Thursday, June 26, 2014

On -isms: Wardrobe Disfunction

I attended the 3rd annual Yetaversary bash last Friday at the excellent Challengers Comics. (Yetaversary = Yeti Press' anniversary.) I wound up talking for a while with a woman I'll call Lisa. She and the friend she came with are both into comics and various other aspects of pop culture. They hit various comic shops regularly and go to the various local conventions and such. Perfectly typical of comic fans.

Apparently, though, there was some discussion before they came to this particular event about the appropriateness of their wardrobe. Well, I say that like it was a one-time occurrence, but it was evidently a fairly regular point of discussion every time they went out to some comic-related event. And we're not talking about "who should I cosplay as?" or "do this top go with this skirt?" type of discussions either. They're broader discussions on what attire would generally be appropriate for this particular gathering.

See, they can't dress too nice when going to a comic shop because then they get comments questioning their fan status. The whole "fake geek girl" bullshit. They can't dress too slummy either because then they get mistaken for part of a bad crowd, and their fan status is questioned from the other direction. They also can't show too much skin because there's then the potential for being on the receiving end of generally sexist/misogynist behavior. They have to look pretty, but not too pretty, geeky but not too geeky, sexy but not too sexy... If they don't hit the sweet spot right in the middle of all these disparate directions, they run into problems from the men present.

And that's just for a regular trip to a comic shop. Heading out to publisher parties like this one, signings, smaller conventions... there's a whole new wardrobe discussion for each of those. They were actually a bit later to this particular party than the'd like because Lisa's friend had to change from the outfit she originally chose.

Yeti Press is very female friendly. A little less than half of their "regular" contributors are female, and many of their books feature strong women protagonists. Challengers Comics is also a very open and welcoming shop in general with a great many titles available beyond the usual superhero/sci-fi/fantasy line-ups. (I've visited a dozen comic shops in the Chicago area since I moved up here a year ago, and Challengers is by far my favorite. A fantastic mix of material, really well-presented in a comfortable environment.) Yet despite a crowd at this party that consisted of about half females, after normal business hours at a shop that does an especially good job at catering to a broad range of people, in honor of a publisher that is very progressive, Lisa and her friend still had to have this discussion on what to wear because they were still too uncomfortable just showing up in whatever.

And in case you couldn't guess, Lisa was quite clear that that sucked. That even in such a welcoming environment -- which she consciously recognzied as a welcoming environment -- she still felt the need to have the wardrobe discussion. Because she's gotten burned one too many times.

Despite being taught that it was what was inside that counts, I learned the hard way that, yes, people will absolutely judge you based on how you look and that, yes, what you wear conveys a message to everyone you meet about who you are. So, sure, spending some time choosing your wardrobe before heading out to a public gathering makes sense. But that anyone, let alone half the population, feels the need to have an extended discussion about it in order to walk a particularly narrow tightrope of assumptions and expectations is obscene. How about we just let women wear what they want without demanding that they fully explain their geek credentials on every occasion?

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