Don't like to read?
In January 2012, the Graham Crackers comic book store held its first Ladies Night specifically for female comic book fans. Started by Hannah K. Chapman, Ladies Night is a group event that occurs once a month. While comics spaces are not always female-friendly, the group is a place for women to enjoy comics and related media without some of geek culture’s more troublesome pitfalls for women.
Every first Wednesday from six to eight p.m., women congregate in the back of the store in a rough circle. Sometimes there aren’t enough fold-out chairs for everyone, so a few have to stand or sit on the floor. While the topics tend to remain comics-related, the women also discuss movies based on comic books, web comics, video games, conventions and other staples of nerd and geek culture. Race, sex, and other social issues are also discussed in relation to comics-related media. Personal tastes are shared, with differences in opinion being unavoidable but not moving beyond simple disagreement.
“What has everyone been reading this week?” is a common question, a chance for the group members to promote a comic they are enjoying, while also giving the writer and artist promotion as well. Sometimes free books are distributed among the group for the women to take home, read, and review in the group at the next event. During this period, each female attendee receives 10 percent off any purchase.
The all-female group is an open place for discussions and critiques. Online, the comics culture can be harsh for women, even for seasoned experts. Janelle Asselin, who formerly worked as an editor for DC, was accused of being ignorant of the medium when she critiqued a comic online for its artistic flaws, and received not only insults but threats of rape. Her experience is not rare: women are frequently “treated to similar threats, especially when the subject matter is related to geek-culture. Anita Sarkeesian, who critiques misogynistic tropes in video games, has received numerous threats against not just herself but also her family for her videos.
Women are also drastically under-represented in the mainstream comic book industry itself. In 2011, DC relaunched its line of books with a new universe; as they threw out the old canon, their female creators went from 12 percent to 1 percent in the company. When asked about the lack of female creators at DC, Co-Publisher Dan Didio countered with, “Who should we be hiring?” repeatedly in an “aggressive tone.” The numbers are better currently but still very low. Comics historian Tim Hanley released the stats for August of 2014: DC employed women in creative positions at 9.5 percent, while Marvel was barely ahead with 9.8 percent.
For the women who attend Ladies Night, insults and threats are not present in the discussion and they are not the minority. While the moderator Meghan Bird has stated that she would allow a male visitor to sit in, the focus of the group is on the women’s views and interests, in a special space that would be difficult to find elsewhere. Here Chicago’s female fans can assert their geeky views and opinions each month without the unpleasantness found online and with an understanding audience.
By Jillian Moyet
Comics Alliance – Women in Comics
Comics Alliance – Dan DiDio
Photo by Sam Howitz – Flickr License