What Taking My Daughter to a Comic Book Store Taught Me

What Taking My Daughter to a Comic Book Store Taught Me

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…

comicshop1I never understood it before.

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.

spandex1But not as much as I hate the reaction my daughter had to looking through a comic book store.

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.

powergirl1And that’s when things started to go sideways.

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.

pgirl2My daughter had an extremely puzzled look on her face.

“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.”

comicsuckAnd 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.

mj1I 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.

harleyquinn1I 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…

comic2I 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.

That’s enough heavy thinking for one post.  Go read something else while I keep pondering: http://www.itinthed.com/read/

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/

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David Phillips is the geek that’s been pushed into management roles over the span of his career. He’s been a helpdesk jockey, a team lead, a systems architect and even a Vice President over the course of his more than 20 years in information technology for a variety of industries. He’s been profiled by CNN’s Money Magazine for his work with the group, as well as being a regular speaker for the Michigan Shifting Gears program, winning 2013’s “Outstanding Contributor for the Transformation of Careers and Lives”. The views and opinions expressed here are solely in his own, and relate to IT in the D only.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Hey!
    So I’m a novice comic/graphic novel consumer, but I have a couple suggestions that your daughter may enjoy!

    I really like Lumberjanes. It’s one of my favorites out right now! Squirrel Girl JUST came out and it’s pretty great. Now, I don’t read a ton that are kid-appropriate other than those, but I have read a sample of Mouseguard, which wasn’t for me, but really just because I’m not a fan of the art style.

    This link is a little old, but I know a few are probably still running : http://geekgirlcon.com/10-great-comic-books-for-kids-under-12/

    But, really, your comic provider is letting you down. There’s a lot more out there besides Monster High, MLP, or Hello Kitty. Find a better shop!

  2. Yea, I know it’s not the point of your post, but your comic shop was off their game. Tiny Titans collections, Aw Yeah Comics titles, Superman Family Adventures collected, Lumberjanes, My Little Pony, Miss Marvel – my girls get a dozen or so titles every month. As a lifelong comic fan I’ve stopped reading D.C. Because of the same issues your daughter raised, but there are artists she can support. Trying to find a female friendly comic shop is a real process and one that offers up only HK and MH isn’t a female friendly place.

    Seeing you support her quest to be seen as a person, having you make the effort to find her appropriate books, discussing how skewed representation can be – all of these will help her have a more positive self image. Don’t tell her the books are for older kids, tell her they’re pretty messed up. Agree with her instincts and she’ll always know you’ve got her back.

  3. Hi Dave. This was a great and insightful comic and like yourself I’ve been struggling with finding better books for my Niece and Nephew as they are getting into comics as well as my wife who is really interested in more Mature and Complicated comics outside of Spandex and Superheroes.

    For your Daughter I would recommend the following books:

    Ms. Marvel – Marvel – First Volume is already out.
    Lumberjanes – 9 issues out but REALLY REALLY GOOD

    Adventure Time – Much like the cartoon but in comic form the writers can do a lot more with the characters and give Marceline, Princess Bubblegum, and others a lot more center stage time.

    Squirrel Girl – Marvel – Written by the same writer as Adventure time and very very body positive and fun.

    Gotham Academy – DC – Harry Potter-esque school Hijinks in Gotham.

    Lil’ Gotham – Kid appropriate Batman and Company adventures. Harley’s representation in that book is great.

    Princess Ugg – Barbarian Princess wants to go to college but finds herself at a Princess Prep school with

    Disney Stereotypes. Great story about not fitting in, being true to yourself, and never assuming things about others.

    Molly Danger – a kickstarted comic on sale via Amazon about a young female hero.

    All these are great books with positive images for young girls that don’t pander to them either. They are written with Empathy and understanding rather than based off marketing data.

    Also if your Local Comic Shop is not the best place for your or your kids anymore, find a new one. I have had to hunt for one that was interested in special ordering books for me and would make recommendations based off past purchases. Also the environment is family friendly and customer friendly. I’ve been with them now for close to 10 years. So hunt around and find a place that makes Comic Book Day a fun event for everyone. 🙂

  4. Thanks for that, I really appreciate the insight and perspective.

    Altough I disagree fundamentally with two things:

    1. Comics are for kids.

    As you skillfully pointed out, they’re not. Not with the sexualisation that is at work. Comics are not children stuff, at least not exclusively. And I think that’s a part of the problem, we tend to group all comics as one unified “thing” for a certain group. Which is not true.

    2. A seven years old girl does need to know what sexy is.

    Now, I apologise for approaching such a delicate matter and I’m fully aware that it is none of my business to tell anybody how to raise their kids. That said, it is my opinion that there is no such thing as “too young” to be informed about sex. It is not only natural, but omnipresent in the “information era”. Kids know and are curious about sex and we all know it, however uncomfortable that makes us regarding our own children. I don’t see how informing and educating can’t lead to a healthier relation with intimacy when the right time come. Especially for girls, wich seem to be frequently under informed about how to have a good relationship with this “part” of their lives. Probably due to how incredly incomfortable we are to teach about intimacy, we prefer pretend that it doesn’t exist, because by doing so with think we are protecting our daughters, but it is my opinion that sexuality exist in all of us, from the start. It is by this logic, a great disservice to anyone to deny information that would help them understand themselves, what they will become and what is so present in the society that they will live in.

  5. You should take your children to Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor. It’s a great family-owned shop with lots of all ages and girl-friendly comics, and the staff has been very enthusiastic about helping me find books for my daughter.

  6. Dave — what a great post. Thank you for getting it. I really like the alternate suggestions others have made above, but at the same time, it doesn’t excuse the fact that the comics she wanted just did not exist. Period. An all-ages Wonder Woman? A Harley Quinn that fans of the animated series would love? Why are these things so hard to produce, guys?

    I also hope that the main lesson you took away from this sad adventure was just how uncomfortable she felt standing in that store, surrounded by hyper-sexualized versions of characters she loves. For many women, that feeling of discomfort never goes away. Not at 8 or 10 or 22 or 40. We just learn to deal with the fact that it exists. This is the world female comics fans live in.

  7. You might hit up the local library, see what they have for new, young comic book readers. You’ll probably find more graphic novels, but they may have actual comic books, too.
    I think Justice League Unlimited (the TV show) is also available as a comic series.

    If you do go for graphic novels, I’d recommend looking at:
    -Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
    and
    -Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack
    You’ll note that neither of these is written by women. I assume, though, these guys are probably also dads trying to tackle the very problem you’ve encountered.

    You might try manga, as well. There are many titles aimed at the younger age groups. Chi’s Sweet Home comes to mind but there are others, ones that don’t have the panty shots and over-breasted teenage girls.

    Good luck and good job trying to help your daughter through this instead of sweeping it all under a rug.

  8. While you’re looking for a new comic book store, may I suggest wandering through the dizzying expanse of webcomics?
    “Strong Female Protagonist” strongfemaleprotagonist.com is written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag. There are realistic-looking women as well as interesting questions about the responsibility of power.

  9. I see many sides. But I think the solution is without a doubt to have comics anbd boys and girls who are young that have age appropriate content and is not insulting. Theb “young girls, tweens” comics needs to be better than Hello Kitty and Monsters High. Oh, those have to be there because some kids will like them, but there needs to be more…just as Batman, Superman, and Wolverine need to be marketed to girls too. “I DO NOT MEAN CHANGED…I mean marketed…I mean we have to tell girls and tween girls that liking soem Superman is great.

    I also see that it okay to be sexy, but maybe there needs to be a less sexy comic of Power Girl, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn….just one not asking for much all the adult ‘boob window’ Power Girl comics and Wonder Woman in a corset can stay…we just need to add a somewhat less sexy comic too. But make no mistake much of what is being non-sexy is actions, speech and demeanor, and what is sexy is very much actions, speech and demeanor too.

    I also see that we need to get over nudity being bad or good. Some people will disagree, I woudl welcome that, but our fear of non-sexulaized appearence of nudity is troublesome in my opinion. Modesty is not about how much you clothing covers you. Modesty is how you comport yourself in public. You can be ‘modestly naked’ and you can be ‘modestly covered’ from head to toe. Your actions, your demeanor, and your speech is what is, or is not, modest. A Hijab is no more modest than a hair band. A chādor is no more modest than a bikini. Oh we should argue about that like civilized adults, but I doubt you will never convince me that modesty is dress and not actions – never. You can be immodest in a bikini and you can be immodest in a chādor because your actions, speech and demeanor are what matters in the question. SO I say the discussion about what Wonder Woman wears can be discussed with a child who has become aware that what she or what Catwoman wears has cultural baggage to some people.

    • “I mean we have to tell girls and tween girls that liking soem Superman is great.”

      Sorry, but no. Do you have any idea how often little girls have to identify with male heroes simply because there are so few female heroes for them to identify with, yet boys are never expected to do the same? If you’re going to both focusing on this, try explaining to boys that liking Ms. Marvel is great instead.

  10. My daughter is nine now and has been obsessed with comics since she was five. She has no interest in the “girl” comics like Hello Kitty or MLP. She wants badass superheroes. She was Rocket Racoon for Halloween and had no qualms explaining who she was in detail to all of the confused Brits around her that day.

    But I hardly ever take her to comic stores because of the same experience. She knows about sex but she finds it gross, as is entirely natural for her age. Pushing her towards sex and sexuality is likely to harm her, not educate her (as some of your other commenters want you to do). She looks at T&A in comics as stupid, inefficient costuming/armour, because it is.

    I finally let her try to comic book here in Cambridge in November and she bought one of their old packs for £2 because she could see that it had a Rocket Racoon on one side and something else she dug on the other side. But only when we got home could we see what the one in the middle was: a really skeevy Harley Quinn that I had to put away as surely as I’d have taken away an old-school Playboy mag. Not because sexuality is bad, but because she doesn’t want it and it sends a lot of inappropriate messages about female objectification and body image.

    I’ve been letting her go through my stash of X-Men and Wolverine movies with me because as much as comic purists whinge that they’re not faithful enough, they’re _better_ in that they at least portray women as having room in their waists for functioning organs and intact spines.

    And of course she loved Guardians of the Galaxy…especially the part where Peter gets a punch instead of a kiss. OMG she _cheered_.

    It’s just too hard for me as a busy parent with a toddler to care for as well to pre-read every comic to see if it’s gross or not before letting my daughter have it. So my solution is we just don’t buy them unless it’s a trusted line like Lilith Dark (http://www.cdowd.com/lilithdark/), because I’ve become G+ pals with its author and I know he created that after having the same experience as you taking his own daughter to a comic store.

    At least there’s an upsurge in more women-friendly comics lately, although they’re still often not kid-friendly.

    It sucks. 🙁

    Oh and let’s not even get into how I can’t take her to a con because OMFG the behaviour is so disgusting and I’d like to wait a few years before she understands that she’s prey. 🙁

  11. I won’t go so far as to say it was a mistake, but I think for girls, young women, and women, the best place to go for comics isn’t a store–it’s the internet. There are SO MANY indie comics out there filling the void for this demographic that the big publishing companies are not. For more popular ones, maybe look into Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series? Ursula Vernon’s Digger? There’s finally starting to be a market for teen/adult women, but outside of manga, you’re not going to find much appropriate for a young girl. Best stories would probably be by Gail Simone, though some of those are also very adult still.

    Sincerely, lady webcomic creator who can’t find a thing she wants to read in comic book stores. Well, other than Saga. Not very kid friendly though.

  12. So you think sexism is a huge deal for women because there aren’t any comics aimed at 7 year old girls? Oh sorry I meant specifically superhero comics in that comic store. This is a first world problem at best and I really don’t see the leap between “there’s nothing at a comic store for a 7 year old” and “they must feel like this when they’re adults, and the harassment they’re telling me about must be real”.

  13. Thanks for the post, it was interesting.
    Runaways might be another set of collections to look at. Marvel superhero kids, mostly female, not sexified (or not more than real teens, anyway.)

  14. My main objection to this article is half the reference pictures provided are pin-up fan art from the internet, not current examples of inappropriate content for a trip as recent as the last month. One is a Catwoman cover from the 90s, another is made inappropriate by referencing a lapdance while actually being drawn by Amanda Connor who is one of the strongest female artists working in the industry today. There are currently multiple titles that have gotten big praise for being more inclusive and girl positive, almost to the point where this becomes unbelievable. I find it hard to believe the shop did not have the new Squirrel Girl, any of the Khan Ms Marvel, Carol Capt Marvel, Gotham Academy (drawn by the immaculate Becky Cloonan, another prolific current female artist), the new Batgirl: a broad selection of modestly dressed female heroes in current titles, all of which have received praise for exactly that thing. I’m all for having the discussion that we need to have more variety of modes of dress and female characters in comics, but this just borders on sounding like constructed rhetoric. You need to change stores if their buyer is this far out of touch not to have record setting hot titles that are currently blowing the doors off everywhere else.

    And while we’re talking about unbelievable, Monster High is at least 5 years old now and has a pretty strong record and reputation for promoting very positive messages to young women, incredibly unique to a girls’ fashion brand of toys and media. Before we write a righteous indignation piece about how prolific half-dressed fan art is, maybe we could be a little more respectful and less dismissive of titles and brands actively working toward the exact thing you seem to be asking to accomplish.

    I’m sympathetic, but this whole thing comes of as a bit disingenuous in being completely ignorant of comics currently being published and actively praised for their progressive and inclusive content that are prolific in most comics shops at the moment.

  15. I’ve found that it’s easier to find super hero comics suitable for children in the back issue sections. As maligned as the Comics Code is (deservedly so, for the most part), comics from that era are much more tame compared to modern fare. 1980’s Marvel and DC comics are often cheaper than the new stuff (generally better written and drawn as well) and feature many of the popular characters of today. I buy old comics as gifts for my nieces and nephews (they’re all between ages 8 and 12) and they love them, stuff like Roger Stern’s Avengers, Marv Wolfman’s New Teen Titans, John Byrne’s Fantastic Four (the Invisible Woman is great in this, she’s a mom and clearly the most powerful of the group), and Chris Claremont’s Classic X-Men reprints, almost all had for $1 to $4 per comic. My sister-in-law was amazed when she found out that the Wasp and later Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau) led the Avengers and that Storm led the X-Men. That’s right, strong black women led two of the most popular super hero teams back then. It seems like the big two have taken a few steps back in the 30 years since I got into comics.

  16. I know this is an older article, but you may want to look into Manga – Japanese comics. There are lots of all age manga titles out there specifically directed to younger boys and girls. It’s a huge market in Japan and it’s a decent sized market over here. You can usually find manga in it’s own section in any bookstore.

    http://ask.metafilter.com/115316/Recommend-manga-for-an-8yearold-girl
    http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/207896-manga-for-my-daughter
    http://ifanboy.com/articles/the-top-10-best-manga-for-children/
    https://www.amazon.com/forum/manga?cdForum=Fx31OI6VOMPSF8O&cdThread=Tx31R9LR053683A

  17. […] the little girl was left disappointed when not a single one of the female heroines were included. There’s another excellent post by a comic book enthusiast who found himself and his seven-year-old daughter in a comic book store with nothing to buy because […]

  18. […] What Taking My Daughter to a Comic Book Store Taught Me: I’m late to the party with this one, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless. It’s part of the genre of “I didn’t really understand sexism until I had a daughter”, which is a bit tedious but… I’m glad he got there! (Or, you know, started down the road. He’s still not there.) The author also did a follow-up, to detail how surprised he was that he got a dramatic reaction to his first post because he really didn’t understand the issues involved in wading into the geek gender wars. […]

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