What Would Happen If Comic Convention Panelists Demanded Parity?

I was flabbergasted (in an “what an excellent idea no one’s ever thought of!” way) to read about this decision by certain famous science fiction authors to not participate in convention panels where there are no women panelists. The rationale is that female fans are half of the audience, so their presence ought to be reflected in the more visible events. Says Lizzie Barrett, the writer of the essay that made me aware of this choice:

It is common, at Conventions, to see four times as many men on panels as women, often despite the fact that there are many more female authors, editors, and publishers at the Convention … in the audience. Given that a gender split of 60% women to 40% men is about average at genre conventions, this ratio is rarely reflected in the panels and guests of honour. It should be the responsibility of a Con organiser to notice the gender imbalance and address it — before the Convention. … There are just as many female authors in the SFF community as male, if not more. So why does the SFF convention-running world that was built decades ago still assume that most SFF is being written by men, for men?

Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell

I found myself wondering what would happen if comic creators took the same approach. (Interestingly, the two main authors quoted in the linked piece also write comics.) Said Paul Cornell,

I’ve decided that I’m going to approach this problem via the only moral unit I’m in charge of: me. I’m going to approach this problem from the other end. And this approach is going to be very much that of a blunt instrument.

If I’m on, at any convention this year, a panel that doesn’t have a 50/50 gender split (I’ll settle for two out of five), I’ll hop off that panel, and find a woman to take my place. … I will then stay in the room to listen to the panel, and then, due to the small possibility that someone might have come to the panel purely to see me, make myself available outside afterwards, so no audience member is short-changed.

He even addresses the comic situation:

You probably won’t find enough female DC Comics creators to make the panel 50/50, convention organisers, so how about some women who write about comics? If it’s just me being interviewed, I’ll seek a female interviewer.

The comment thread resulting features more discussion, with the expected “but this would mean more work!” and “what about the poor mens left out?” complaints and the horribly wrong “women aren’t as qualified as men”. I applaud Cornell’s choice, and I hope more follow him to make the point that this change needs to come and it won’t unless people make it so.

Sadly, to do so at comic conventions would mean a lot more focus outside the superhero genre, which would be a difficult switch for organizers and planners of the larger shows, who get much of their audience (and media coverage) based only on that genre.

Update: (2/26/12) A case study. Writer/rabble-rouser Mark Millar has helped organize Kapow!, a UK comic convention. For two years, now, they haven’t bothered to announce any female guests until pressured to. When asked, Millar responded with the usual false assertions: Women creators aren’t big enough names. Women don’t work on superheroes. If women are working on the guest selection committee, then there can’t be a problem. The writer of that post, summing up the problem, asks these pertinent questions:

With the growing female readership of comics, and the larger female readership of graphic novels and books, is it a mistake to say only superhero or big money titles are the “mainstream”? And if we want things to change, if we want women to be more comfortable attending comic cons and spending their money, shouldn’t we strive to ensure they are represented by the guests themselves?


7 Responses to “What Would Happen If Comic Convention Panelists Demanded Parity?”

  1. Sallyp Says:

    Good for him. I don’t anticipate that much will ever happen unless people like Mr. Cornell make it happen…because it is just so much easier to go with the flow.

  2. David Oakes Says:

    I applaud Mr. Cornell taking a stand, even if it means I won’t be allowed to interview him a second time.

    But I think of SDCC, and have images of Dan Didio having to hold Gail Simone at gunpoint in Room 6CDE for the entire convention.

  3. James Schee Says:

    Interesting approach. I see this having more effect right now on SF panels than comic ones. Since Cornell, whose only current comic work is Saucer Country & Demon Knights, is likely just to not get invited to many panels.

    Hopefully it raises awareness though. I feel a little bad for the women the first few times it happens though. Some folks are generally not nice about this stuff, look at comments sections when this gets discussed, and there might be some boos and animosity directed at them at first.

    I always found it odd that DC has (had? since I see names leaving all the time) so many female editors and asst, editors that you don’t see more from them at panels.

  4. Johanna Says:

    If DC now is anything like DC when I worked there, the company is very leery of having anyone on staff “represent” them on a panel unless they’re one of the approved marketing voices.

  5. Faith Says:

    One of the comments I saw on one of the many sites that posted this idea, complained that it would “unfairly penalize young male writers.” Um … it’s suggesting that the panel be 50% women. 50%. Not 75%, not 100% women. 50%. Y’know, like the overall population of the world?

    Dear lord, some people they are so WORRIED about the sexism against men!!!11 I don’t even know.

  6. Johanna Says:

    It’s hard for people to give up the privilege they’ve had, some without even recognizing it.

  7. James Schee Says:

    Yes and for some of the SF/comic fans, this is the one thing they feel they fit and have influence or even some measure of control (or dominance?) over.

    You’d think their experience of being excluded, or marginalized in other things would give them empathy for others. For some it doesn’t seem so though.

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