Thoughts on Exhibiting at a Con as a Woman

This past weekend I was exhibiting at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comiccon (AKA ComiKaze). This is only my second con and was my first big con.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about how women are treated at cons, whether as a cosplayer, a panel participant, or just an attendee. Sometimes you get harassed–verbally or physically–as a cosplayer because, to some men, a costume gives them permission to ignore societal norms and stop treating you like a person. Sometimes you get talked over because obviously a man understands the subject matter better than you do in your tiny woman brain. And sometimes guys are just jerks and you get treated like shit so things like The Backup Ribbon Project has to be created.

We all get this. We get it because it’s really not all that different from our day-to-day lives except maybe we’re in a costume this time, or our harassers are.

But today I’m gonna talk about having a table at a con as an artist and the bullshit I had to smile through. These were mostly microaggressions, so I’m sure some will dismiss them, but I think they’re indicative of the crap we are trained to put up with because it’s easier to just smile and avoid rather than confront. And, who knows? Maybe a guy will read this and see himself in these douchebags and maybe he’ll try to change. That’s all we can hope for, right? A little bit of change.

So, if you’re reading this, you probably know who I am and know that I’m a writer. If you’re here because you saw this linked on Twitter or somewhere and don’t know who I am, well, I’m a writer. I have three series out under this name, all various shades of Fantasy.

I am very lucky to have a supportive husband who will go with me to conventions to help me man the table, move the heavy boxes, share the long car rides, watch the table to let me take much-needed breaks. But that’s all he is at these things: my helper. My husband is not a writer or an artist (though he his a martial artist, that doesn’t apply here). He wears shirts that promote my books and website, he passes out business cards for me, he supports me.

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But guess what reader? 7-8 men out of 10 who approach my table automatically assume he’s the writer/artist at the table. Now. I know what you’re thinking, “Shauna, that’s an honest mistake.” So let me further explain.

Behind my table are two huge stand-up banners that have “SHAUNA GRANGER” written across their tops. Affixed to the front of my table is another banner that says, you guessed it, “SHAUNA GRANGER” in bold white lettering against black.

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Now, fine, maybe their eyes miss the last ‘a’ in my first name and they think it says “SHAUN” but give me a second. Behind the table are two chairs. I sit in one, dead center of my table with a clear space in front of me for signing books. My husband sits in the other, off to the side, and slightly behind me.

And, I’m not counting the people who also looked at my signs before making eye contact and asked, “So, who’s the writer?” Because, yeah, there’s a chance we’re just manning the table. No. I’m talking about the men who would look at my banners, glance at my books, then look right at my husband, never at me, and say, “So, you’re the writer?”

Now, here’s another funny thing, reader. People who assumed I was the writer, or who didn’t assume either of us was the writer, would smile at me when they realized it was me. They would ask me about the books and nod and listen. When they bought books and I offered to sign them, they’d light up and say, “Yes, please!” The guys who assumed the writer was my husband? Would then lose their smile, lift their eyebrows, and then very quickly leave the table when my husband would direct them to me, the writer.

What the fuck guys? What the actual fuck?

This happened a lot. A lot.

At one point my husband looked at me and said, “Wow ¬†they really do just assume it’s me, don’t they? Just because I’m the guy at the table. What bullshit.”

Another thing that happened that really tested my patience were the guys who made fun of my books or my very presence at the con as a novelist, not a comic book artist.

Yeah, that’s right. You know these guys, the ones that think it’s funny to tease you about who you are or what you’re doing. I’ll give you an example of a conversation I had with a guy who was probably ten years younger than me and had absolutely no intention of ever buying my books.

Guy: So, I imagine it’s pretty hard to be a novel writer at a comic book convention.

Me: No, not really.

Guy: Really?

Me: Really. I have a different product, so it stands out.

Guy: People actually buy your books?

Me: Yes.

Guy: Do you sell a lot?

Me: I do alright.

Guy: *smirks* Right.

Me: Well, when people do buy, they buy whole series.

Guy: Right because they can’t buy them anywhere else.

Me: No. My books are available at all retailers.

Guy: Really. (no, not a question)

Me: *strained smile*

Guy: So. Tell me about this series. *points at Elemental Series*

Me: *Give brief explanation because it’s 5 books*

Guy: The Elemental Series.

Me: Yes. *Starts to explain what “elemental” means*

Guy: *cuts me off* So, Potassium, Magnesium…? *Stupid asshole smile*

Me: Yeah, alright.

Guy: So what’s the story about?

Me: I just told you.

Guy: No but what’s it about.

Me: Each book?

Guy: Yes.

Me: *starts to explain book one*

Guy: *cuts me off* Do people ever come back the next day and tell you they liked your books?

Me: The very next day? No, I don’t expect people to read a whole novel series in less than 24 hours.

Guy: So they don’t.

Me: They usually find me online later.

Guy: Online. Right. *walks away*

Yeah. Bullshit like that happens to us all the time. See, I consider everyone who comes to my table as a potential new reader. Even if they start off as a jerk, I am in sales mode so I don’t treat them like jerks, even if they deserve it. But if you’re never going to be interested in something a woman has created or if you’re coming up just to be a total asshole, don’t waste our time. Move along and find a table only manned by men. Only go to a table where you might spend money, not just to make yourself feel like a big man because you’re not. You’re a tiny man.

Guys, don’t be these guys. Because, honestly, we only have so much patience and you might be the one we lose it on.

ETA: The guys who would wait to approach until after my husband would leave the table. I’d see them lingering, their eyes glancing in my direction, not really talking to anyone at any other table, and then my husband would leave for a minute and the lingerers would swoop in to talk to me. It was creepy and they never bought books.

ETA 2: The asshats who tell you to smile. I have been told to smile by men my whole life. My whole life. I don’t stand around or walk around like a grinning idiot. How weird would that be really?! But men would come up to my table, from the opposite direction as the one I was looking and would say shit like, “You’re supposed to smile when a customer comes up.” Like, bro, I wasn’t looking in your direction, but thanks for the advice.