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Boys, manga, and guns: an afternoon at the library

I mentioned in my previous post, I spent part of the week before last doing appearances at two Toronto public libraries. My first afternoon out, I spoke with a couple of classes of fifth graders about being a writer, and more importantly, being a reader. I talked about all the books that had ever gotten me into trouble. These included To Kill A Mockingbird (which caused me to have a conversation about rape with a fellow second-grader, and I suspect it got her in trouble at home, ensuring her everlasting hatred of me), and The Shining (which another girl in my fifth-grade class told on me for reading, though I’ve never understood why — perhaps the cover scared her). I neglected to mention my mother teaching a five-year-old version of me about sex from The Joy of Sex (the 70’s edition, with all the beards and bushes in it, which likely explains some things about my tastes), or the time she ripped a copy of The Stand (again, the edition from the 70’s) from my hands when I was eight. Apparently Randall Flagg was somehow scarier than Pa Ewell. I don’t know. I also conveniently forgot that time my ninth grade history teacher hid a copy of Sebastien Japrisot’s A Trap for Cinderella down the front of his jeans, and the chase around the classroom that ensued.

That’s a true story, by the way. That really happened. We both loved Japrisot’s work. A lot. Later, that same teacher introduced me to Haruki Murakami’s books.

Anyway, the book that got me into the most trouble was obviously my own, so I had to read aloud to them from it. That was hard, as there are a lot of curse words in it, and also the chapter I chose to read has a bit about why robots have “all the right holes and such,” and I didn’t want anybody getting in trouble at home (cf. To Kill A Mockingbird). It being a library setting with some actual space, I was able to pace up and down the aisle while reading, which is always the best way to read or recite to a group. Good teachers do it. Good trial lawyers do it. Good stripmall preachers do it. That shit works. After that I ansswered some questions, so we talked more about books, and writing them, and then a little bit about manga, and why I like Bleach better than Naruto.

But the next day, with another library’s youth advisory group, we talked about manga even more. The group was comprised primarily of Somalian and Chinese girls in the eighth or ninth grade, some of them Muslim, all of them geeks. Each girl had her own special fandom: one was into Doctor Who, another was into Dragonball Z (will no one rid us of those troublesome saiyans?), one read DC Comics exclusively, another exhorted me to start watching The Legend of Korra. “I’m waiting to see if they screw up the ending like they did on Avatar,” I told her. “I won’t get fooled again.” They all loved Fullmetal Alchemist and Batman: Under the Red Hood.

They all knew someone who had been shot.

They were very matter-of-fact about it. One girl had come home to find police tape in front of her building. Another girl’s neighbour was shot in the courtyard of her complex. A third girl’s sister was shot, when her family lived in Somalia. Some of them had a classmate who was shot. The shootings were scary, but what happened afterward was scarier: cops everywhere, gang members banging on doors telling people not to talk, witnesses hastily arranging a move to another building. They talked about these events in the same tone of voice that they discussed falling down the stairs in front of boys they liked, or that time somebody broke a toe while on a field trip. Nobody dissolved into tears. Nobody started shaking. These girls were just, for lack of a better term, shooting the shit. Their conversation reminded me of the conversations I used to have with my friends in middle school: planning birthday parties (shaving foam or water balloons? both?), how stupid ASB fees were, when Mulder and Scully would finally sleep together. These conversations had no point. That was their point. They were elliptical, and they made the boredom of adolescence feel like it meant something. The opening five minutes of Stand By Me? Girls do that, too. I had forgotten how much I missed it.

Then Boston happened. And Texas. And that bullshit ricin letter. And the floods. And then a bunch of Congressmen wussed out on gun control, which is part of why I’m writing this. I know, I know. I don’t live there, any more. It’s not my problem. But the majority of guns that cause deaths in Canada come from America, so yeah, I guess that makes it my problem. It’s certainly a problem for the girls I met the other week. These are bright, funny, geeky young women who are doing their best to stay positive in a world where Ann Coulter says women should go to jail for wearing hijab. The last thing they need is a steady steam of weapons crossing the border because Congress is hungry for lobbyist cock. As women of colour, some of them Muslim, the deck is already stacked against them — even when their community leaders do everything possible to stem the tide of violence. These girls have seen enough shit. They do not need to see more shit.

So I guess what I’m saying here is that you may run into these girls, or girls like them, at your next convention. If your mind is already blown by the fact that girls can be geeks, too, you may just pop an aneurysm at the idea of girls in hijab being geeks. But they are. And so if you do run into them, be nice. Be friendly. Not creepy. Not wussy. Not shitty. Because when we say that fandom is a “safe space,” we don’t just mean from “the jocks,” or from the ghosts of jocks past. We mean that the guns are props, and nobody’s trying to shoot you, and no one’s head covering is any weirder than anybody else’s. Sometimes we don’t get the communities we deserve. But if we’re lucky, we get the ones we need. Remember that.

4 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. After reading this sentence “… why I like Bleach better than Naruto.”, I thought whether it qualifies as a tautology! Would love to read a post with your comparative analysis of these two manga.

    • Madeline

       /  April 26, 2013

      Honestly, I just like the story behind BLEACH better, and I think the art is much, much better.

  2. BSD

     /  April 26, 2013

    Sure, the story behind BLEACH was better, but when did we last get any story that wasn’t just SHONEN FIGHTING?

    And from my admittedly small sample, girls in hijabs (and those planning to, one day, be in snood-or-snood-equivalent hair covering, for that matter) are slightly more likely to be geeky than those not. It’s probably sampling error (I can think of three sources of sampling error alone, not to mention my sample size or my criteria) and I certainly wouldn’t draw any conclusions even had I done a large study. But there you go.

    (I do assert, however, that young girls are as geeky or geekier than young boys, both of which groups are substantially geekier than the populace as a whole — both groups have geekishness crushed out of them, but the geek-crushing is more aggressive, poisonous, harmful and often violent when it comes to the girls.)

    • Madeline

       /  April 26, 2013

      I agree that it’s mostly SHOUNEN FIGHTING. I just find Kubo’s version better than his competitors’. I wish it moved as quickly as the anime, and I wish there was less exposition, but the art is just plain better, and the characters are more interesting.

      “both groups have geekishness crushed out of them, but the geek-crushing is more aggressive, poisonous, harmful and often violent when it comes to the girls.” <–That’s a good way of putting it.

  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, strategic foresight consultant, anime fan, and immigrant. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and IAM Sports & Entertainment. You can buy her novels here. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.
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