Originally posted 2015-01-12 10:37:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
I like to think that I’m a pretty decent human being.
Don’t think I didn’t hear that snort of derision…lighten up – I didn’t say “perfect”, I just said “pretty decent”.
I think I’m fairly socially conscious. I’m morally aware of what’s going on in the world around me. I help those who need assistance. My social circle’s about as diverse as you can possibly get without being a caricature from a children’s story about tolerance and acceptance.
And yet, to all of the women that I know, especially those in the tech scene, I kinda feel like I owe you an apology…because it wasn’t until I took my seven year old daughter to a comic book store this weekend that the universe slapped me upside the head and brought a really serious issue into focus for me…
I mean, I thought I understood it before.
But I really didn’t understand it before.
See, I’ve talked with plenty of people and kept up on the news. I have friends who are women in the technology field. We’ve had plenty of female guests on our show. I know some incredibly successful women in their chosen careers. But as it turns out, even though I thought I had a grasp on how crappy women can have it in the geek world, it turns out that, at best, I had a superficial understanding.
And that’s really hard for me to wrap my head around, because I hate not understanding things.
She’s seven. She may talk like she’s twenty-seven at times, but…she’s seven. She has her whole life ahead of her. An endless world of possibilities. She can be anything she wants to be…
…or is everything that I believe, and that I’ve been telling her, just so much crap and utter nonsense because that’s not really how things work?
The trip was completely their idea, believe it or not. They had seen a commercial for Big Bang Theory with the cast in a comic book store, asked about the concept, and demanded that I take them to one. So I did, and when we first got to the store, both kids (my son’s five) were in awe. I had to keep them from running around the place and picking everything up. I had to keep reminding them to stay by me, and to please walk and use their manners. The action figures, the collectible models…the very newness of it all…had them completely overwhelmed. As they found their way to the racks, they lost their minds. There were hundreds and hundreds of comics staring them in the face, and they wanted them all. I agreed that I’d buy them a few (have to encourage the next generation after all, right? Right.) and so go ahead and take a look around…but look, don’t touch, and behave.
My son had no problems whatsoever. Superman. Batman. Wolverine. The Flash. The other Batman. That third Batman. Still yet another Batman. Holy hell, why are there like nineteen different Batman comic series all out at once these days? And wait…it’s not just Batman…there’s five different Superman series, three Wolverine comics, and…
“Breathe,” I had to tell him. “No, we’re not buying all of them…but pick out, oh, three each that you want and we’ll get those.”
He was set. He went to staring at the covers of the different books and figuring out which ones he wanted.
“What’s up, kiddo?” I asked.
“Dad…where are the real comics?”
“These are the comics, honey. What do you mean ‘real’ ones? What are you looking for?”
“Dad,” she said as she rolled her eyes at me (I mentioned that she acts like she’s twenty seven sometimes, yes? I could tell this was about to be one of those times) and said “these can’t be the real comics. That’s not Harley Quinn. That’s not Wonder Woman. That’s not…where are the real ones?”
I had no clue what she was talking about.
“Hon…these are the real comics. What do you mean?”
“All their…” …and her voice dropped to a whisper… “boobies are hanging out, Dad. These can’t be for kids, and comic books are for kids, and kids aren’t supposed to see that. That Wonder Woman looks like she’s in a video, and I don’t know who that is, but it’s not Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn wears clothes.”
And just like that…I got it. Something clicked. Something that had never really clicked with me before, but through her eyes, I got it – where were the superheros for girls that weren’t quite so overdeveloped and under-dressed? When the guy behind the counter was asked, he smiled at me knowingly, and said “Your daughter’s…seven?” I said yes. “Same here,” he continued. “I always bring her home these.”
Hello Kitty and Monster High.
That’s what the man who runs a comic book store with a seven year old daughter had to offer…Hello Kitty…and Monster High. Literally thousands of comics lining the shelves…and Hello Kitty…and Monster High.
Then, as I started having a conversation with my daughter about the whole thing, I realized I was in a no-win situation…even if her eyes did light up a bit at the Monster High comic.
I can’t be casually dismissive of the whole thing, because then I’m basically saying that if a woman’s attractive, then she clearly can’t be a superhero. And I know plenty of successful, attractive women…all of whom would kick my ass if it got out that that’s what I was teaching my daughter.
I can’t wholly endorse the entire concept, because no, I don’t really want my daughter to be one of those daughters as she continues to grow and mature. If she starts dressing like Mystique, we’re going to have a problem, and the joke I made at her birth about locking her in her room until menopause will no longer be a joke.
And then there’s the fact that she’s seven. Seven. I’m not really ready to sit down and have the talk with her about how it’s okay to be sexy, but that you shouldn’t let it completely define who you are. Because, again, she’s seven. She doesn’t need to know what “sexy” is. She doesn’t have the emotional capacity yet to grasp the differences between inner and outer personas. It’s not within her realm of understanding yet to get why teenage boys (and, yes, some older ones too) are drawn to those covers with women drawn like sine waves with heavy curves, tiny waists, and doll-like faces.
I tried to handle it as best as I could, though. I explained that those were indeed the real comics, but that some of them were just comics drawn for boys and girls who are a little bit older than she is, just like there were some I was steering her brother away from, and just like there are shows on TV that she likes and watches but there are other shows that are for older kids or adults. That it’s okay that she doesn’t really like those comics. That we’ll absolutely find something for her that she does like.
As we finished up our shopping trip (she found some that were “I guess these are okay”) and made our way back home, I couldn’t turn my brain off about the whole thing. I just couldn’t. What I thought was going to be an enjoyable, pleasant experience turned into a crisis of conscience and a re-examination of damn near every interaction that I’ve had, every story that I’ve read, all of the anecdotal stories that I’ve been told…
I didn’t get it. Casually being dismissed in meetings. Dealing with harassment at conferences. Feeling like there was nowhere for you to go in the tech industry because nobody would ever take you or your ideas seriously and you were tired of fighting.
I get it – I didn’t get it.
And I certainly didn’t take it seriously enough.
But I get it now…well, no, I won’t be That Guy who says he gets something he can never really truly understand fully…but I can say I at least get it more than I did before this weekend.
My daughter’s also too young to really understand why I thanked her for the conversation she had with me, and why I was so thoughtful and pensive every time I looked at her for the rest of the weekend. She kept asking me if something was wrong, and I kept saying “Oh no honey…daddy’s just thinking about stuff”, and she’s used to that happening so she accepted it…
Still haven’t been able to turn my brain off, though.
UPDATE 2/7/2015: I’ve written a “lessons learned” from having publishing this entry. You can read that at http://www.itinthed.com/16447/lessons-learned-from-the-comic-book-shop-trip/