A female perspective on comic book stores

Gabriela Staniszewski, Contributing Writer

In a predominately male-oriented industry, it can be difficult for women to be accepted into the community of comic book enthusiasts.

As a young woman who is relatively new to the scene, I often feel uncomfortable walking into my local comic book store and striking up a conversation with the employees. My discomfort stems from not knowing much about comics and acknowledging that I’m going to be “checked out” the entire time I’m in the store.

I’ve heard similar stories from female professors, peers and relatives: the treatment is almost always the same no matter the age or amount of knowledge one has. I believe that this attitude toward women stems from how women are portrayed in comics and that this issue needs to be addressed head on.

I overheard a conversation that inspired me to write this article.  Just before class began, I heard a female professor recommend a particular comic book store to another female professor, solely because the comic book store has female employees.  If you’re a woman, your appreciation for any comic is scrutinized simply because of your gender.

In her article “The Female Link: Citation and Continuity in Watchmen,” Erin M. Keating analyzes the characters of Watchmen, taking time to talk about the female figures in the comic. She quotes Roger Sabin who “describes women in comic books as ‘invariably either plot devices as [damsels in distress] or sex symbols.’”  Keating also quotes William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. Marston talks about why the iconic female hero is loved by male readers: “Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slave.”  One can infer that women can only be submissive damsels in distress or dominant while scantily clad. This kind of portrayal can really influence a young man’s mentality about where women stand in relation to the comic community.

Recently, there have been a few breakthroughs with female empowerment in the comic world. Marvel’s Agent Carter TV series has been applauded for having a strong, independent female character portrayed during prime-time. This is one step in the right direction, but in order for more steps to be taken, women have to make their presence known. One way to do this is for females to frequent their local comic book stores.  Avoiding a situation never leads to its resolution.  Strike up conversations, ask questions, openly comment on gender discrimination when you see it, and encourage your fellow females to keep being their nerdy selves.  Don’t let someone else’s doubts or belittlement stop you from doing something you enjoy – comic books were made for all to enjoy.