Obvious (to me) disclaimers: I am not claiming personal discrimination here; I am assuming structural discrimination and unconscious bias. I am also less interested here in an individual’s beliefs than the behaviors involved. Thanks.
I am tired of writing about panels – especially panels on diversity – that are not diverse themselves.
GenCon had a panel on diversity in gaming with an all male panel back in 2011(screenshot). Denver Comic Con had an all male “Women in Comics” panel in May of this year. And now GenCon’s Writer’s Symposium had (past tense) an “Writing Women Friendly Comics” with all male panelists.
Yes, had. When The Mary Sue wrote the article about the Symposium, it got attention, and “female speakers have reached out to the WS, and now are set to join the panel“. When you look at the Symposium’s blog, the organizer, Marc Tassin1 said:
To ensure that the women we hoped to involve knew how much we wanted them there, I’ve re-extended a number of invitations. I want them to know how much I personally would have liked to have them join us. It’s unrealistic that at this late stage they can join us, but if not this year, perhaps we can try again in 2016.
I’m also talking to the women who volunteered to join us this year. I’m not going to make any final decisions until Monday, but I’ll let you know then what we’ve decided. As I said, some really cool people reached out to us. There is no way I’m going to say no to that generosity. We may even be able to add a few cool panels thanks to there offers.
Thankfully, there are now quite a few women on this panel (and in the comic writing track in total); you can read that announcement from Monday on the Symposium’s blog. That’s an important change, and one I’m glad to see. So kudos to the Symposium for fixing the problem when it was pointed out.
I’m glad that the attention that The Mary Sue brought effected real and speedy change. But The Mary Sue (or a high profile blog) can’t be at every convention… and the reasons given for the lack of diversity are still sadly the same.
The reasons for the lack of diversity usually boil down to one of two things (or a combination of both):
1. There was a schedule conflict/we couldn’t get anyone to attend
2. It’s about “quality” above all else
Let’s ignore the insulting nature of the “quality” argument (which is just a variant of the “I don’t see race/gender/etc” argument)2 and address the actual issue.
I’ve organized programming for a convention before. My first time out of the gate, 42% of the panelists were female. 79.6% of the panels had both men and women, and all the panels that were about a specific gender had that gender well represented.
And unlike some cons I’ve heard of that use one or two women or people of color on many multiple panels to technically have some representation, most of my panelists had only three panels.
From the feedback about the convention’s programming, the quality of programming was as good or better than it had been in prior years. And that was a small convention, with a regional draw and a very limited budget.
But that wasn’t good enough, and had I the chance to do programming again, I’d be even more deliberate in ensuring equity.
But for FSM’s sake, we aren’t even talking about the overall panels at these conventions, but just panels specifically about diversity and a particular gender.
PROTIP: If you can’t get people of the impacted group to be on your panel about that impacted group, either look harder or cancel the panel.
Look, I am not saying that anybody’s being deliberately sexist or racist. I’m not saying that these exclusions are conscious decisions.
I am saying that we must expend conscious effort to overcome our unconscious biases to reach out to and include people of all types.
Those unconscious biases are, well, unconscious. (Again, see Liz Bourke’s essay over on Tor.com.) These biases are only able to be overcome through deliberate and conscious effort.
Or to put it another way, if you rely on reaching out to “the best people you can”, you cannot assume that you will get a diverse and representative mix, because your unconscious judgement of “the best” will be skewed.
Last year I pointed at plzdiversifyyourpanel and pointed out that ensuring diversity in our panels is “something that those of us who are running conventions must be aware of… and it’s a standard that we must be held accountable to.”
But who, exactly, should be holding programming types accountable?
The Mary Sue (or other journalist types) can’t be the only ones who are holding us3 accountable. Even the panelists (as exemplified by plzdiversifyyourpanel) can’t be the only ones who effect change.
There’s only one group of people who can really make a difference.
The people who attend conventions.
One of my friends said “As long as there are butts in the seats, nobody will do anything. So all the people attending would have to walk out of panels without women on them.”
That’s what we all need to start doing.
We need to stop showing up. We need to leave. Politely, but loudly.
We need to let the organizers know why we are leaving. Let the other people there know why we are leaving.
Because our community is inclusive, and all voices should be heard.
And that’s worth standing up for.
1 Full disclosure: I’ve known Marc for many years; he’s invited me to the Symposium in the past. This isn’t about him; this example is just the latest in a long line of examples.
2 If you don’t understand why “I don’t see X” is an insulting and racist/sexist/etc statement, let me point you to https://medium.com/@kurafire/why-saying-i-dont-see-race-gender-etc-is-offensive-f84b94d75a51 and https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/26/do-not-see-race-ignoring-racism-not-helping for a quick primer.
3 Yes, us. The people in charge of selecting panelists, guests, authors, editors, and the like. Please see the opening paragraphs of this post.