Should scifi convention panels require a 50/50 gender ratio?

Illustration for article titled Should scifi convention panels require a 50/50 gender ratio?

Many creators have tried to address the under-representation of women in comics and other corners of speculative fiction media — by publishing female-centric anthologies, by hosting panels for female creators. Comics writer Paul Cornell has decided to use himself as an instrument for gender parity, by refusing to sit on any panel where half the participants aren't women.


Cornell made the vow earlier this week, saying that panel organizers should make more of an effort to include women on their panels:

I think there should be gender parity on every panel at every convention. I'm after 50/50, all the time. I want that in place as an expectation, as a rule. Now, to make that happen, what really should be done is a ground-up examination of society, huge changes at the heart of things which would automatically lead to women being equally represented everywhere, not just on convention panels. Well, we've all wanted that and worked for that for decades, especially those of us in fandom, and it just hasn't happened. So, this year, 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.

Cornell is willing to make an exception for project-specific panels where most of the creators happen to be male, and he does acknowledge that sometimes a 50/50 split could mean the best person won't be the one sitting on the panel. But he's calling for more female voices included on panels — and more women seeing other women sitting on panels.

You can read his whole reasoning behind the vow on his blog. So, do you think panels should aim for a 50/50 gender split? Or would it cause more problems than it solves?

Image by Mike Russell from CulturePulp.

Panel Parity [Paul Cornell via via Metafilter]




I despise this idea.

Let's take my field. There are VERY few women who do what I do at the level at which I do it. So, say you wanted to find the four best people who do this work for a panel. If you're constrained by gender requirements, you'll be finding the two best men and two women. (Note that I didn't say the two best women, just two women - because it's hard to find women that work in this field, so you'd have to pretty much go with what you can find.) Say one of them is me - I'm damn fine at what I do and have a fairly known name. So, you put me on this panel and you add Jane Doe, as well. Are we there because we're the best at what we do? No, we are the fucking token females that someone had to dig up to satisfy a bullshit requirement. And everyone will know it.

Why am I imagining George Bush standing in front of a mission accomplished banner?

In the scenario I described above, my words matter far less than if I were picked on merit rather than gender. When everyone knows that they were forced to find a couple of chicks to satisfy the rules, the women they select are more marginalized, not less! In short, Cornell, these are not the droids you're looking for. I get what you're trying to do but you're going about it the wrong way.