Article

I Still Like Comics…at 30…and I’m Female

After reading several blogs about the SDCC Twilight events and gender debates, I was forced to consider my own experiences with gender bias and comics. My two copies of Shonen Jump I’ve received in place of my Shojo Beat subscription are still sitting untouched on my dresser. Maybe I’ll eventually read them if I find time and interest. It frustrates me that the newly highlighted enterprises in the graphic novel industry have been for shonen and seinen manga. I know from a business perspective, that it’s a wiser investment. But I still feel like I’m being punished. It’s like when you take a piece of candy from one child, and then you give it and another handful to another child just because he’s a boy. I realize it’s not as simple as that, that’s just how I FEEL about it. No matter how much I could advocate for the shojo/josei/romance genre of comics, it all comes down to the numbers. As for the critics of the genre, everyone’s allowed their opinion, and I get to decide whose I find valid. So criticize it all you want, there are others who appreciate it for what it is.

Being a long time fan of romance literature, I guess I have become conditioned to gender bias in the sense that I have been looked down upon for my reading material for most of my life. Sadly as a teen, I still put book covers on all my romance novels I took to school so no one would know what I was reading. I was embarrassed. But now I am used to it, try not to let it get to me, and tell myself that everyone is allowed their own opinions. I know what is enjoyable for ME to read, and if I get something out of it, that’s all that matters. I don’t have as big of a problem when I am personally confronted with gender bias, such as when I’m in a book store. I’ve had a tween boy stare at me open mouthed and ask, “You read that?!” when I’ve picked up a copy of Naruto. Or when a college guy snickers as I pick up the most recent Fruits Basket. I either respond with, “Is that a problem?” or I ignore it. But it’s not so much a gender issue for me as it is an AGE issue. I know the stereotypical image of a comics reader is a tween to young adult male. And slowly that is evolving to include females of that same age group too.

In my comics experience, I’ve had more issues with age bias than anything. (It doesn’t help that I’m female too.) For example, I get perturbed with my local library when I go to check out manga. The manga, with the exception of adult or hentai titles, are all kept in a glass encased room declared “Teens”. On the doors and throughout the room there are large posters (maybe 6-8 posters) that say: “12-18 only…no trespassing”. I get that it’s suppose to be a haven for teenagers at the library, and also a warning to parents that the books within are for a specific age appropriate audience. I think it’s great that they’re giving teens their own space. What bothers me is that the propaganda is discouraging me from getting to the material that I, in my 30s, would like to read. I just ignore the posters and walk in the doors to the manga shelves. But I’ll be darned if a librarian doesn’t ask me if she can help me find something. That doesn’t happen in the children’s section of the library, which I frequent to find books for my son. Now, I’m not bashing librarians for doing their job, I’m just making an observation that because of my appearance, I look like I need assistance in that section of the library.

The other day I went into a local bookstore chain and headed towards the comics section, which is in the back close to the children’s lit section. On my way an employee stopped me and said, “Ma’am, I can direct you to some recent fiction releases that you may enjoy.” – which happened to be in the opposite direction. I told her thanks, maybe later, and maybe she was just trying to sell me merchandise, but geez! – I just wanted to see the most recent manga releases. And it never fails that I get some odd looks from other adults who drop in that area with their tweens and teens. Almost as if they’re taken aback that I’m standing there reading a manga.

*sigh* I guess like with my romance preferences when I was younger, I’ll eventually get used to being looked at strangely when I pick up the most recent comics. I just wish people would be more open minded, and quit stereotyping me. Although, that’s a long shot, seeing as it’s human nature to classify and stereotype. Maybe by some miracle shojo and josei comics will explode in popularity. But until then, I’ll just remain a small minority of proud female comic readers over 30.

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Laura

Author/Editor
Super mom and teacher until the kids go to bed, then romance manga addict and writer until the caffeine wears out! Specializes in the shoujo and josei genre of manga and anime.
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18 Comments

  • Countries that have been exposed to foreign comics and manga? Sure, why not? I'm living in one. Manga bookstores are located in just about every mall. The manga section in our local Kinokuniya rivals the fictional books section. There are events,local conventions at least twice a year, and anime clubs in all the local universities. But does that lessen the stereotyping? Sadly, no. People still stare, gloat, and label. Shop assistants are probably more understanding, and chances of finding someone with similar interests as you are probably higher, but that's about it. More convenience, yes. Lesser stereotyping, no.

    Just for the record, I am a die-hard romantic who draws her own comics (shoujo-manga styled, no less) – the office 'otaku', as everyone calls me. It's quite impossible to talk about what I enjoy reading to someone, without having that person cringe, and without feeling awkward.

    Whatever it is, thank god for the internet, yes?

  • @galimagery – thanks for the hugs! 😀

    @ShojoFlash- have any issues from your co-workers?

    @Lorena – I can't wait to read your piece on Women in Manga panel at SDCC!

  • This is a great conversation and I wish I could have chimed in sooner. I don't really get the age bias thing too much, probably because I look fairly young for my age (I'm 27 and people mistake me for a freshman student at work). But, I'm an unapologetic manga reader. I read it everywhere I can just to show people how "normal" it is. As far as the criticism that they're not "real" books, I've read plenty of "real" books my entire life. I don't want to read another classic novel or award-winning tome. I want to enjoy reading, especially since I get my fill of academic reading during the school year while working on my master's degree.

    Anyway, a lot of what's mentioned here really dovetails into the Women in Manga panel I attended at Comic-Con. I'm going to get that panel review up later this week (hopefully by Wednesday). A lot of what they spoke on really touches on this post.

  • I hear you. Luckily I work in a comic shop and don't have to deal with that. We have a fair number of women regulars. Mind you, they mostly read Buffy comics, but they still come in and try new things. I'm 24, female, and love comics, shojo, and all things of that nature.

  • Aw man, that's what I hate most, stereotyping what people should be reading depending on age/gender you are. It's stupid. Enjoying a good book/comic should be just that, and what you're reading shouldn't matter in the slightest. It's one of the main reasons why I got so angry in my lit classes, where my profs would be all "You shouldn't read anything unless it's the CLASSICS or intellectually stimulating to the mind" bullshit. It shouldn't matter at all what you read, and yet people act like they have a right to judge you if they find you reading something that isn't "expected" of you. I guess when I'm in these kinds of situations I just either make myself oblivious to it or I just talk back. Hmm, let me see, for example, I read from the YA and Children's section even though I'm supposed to be "above" these sections of a bookstore. But I go there anyways, and when people make remarks, depending if their tone is jokey or not, I would usually have a comeback or just ignore them if they're being rude. Also, I like to read zombie books, which isn't exactly expected of a girl, so once when I asked the two guys at the counter where I can find the so-and-so zombie book, the one guy said to the other, "Watch out, that girl's gonna eat you alive". And I replied back, "Yeah, I'm gonna eat your braaaains." I find that when I can talk back, even if they were judging me they can't make me feel like I'm lesser than what I am for reading what I do. =D Anyhow, enough about me. I hope you find your own way of dealing with ignorant people having boxed in stereotypes in their head. *hugs* =D

  • Well my dad's situation is a little more complicated than that. He got his first exposure to manga as a young man when he was living in Japan, and it was very negative. He does sometimes watch anime of his own initiative, and he says he does it partially to hear Japanese. Reading manga in English has made him realize that it's better than his first impression led him to believe, but he is frustrated by the fact that he has to read it in English. And there is one shojo he genuinely likes – They Were Eleven.

    -Sara K.

  • @Anonymous bearded male – you're right I hadn't considered that. 🙂 That has to be an uncomfortable thought. More stereotypes to overcome…

    @Celeste – Thanks for the pep talk! Glad you contributed.

  • I just turned 30, I'm Female, and I still read/collect manga as well! I've been reading manga since I was 18 years old when I first discovered TP's Mixx magazine and Sailor Moon and I became an instant addict. I haven't really experienced any age issues yet when I purchase manga at any of my local bookstores, but that's because I look way younger than my age(not to brag or anything). Outsiders to the 'world of manga' don't understand it's appeal to adults of all ages so they will probably always try to direct your path to 'grown up' material whether it's in a book store or library. All I can say is take heart, you know what you enjoy reading, so be confident in your choice of reading material.

  • If you think that's hard, imagine what it's like to be a bearded male in his 20's, and whenever you go to the Manga section in a bookstore, everyone around assumes you must be some sort of child molester.

  • @Sara – I'm not bashing the publishers, I understand why they chose what they chose, and yes there are plenty of females out there that love shonen and seinen titles. I think it's great that women can create whatever genre of story they wish to. That doesn't remove the frustration or disappointment of readers of the shojo genre here in America, which yes, are mostly females looking for new titles or hoping for translations of already well selling ones.

    In response to your dad, I must point out that he's male and at one point in his life fell in the targeted audience for comics. Unlike my mom who never was and probably never will be a comic reader. He respects manga because of his comics background, but like you said, still doesn't "get it". That was my point with the generation gap. That's not saying there aren't 70 year-olds out there reading manga, it just means that in America most haven't been exposed to the variety of foreign comics we now have available. You say comics and they think Spiderman. Most aren't familiar with the term manga.

    @Anonymous – Yea! I need to meet others like you. Thanks for contributing!

    @Katherine – I wish there were more comic venues in my area, but that's not the case. The closest ones are about 30 minutes away, which is why I mostly shop book chains or buy off the internet. But thanks for sympathizing! I'm glad you commented.

  • I kind of get in reverse in that, people think I'm younger then I really am or 'immature'. its more difficult when you're trying to get a job.

    I had lunch women at the collage I attend think I"m 12 untill I put out my school ID

    or that I was teaching a workshop at the local library and they thought I was the student and that the 'teacher' had not shown up.

    And the expectancy from me. I actually dont like most romance lit/comic but for some reason they except that since I'm a young girl, I must be in for shoujo manga, yaoi manga or twilight.

    Sadly, most book stores and libraries doesnt carry any of the books I want

  • I feel your pain, Laura! When I lived in NYC, I had a Borders employee ask me why I read "kids' stuff" and proceeded to lecture me on why I should be reading Tolstoy instead. Never mind that I've read Tolstoy (in both English AND Russian), or that it's OK for a thirty-something woman to read nothing but graphic novels if she chooses. Needless to say, I stopped shopping there.

    I've found comic book stores a better place to go when I want to browse. Not all stores, of course… I've gotten the "Eek! Cooties!" treatment (and worse) at some establishments. But the Boston area has several progressive comic stores that make a concerted effort to reach out to women, kids, manga lovers, etc. I'm willing to pay full price for a positive, friendly shopping experience. It certainly beats the attitude at big chain stores.

  • I like to make a comment about your article about age bias reading manga, I also feel that it's a shame that most people think it's just for children when it's for all ages. I'm 47 years old (that's right!, I haven't made any mistakes with those digits) and I can't read enough of it, I'm addicted!!, so are my two daughters (ages 18 & 20). So you can imagine the collection we have between the three of us.
    We're also addicted to anime!
    I hope, that I made you feel better that you're not that old to be reading manga?

  • I must point out that while shonen and seinen rules a lot of the market, both here and Japan, they are influenced a lot by females. There are a lot more female creators in shonen than male in shojo (for example, more than half of the artists represented in Viz's new Shonen Sunday line are women). And Shonen Jump is aware that half of its readers are female, and adjusts the content for females. So to me, shonen and seinen includes both manga which really is mostly geared for boys, and manga which actively targets all genders. To me, it looks like the publishers are focusing on manga with the most appeal to everybody, rather than manga which mainly targets one gender (boys or girls).

    My dad was reading comics before he could read (he would look at the pictures), nowadays he gets Social Security checks and he still reads comics. So to him, you're still a young comics reader. He does not 'get' manga, especially not shojo, but it respects it, and if you forced him to read either Hana-Kimi or Spiderman, he would probably pick Hana-Kimi (though that's only because he dislikes Spiderman, whereas Hana-Kimi is an unknown to him).

    -Sara K.

  • Anytime! : D Well…as long as my computer isn't being silly, it seems to dislike blogspot most of the time, for some reason. :[ And you're so very right. I was upset for a while, but then I realized, hey in a few years I'll have moved out and she can't really say anything, even if she still doesn't "get it". :]

    And nope, nothing interesting lately; I don't get paid until tomorrow, so I've had to conserve money, lol. I am going to get the Clover omnibus soon though, which is exciting. 😀

  • We may be a minority, but there's more of us than you think.

  • @kelakagandy – Thanks for chiming in! Your mom's comment is a great example of age stereotyping. I know my own mom still asks me what I find so fascinating about "all that Japanese stuff", so it doesn't go away, and the best I can do is educate her if she'll listen. If not, then I just recognize it as a generation gap issue, that she can't or won't understand, and move on without letting it get to me. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with me, it just means that there's a part of me that will remain a mystery to her.

    Even though it may seem harsh coming from your mom, take heart and know that there are plenty of others out here that do understand. Read anything good lately? *wink*

  • I hate when people don't understand. I mean, compared to a lot of things I could be into, manga is pretty tame. Compare me to my brother for example. He likes drugs and booze, while I like reading manga. :/

    The other day, my mom told me how she met a lady who had a daughter who was around 25 who, as she phrased it, "still liked manga," and she continued to say, "And then I thought to myself, wow, this never goes away." I didn't tell her how much it upset me, but it really did. It was just kind of rude, and I don't see why people can't be more understanding. :/

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