Comics Aren’t for Girls

This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics

Once, in junior high, I snuck into my brother’s room. No one else was home when I pushed open the door to the room that had been (unspokenly) off limits since my big brother hit high school. I crept in, even though there was no one to hear me – I don’t think I even turned on the light. I made my way to his dresser and started searching. I’m not sure why I even knew to look there, I suppose television had successfully communicated to both of us that dressers were where you kept things, because there they were. They weren’t hidden, just stacked in one corner of the third drawer. Comic books. I lifted out as many as I could hold and sat down on my brother’s bed, tense and irrationally ready to be caught at any moment. But within a few minutes I stopped listening for someone to come home and lost myself in the adventures of Wolverine, Rogue, Jubilee. I spent the next hour devouring as many of my brother’s X-Men comics as I could, flipping through to find my favorite characters. I still remember some of those panels as vividly as if they were in front of me now.  My brother didn’t even read comics anymore by then. He probably would have given them to me if I’d asked. But there was a problem.

Comics aren’t for girls.

meetingMy brother is five years older than me and got into comics early, so I’ve known about the X-Men for pretty much as long as I can remember. According to my mom, X-Men: The Animated Series was the only show he and I ever agreed on watching. We were both enthralled. We had favorite characters, favorite powers. I even remember playing X-Men in my grandparent’s basement – pretending to discover our powers and run from Sentinels – instead of playing with our cousins upstairs.

But comics – the actual packets of paper and ink – were never something I had. I wondered about them, I wanted them. But I wasn’t even sure where my brother got them. We lived in a small nowhere town and I’d only caught glimpses of Archie comics in the little spinner racks at the grocery store. Even those I never touched. The idea that I would be caught looking too long as we passed was somehow embarrassing. Despite being raised to value individuality and to read whatever I wanted, I had come to understand something.

Comics aren’t for girls.

I had an inherent understanding that, as a girl, it would be deeply embarrassing to be seen crouched, intensely browsing the comics (as I knew I would be if I gave in to the desire). Certainly I shouldn’t ask anyone about them. It was years before I even knew there was a comic book store in our town. I had passed it a hundred times on my way to the library or home from school, but the windows were mostly obscured and uninviting. When I eventually understood what it was, it seemed a confirmation of what I already believed. No one had ever told me about this store. No one, including my brother had ever mentioned it to me, let alone asked if I’d like to go. No one had ever said I wasn’t allowed, but no one gave any indication that I was. I knew it wasn’t a place for me. I still don’t even know what the store was called.

sexist-comic-dumb-chickSo even later, when I dated a devoted Spiderman fanboy and fell in love all over again with the first X-Men film, I didn’t try to read comics. I didn’t ask if I could have the comics my brother clearly didn’t read anymore, I didn’t try to figure out how to get my own. That boyfriend (my first) even tried to get me to read comics, but they sat on my desk largely untouched. I’d like to say it was because I’ve just never been that into Spider-Man. But honestly, I still thought I ought to be embarrassed.

Comics aren’t for girls.

Eventually it was fan fiction, a place where I interacted with mostly other girls, that I finally felt welcome. Fan fiction for the X-Men films became a window to the staples of that world as fans – girls – enthused about mutant powers and delved into Marvel backstories. Still there were obstacles – largely the idea that I was somehow a “fake” fan because I loved the movies. I would go into comic book stores (later, in college) and pray no one noticed how confused I was. But I managed to find little side entrances to the world – libraries, graphic novels, exhaustive Wikipedia entries. Even the occasional friendly female clerk at a comic shop. Eventually my chest stopped tightening with that unbidden reprimand:

Comics aren’t for girls.

Now, I’m generally thought of as someone who “knows” comics. Friends happily defer to me for suggestions and opinions. More than once I’ve accompanied other women on their first trip into a comic shop. I hope that I can hold open for others the gates that always felt so closed to me. That’s really what I want all of us to do. Change takes time, and there are so many people who feel that these gates are locked to them. We’ve can’t just expect them to know they’re welcome. We need to tell them. We need to show them.

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