photo credit to WomenReadComicsInPublic.Tumblr.com
One year at New York City Comic Con my best friend and I decided to take a detour to the session of speed dating happening in the basement. It was our last hour at the convention and I was intent on sharing her awesomeness with the unwitting dating world, as friends are known to do. Since it was also the last session of speed dating, it was our last chance to have all the ducks in one pond before they disperse throughout the rest of the world, blending in other habitats and more difficult to properly identify.
Quite possibly the same person
We were halfway through the door before understanding the mistake we made. Sitting quietly in small circles, several dozen men hovered around 2 women in attendance, their discomfited expressions serving as a warning to any woman who dares enter.
“You still want to do this?” I surveyed the scene, feeling like an unintentional accomplice to the gender ratio crime.
A man laughed from one of the circles. “She should’ve! You would’ve made a hot elf,” he explained to a woman wearing a green Zelda t-shirt. That answered my question as we turned on our heels to walk away.
Walking down the hallway we passed a cosplayer dressed as Korra. “Hey,” she called back to us, “do you know where speed dating is?” she asked.
“Right there, just on your left,” I directed. As we started away, my friend turned her head to check back on Korra.
“You think we should’ve warned her?” she asked. I turned to look myself, seeing this woman standing in the doorway. She was analyzing the scene with more concentration than Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.
It can be tough out there in public, mostly for women. We men make it tough, although often not maliciously, but we hold our fault nonetheless. We can be off-putting, overly aggressive, and exploitative. This is the point in the discussion where defensive male readers argue it’s a two-way street, and you’re right – poor behavior isn’t exclusive to any gender. But we’re also wrong, because it’s not the same, especially in male-dominated industries such as the comic scene, and to direct our focus away from our fault is to distract from significant problems we can affect. If you’re still unconvinced, here’s the point in a medium we can better understand.
Being respectful and inclusive makes geekdom more fun for all of us. And we should go hard at those goals because, well, having as much shameless fun as possible is what makes us who we are. That said, here are 5 reasons not to be that guy at the convention, GameStop, your local comic store, or other habitats nerd women are found.
1: Women who read comics are awesome. Yes, they are awesome, and yes, it is because they are women readers. Through 75 years of under-representation, women keep reading, writing, and creating, while navigating a vast sea of bullshit. They’ve led the entertainment industry in coming a long way in the complexity and depth of female characters, while moving further away from the princess/heroine tropes and is finally beginning to capture a more dynamic scope of women.
2: Although the media we consume seems to tell us otherwise, comics are more popular among women than you might expect. Current market research estimates female comic fans to represent approximately 47% of the total readership. Similar to that trend are video games, an estimated 45%. I imagine the same for anime, porn, and every other entertainment medium we typically see as male-dominated. The comic industry simply would not thrive without them.
3: That girl might know more about comics than you, and that’s okay! Look at me. Look at me, no, look at me – it’s okay. It’s okay. She might be better than you at Mass Effect 3, too. It’s okay. Come here.
Men are not the gatekeepers to geekdom. What a weight off our shoulders! There is no test requirement for enjoying a book or being entertained by a cartoon, so there’s no need to quiz a woman on their knowledge of the original source of Juggernaut’s powers. This goes for anyone, but particularly women since they are predominantly subject to this type of condescension.
4: Gender-bending cosplay is for lovers. It is actually your sworn duty to applaud a gender-bending cosplayer. This is another one that applies to men as well, but special recognition to women who do it far more often. We admire characters for their strengths, vulnerabilities, humor, tempers – we see characteristics we either reflect or aspire towards. To see a character with whom you relate and cosplay them regardless of their sex? You are awesome and cannot be stopped.
To love women who love comics is to think about their experience with the medium and how we can make it more comfortable, safe, and inclusive, and that only makes the industry better. Keep it moving in the right direction and in the future, who knows, maybe a crowd of women will walk in with Korra.