Tag Archives: Comics fandom

Attack of the purse snatchers: gender and bag policies in U.S. comic book stores

This is a guest post by Kathryn Hemmann. Kathryn is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University, where she teaches classes on Japanese literature, cinema, and popular culture. When she’s not reading comics, drawing comics, or writing about comics, she plays video games, thus enjoying a well-rounded lifestyle. Kathryn has a blog called Contemporary Japanese Literature, on which she posts feminist reviews of Japanese fiction in translation. Her favorite Sailor Scout is Sailor Mercury.

It was 2006, and I had recently moved to Philadelphia for a graduate program. A child of the South, to me the landscape of a large Northeastern city was both frightening and exciting. I was especially looking forward to my first trip to a comic book shop. The store I chose for my first outing was a block or two away from Philadelphia’s fashionable Rittenhouse Square district, the relative safety of which made me feel less anxious about venturing into the unknown. When I entered the store, I breathed in the perfume of old paper and glossy covers and felt at home – until I took a few more steps, at which point one of the clerks said something that shocked me enough to stop me in my tracks.

Fast forward to 2014. Now, as an early career academic, I travel all over the country for professional conferences and job interviews. In April I found myself in Seattle, a city known for its thriving independent comics culture and home to cutting-edge comics publishers such as Fantagraphics Books and Northwest Press. I decided to take advantage of my time in the Emerald City by visiting a comic store about a five minute walk away from the original Starbucks on Pike Place. I’ve been to comic book shops all around the world during the past eight years, and I was no longer nervous about entering a store I’d never visited before. I walked to the counter, eager to chat with the clerk about local microcomics – but then she said something that made me like a stupid kid all over again.

What could a clerk at a comic book store possibly say to a new female customer to make her feel as alien and unwelcome as possible? Would it be some sort of overtly sexist slur, or an inappropriate comment about her appearance? Or could it perhaps be something as presumably innocuous as:

“I’m going to need to take your bag before you go any further.”

The idea behind this policy, which I have encountered in comic book stores all across the United States, is presumably that store management has either personally witnessed or heard secondhand accounts of enough incidences of theft to employ a safeguard measure involving neither expensive surveillance technology nor paper-damaging anti-theft strips and stickers. Still, I can’t help but think that the stereotype of comic book theft at play here – little kids with grubby fingers sneaking a comic book out of a neighborhood corner store – is out of touch with contemporary cultures of online piracy and the collector’s market for pristine first editions.

When I’ve pressed clerks about this policy, most memorably at a store on a trendy street in New York’s East Village that wanted to confiscate a clutch purse not much bigger than my forearm, they’ve almost unanimously responded that they enforce it with everyone, and that it can’t possibly be sexist, as men have to surrender their bags as well.

Costumer Emily Finke’s essay Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture, posted on i09 roughly a year ago, acted as a catalyst for online debates on the topic of sexist attitudes women encounter in geek cultures centered around comic books in the United States. Heated discussions referencing the mythical “fake geek girl” have been popping up on various internet forums since the meme slithered out of 4chan in 2010, but the past year has seen numerous testimonies, confessions, and rants on relatively mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Tumblr.

To give an example, this past February Noelle Stevenson, creator of Lumberjanes and the webcomic Nimona, posted a comic on her personal Tumblr explaining why she had stopped going into comic books stores. Her post received over eighty thousand notes, generating responses both on her blog and on other Tumblr blogs. Some of these responses openly denounced her, while others encouraged women to visit comic book stores even if they shared Stevenson’s misgivings. In response to continued discussion of how best to reform misogynistic attitudes prevalent in U.S. comic book culture, The Mary Sue website recently launched a new column titled Pull It Together, which offers recommendations on feminist-friendly titles for conscientious comic buyers to add to personal pull lists at comic book stores. An entire Tumblr is devoted to Safe Spaces for Comics Fans, and male comics professionals such as journalist Sean Kleefeld are sharing stories of the subtle harassment women experience at comics conventions and inside comic book stores.

I’ve been following all this talk of gender, clothing, costuming, and sexist attitudes, waiting for someone to bring up the obvious, namely, the bag confiscation policy enforced by comic book stores in the United States. Claiming that this policy is not sexist because it applies to both male and female customers (and presumably people who identify as neither or somewhere in between) is a textbook illustration in false equivalence. Not only is it ridiculous and outdated, but it’s also insulting and contributes to the discomfort many female bloggers and social media users have reported feeling in comic book stores.

Of course, not all women carry purses. Still, mainstream women’s fashion makes it difficult for someone dressed in women’s clothing to keep the necessary accoutrements of daily life (such as wallets, cell phones, keys, glasses, bus tokens, subway pass cards, and so on) on her person without the aid of some sort of purse or briefcase. It’s one thing for a man to surrender a backpack or laptop case; he’s more than likely got his keys and wallet and cell phone in the pockets of his pants or jacket. It’s another thing entirely for a woman to give up her purse or shoulder bag, which – to add insult to injury – generally isn’t even large to put a comic book in without folding it, which would defeat the purpose of going through the trouble of stealing it in the first place. There are only three other situations I can think of in which an individual is asked to surrender her wallet and cell phone to a complete stranger: airport security checkpoints, courthouse security checkpoints, and prison. The last time I checked, no one perceived any of these situations as particularly pleasant.

Aside from the false equivalence between the purses (and other personal articles) carried by women and those carried by men, another troubling aspect of bag confiscation policies has to do with the extreme discomfort they can engender. As the recent Daily Show segment The Fault in Our Schools aptly illustrates, many young women learn to go about “their whole day navigating an obstacle course of sexual menace” and other threats, especially in spaces they perceive to be occupied primarily by men. One of the best self-defense tactics is being able to make a quick exit, and it’s always good to be able to call (or pretend to call) someone or to brandish pepper spray if that doesn’t work. I would like to assume that comic book stores are not prime locations for assault, sexual or otherwise, but it’s still nice to be able to leave an uncomfortable environment without having to ask for your bag, often from the people who have made you feel uncomfortable in the first place by pointedly ignoring you or making snide and judgmental comments about your presence.

By taking a woman’s bag, a comic book store is essentially taking away her freedom to escape from harassment, as well as her sense of security. On top of this, she has just given her wallet and cell phone – and her sense of identity and agency along with them – to someone who has demonstrated distrust and antagonism by asking for them. How could she possibly feel completely comfortable browsing or engaging with the staff and other patrons?

Not every comic book shop in the United States maintains a bag confiscation policy, but enough do that I have collected a fair amount of experiences of being hurt and upset upon entering a previously unvisited store in a previously unvisited part of the country. After spending the past month in Tokyo, where women (and men!) carry not just purses and shoulder bags but rolling suitcases into comic shops without the staff batting an eye, I have decided that I am done with comic book stories in the U.S. If the staff of the offending stores think that I don’t need to my purse on me to feel comfortable buying comics, they’re absolutely correct – I don’t need a purse to buy comics online.

My linkspam brings all the boys to the yard (30 April 2014)

  • In memoriam: Wikimedia remembers two women who contributed hugely to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects: Adrianne Wadewitz (died April 8, see also New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and the memorial edit-a-thon in Los Angeles in May) and Cynthia Ashley-Nelson (died April 11)
  • Audrey Tang spoke to TEDxTaipei on Programming Languages and RailsGirls Taiwan (程式語言與軌道女孩) on April 27. Slides (primarily in Chinese) and an English language translation of the transcript are up.
  • The Anti-Nerd: Fear of a Black Time Traveler | Rafael Martinez at Black Girl Nerds (April 16): “It is something I have noticed. A lack of us being in the Time Traveling profession. I then Googled ‘Black time travelers’ and closest I got was, I kid you not–black traveling shoes.”
  • Dealing with name changes in publication records for scientists | Savannah at lgbt+physicists+blog (April 21): “The basic idea here is that if one is assigned, for example, a female-typical name such as Robyn O’Troodle at birth, then publishes several papers under this name before transitioning to Jonathon O’Troodle, this would result in a jump from a female-typical name to a male-typical name that might appear awkward (or simply distracting) on one’s publication record.”
  • Lady She-Woman: Female Superheroes, Codenames and Identity | Andrew Wheeler at Comics Alliance (April 23): “Identity is central to superhero fiction. It’s a genre that gives us heroes; big, broad, iconic modern gods that lift us up out of the uncertainties of our own lives to a place where who you are and what you stand for is known… For a lot of female heroes, owning a superhero identity presents an almost insurmountable challenge. A significant number of DC’s female heroes are based on other heroes, from Batgirl, Supergirl and Wonder Girl through Stargirl, Mary Marvel and Ravager.”
  • Sex, Sexy & Sexism | Storify (April 24): a PAX East 2014 panel on fixing gender inequality in gaming. Featuring Susan Arendt, Brianna Wu, Tifa Robles, and Duane de Four, moderated by Ken Gagne
  • No, I Don’t Work for Free | Julie Pagano (April 26): “Asking someone to come do professional work for your for-profit company for free is incredibly problematic. I would argue in many cases it is downright exploitative. I doubt they’d have asked me to come code for them for a few hours for free. They’d recognize how unacceptable that is. Why is it that other work is seen as valuable enough to ask for, but not valuable enough to pay for?”
  • Dragon Age Goes Gender-Neutral! | Brad Baron at Gay Gamer (April 23): “Dragon Age: Inquisition… due out this fall, features a figure on its cover that could be any gender. The best part — the character’s gender is totally irrelevant!”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

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Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Take arms against a sea of links, and by spamming, end them (18 April 2014)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Linkspam shattered on impact (19th September, 2011)

  • The GNOME Women’s Outreach Program is running paid internships (for women, and not only students) from December 12, 2011 through March 12, 2012. The application deadline is October 31.
  • Just 12% of CSIRO’s senior scientists women: While at entry level almost 50 per cent of post-doctorate graduates are female [at CSIRO, Australia’s government research agency], just 12 per cent of senior specialists are women.
  • Women, swearing and the workplace: Since [Carol] Bartz’s very public departure from Yahoo last week, her penchant for blunt, profane language has become recurring themes in discussions of her career, driving conversation about what women can and can’t be in the workplace.
  • (Warning: self-harm and harassment mentioned.) Naming Names on the Internet: Three years ago… It required contributors to Web portals and other popular sites to use their real names, rather than pseudonyms… Last month, after a huge security breach, the government said it would abandon the system.
  • (Warning for sexual assault and denial.) Reddit Users Find New Way To Be Assholes. When a woman posted about her sexual assault on Reddit, she enraged doubters, who eventually convinced her to post video proof of the crime.
  • Introducing Ladydrawers: it’s the female-identified creators who aren’t being encouraged to submit [comics] work, aren’t being sought out and aren’t getting books turned into big movie deals. In comics and elsewhere, women creators of all sorts of media are starting to ask: Why? Ladydrawers, a new semimonthly comics collaboration, will look at a few possible reasons and impacts in comics form.
  • Across the digital divide: This doesn’t change the part where, every time a discussion of ebooks turns, seemingly inevitably, to Print is dead, traditional publishing is dead, all smart authors should be bailing to the brave new electronic frontier, what I hear, however unintentionally, is Poor people don’t deserve to read.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

Linkspamming backwards in high heels (17th September, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

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Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Remorseless husband-stealing no-good linkspams (15th August, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

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Linkspam outside alone after dark (5th February, 2010)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

A rising tide lifts all linkspams (19th January, 2011)

  • Russell Coker writes about conferences designed for people on the autism spectrum. In summary NTs seem to think that Autism Spectrum Disorders are only about socialisation, not realising that for many people on the Spectrum it’s sensory issues that are their main problem. Social problems are exacerbated by sensory issues and other causes of stress, so I think it’s worth considering ways in which conferences can be planned to be less stressful for people on the Autism Spectrum…
  • Lots of discussion of privilege and intellectual property following from Twitter and then Karen Healey’s A Brief Pause for Some Rage. There’s a roundup at On piracy and copyright. If you’re very interested in ebook and intellectual property issues, check the Mobileread forums too.
  • Not social justice from where I’m standing: The upshot here is that asexual people get hit particularly hard as being repressed or messed up, standing in the way of a singular social justice narrative around sexuality.
  • How young is too young? (for kids to get into computers)
  • My Experiences as a Female Software Engineer: Something that frustrates me about the field of computer science is that there are a lot of jerks who think that just because they’ve mastered some programming language or know some obscure unix commands, they are gods and you are nothing.
  • Cass Cain Counts: A campaign has been launched to bring Cassandra Cain back back fulltime to the DC Comics universe… Cassandra Cain served as the titular heroine of the first ongoing Batgirl comic book series. Of Asian descent, she is also the first non-white member of the Batman family and has remained one of the most prominent non-white superheroes…
  • Cyberfucking While Feminist: For a number of us, erotic roleplaying is a double-edged sword. It is, for some, a path to sexual freedom and a means of enacting another significant dimension of a roleplayed character’s life. But it is also an exercise fraught with a myriad of pitfalls created by the institutional sexism that still haunts many gaming and geek spaces.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

A quick post about The Walking Dead

The makeup for this show: phenomenal.
Cross posted at From Austin to A&M.

 Like any good geek, I love me some zombies. So of course I tuned in last night to AMC’s new zombie show, The Walking Dead. And I found myself disappointed. Spoilers ahoy! (NB: I haven’t read the graphic novel. This is just a review of the pilot that aired last night.

The show starts with our hero, Rick, and his misogynistic partner, Shane, talking about how women and men are different. This conversations seems to function solely to tell us that Shane is a bit of a prick, Rick is a genuinely good guy (which I didn’t really buy), and Lori, Rick’s wife, is a bitch. Basically, it took about ten minutes for me to realize I was probably going to blog about this show, and not in a good way.

The dudes, who are police officers, get into a shootout, Rick is shot, and then we see Shane bringing him flowers in the hospital. (He assures us that he didn’t pick them out himself, however. That’s for sissy ladies. And he’s not gay or anything gross.) Rick wakes up, the flowers are dead, and the hospital is full of corpses and ruin. I did like the set up here; Rick has no fucking clue what it going on, and he’s still injured, so he basically cowers home, where he discovers his empty house and runs into Morgan and his young son, Duane. Their family was heading to the refugee camp in Atlanta when Morgan’s wife became infected and got all zombified. She still hangs about, and they can’t leave with her haunting them. Morgan wants to “put her down” and even attempts to in this episode, but he can’t. 

Anyway, Rick and Morgan arm themselves, keep open a line of communication, and Rick sets off for Atlanta, where he thinks his wife Lori and son Carl have headed. We find out that Lori and Carl are with Shane (and Lori is with Shane) outside of the city, because it’s been overrun with zombies. Rick runs into the city on a horse (looking straight out of a zombie videogame), gets his horse eaten by zombies, and takes an incredible amount of time to seal himself up in a tank. (Seriously, this guy must have the lowest amount of adrenaline ever present in a human being. He moves like molasses.)
In case you missed it, he’s a goddamn cowboy.

So far, I liked the story okay, and it seems promising for the character development of the people the show seems to care about. Unfortunately, none of those characters are ladies, who existed in this pilot for the sole purpose of helping to advance dude characters’ development. Morgan’s wife is in the refrigerator, gets absolutely no characterization (not even after the fact), and the only reason we even care about her is that Morgan and Duane are all traumatized by this. She gets a lot of face time in this episode solely because she’s been stuffed in the fridge, and we’re supposed to see her (rather pretty for a zombie) face through Morgan’s eyes. And the only other lady character with a name is Lori, who gets very little screen time, and most of that is devoted to kissing Shane, presumably so we can see how whorey she is, since she got over her husband faster than it took for him to heal from a gunshot wound. And perhaps I’m being too harsh on the writers here; they may not want us to judge her so quickly. But it’s difficult to tell, since that is basically the only thing she does onscreen, and the conversation in the beginning of the episode is intended to make us think she’s a bitch. She doesn’t ever get a side in that conversation, and we don’t get to hear about what happened from another party, because she doesn’t actually matter. She exists solely to develop Rick and Shane for us, and doesn’t exist outside of those relationships.

Get me out of the refrigerator!

This episode failed the Bechdel test hard, despite being an hour and a half long, and a fucking zombie movie, not a rom com. It could easily have included two women talking about practically anything, including zombies and survival, if they were feeling uncreative. But it didn’t, because it would have had to have two women talking on screen at the same time. And that, apparently, was too fucking difficult.

I think this show could get better. According to their cast of characters, there are at least some women playing a part in the show later. Significantly less than men, but they’re there. Possibly, then, they will get some personalities and perhaps even plot lines not connected to their dudes and romantic relationships. But I was really disappointed by the premiere, and am not feeling particularly optimistic.

Attention The Walking Dead  writers: women are not plot devices. And we don’t like watching shows that don’t think women matter as characters. Fix it.

Further reading (will be updated): 

Two linkspams, who talk to each other, about something other than a man (26th July, 2010)

  • My Fault, I’m Female is collecting short personal stories of experiences of sexism.
  • The Westboro Baptist Church (famously and aggressively homophobic) protested at Comic-Con for “worship of false idols”. Comics Alliance reports on the cosplay counter-protest at Super Heroes vs. the Westboro Baptist Church and Courtney Stoker has more photos. (Note re triggers: photos are mainly of the counter-protest, the Comics Alliance one looks like it might have a WBC sign in the background.)
  • Speaking of Comic-Con, Kate Kotler reports on the Girl Geeks Tweet-Up at Comic Con.
  • Out of work? Maybe it’s ’cause you’re unattractive: a survey of hiring managers suggests that being attractive is a very important hiring criterion. Right. So education, skills and experience are, you know, sort of relevant, but not as relevant as how you look in a dress.
  • The Invisibility of Women in Computing Jobs: an Intel hiring simulation game had a wee gap. But then, when you went to hire employees…they forgot to include an option to hire any women.
  • Hey, Baby Link Roundup/Open Thread: What I think the detractors are missing is that this is a video game, and it’s helpful to look at it in the context of video games and video game culture. Both Hess and Kesler seem hung up on the violent aspect of the game, but, like it or not, video games are, by and large, violent.
  • redeyedtreefrog is sceptical of another explanation of why so few women in science: …they argue women perceive STEM careers (those in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as largely incompatible with one of their core goals: Engaging in work that helps others.… I admit to considerable skepticism about this. Women and business? Not so altruistic.
  • firecat is wary of completely buying into self-promotion: one argument that comes up is women have to… learn how to play the game and that means learning how to play up their accomplishments.the game often seems to mean trying to crush other people’s contributions so yours looks better in comparison. I think those parts of the game are broken.
  • Heather Albano writes about setting up a court-intrigue/romance game plotline in a gender-equal gaming world.
  • januaryhat: In honor of old-school skiffy: II: In the Golden Age, real sci-fi was brought to you by quality publications such as BoobieShips & TitRockets.
  • The Obscurecast Episode 10 features Pewter of the ‘mental Shaman talking about geek feminism.
  • The solution to everything is a reality TV show. So it shouldn’t surprise you that the answer to women in tech is… a reality TV show.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.