So, we go at it again and again, round and round, 'till death do us part.

"I can't believe you put so much time and money into those things."

"Well, if you'd just try reading one, you'd probably like it."

"I doubt it."

"Well, at least try one. Here, you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the TV, try the comic."

"Sure honey, I'll get right on that."

Grow the fuck up. Your girlfriend isn't interested in your comics because she doesn't think there's anything there for her. As long as you keep catering to that thought and reinforcing it by dragging her to your shithole comic book store every week, she'll never come around.

It's long past time to unfuck your heads about women readers, boys. They don't want to be treated like women readers. They just want to be treated like readers. Unfortunately, that's the problem. Generally, comic book fans (the boys at any rate) are needlessly tolerant of a lot of bad behavior that most rational people, men and women alike, would find outright repulsive. The society of people who read and create comics is insular, and strongly dominated by men, and as men, we have a tendency not to think about how we act or how we write or speak to our female compatriots. We have a tendency to objectify the female form, and to marginalize the opinions they have. We often trivialize the creativity and talent they can bring to our hobby.

None of this is anything new to you all. Of all the societies I can think of that are based in and around enjoyment of an art form, maybe pornography is more condescending and gender biased towards its female fans and creators. Maybe. When was the last time a retailer handed any of you men a comic and said, "Oh, you're a boy so you should really like this." I've witnessed this scene repeated countless times with countless women in countless comics stores. When was the last time an entire store looked at you like you were some kind of alien life form? Unless you are a burn victim, not bloody likely.

That's assuming they even make it in the door. Take a good, hard look at your comics shop. Is it clean and well lighted or is it a dungeon that reeks of stale Thai food and body sweat? How many posters advertising scantily clad, impossibly shaped women, permanently stuck in submissive soft-core porno poses do you see? How many titles on the rack mirror this? How about the employees? Do they act like retail professionals or college frat-boys on the prowl? How often does Cat-Piss Man show up? (Remember, he grows like fungus. I think the term is budding.) When my girlfriend goes into any comics store with me, she's never far from my arm. She doesn't feel safe there, and the store I frequent is fairly clean, smells okay, and the owner is a decent guy who makes a fair attempt to remain a professional retailer. The patrons, and the store's general d├ęcor, however, are other matters entirely. (For those of you not familiar with the abstract of Cat-piss man, check out Paul T. Riddell's field guide, The Wrath of Cat-piss Man.) Superheroes abound at both my comics stores, and where there are superheroes, there are adolescent male power fantasies. Soft-core pornography for 15 year-old boys is the order of the day.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are certain females who have a thick enough skin, and a strong enough stomach to brave the average comics shop. After all, tolerance is a common enough trait in any human. If you're a woman, and you have the misfortune to pick up your average superhero book, there isn't much there for you. Primarily, these are stories that appeal to boys in their middle teen years. Few creators working within the superhero genre (Yes, I'm picking on superhero books here, simply because they are far and above the most prevalent in most comics shops.) ever seem to even think that they might have a female audience, and it shows.

For an even more insidious bon mot, go check out Gail Simone's stunning online essay, Women in Refrigerators. It's a frighteningly large necrology of female comics characters that have been gratuitously debased, humiliated, de-powered or killed within the pages of our favorite hobby. It's stomach churning to see it laid out all at once for you. The real boot to the head though, is the "creators respond" listing. She put a lot of industry creators on the defensive with this essay. More importantly, though, she made them think about how female comics characters are commonly treated within the superhero genre.

My point here is that the comics creators should know better. There are an infinite number of better ways to build dramatic tension than fucking up the hero's girlfriend. I'm not saying it should never be done (I still think the Claremont/Byrne Dark Phoenix Saga worked extremely well.) but I am saying that this fictional trope is overdone in the extreme, especially in comics. Any potential female comics reader is walking into hostile territory from the start. It's no wonder that a lot of them leave and never come back.

So what can we do about all this? Should we even try to do anything about this?

I can't argue with the fact that things are getting better. Comics have more women creators than ever before, and they're starting to reshape the landscape. Brilliant writers like Devin Grayson, Gail Simone, Rachel Pollack, and Caitlin R. Kiernan are proving on a regular basis that gender has nothing to do with how well you can tell a story. Artists like Lea Hernandez, Sarah Dyerr, Anne Timmons, and Carla Speed McNeil are starting to build castles from the foundations set up by veteran creators like Wendy Pini, Trina Robbins, Roberta Gregory, and Colleen Doran. The recent collapse of Chaos Comics is a good sign that the industry is starting to focus more on solid entertaining stories and less on gratuitous T&A.

Yes, we are getting better, but we're doing this too slowly, and it's not enough. A world where genius writers like Devin Grayson and Gail Simone still get asked, "So, what's it like to be a woman writing comic books," is not a world we should be living in. If they were less polite, their stock answer to this question would be, "It's fucking horrible! We're forced to work for low wages and minuscule recognition. Dirtbag editors who think we can't write because we're 'girls' give us shitty assignments. And to top it all off, we have to come to these jacked up conventions and endure hours of endless, drooling, rambling, by mindless fuckheads who don't bathe." There's something special about blending words and pictures that makes people tolerate a lot of things that they probably shouldn't.

So, how do we as a comic book society solve this problem? Simple, start thinking before you write, speak or draw.

Journalists, remember that part of your audience is female. They don't want to be treated differently from the males, but they do want you to be mindful that they're reading.

Creators, you should know better. You're usually a little older than your fan base, just remember to act like it. If you need help take a look at the body of work put out by Brian Wood, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore. Strong female characters all around. Artists who want to follow in the footsteps of Jim Balent or Brian Pullido should be shot on sight.

Fans and comics store employees... short of mass sterilization, there's not much hope.

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Dan
Im an essayist, critic, online blogger, short story writer and to borrow a descriptor from Peter David, "Writer of stuff." I love all things pop culture related: Music, Movies, Comics, Books, Politics... if you can label it I probably have an opinion about it, and I love to argue. All informed opinions are welcome here.
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