    My wife’s only convention experience in 2002 consisted of smelly men following her even though she had a big winter coat on. I warned her before going in that the smaller cons have a greater percentage of people with BO. She thought I was exaggerating but believed me in the parking lot. Yes, even in winter and outdoors the people smelled that bad.

    The other negative experience she had was at a shop were two males were talking quite explicitly about how they could “turn lesbians”. After walking into the next aisle at my wife’s request to see these two guys, it was obvious that the only turning these two guys would be doing would be the pages of their comics.

    Then in 2008, someone I knew in high school returned as an American Gladiator for a Wizard show. As she bent over her table to put out cards and photos, guys took pictures with their cellphones down her top. She took it in stride, but I was embarrassed for her.

  23. “Depends on where you go as most places are run as a business not as a club house. In my experience, some of the fans lack social skills.”

    There you go … while we’re sledgehammering the Hostile Comic Shop Stereotype, let’s resort to the Stalker Fanboy with B.O. Stereotype …

    I run a one-day comic show in Nj with a female friend. Our show is a small show, and 99% free of attendees with B.O. … so there …

  24. Mia MacHatton says:

    Oddly, the only place I was ever followed around creepily was a record store (apparently I had remarkable taste in music).

    Do creepy comics stores exist? Sure they do. But so do creepy gyms, creepy bars/clubs, even creepy grocery stores. As a woman, I will avoid creepy places and scenarios, but I don’t ascribe them as endemic to an industry.

  25. Rich,

    It was nine years ago and not in New Jersey, but it happened. The organizers stopped putting on shows in the state shortly thereafter. I left out the part about how while I looked through bargain boxes, my wife had to leave my side as we were next to a booth selling porno mags.

    Like Mia said, there are all kinds of creepy establishments. There are non-creepy establishments that can get get creepy customers. In almost eleven years of going to at least 20 different comics shops she never had a problem with store owners and only once had two dimwits talking obscene, and not about her. Whereas the one convention she went to was pretty bad. Based on that, I wouldn’t take her to a Wizard show.

    I’m sure your show is fine.

    I’m sorry, but I have to ask. How ripe are the 1% who have BO? A small enough space, and a few bad apples spoil the bunch.

  26. I’m not a woman, so I can’t say for certainty how women are treated at the various shops in the stores that I visit in the Los Angeles area. But interestingly, if I had to pick which store was the darkest and dingiest, then I would go with a store that is either co-owned or co-managed by a woman (I’m unsure of which position she holds). If I had to pick which store was the most cluttered (and by a large margin), then I would also go with a (different) store that was either co-owned or co-managed by a woman (I’m again unsure of which position she holds).

    Based on my anecdotal experiences, I’d have to conclude that the stores thought to be least welcoming to women are those stores in which women are involved in the ownership or management. Perhaps my experiences and evaluations are not indicative of the norm, but I stand by them and would be willing to provide those stores’ names and addresses if anyone else would care to investigate?

  27. The 1% are not bad. Admittedly, I was at the New York Paperback Collectibles show years ago … There was one guy who smelled so bad, that I had to leave until he left. One of the dealers (and his wife) absolved him of guilt by saying “He’s a good customer and spends a lot of money.” Good for them, but not to those of us who want to shop without a respirator.

    Unless she’s movie star hot, the only reason I might follow a woman to the cash register at the LCS is to see what she’s purchasing. I’m always curious about which comics draw women into the stores, especially when she’s shopping without a boyfriend or husband dragging her inside.

    That’s a joke, about movie star hot …

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