Saturday, January 26, 2008

Locker Room Talk: Real Girls Don't Read Comics

This morning as I was minding my own business, changing my shirt in the women's locker room at the gym, I was approached by a woman I vaguely recognized as a gym regular. In a manner that I believe she felt would invite polite conversation, she asked me about said shirt. Here is pretty much word-for-word the discussion.

Inquiring Minds (IM): Hey there.

Me: Hi. How are ya?

IM: Great. I just got done with my workout. I see you here quite a bit. Are you doing the contest?

::Brief conversation about the contest ensues::

IM: I always see you wearing the most colorful, interesting shirts. Do you get them on the internet? My son really likes your black shirt with the skull on it.

Me: Oh, that is nice. I like wearing my Punisher shirt while I lift weights. Mostly I wear comic book shirts because I am such a huge comic book fan. I have been since I was eight.

IM: Oh. (Makes scrunchy face of disapproval) I just thought you found them on a website. I wanted to get my son a shirt like that.

Me: Well hey, that is easy. Just go down to Ron's Coin and Collectible's. They have said shirt on display.

IM: We don't go there. It is so dirty and the staff has bad hygeine. I was really hoping I could find it on a website.

Me: I am sure you could, but Ron's really is a pretty good place. It wouldn't take long.

IM: I don't think so. Nice talking to you.

::IM proceeds to basically run away. I think I am safe. New woman approaches.::

New Woman: Did I hear you say that you really read comics?

Me: Yes. I had been in the closet about it for a long time, but I finally just decided to be proud. I love comic books and have been reading them for a long time.

NW: Doesn't your husband find that odd?

Me: Nope. He reads them too.

NW: Oh. Well, my husband used to read them but he had to stop when we had kids. He and my son talk about Spider-Man quite a bit and they love the movies but that is it. I just really thought I had misheard you.

Me: Why?

NW: Because I have just not heard of adult women reading comics unless.... (she trails off. This is not a good sign.)

Me: Unless why?

NW: Never mind. It isn't a big deal. I just thought I had heard you wrong.

::NW runs off leaving me stranded again.::

I leave the women's locker room and head upstairs. Husband of NW gives me a sympathetic look.

Husband: I miss my books. She (points to wife) made me sell them when we got pregnant with our first son.

Me: I understand. Sometimes we have to focus on the economics.

Husband: Nah, she was relieved. She just thought it took up space.

NW: (Squirming uncomfortably) It was just something I was never interested in. I always thought that comics were for boys and then when they grew up they sold them or traded them. I just have to live in reality, you know? Kids are expensive, you know?

Me: No. I don't have kids. To me it is a hobby just like buying DVD's, cook books, tools, or clothes. Everyone has something they enjoy. My husband and I don't travel or spend very much on other things. It is our hobby.

NW: Well, I just think it is wasteful. We really have to go.

Me: Have a good day. (Not meaning it.)

They walk off.

This is a good example of what I run into on a pretty regular basis. Most every woman I talk to wrinkles her nose at me or changes the subject. Most guys either think I am "weird special" or feel empathy because they can relate and have some hidden hostility about it. It really makes me buy into the survey results that Valerie at Occasional Superheroine posted, because I have to live this crap.

Am I going back into the comic book reading closet? Hell no. Does it make me mad that people are so bitchy about it? Yes. What can I do about it? I don't know. I keep defending myself and wearing my shirts. I keep spending money on the books I love. I don't know what else to do. Also, since I can't have kids, I find that some of the conversations are pretty offensive. I hate it when women pull the mom card without considering my biological issues.

What are your thoughts? Do you have this occur? I trynot to get too upset, but sometimes I just can't help it.


Michael Bailey said...

My conversations with non comics reading people are a tad different from yours but I feel your pain. Normally I get the "Hey, you read comics?", "They still make those?" and "Man, I used to collect those. You think my copies of Spawn are worth anything?"

I think the woman you ran into is the same woman that my wife runs into when she wears her Nightmare Before Christmas or Superman T-shirts because Rachel gets all kinds of weird comments about her apparel.

Anonymous said...

Wow...I can't believe how obnoxious people can be...and how cruel women can be to each other when it comes to appearances. Sheesh.

I experience something like this occasionally, though not with comics. Being a male, the assumptions here in Minnesota is that males all (A) love sports and (B) are avid hunters and fishermen. I am neither (although my wife is a HUGE sports fan), and I sometimes get that "what is your DEAL?" attitude from new guys I might meet at a party or some other social situation.

So....there's all kinds of assumptions being made out there by small minded people. The trick is not letting them get to you. Keep on wearing your cool shirts, Heidi...and let the rigid conformists think whatever they're going to think. Jerks.

Moe said...

As a girl working in a comic store, I get that from the significant others coming into the store. There are some girls that plop down on a chair and glare at me and some guys that hover in a corner while their girl gets her fix and both try to keep my conversation with their S.O.'s on all the good books out that week as short as possible. I have the widest range of comic shirts and wear them proudly. I get the "How can you wear that out in public?!?" from my non reading friends all the time. I just simply tell them they like to look like pampered soccer moms and act all posh but when it comes down to it, our kids would rather be at my house than their own because I can name what character they have on their shirt (and the odds are pretty good I have the same shirt) and tell them their origin. All my friends can say is it's some guy in tights or some skull. Wear them proud. I do. next time someone comments about your husband reading and they forcing theirs to quit, ask who has the happier husband.

Richard said...

I can't tell you how much my heart goes out to you on this.

I've known women who read comics all my life -- I mean that literally: my mom has been a comics fan since her childhood -- and when I joined comics fandom I immediately fell in with a crowd that was evenly mixed in gender. That seemed natural to me. When I first ran into the "but girls don't read comics" or "how can we get those crazy gals to read our comics?" among fans or publishers back in the Seventies, I bristled: it wasn't that women and girls don't enjoy adventure or science fiction or superheroes, it was that comic shops and conventions created such a hostile, unwelcoming, female-phobic environment ("you must be shopping for your boyfriend or husband, right? or else you're here to meet guys?") that they stayed away, and interacted with other female fans by correspondence or through fanzines.

Things have improved more than most people realize over the past thirty years when it comes to female representation at cons and in comic shops, at least...but the underlying social prejudices are just as strong as ever. In several ways, society at large seems to be going backwards in its attitude toward women even as our little subculture takes baby steps forward. I can't help feeling you'd have gotten a similar reaction from wearing a t-shirt with the picture of an author or a scientist. If you're a woman interested in doing something with her mind other than shopping and raising kids, there will always be people trying to make you feel bad about that. And that really blows.

Anonymous said...

Damn! All I can say is keep wearing those shirts and keep reading those comic books. Keep on truckin'!

I once got called a lesbian because I wore a Superman shirt. Well, I am gay, but they would be technically wrong on the assumption that because I wore a Superman shirt, I'm gay. So every other female that wears a Superman shirt must also be gay! DUM DUM DUM! Well, that's society for yer.

Also, how they made that connection, I'm not really sure how they did that.

Eaglewing said...

Yeah, this kind of attitude usually gets me ticked off on first pass of it, but then when I think about it, I just feel sad for them. Some of the most amazing, well written, thought provoking or just downright fun stories I've come across in any medium (books, movies, etc) have been in comics, and these small minded people close off a wealth of value because they can't think for themselves and just go with preformed prejudices.

On the other hand, I don't get into a lot of conversations about comics with people because I already know where it's going and that stuff just gets old. I would wear a Punisher T-Shirt proud though if I could get my hands on one. Hey, can I get one of those on a website? ;-)

I will say this though - as a guy who is very single, I often can't understand how guys can just capitulate on a lifetime of comics and sell their collection because a gal came along and demanded it. I always thought (and this has to go both ways) if she can't take you the way you are and at the very least accept if not outright enjoy the things that you like and bring you happiness, then what good is she? I'd rather be on my own enjoying life any way I can than fold to someone else's version of what they think I should be. So come on guys, stop losing your comics due to premature collection ejection! Hold out a little longer for something better. And if that doesn't happen, at least you still have your comics :)

I also feel for you Heidi on how people can throw insensitive things out there with words and thoughts and never take into account the reasons behind why someone lives their life, be it biological issues, health history, finances, etc. People would be so much better off with open minded conversations than defensive posturing. Until then though, drive on and wear that Punisher T with pride.

Swinebread said...

Man! There are so many issues in there that I could spend the next month and a half responding and posting.

Unfortunately your conversations are pretty typical and sad when compared with mine…

The real reason the NW’s husband had to get rid of his comics is because she didn’t want her son reading them… …that and she personally hates them. Depriving her son of reading marital because she dislikes the genre and medium… now that’s crazy. We all have to grow up sometime? Her son isn’t grown up yet so why can’t he read them? Her argument is undercut by what she is really saying.

Compromise should be the operative word for a marriage; maybe he did have too many comics, and he could have pared them down to his favorites, but making him get of them all? That’s nuts.

On the other hand the industry does share blame for not making comics an inviting place for women.

Things are a little bit better in Portland nowadays, every once in a while I’ll see someone reading a trade paperback comic in public and the 20-somethings don’t seem to have as big of problem with comics as there are lots of writers and artists here as well as Indy bookstores. Most folks older than me don’t get it though.

But attitudes like that made me reexamine myself. Is there something that I view in the same way? And you know what? There was… …Manga

…or at least Girl’s Manga. A lot of manga I don’t like because of the drawing style. But I realized that I was projecting my own biases into a completely neutral medium. If the medium of graphic storytelling is too survive in the states then girls have to read comics and manga ARE comics. So what if they aren’t reading the kind of comics I like. They are reading comics, Hell they are READING! That’s pretty cool all by itself. I had this poor attitude about manga a long time ago (the 90s) but I realized then that we all have to be kind of Zen about the comics thing. Start with the (wo)man in the mirror so to speak. Plus, I had to start reading other genres anyway. Of course when I went to Japan and saw the huge comics sections they have in bookstores… I realized that the Japanese need no commentary from me on how to “do” comics maybe a culture that’s 2000 years old knows what it’s doing already.

Of course I’m a lucky guy because my SO is Japanese and reading comics is not such a weird thing for her. She’s not interested in what I read, but it’s normal for her that an adult man would want to read comic books. If only more felt that way here…

SallyP said...

My goodness, but rude people are just everywhere, aren't they? I'm a middle-aged mom who has been reading and collecting comics since I was fifteen. I also wear my Green Lantern shirt in public and with pride.

I raised my kids to read comics. And yes, their friends were hideously impressed when I was able to identify everybody in the shirt or poster, and let them read the original comic book! Haw!

Do you think that these particular women would have been annoyed if you wandered over to them reading their "People" and "Vogue" magazines and then mocking them? Of course they would, because that would have been terribly rude.

So wear your shirts and read your books with pride.

Craig said...

It's sad that the old grade school divide between "cool kids" and "nerds" never really goes away. However, the mocked still usually triumph in the end. What kinds of home lives do these people have? How much time and energy do they consume in their obsession with appearances?

If you are happy, true to yourself, and not crippled by your (inevitable) insecurities, then you're doing so much better than the mockers!

Lisa said...

Wow Heidi - I'm kind of amazed by this. I'd figure that most people who are anti-comics would just mind their own business and go their own way. But I guess now.

When people find out I own a comic book store I do get some strange reactions. "You don't read them, do you?" and "Was this your husband's idea?" are the most common. Some just raise their eyebrows and say, "OK," with a wierd inflection. But I still have plenty of people say "that's interesting" or "how cool." Maybe I just spend too much time in the store, where people expect me to read comics, and not out in the general public.

Occasionally we'll get a new person who comes into the store and will ask me if I read comics before asking me for help/advice, or someone will be rather surprised when I make a comment that indicates I do actually read them. But that's fairly rare, thankfully.

Speaking of the guy who had to sell his comics - I have to say, that's kind of our "little joke" in the store when some guy says he just got engaged or has a new girlfriend. We chuckle and say, "well, it was nice knowing you." But we have experience to back it up - there have been at least a dozen guys who've stopped coming in once they've found a girl or married said girl. We even had a couple come in one day - the guy had a long box full on 1990's comics we were not interested in buying. It looked like she was making sure he got a fair price for them, or at least making sure he actually sold them. When they left we saw their car - it still had "just married" across the back window.

Carl said...

I'm this big guy, like 6'4", like 270 lbs. So, I love sports according to my size and look. I get, hey, did you watch the Pittsville Armpits play the Phartsville Phartheads this weekend? Nope and I look down at them and say, sports without weapons or uber-extreme violence where someone could die at any given moment, are for twinkies. And that saves me a lot of time following a conversation that I have no f'ing interest. And I dress how I like, if you don't like it, mind your own gd'd bidness. I even had this one guy say (after the movie came out) look, that guy thinks he's The Punisher. I stopped and looked at him and said, now, don't you think that would be really stupid to say in my hearing if I was totally armed like The Punisher under my big black coat? I stared and stared and he gulped and then said, oh whatever and him and his posse of pansies walked away. I win again! I also often say to people that give anyone crap about comics and kids, well, at least he/she ISN'T READING! Thank God for that! Now, get lil' Jonny or Suzy back to their total ignorance, at least they can push those buttons at their McJob 'cause they have pictures on the cash register! Yeah, I've been through all this and it boils my blood. A former buddy of mine got married and had to, HAD TO sell his books since the Bride of Frankenstein forced him to do so. I told him one time and I said, man, she put one of your loves against her and you lost. If she really loved you, there'd be room for both. I haven't seen him in probably 10 years. Too bad. I give up nothing for no one, nothing. Take me as you found me or leave me the hell alone...

Brainfreeze said...

My husband isn't a big comic fan--he'll read them when they come in, but he wouldn't be interested in getting them on his own--but he's never, ever implied that there's anything wrong with my being one, or complained about my collection. The idea that someone would "make" their partner get rid of his/her books when they got together or had kids is just unimaginable to me.

And good gods, where did these people at your gym grow up that they never learned that it's rude to make personal comments to people you don't know personally?

Heidi Meeley said...

Michael, yep I think your wife and I know the same women. :-)

It's ironic to me that the people that bought twenty copies of Spawn are the ones who make fun of me now.

Heidi Meeley said...

Mark, it's amazing to me how many people can't live outside their little boxes. Why be a carbon copy of everyone else when a person can live their life? It amazes me that my uniqueness is someone else's horror story.

I gotta keep wearing my comic book shirts to work out because that is all I have. LOL!

Heidi Meeley said...

Mello, nice post. When my hubby worked at the local shop I was always amazed at how many people felt uncomfortable or alienated there. God knows if I was at Versace at Caesars' Palace that is probably how I would react at first, because it isn't my element, but there is a limit. What I hated most is the girl who would roll her eyes the entire time her boyfriend/hubby was talking about comics. I wondered why she bothered to come with him unless she was hoping to shop for shoes after? Heh.

I always hope that my hubby who gets to read his comics and has a lifemate to go to cons with is happier then the other guy!

Heidi Meeley said...

RAB, your post here really touched me. You hit it right on the head. I hope that everyone who comes here reads your post and really feels it like I did. Thank you so much for saying it.

Heidi Meeley said...

Wendyskeleton, after reading this, I HAVE to keep wearing my shirts. I refuse to let someone dictate my lifestyle to me. Just because I don't wear the cookie cutter yoga pants and top doesn't mean I can't go workout at the gym, right?

Your words are a true inspiration to me. :-)

Heidi Meeley said...

Eaglewing, one thing you made me think about was when I was single too. When my guys found I read comic books, they were horrified. It must be why I never dated a lot, huh? I pretty much picked my books over insensitive guys. The only bad part was that the fellas at the comic book shop wouldn't talk to me other then grunting. LOL!

I am always saddened when I hear about guys (or girls) selling their books off when they get married. As Lisa makes a very good point, check out her response.

I agree that some of the best stuff I have ever read have come from comic books. It makes me wonder what would happen if a random person was handed Watchmen or Top Ten how they would react. They are really missing out.

Thank you for your insight on this. As always, you bring a breath of fresh air to the discussion!

Heidi Meeley said...

Sallyp, you made my day. I love the fact that your children read comics and that their friends realize how cool you are. That is justice. :-)

What astounds me is that I really don't think these women knew how rude they were being. They were threatened by something they didn't understand and reacted horribly. I would really like to make fun of their Vogue magazine now just for sport. LOL!

Thank you so much. I will continue to read and wear the books I love so much.

Heidi Meeley said...

Foolio, that is kinda how I felt yesterday. It was like being the outcast in school all over again. It doesn't ever go away, does it?

If I can get past my insecurities and just enjoy what I like, I am steps ahead. Thanks for the kind words!

Heidi Meeley said...

Swinebread- I wondered about this woman not wanting to pass on the tradition. That is a good point!

As for lots of issues that would take a long time to respond to... you said it!

Having been lucky enough to briefly meet your SO, I am glad to hear how fantastic she is. (I never had any doubts, BTW) :-)

Your remarks about manga and the cultural differences, you make a great point. I hope everyone reads it!

Heidi Meeley said...

Lisa, I was actually pretty offput by it and then the more I thought about it, I just couldn't believe how freaking rude these women were.

The reactions you get about being a woman store owner are interesting to me. There is such a cross section of people in this world who all have their own ideas about things to be sure.

Your story about fella's who sell their collections and the examples given are a prime one. I have seen the same thing and it never ceases to amaze me. I wonder what one of my fellow womenkind would do if their husbands made them sell off their handbags or shoes? Or what about their collection of Nancy Drew hardbounds? I just don't see that it is fair.

Thank you for the insight. As always, I bow to your wisdom!

Heidi Meeley said...

Brainfreeze, thank you for your comment here. I really appreciate it. I was also astounded at the rudeness of my fellow gym goers. Why they felt the need to judge is beyond me. Maybe they were born in a barn? LOL!

Good on your husband, BTW. I am glad to hear that there is a rational minded great guy out there who supports his wife's interests.

Heidi Meeley said...

Carl, I am leaving your comment to stand on it's own as you have once again rendered me speechless. Wow.

Meaghann said...

Mello said: "As a girl working in a comic store, I get that from the significant others coming into the store. There are some girls that plop down on a chair and glare at me..."

I'm glad to know that it's not just me. I haven't had anyone negatively comment on why I work there, but I can see it on their faces. I have had comments from women and men saying it's nice to see a woman working in the store, so that kind of overrides the glaring. Outside of the shop it's a different story, and I tend to get a lot of the same reaction Heidi does.

GeneralBobby said...

I am, to my knowledge, the only comic book fan where I work.(Though I did get someone to buy the VOL 1 hardcover of Runaways.)Most people pay it no mind, as the sight of me burying my nose in a comic is a pretty common sight at this point.The few comments I do get amount to little more than "What is that?Spider-Man?"If someone is teasing me, it's behind my back.

I wonder how the naysayers would react if you told them that some of their favorite TV shows are/were written by regular comic book writers?

RedheadFangirl said...

I hate the Mom card too! Like you have no right to any opinion or hobby because you are childfree (I say childfree and not childless because it isn't a loss if it's your choice). Seriously, those women are vain and nuts!

Lynxara said...

Heh. I suspect with that new woman, forcing her husband to get rid of his comics turned into an Issue (as well it should), and seeing a woman who wasn't taking "her side" probably made her feel justifiably insecure.

Women who tell their husbands they can't read comics, play games, or basically do anything with a "childish" veneer now that they're married absolutely infuriate me. It's shrewish, unfair, outdated behavior. If someone has habits you dislike then don't get involved with them to begin with.

Todd Michael Rogers said...


inkdestroyedmybrush said...

heidi - I'm sorry that you had to encounter the rude and uneducated women at the gym, I feel sorrier for the neutered husband that ditched his entire love of comics for the nasty controlling bitch that is his wife. She knew who he was and still married him. I reminds me of the women that I know that hate the movie "Knocked Up" because they dislike the portrayal of the women in the movie as shrews. Well, guess what, sometimes that stereotype is true. And you ran into a perfect example of "I'll marry him and make him what I want."

Interesting that she seems to have lived under a rock for the last 20 years and not seen a single article that comics are different now. I'd think that it was rare but my wife and I had a well educated, well read couple over for dinner two days ago, and the wife experienced amazement that comics were anything other than spider man and archie. Clearly we have a long way to go. Hopefully her son will discover them over at a friend's house by himself. Or stealthily by dad maybe.

I just can't wait for that genteration to die off. Just like all the old fogies who thought that rock and roll was the devil: all gone. Rock and roll is simply part of the musical landscape. And when we get another 10 or 15 years in, the anti-comics folks will be mostly gone, just like the women who ridiculed other women who wanted to do sports in the 1970's saying that it was unfeminine and that men would no longer want them as they would resemble lesbians. Those women are dead and gone and so is that attitude is society. An entire generation of girls will grow up on powerpuff girls and scooby doo and justice league and manga and comics will continue to grow as part of the landscape.

I wonder if that woman keeps her kid from watching disney movies?

Cuitlamiztli Carter said...

I don't have this problem, but I also don't wear t-shirts (of any stripe). I do have a "Queen/Sage" political bumper sticker (as in Green Arrow and The Question) but no one's asked about it yet.

Most of my friends know that I read extensively and have diverse interests, so since they know I jump from the trendy & edgy Aqua Teen Hunger Force to anarchist/primitivist John Zerzan, Nabokov's "Pale Fire" to Archie Comics Double Digest, Hart Crane's poetry to the music of Operation Ivy, they don't have a problem with Batman in there.

The blow was softened with my co-workers (I'm the youngest teacher at a private Classical school) because I'm viewed as a philosophical guy (I teach Logic, for one), so usually my discussions with the other comic book fan quickly veer into the same sort of philosophical discussions my co-workers have about film or books. Today, in fact, a co-worker walked in on a discussion we were having about the difference between tokenism and accuracy in a superhero comic culture that needs diversity, and the issue of homosexual heroes. This was her introduction to the fact that the guy who teachers Latin to her sixth grade is into superheroes.

I think the current trend of superhero movies has made it easier for adult superhero comic fans to speak up.

But I am fortunate that my city has a great comic shop well-stocked with independent, non-superhero fare. You see a diverse crowd of people there, the mood of the store is low-key but it seems hipster enough to prevent loud "Who would win, Galactus or Darkseid?" arguments, but not too hipster to seem intimidating to casual browsers. I love shopping there, because you see young kids and old folks, males & females, geeks (because the last thing I want is a shop without geeks, since most of the comic book writers I read are geeks!) & hipsters, etc.

The other comic shops in town (closing down, one by one) tend to have a great deal of tabletop gaming (nothing wrong with that) and a very guy-geek-club feel that even makes me feel uncomfortable (one doesn't want to be part of that tableaux). I think women who work at comic shops must have a high tolerance for being hit on.