Panel Parity

Okay, so this was something I came up with yesterday, and it's mad, and is, frankly, a rod for my own back, but what the hell, it's going to make this coming year a lot more interesting.

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.  

If I know of a professionally qualified woman (a fellow creator or critic or someone with specific knowledge of the subject) in the room, I'll start by inviting her up.  If there's nobody like that, I'll ask for hands up, and hope that bravery counts as virtue enough for them to hold their own on the panel.  I will ask such women that they don't spend their time on the panel criticising the convention or the companies I work for.  That would make me a very rude guest.

EDIT: I've been persuaded that I shouldn't attempt to stop someone who replaces me from saying what they like.  I hope that doesn't lead to horrors, but it's true, I've no right to try and limit anyone.  I just hope I don't end up being the person who invited a guest to the party who ends up berating his friends.  

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.

On some occasions, I may be able to make the panel gender-balanced in another way, by asking more women to join in to even up the numbers.  I actually think that's much more invasive than me getting off the panel.  I've got a right, I feel, to replace myself, but not to haul lots of other people on.  (We've all been in panels where someone says 'hey, I know of some people who'd be great on this panel, you guys come on up' and the results are rarely charming.)  But sometimes when it's just a panel of mates, and we're all onboard with it, that might be possible, and I'll try it when it is.

I intend to do this is a very non-confrontational way.  I'm pointing a finger at the world, not at specific convention organisers or fandoms.  And certainly not at my friends on the panel.  I'm hoping for laughter and pleasure when I hop off a panel, a collective sigh.  I want this to be a flag that says 'we can all do better'.

I won't make arrangements with specific women beforehand.  This isn't about me picking and choosing who I think is worthy.

There are a couple of situations in which this doesn't apply.  If the panel has a very project-specific subject, such as 'meet the creators of Saucer Country' or 'here are the writers of Wild Cards', then as long as every female creator involved with that project who's in the building is on the panel, I don't feel we should pull people out of the audience to even it up.  However, I don't think this rule can be applied so widely as to cover the entire output of a major media company.  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.  If it's just me with a microphone... I honestly don't know what would be best to do in that situation.  I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

That last rule has been really hard to decide on, and I feel for the conventions that have got in touch, since I announced this on Twitter, saying 'but the panel is just every DC writer we have'.  I am being hard on you, and I do apologise.  But this is a blunt instrument, and if I started allowing such enormous get-outs this plan would all soon be wittled away to nothing.  I anticipate hopping off panels at conventions run by close friends, where everyone in the building is in agreement about putting more women on panels.  It's not about me getting at you.

Obviously, me doing this can't solve the problem.  But the first convention that announces they're going for 50/50, across the board, will have started to solve it.  And I'll trumpet their decision far and wide.

I'd also like to hear from other male panelists who are willing to do the same thing I'm doing.  (But I won't be finger-pointing at those who don't.  I understand that this can't be for everyone.)

50/50 will result in some horror stories in the short term.  There will be women put on panels who are obviously there just to fulfill the rule.  There will be brilliant and interesting men left in the audience.  Over time, as the expectation sets in, as the rule becomes just something our communities do, then these problems will go away, as more and more interesting and communicative women are encouraged and allowed to step up.  That virtuous circle has to start somewhere.  And it will take an entirely artificial decision to do it.  Change isn't going to happen naturally.

50/50 will be called, and is, all the following: 'positive discrimination'; 'tokenism'; 'treating the symptom, not the cause'; 'political correctness'.  Those words are just descriptions convention organisers are going to have to get used to, until the point, in a couple of decades, where 50/50 has become 'the way things have always been'.

There are all sorts of arguments I've heard from good people on the other side of this debate.  None of them will change my mind (though I'm sure I'll see some of them re-hashed again in the comments).  I'm going to do this anyway.  And I'd like to hear from a convention that responds to my plan with an announcement that they're going to achieve 50/50.  Not just on my panels: on all of them.

I'll be back on Friday with a vastly packed blog, including my long-delayed SFX Weekender report.  Until then, Cheerio!




63 Response to "Panel Parity"

  • Helen Lowe Says:

    Good for you, Paul


  • Adam Roberts Says:

    I don't go on nearly so many panels as you do, Paul, but I go on some, from time to time. I think this is an excellent idea and am happy to sign up to it as well.


  • Teresa Says:

    Aaand, this is why I love you. :) Seriously, this is amazing. I'll be spreading this link around in the hopes that other male creators/writers/critics/etc take note.

    I'm on 4 panels at Gally later this week, and they are all about 50/50, I'm happy to say. The panel I'm on about Torchwood: Miracle Day has 3 women and one man on it! And the "Why aren't there more Captain Janeways panel?" That one's all women. Kind of understandably. :) Though I kind of wish there was at least one guy on that one for a different perspective.

    Anyway, while Gally seems to be doing a great job of it (and Doctor Who fandom seems to be majority female - or close to it - in the States anyway), there's still a lot of work to be done. I'm so glad to see you doing something about it. Thank you. :)


  • Anonymous Says:

    Better late than never but surely your panels reflect the bulk of your readrship? What will you do where selective hiring policies mean there just ain't the women for u to find? This is a brave stand and I watch with interest.


  • Tansy Rayner Roberts Says:

    This is a brilliant decision on your part - well done! I look forward to hearing about the (mixed, I expect) results. It's such an important issue - I think it's one we get complacent about in Australia because we have such a high percentage of female professionals, but it still happens, over and over again - particularly on fan panels.

    If conventions want to do the right thing but have agonies over the practicalities, one notion might be to 'buy' get-out-of-parity-free-cards by having more panels that are MORE than 50% women, and thereby being allowed the occasional one that is all men.

    So basically you might let them off having an all male DC writers panel, as long as they can show their entire program has a roughly equal number of male to female panellists when it all evens out. That shouldn't be too hard for them, right?

    Okay, your current plan is probably simpler. It will bring prominence to the issue, at least, and hopefully we will see many other men with similar high profiles as yours taking similar steps.

    After all, the 'if the audience outnumbers the panellists, we all go to the bar' rule took off pretty well, right?


  • Anonymous Says:

    So if there's an all-female panel will you encourage the same thing in favour of men?


  • Muccamukk Says:

    Well, this IS going to be an interesting year for you, isn't it? I very much look forward to hearing the results of your endeavour. I think it's a very worthwhile one indeed.

    It may also underscore the gender disparity in superhero comic writing, given that I think you're going to be hopping off a lot of panels in that area. DC has what, two authors and three artists right now (on main universe titles, I don't follow kids or Vertigo as closely), and Marvel about the same? Very optimistically, it could encourage them to talent hunt for more women.

    I'm interested about how you feel about panels with more women then men, especially if they are on the topic of women's issues. Or a panel like the Women of Marvel from last year's NYCC.


  • D.A Lascelles Says:

    There is an easy answer to the problem of being the only person on the panel... cross dress! :)

    Seriously, it is a noble gesture. Not sure it will necessarily create more parity on panels (that is something for the organisers to do and for the women themselves to make themselves available to be booked which I am sure many are doing already) but it will raise awareness of an issue in a way which may make those organisers at least think about it.


  • Blarkon Says:

    Sounds like a positive step. In terms of putting it into practice, when asked to do a panel will you stipulate your condition from the outset and politely decline to participate if it isn't met? (though I guess that takes away the power of being able to swap someone in as you won't be in the position of doing a swap if you've already declined to be on the panel because of the gender imbalance known about from the outset.)


  • Anonymous Says:

    If I were a woman or perceived to be one, knowing this, I would feel reluctant and anxious to attend panel items you're scheduled to be on for fear of being called upon to take your place, even if it happened in the nicest possible way. Especially so if the topic of the panel were something I suspected would attract a predominantly male audience, making me one of the only people in attendance who might be asked to be your replacement.

    I mention this just to make you aware that some people (women) may feel this way, so that you can hopefully factor that into the way you handle this. :)


  • Nic Says:

    A note of caution: some women audience members may not appreciate being singled out in this way, and feel pressured into going on the panel when they don't wish to (a couple of years ago, I probably would have fled the room rather than go up to the front! And I doubt I'm alone in that).

    On an individual basis, there may also be good reasons why a woman qualified to talk about the subject is sitting in the audience rather than on the panel: she's not wild about public speaking, she's already doing four other panels that weekend and would like a break, or (this is happening as I type over on twitter) she has offered the panel but turned it down. And some people may simply not want to be co-opted to make a political point: see, for example, Jaine Fenn at the SFX Weekender and her reaction to Al Reynolds' attempt to raise the issue of women's underrepresentation in hard sf publishing.

    I appreciate that you mean well and I think this is certainly a move that will bring some much-needed attention to the issue, but at the very least I'd suggest checking, privately, with the women you might call upon *before* you potentially embarrass them in public.


  • Nic Says:

    Edit to my above comment: "has BEEN offered the panel but turned it down" (in this case, because she doesn't feel it's a good fit with her interests).


  • Fatso Says:

    I saw your tweets on this yesterday, but never got around to commenting; I think the principle here is a great one. The only thing I'd say is rather than 50/50 each individual panel, a 50/50 split across a whole convention might be a better approach.

    So then you could have 3/1, 2/2, and even 4/0 as the individual talks may require a gender imbalance either by design or by necessity (I would hope these would be infrequent).

    Certainly in this day and age there's no reason why there should be any overall imbalance at all.

    And, your principled stance in giving up your spot on a panel where you feel it is necessary is to be commended.


  • Pádraig Ó Méalóid Says:

    Well done, Paul. And, having said that, I'm going to beg to disagree with you! My own version of this would be closer to this sentiment:

    "So basically you might let them off having an all male DC writers panel, as long as they can show their entire program has a roughly equal number of male to female panellists when it all evens out. That shouldn't be too hard for them, right?"

    As a con runner myself, I can see how attempting to make every panel exactly 50/50 would not necessarily be to the benefit of the convention, or those attending or taking part, as I've as often found we've had panels where the women significantly outnumber the men, as vice versa. But there's no reason why, *overall* all cons shouldn't try to aspire to getting as close to parity as is sensibly possible.

    We could establish a Cornell Ratio, like the Bechdel Test, to see how closely or otherwise conventions manage to get to 50/50, with a scale calibrated from 0 to 50, with subdivisions for ratio of guests, and overall ratio of panel speakers. I'm running a con here in Dublin in a few weeks and, with 13 named guests, of whom 5 are female, we've a Cornell Ratio of 38.


  • K. A. Laity Says:

    Thank you for noticing that the exclusion of women is not just a problem for women but a drawback for everyone whose voices are not being heard. If there is a panel that's "all women" chances are it will be yet another "Gosh, why are women always excluded?" panel so it would be great to have a male join us in the periphery.


  • John Derrick Says:

    Bravo! I didn't really expect I could have even more respect for you, but yeah, this raises the bar.

    I'm a straight white guy, and I'm incredibly tired of seeing only people like me represented among creators, characters, and commentators. Diversity makes the world and our stories so much more interesting, and so much truer. A lot of times it even makes it truer to my particular experience, because I don't always identify most with the person categorically most like myself.

    This rocks. My only disappointment is that it didn't start last year before C2E2! Maybe you'd care to swing by Chicago again?


  • Teresa Says:

    To those making the point about women possibly not wanting to go up and speak on a panel/potential embarrassment at being called on, etc:

    I don't think this needs to be a concern. If Paul points out that someone's in the audience, and would she like to come up and replace him, and she doesn't want to...um...SHE CAN SAY NO. :) He said he would then ask if ANY woman feels confident enough to replace him. If someone does, great, she gets the spot. If no one raises her hand, the panel goes on as scheduled. The point is raising the issue and making people think about it in addition to actually replacing Paul on his panels.

    It's really not that big a deal. I'm sure that any woman who doesn't want to speak can be grown-up enough to say no! And Paul's not going to bit her head off! :)


  • Rita Medany Says:

    I agree with you in principle Paul, but I think it "punishes" the wrong people and is (and I don’t mean to be rude here!) gimmicky.

    I would hate to see the sometimes tortuous efforts of a programme team go to waste on a matter of principle that is (in my opinion) wrongly aimed at them (and the audience). If I were in that team I would feel a bit miffed! Effort is required at a much earlier stage in a convention if we are to achieve a lasting balance and that effort needs to be undertaken by a range of people, not just the scheduling team.

    It goes without saying that the committee for a convention needs to give strong direction to their staff and to ensure that this message cascades down appropriately. We need to aim for a balanced attendance by better and more targeted promotion and aim for a balanced group of volunteers by recognising that matching skillsets to roles is a better way to get all the jobs done than simply recruiting the usual (still mostly male) suspects. We need to aim to invite a balanced group of guests, recognising the terrible lack of visibility many talented potential female guests suffer from as they get side-lined by reviewers, editors and promotion teams.

    This immediately gives us a balanced pool of potential panellists and if the scheduling team screw up at this point by all means have a pop, though personally I’d still hold the committee accountable as they ought to be review and approve the programme.

    That is not to say that as a woman, I don’t appreciate the gesture in the spirit it was made – I sincerely appreciate it and wish there were more men like you who were ready to stand up and be counted on this issue!


  • Simon Bradshaw Says:

    Paul,

    Are you making any distinction between fan-run and professional events here? I ask because, so I understand it, the two sorts of events arrive at panels in a rather different way.

    A professional event populates panels from either guests it has paid to attend or from guests sent along by the company they are representing. In other words, the set of people panels are picked from is determined by both who the con pays to come along and who other pro bodies pay to come along. As such, there is a lot of control over it.

    A fan-run even populates most of its panels from ordinary members of the convention who have happened to volunteer to be on programme. Some will be writers etc but even so, other than the Guests of Honour, most will be attending in a personal capacity. So, the pool of programme participants is in large part made up of volunteers and the con has little say in who is available for programme.

    It seems to me that it's one thing to push a professional con to change something it has a lot of control over; it's another to push a fan-run con to change something which is by and large down to who volunteers.


  • Unknown Says:

    I'm tempted to say that this is PC gone mad. But I won't.

    I think a lot of the comments apply to the situation if everybody did this. In fact, most people won't, and probably shouldn't. It's still a good idea for one person to do it, and if that person is going to be attending SF, comics and Dr Who conventions, he's an ideal choice for it.

    There are two likely benefits. Firstly, if someone asks Paul Cornell to a convention, and puts him on a panel, he or she will presumably know what's going to happen. The choice will be to make the panel 50/50, or to leave out Paul Cornell, or to see what happens. Some panels will have more women in because of this.

    Secondly, and more importantly, over the next few months this will be a useful research project. If it turns out that when asked, none of the women in the audience want to be on the panel, that will be interesting to know. If when on the panel, they have nothing to say, that will be interesting. If it turns out that all the panels are hugely improved - that will be interesting as well. Anything that results from this will be worth knowing - which makes the whole thing worth doing.

    As to the general principle that all panels will be exactly balanced in terms of gender - that I'm not sure about. In my limited experience of attending conventions, the people there tend to be from quite a limited background. There are plenty of students, librarians, people who work with computers, people who work in bookshops - not many dustmen or professional sportsmen. Not many dark faces. How that kind of lack of diversity is addressed, I don't know.


  • Anonymous Says:

    So, if it just so happens that you don't have as many female fans attending a panel that you are scheduled to attend, you will just ruin the panel for all of your fans? What if you just have more male fans overall?
    That's pretty terrible of you, and I hope you reconsider.


  • Unknown Says:

    I disagree about the difference between fan and professional events. If an audience has paid to see a presentation by professionals relating to a particular property - then losing people closely associated with said property, be it a TV show,film, comic or other communal production, might cause the audience to feel a bit let down. However, for the fan-type more informal discussions, it often happens that someone speaking from the floor might well contribute as much as one of the panel. People will be discussing genre issues in general, rather than relating anecdotes about the sliding doors on Star Trek. In such a case, an articulate and motivated member of the audience could contribute just as much - especially since they would be motivated to look good after demanding Paul Cornell's place.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thanks, everyone. And thank you, in particular, Adam. Ter: I think Gallifrey might be able, with slight effort, to announce Panel Parity. Tansy: that's for the moderates who follow my ridiculous extremism to sort out. (If this were mainstream politics, they'd have to denounce me while doing so.) No, Anon, of course not. Blark: I'm talking to those cons that get in touch, and will act on the day otherwise, for fear that they'd just put me in a little room at the side, and no visible good would be done. Nic: I will just call for volunteers, of which I'm sure there'll be loads. Nobody's going to be forced to go up. Padraig: I like the sound of the words 'the Cornell Ratio', but actually I'm just after 50/50, and that's not much of a Ratio. John: I'm back in Chicago for Worldcon this summer. Rita: I love how hard Eastercon is trying, that they've taken my challenge very seriously. Failing it isn't going to be a matter of a con committee being burnt at the stake. Very unconfrontational! Simon: actually, I think both fan run and pro events are going to fail just about equally. I've been contacted by one enormous pro event who might be the first to be able to announce 50/50. I have sometimes thought that fan run events shouldn't through stones at the pro events on this score, and this plan will to some degree examine that. Unk: I can't believe I'll ever be in a panel room and find nobody wants to come up. Anon: you haven't read the blog, have you? If you have, you didn't understand it. Thanks again, all, for all that support and good comment. Cheers.


  • Farah Mendlesohn Says:

    I've posted here: http://fjm.livejournal.com/1152261.html


  • JaniceG Says:

    As I mentioned briefly on Twitter, although I think you mean well, I very much disagree with this approach and this mandate.

    You say "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. "

    Personally, that's not what *I've* been fighting for, and I don't think that it's really what many people have been fighting for. I believe what we've been fighting for is that women are considered equally for all positions, and when they are among the most qualified people, they should be equally represented.

    I, for one, have *not* been fighting for a system that would put women on a panel who are not as qualified to speak on the subject as a man who steps down from a panel. Nor have I been fighting for a quota system that would require an exact gender balance for all panels always.

    I think the answer to this problem is to raise the consciousness of programme creators for all cons and remind them to make a special effort to put qualified women on panels: send them a note with your participant survey, drop an email to the programme committee of cons in your area, urge qualified women to volunteer as programme participants, etc.

    A 50/50 quota requirement is not in the best interests of either the audience or the panelists, or of some of the women who will be uncomfortable tokens to prove a theoretical point.


  • Judith Proctor Says:

    For some women, (and this might have been me twenty years ago), being asked is exactly what is wanted.

    They may know something, but feel too shy to put themselves forward. Being asked makes someone feel they really are wanted - but you have to ensure that they feel they are being invited for what they know and not just to make up numbers.

    It may take a series of gentle questions to the audience "Who knows much about x or who feels they have some interesting points to make?" to draw a shy volunteer out of her shell.

    Don't just go for the confident women (like me twenty years older and happy to be on a panel at the drop of a hat), try and tease out the shy ones without making them feel pressured.

    It's a fine line to tread, but I think you might pull it off.


  • Jude Says:

    Hi Paul,

    My initial responses to this are a bit mixed. I'm thrilled to see a man in a position to create enforce this kind of challenge to cons, sff communities and the world more generally making use of his ability to be heard for this kind of purpose.

    I'm very comfortable with it as a strategy in principle - positive discrimination *is* only about redressing an already existing imbalance; and, as in most other arenas, straight white men have been benefiting from being chosen partially on the basis of their sexual orientation, race and gender for centuries; why shouldn't someone else for once?

    I am (as I know Farah has said on her blog and doubtless others have observed as well) utterly exhausted with these kinds of things only being able to be established by men. Not a criticism of you by any means; more a reaction to a moment's thought about the reactions to women arguing for gender parity on panels.

    I also see Nic's (and other's) concerns about how women might feel about being asked to single themselves out for this. Two things occur to me immediately:

    1) while there may well be plenty of women who would like to be on a panel, there are far fewer who would feel comfortable being the token woman - you've done a good job addressing the wider (male dominated) community's concerns about tokenism, but I'm not sure how well you've thought through how the women involved might feel - even though I have been on panels before and will be on more this year, I would be very hesitant to be 'the woman who replaced Paul Cornell';

    and 2) while it's an interesting experiment and will hopefully yield some really good results (even just making people think and talk is something) if it doesn't work within a fairly short space of time the back lash against it and against women at cons will make an already at times frustratingly exclusionary environment a little bit worse - what I'm saying here is that if you mean what you say about achieving gender equality, then I hope you're in it for the long term; women don't have the luxury of writing it off as a bad idea.

    All that said, I am genuinely very pleased to see this and to be reminded that it's not just those of us already labelled crazy extremist feminists who care about these things.


  • Jude Says:

    Hi Paul,

    My initial responses to this are a bit mixed. I'm thrilled to see a man in a position to create enforce this kind of challenge to cons, sff communities and the world more generally making use of his ability to be heard for this kind of purpose.

    I'm very comfortable with it as a strategy in principle - positive discrimination *is* only about redressing an already existing imbalance; and, as in most other arenas, straight white men have been benefiting from being chosen partially on the basis of their sexual orientation, race and gender for centuries; why shouldn't someone else for once?

    I am (as I know Farah has said on her blog and doubtless others have observed as well) utterly exhausted with these kinds of things only being able to be established by men. Not a criticism of you by any means; more a reaction to a moment's thought about the reactions to women arguing for gender parity on panels.

    I also see Nic's (and other's) concerns about how women might feel about being asked to single themselves out for this. Two things occur to me immediately:

    1) while there may well be plenty of women who would like to be on a panel, there are far fewer who would feel comfortable being the token woman - you've done a good job addressing the wider (male dominated) community's concerns about tokenism, but I'm not sure how well you've thought through how the women involved might feel - even though I have been on panels before and will be on more this year, I would be very hesitant to be 'the woman who replaced Paul Cornell';

    and 2) while it's an interesting experiment and will hopefully yield some really good results (even just making people think and talk is something) if it doesn't work within a fairly short space of time the back lash against it and against women at cons will make an already at times frustratingly exclusionary environment a little bit worse - what I'm saying here is that if you mean what you say about achieving gender equality, then I hope you're in it for the long term; women don't have the luxury of writing it off as a bad idea.

    All that said, I am genuinely very pleased to see this and to be reminded that it's not just those of us already labelled crazy extremist feminists who care about these things.


  • Karen Davies Says:

    Bravo:) I look forward to your stance changing the make-up of panels at conventions.


  • Karen Williams Says:

    The fact that "every writer that DC has" is male (except for only one or two exceptions) is a different problem. Still, brilliant idea.


  • Unknown Says:

    I think that Judith Proctor's comments do a lot to explain why the disparity might arise. There may well be con organisers who think that woman will have nothing to say, and that panels would be a lot better with just men on them - but I suspect that it's far more to do with people not putting themselves forward.

    It's also worth noting that such shyness is not exclusive to women, and this shows the limitations of the quota system if the underlying reasons for the disparity aren't addressed. A shy man who needs to be drawn out might be permanently excluded by a 50-50 split.

    (Notwithstanding the merits of a quota system overall, the Paul Cornell approach is worthwhile just to stimulate the debate which is taking place here and elsewhere).

    JHWW


  • Piers Says:

    Well, I agree with the ends, even though I feel the means might tend a little toward scorched earth.

    Regardless of that: Thanks for putting your head above the parapet on this. Whatever happens with regard to your particular policy, I think the debate that results (and has already started) will help to bring change in the longer run.


  • stevemosby Says:

    I totally sympathise with the overall aim of gender parity (although I might for across a convention as a whole, rather than every panel), but I think there are a couple of problems with what you're proposing.

    The first is that many people would assume, rightly or wrongly, that you know your fellow panelists in advance. (I'm a crime writer, and I always do; I'm less familiar with SF conventions). So there's a danger that what you do on the day will seem like personal grandstanding because, in reality, you could have removed yourself from the panel beforehand on the same point of principle.

    The second is practical - I think it will almost always be a nightmare. If no woman volunteers, you have to continue. If more than one woman volunteers, who picks? It's just going to create an awkward atmosphere, which is counter-productive. Regardless, the woman on the panel will be there solely because a man has allowed her to be, and that is massively problematic in itself.

    It's good that prominent men like yourself are recognising the problem of gender parity and want to address it, but perhaps it would be better achieved for all by gentle pressure behind the scenes.


  • Anna Feruglio Dal Dan Says:

    Thanks Paul. I think this is absolutely great and you've convinced me to volunteer to be on as any panels as they want me at EasterCon. I strongly believe that blunt instruments are he way to go.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thanks again for all your comments, it's given me a lot to think about. I've changed the plan a little, as noted in the edits, and absolutely nobody is going to be pushed into doing anything, in terms of being literally hauled up onstage. Now I have to get myself, and my ego, out of this, and start pointing out the women who've been doing this sort of stuff all along. Cheers.


  • G in Berlin Says:

    I think this is fabulous. Thanks so much. When I was younger, I thought equality would just happen. Now I have realized that it takes steps exactly like this, pushed through against those who can see no norm other than patriarchy, to help it come to fruition. As a female fan for the last 30 years, it has been amazing to see how deeply entrenched sexism is in our own little bailiwick and how defensive individuals become about it. I especially appreciate that you don't give the "separate but equal" out: didn't work for schools, either.


  • K. Traylor Says:

    You're fantastic. Thank you!


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thank you.


  • Jo Says:

    When I first read this, I was on the fence about it - I thought it was an interesting idea but wasn't sure it was necessarily a *good* idea so was willing to reserve judgement.

    Since then I have had *3* full bodied and energetic discussions with various of my friends about this and the more we talk it over, the more I think this actually is a good idea. I particularly think that you're right to say that the thing you have the option to change is yourself and your behaviour/participation so it's the only place to start.

    Best of luck with it!


  • TansyRR Says:

    Popped back to catch up on the comments, and had another thought. For everyone who is supportive of gender parity on panels in general, regardless of how they feel about Paul's plan (I think most of us agree that it would be awesome if this plan was not necessary) then the best way to show that support is to take note of the great women who do appear on convention panels, who speak well and contribute something interesting, and tell people about them - using whatever social media of your choice!

    It sounds simple, but just like remembering to put an extra effort into reviewing books by women (because women's work does get reviewed less, across the board, in most venues) spreading the word about great female participants means they are more likely to be thought of or remembered next time panellists are required.

    And it would be very useful for those programmers who are committed to finding a diverse range of panellists!


  • Anonymous Says:

    Hi Paul - as a debut SF author who gets to be overlooked by festivals both for my genre and my gender, I wholeheartedly applaud your initiative.

    I would also like to see a lot fewer comments of the 'women don't put themselves forward enough' variety. I don't buy this. We're not that delicate.

    Same argument is used to explain why women get paid less. "oh women, poor shy things, of course they're paid less, they don't ask for raises.'

    Recent US research has exploded that myth http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/for-women-in-business-the-squeaky-wheel-doesnt-get-the-grease/2012/01/09/gIQAGRuqlP_story.html - showing women DO ask for raises and promotions - they just don't get 'em as often as men.

    So let's retire that trope, OK?


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thanks again, and particularly for your blog on this subject, Tansy.


  • Ares Lightbringer Says:

    Sounds good to me!


  • Alexandre Desbiens-Brassard Says:

    Sir, you are writing books for the DC New 52. The post-reboot DC has halved the number of women creators compared to the pre-reboot DC. With all due respect, don't you think you should start fighting on that front instead? Shouldn't you first vow to not take on a book unless it has at least one woman on the creative team?


  • Golem100 Says:

    Would you not know the gender make up of a panel you are scheduled to participate on before you showed up in the room? If you do, would you not address the gender equality issue before the panel starts? If you know that the balance is uneven, show up anyway and then step down from the dais are you not just grandstanding under the pretense of calling attention to the problem? You could, after all, have the con administration publish that you were invited to be on a panel but turned down the honor due to the inability or unwillingness of the promoters to balance the number of females and males on said panel.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Alex: I think DC's response to that, rather than hire 23 new female creative teams, would be to stop using me. The fans' response to me giving my reasons for that happening would be 'Cornell would say that, wouldn't he? They probably just sacked him for something.' The results wouldn't be at all clear cut or obvious, and I don't think it'd be even a step towards changing anything. I'm doing this, not something else. Golem: there is, indeed, an element of grandstanding to this. So I've decided to just do it on the day, and not keep going on about it, and point to the women who've been fighting for this for a long time. Whether or not to tell con teams beforehand is complicated. It would often be easy to then just put me on a tiny panel in a side room, or not program me at all. That's something I'll have to sort out as I go.


  • Dafydd Says:

    I am interested in this concept, but feel that surely a representative panel is better than a 50/50 panel?

    Representative of the creators or the consumers, but either would be more appropriate than straight up 50/50. If a product is made almost exclusively by, and consumed almost exclusively by a certain demographic, then that should be represented in the panels.

    To clarify: I don't know the stats on demographics. I'm just knocking the idea around a bit. I would be very interested to find out the creator and consumer compositions, however.

    Are you just keen to make a point that the industry is generally less receptive to women, and this is your attempt to address that?


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    The idea is to be representative of the world.


  • Ulrika O'Brien Says:

    Looking forward to the spectacle of you taking yourself off panels at Wiscon because the sex/gender parity isn't 50/50...thus rendering the inequality even greater. Hmmm.


  • James Schee Says:

    Seems like this will have, at least at first, more to do with SF than comic panels. Since I sadly see this as just meaning you'll be invited to fewer comic panels.(I love Demon Knights and am curious about Saucer Country but they aren't industry bedrocks yet) Which is too bad, as I think you bring a different voice to comics right now.

    Still it's an interesting idea and I wish you luck with it. Hope you have come up with a way to make it friendly and just light hearted though. Not so much worrying about you, but some SF/comic fans aren't the most socially evolved folks.

    Hate to see women get booed or have
    animosity directed at them, either at or after the panel.

    Look forward to hearing how it goes though! (certainly will make reading con reports interesting lol)


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Ul: of course I won't be doing that. James: I'll be trying to make it as non-confrontational as possible.


  • Ulrika O'Brien Says:

    Paul-

    If you're too lazy to type out my whole first name -- I recognize that five letters is a lot -- perhaps you could try using cut-and-paste. Unless you were trying to be patronizing and rude, in which case, carry on.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Ulrika: my apologies.


  • G in Berlin Says:

    Wow, Ulrika- I don't know you, but I can 1. count to 6 and 2. Guess that someone may be typing on a mobile and drop some letters and not assume that is something befitting an ad hominem attack (lazy? Really?), although a call out would be fine.
    "Derailment for Dummies" is a great read- check it out. Both your comments fit nicely therein.


  • Ulrika O'Brien Says:

    Paul - No worries.

    G in Berlin - Schlimmbesserung happens to us all, alas, but yes, the habit of shortening or otherwise altering people's names for the convenience of the speaker is lazy. People care about what they're called. Giving people nicknames without permission for your own convenience is rude, whether the technology you're using is restrictive or not. If one can't be bothered to notice that and act on it then if it isn't out of laziness, it's out of something worse.

    As for "derailment", I thank you, but I'm familiar with the idea already, it's not a concept I find very useful in discourse, since it is most commonly used circularly, to derail criticisms or arguments that the speaker doesn't wish to deal with. It's meant to shut people up when they say things that people who've read too much PoMo Theory have no valid argument against.

    My first comment, in case you somehow had a hard time figuring it out because I didn't say it in so many words, pointed out that Paul's plan to take himself off panels that were not 50/50 male- female *assumes* that the majority would therefore always be male, and that in my experience, that is a false assumption. How that constitutes 'derailment,' except in the most narrow sense of "in any way criticizing PC utterances," is beyond me.


  • Rebekah Says:

    Very interesting! I'll be watching to see how this works out.

    Btw, this is about 30% of the reason I seek out and purchase the things you write. (The other 70% is that I LIKE the things you write--have since I realized you were behind MI:13 and associated with Doctor Who.) As a female comics / SF fan who's attended her share of conventions, I've often wished that I could see women represented more, both onstage and in the industry. I started buying Demon Knights because of your response to the Batgirl / New 52 flap, and have not been disappointed. I'll follow this, too.

    I agree that this is a very blunt instrument, and an artificial approach to a complex problem. But I look forward to the discussion it will provoke.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thank you. It's absolutely not perfect. I'll be talking about one woman's success pursuing it on Friday.


  • Michael Busuttil Says:

    Paul, I know I'm late to the party here, but I just wanted to raise a thought I've had.

    I live out in Australia; normally our panel options at the one or two cons we have are "whoever was willing and able to fly out". Now, thinking about it, that normally has been at least one female guest in the last few years (the fabulous Nicola Scott lives out here, and I know I've heard Kathryn Immonen and Gail Simone both talk), but there are probably going to be years when that's not an option. For a start, the three of them together make up a depressingly large proportion of the visible women in Marvel/DC Comics, and like it or not that's what draws people to the cons, but there's also going to be occasions when the number of women is slim.

    I'm just worried that there are going to be some occasions where perfect parity just isn't an option for reasons more geographical than social, and I think at that point you might be "punishing", in the loose sense of the word, a group of people who don't have a choice.

    But, at the end of the day, it's a tiny concern, and I don't want it to seem like I don't think this is a good idea. In fact, I think it's a Great Idea, capital G capital I, and I'd buy you a drink for it.


  • Brutha Voodoo Says:

    As you've probably guessed, I discovered this after reading about Si Spurrier's participation. Having read this, and the majority of comments, I have to say I totally agree with and support this idea. It is a brave and positive stand, and you are a gent.
    Also have to say, and this is what actually made me comment, that I'm deeply saddened by the comments on here stating that this would be punishing the men in the audience, by putting a woman on the stage, as if there is nothing that a female creator could possibly say that could be of interest to a male reader. Do people really have such bemusement and alienation from the opposite sex that they feel that, even if they wrote a comic that the reader enjoyed, if you put them on a stage, the female creator would start talking about shoes and periods? Just proves how badly stands like this are still needed, and I salute you for doing it.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Mic: but the panel doesn't have to be 'people who work for DC', it could be 'people who work for DC and those well qualified to comment'. Bru: good to hear.


  • Unknown Says:

    A lot of the comments seem to be along the lines of "What if everyone did this". Yes, if everyone did it, there might be consequences the wouldn't be good. (Or perhaps they would be - that's at least debatable).

    However, that isn't what's going to happen. One reasonably famous and popular writer is going to insist on gender equality on the panels that he is on. Whatever happens in practice, anyone organising discussion panels when he's a guest will take extra thought about gender balance. They might revisit the reasons why panels aren't balanced. They might, in many cases, consider that they are justified in their approach, but at least they'll have thought about it.

    The possible bad consequences are very limited because only one person is doing it. He hasn't said he's going to keep doing it forever - and he's not trying to make other people do the same thing.

    Of course, even if this does work 100%, the panels won't reflect the world - they'll mostly be white, English-speaking and middle class. We won't see one Chinese and one Indian on every panel. Still, a start is a start.


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    That's rather how I feel about it. A small amount of good for a lesser evil.


  • Catherine Shaffer Says:

    Discussed on my blog: http://www.catherineshaffer.com/index.php/2012/08/03/misogyny-what-its-actually-like/

    Paul Cornell made an audacious pledge to remove himself from convention panels that do not have 50 percent gender parity, and nominate a suitable female participant from the audience, in order to agitate for conrunners to incorporate more gender parity into their programs. It's an interesting idea, and I think I kind of like it. The ensuing discussion, however, can get kind of depressing.