If any of you remember, I joined the blog back in May, and my second post was about “geek gatekeeping.” It got started because a friend of mine was harassed at my local comic book shop for not being geeky enough (or some nonsense like that) and it was gross and I went off. Pushing people away from your interests, geeky or non, either because they frighten you or because you’re frightened about the sanctity of that particular interest, is complete nonsense.
If you’d like an object lesson in how ridiculous it is, the kind folks over at The Mary Sue are glad to help you out:
But, I digress. Something that I didn’t mention back when I wrote that post was that the people doing the harassing weren’t the people who worked at my comic store. They were regular fixtures in the store, but not employees. My friend, a hopeful (and now actual!) comic enthusiast, related to me that although she had been only an aisle away from a store employee, nothing was said or done when the jerks (as I will hereafter refer to them) had mockingly questioned whether she even belonged in a comic book store. I don’t want to engage with the layers of self-delusion necessary to even ask if someone can “belong” in a store that sells books.
My friend and I were both rather miffed. Thinking about it, I was actually more miffed with the store employees than with the jerks, because the store should have every reason to object to that sort of behavior. Letting someone get harassed in your store because you’re too busy arranging trade hardcovers or something fails a basic test of common decency, and it’s also just bad for business. It’s likely to scare off potential customers who want to give you money in exchange for pictures of Spider-Man and dice with strange numbers of sides. I racked my brain for a minute as to why you wouldn’t get involved in a situation like that in your own establishment and I came up with a couple of reasons:
1. You wouldn’t want to get involved/you’re non-confrontational.
That’s great, and all, if you like to avoid conflict, but I figure that if you’re working at the store, it’s your job to make people want to shop there and make sure that they feel comfortable in your store. Not taking a side in a dispute or a harassment situation like that is taking a side because silence empowers aggressors. That’s the same whether we’re talking about bullying, violence, sexual or otherwise, street harassment, anything.
2. The guys doing the harassing were store regulars, and you didn’t want to lose their business.
First, I think that in a situation like that, speaking up would not have prevented those guys from ever coming back to the store, unless they were complete and utter children who couldn’t handle being called out for bad behavior, or couldn’t handle being made to leave someone alone. Maybe they were, which brings me to my second point: who wants people like that in their store? I think it’s pretty obvious that you’d get more mileage from being proactive about harassment than you would from having bridge trolls guard your comic shop. Unless, of course…
3. You’re down with it.
This is basically just unacceptable. While I get that it still exists, if you’re so supportive of shaming comic neophytes or people that you presume are new to comics just because they’re women, I need you to just go ahead and get out of my face.
I want to take a moment here to address one of my biggest problems with this pro-geek gatekeeping nonsense (
an attitude best articulated by Tara Tiger Brown, which is depressing because she’s otherwise smart and cool). This protectionist silliness falls down, I think, when it shifts the responsibility of making sure that a pastime, hobby, activity, or medium that is well-loved by many remains unexploited, unmanipulated, and undiluted. To begin with, that’s not the way that art works, and it’s lazy. The trick to not seeing your favorite subculture fade away into the uniform blandness of pop culture (as if that were a thing we needed to worry about) is to adapt and to make good art. Keep designing new things, writing new fanfiction, playing Magic with whatever ridiculous mechanic WOTC has in store for you this time. Keep your ear to the ground and participate passionately in your subculture, and it’ll never die. It will change, though, because that’s how life works.
Anyway, I told my friend that she should write a note to the establishment. Let them know in writing that she was made to feel uncomfortable and they twiddled their thumbs and that’s not cool. It was on Hello Kitty stationery because that’s all we could find (don’t judge!). It read as follows:
I was in your store recently. I was looking for a comic book, and I was confused about it. Some other patrons chose to be really unkind to me because I wasn’t “hip” to these comics. That’s why I was there, to get hip. But, they chose not to be helpful and to be rude to me for this. Your employees did nothing, despite the verbal abuse of these patrons. That makes me very reluctant to come back to your store and I wanted to let you know.
She walked into the store, that day, and laid it down on the counter and left. Then I sort of forgot about the whole thing, as I hadn’t been to that shop a couple of months (purely out of coincidence, not out of protest…). Yesterday, I managed to drag my friend back into the store to pick up the new Mighty Avengers. The store’s proprietor recognized her as “the angry woman who brought the Hello Kitty letter” and pointed to a sign on the door, which read “All comic/gaming/art fans welcome. If you don’t understand this, you are not.”
He then personally apologized to her. I was kind of stunned. Maybe it’s because in recent memory, there have been some pretty stellar failures to take responsibility when some ratchet shit happens under your watch, and some pretty awful non-apologies. It was kind of remarkable to get a sincere apology following that kind of nonsense. It put a smile on both of our faces, and I wanted to share that little ray of sunshine with you, gentle readers.
As an addendum, the talented and well-informed Luce has brought something called Hater-Free Wednesdays to my attention. Hater-Free Wednesdays is a Tumblr “for you to share your positive or negative comic shop experiences, so that fellow comics fans can find friendly local comic shops.” You can share or check out pictures, information about the staff, store policies and layout of various comic shops and cons. It’s a great resource for anyone who’s ever felt unsafe, judged or harassed in one of those environments. Check out an interview with the creator here.