Way back a long, long time ago, a girl in a comic shop was... I can't even say it was rare, because it just didn't happen. I mean, it was almost the equivalent of a sign of an impending apocalypse. And, if you believe in apocalypses (apocalypsi?) the way Joss Whedon does, maybe they were signs of various impending dooms all headed off by some special group or another. At any rate, it just didn't happen. I didn't know a single girl that read anything beyond Archie comics (or the equivalent) until my mid-twenties, like almost two decades ago.
Let me make it clear that I had had pretty extensive experience in and around the comic's industry by that point. I started collecting comic books during middle school. All the way through the end of high school, I never once saw a girl in the shop I bought comics at except for the one time I took one with me, and, although she agreed to go, it was more out of boredom than anything else, because her other option was to hang out at our church alone (not alone, alone; there were adults there, but there were no other teenagers). During college, I worked in a comic shop, and we had no female customers. At all. Ever. The only girl that ever came in was the girlfriend of one of my friends and only because he always trapped her into it. Then, I had my own comic business and worked in another shop, and neither place had any female customers.
The last shop I worked in in Shreveport (while also running a kind of sub-business under that shop (yeah, it was complicated, but it increased the owner's circulation, so he was good with it)) had a total of two female-type people that came in with any regularity. One of them was a girlfriend of a guy that had been one of my students (this was my last year in Shreveport, and I wasn't teaching at the time), and she always looked like she'd rather be at the dentist, especially since one of the other employees, Mark, would always try to hit on her while her boyfriend was busy talking comics. Yes, I do say that he tried hitting on her, because he never actually quite succeeded. He just made her uncomfortable and followed her around the shop as she tried to avoid him. The other was an "older" woman (to us) around 50(?) that actually played Magic and came in for tournaments. She sort of creeped everyone out, especially since she often "went home" with Boogie (and, yes, he had earned that nickname), and, if you can't figure out that euphemism, there may be no hope for you. That was it...
Until The Day...
It was a Wednesday, and I was shelving the new comics for the week (I was in charge of comics and CCG stuff), and a girl walked in. Alone. Not a mom (okay, she was a mom (of a not-quite toddler), but she wasn't a mom looking for a gift), not a girlfriend, just a girl walking into the comic shop. Alone. I took note of her, but I was busy, and I kept doing what I was doing. However, one-by-one, every other guy that worked in the shop made his way over to her and asked her if she needed any help. Every one of them: Mark, Rick, Scott, Tony. She turned each of them down, browsing through the comics until she made her way over to me and asked me if I could help her. Hmm... and that's a story for another time. Anyway, her ex-boyfriend (the father of her child) had been into comics, and she's picked through them occasionally, so she was looking for some suggestions about comics that she could get into. After listening to the types of she was into, I suggested The Sandman and Strangers in Paradise. She became our first (and only) weekly female customer, coming in to see what new comics were in and trying things out every now and then.
Flash forward to last week. I was sitting in the local comic shop (editing and reading) waiting for a Magic tournament to start up. At one point, I glanced around the room and noted the number of -- hmm... my wife doesn't like it when I call them "girls," although I'm certain some of them must have still been in high school -- young ladies that were hanging out in the store. I mean, hanging out on their own because they wanted to be there. There was one that was definitely a girlfriend, but the other more-than-half-dozen were obviously there because they wanted to be there. Some were playing Magic, one was browsing the comics, there was even grandmotherly type that was obviously looking at things for herself rather than looking for a gift (yeah, you can tell the difference when you've been in the environment). I was struck by the difference a couple of decades had made. Sure, it was still 80-90% guys, but, two decades ago, it would have been 100% guys.
I mentioned it to my wife, and she noted to me that there are a lot of guys that are against girls being in this kind of environment. It's like some group of 10-year-olds with a clubhouse and big "no girls allowed" signs stuck all over it. No girls in comics. No girls in gaming. Of any kind. Evidently, girls shouldn't play Magic and the certainly shouldn't play video games. According to these guys.
Which brought up the whole SFWA thing that happened a couple of weeks ago where a group of male sci-fi writers was proclaiming how writing science fiction is no place for women.
And I just don't get it. I mean, I really don't get it.
Maybe, this is me thinking as a retailer (from back when I did that), but the goal, then, was always to try and figure out how to open the doors of comic books to girls. It was an ongoing thing with Marvel (and other companies, but Marvel talked about it the most) in the late 80s through the mid-90s: How do we get girls interested in comics? And I was all for that, because, well, more business. So this idea that girls don't belong there is really puzzling to me.
And, well, my favorite sci-fi book was written by a woman: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. And you can't discount The Doomsday Book, a more than excellent sci-fi novel also written by a woman: Connie Willis. I'm sure I could go on, but I don't think there's a need.
At any rate, the idea that some of these things are "boys' clubs" just doesn't make sense to me. Why would that be so? I never had a "no girls allowed" clubhouse as a boy; maybe, that's because one of my main playmates as a kid was a female cousin; I don't know. One of my best friends was also a girl; we started kindergarten together and went all the way through to the end of high school, the only person I did that with, and we're still friends, today (well, you know, the kind of friend that only speak to each other every few years, because you don't live anywhere near the other person, but, still...).
And, well, despite the fact that I did a lot of what were pretty exclusively "guy" things when I was younger (like comic books and gaming), I would never have even thought that girls shouldn't be there, because, hello, I spent most of time hanging out with guys, and having some girls around would have meant, well, having some girls around.
So I don't get the attitude that women shouldn't be involved in gaming or comic books or science fiction. Or politics or science or math. Or whatever. I'm glad to see that there are girls hanging out in the comic store, and, after my wife told me about all of the hate that women get online about that kind of stuff, I'm glad to see that the dudes in the store seemed totally at ease with the fact that there were girls. I mean, there weren't lines of guys trying to hit on them or pick them up. They were just part of the environment, like everyone else. Maybe, there is some hope for the future.