Teaching Comics to Men Who Know Better

YOU read comics?!

As a graduate student adjunct with little teaching experience, I generally only teach composition classes. To *spice* things up, I wanted to incorporate comics.  I started with Maus. It was received well. Students were able to write strong papers that they were actually interested in. Things were looking up.

Over the next year, I incorporated mainstream comic books. Since they’re shorter, I thought they would be a welcome reprieve from longer works I had previously assigned. Plus, comics are fun. They’re not what people expect to see when they come into a college classroom, but there is a familiarity there that makes students feel comfortable in discussing them.

Sometimes this comfort backfires.

Sometimes male students feel obligated to “mansplain” comic books to me.

I use “sometimes” loosely. In that, no one questioned my knowledge of comic books when I taught Maus. When superheroes and mainstream titles come into question, however, suddenly my authority and intelligence and general capability are put into question.

Some examples:

A few weeks ago, I was giving a random tidbit of personal information about myself to make a point in class. The tidbit involved my cat, who I explained was named Diana after Diana Prince. When the name was met with blank stares, I elaborated, “Diana Prince. You know, Wonder Woman?” A male student’s eyes lit up. Before I could move on to my point, he talked over me and began openly questioning that I actually read comics, quizzing me on titles (granted, most of which I hadn’t read because the stories of heteronormative white male protagonists bore me).

Last semester, I was teaching Sandman in my writing course. I was giving background on comic book culture, and a male student interrupted me. He began giving the background lecture for me. When I tried to interrupt, he would just talk louder and faster. I talked over him, but he continued to interject with his historical tidbits (most of which were tangential and/or misguided.)

Last fall, I taught Rat Queens, Lumberjanes, and Bitch Planet in my writing composition course. The class theme was girls culture, and we were using the text to analyze different visual representations of girlhood. To better understand these comics and how progressive they are, I prepared a thirty-minute lecture on the history of women and comics. A male student felt obligated to correct me at multiple points (even though he was wrong) and ask about unrelated texts.

There are places I expect people to question me for reading comics.  Comic book stores are notoriously terrible for women.  In fact, I refuse to go to the majority of comic book stores (even though I live in NYC, one of the most progressive cities in the country) because of men constantly questioning my right to exist in that space.

My classroom should not be one of those places.




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