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Wherever I lay my cat, that's my home. - Panel Parity
February 15th, 2012
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Panel Parity
Paul Cornell is talking about panel parity at conventions.

1. I'm pleased he is stepping up to the plate (he isn't the only one tho, just the only one to do it publicly).
2. I'm tired that it always takes a man to say something like this to get any action.
3. I'm pissed that it's being seen as positive discrimination.


I am someone who has programmed several conventions and been on panels for twenty years: I have seen, been stuck with, had to try to rescue panels from more token men than I have ever had to do for token women.

"Token women" tend to be well qualified women who would otherwise have been over looked.

"Token men" are the men who have been offered a particular panel because they were someone's mate (usually male) who said "oh, x would be good on this" and x completely and utterly lacked the humility to say "actually, I'm a lay person on this, and won't have much to say" and waited until the start of the panel to say "I don't know why I'm on this panel..." thus discomfiting everyone on it.

So screw "positive discrimination": let's genuinely start building up records of who know what--tell us what your friends know, persuade them to fill in those programme forms, tell me about the flower arranging/knitting/geocaching you do*--and let's ditch those token men.



*not how many cats or kids you have, which took huge amounts of space on Montreal Worldcon programme forms.

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From:hawkida
Date:February 15th, 2012 09:07 am (UTC)
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Certainly sounds like positive discrimination to me. Paul Cornell is not saying "I want people who KNOW stuff on panels", he's saying "I want women on panels". Under his strategy two women who know next to nothing could replace two highly knowledgable men on a panel on random subject X just to make up the numbers. How can that possibly be anything but positive discrimination?

Shit panellists come in both sexes, and I fully support finding the best people, but insisting on 50:50 male to female ratio isn't really the way to do that.

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From:smofbabe
Date:February 15th, 2012 09:50 am (UTC)
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*whew* I was beginning to think I was the only person against this idea. I've posted a longer response at Paul's blog but I basically agree with you here. 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.

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.
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From:lil_shepherd
Date:February 15th, 2012 10:02 am (UTC)
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And, perhaps, some proper feedback on panellists from both the moderator and audience would help. If a moderator can't cope (and I don't count myself as a good moderator but have been appointed as one on a panel where I knew more than the male participants, presumably because it was thought that a women wouldn't know as much about the subject matter) or a panellist constantly derails a subject, then the con programmer should be told, should keep records, and pass the knowledge on if necessary.


From:emmzzi
Date:February 15th, 2012 10:05 am (UTC)
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Or "make the effort to find a woman who knows about this stuff"

Panels should average out, surely, but we aren't there yet.

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From:hollowpoint
Date:February 15th, 2012 10:39 am (UTC)
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"Under his strategy two women who know next to nothing could replace two highly knowledgable men on a panel on random subject X just to make up the numbers."

That would be an interpretation heavily loaded with rhetorical bias. Can you imagine any panel organiser actually doing that?

Cornell does note that in certain subjects where knowledge concentrates in one gender or another this will be reflected in the panel's makeup. We are talking overall gender parity among panellists at a convention, not within each panel.

The idea that aiming for gender parity represents positive discrimination in favour of women is a function of privilege. It overlooks the fact that the current situation where gender parity is not achieved represents positive discrimination in favour of men. To attempt to redress this imbalance may result in a few less-qualified women appearing on panels but it will also mean many less-qualified men will stop appearing. That will probably be a relief for them as well as everyone else, unless they happen to be an egomaniacal blowhard. ;)

Put another way, I am pretty sure that everyone in attendance would rather hear the opinions of erudite experts on any panel. Unfortunately overlooking a widespread and deeply ingrained culture of male privilege--yes, unfortunately one which also influences well-meaning, educated genre fans and creators--does not in any way help with that.

EDIT: since writing the above I've read posts from (among others) Liz B who is assisting with organising panels at Eastercon and I wanted to add that I think I may have misunderstood what started this whole discussion (in this instance). Still, I stand by what I wrote above. :)

Edited at 2012-02-15 11:06 am (UTC)
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From:bibliolicious
Date:February 15th, 2012 01:16 pm (UTC)
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We are talking overall gender parity among panellists at a convention, not within each panel.

Actually, in Paul Cornell's case, he *is* talking about within each panel (with certain specified exceptions): he has said that he'll step down from individual panels which are unbalanced.

I agree that overall gender parity is the goal to aim for; specific panels may not achieve parity for reasons that are not (necessarily) counter to the principle (e.g. someone dropping out at the very last minute because they've got the con bug, or something).
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From:hollowpoint
Date:February 15th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
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Indeed, and apologies to @hawkida for my not properly recognizing that point. I missed the beginning of this discussion. (Livejournal is the only online community I use where I'm obliged to read events backwards.)

I shan't say anything more, I will leave it at the last bit of my response to @hawkida himself. :)
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From:hawkida
Date:February 15th, 2012 07:21 pm (UTC)
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Herself.
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From:hollowpoint
Date:February 16th, 2012 10:10 am (UTC)
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Apologies again, I made an assumption based on your name.
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From:hawkida
Date:February 15th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
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"That would be an interpretation heavily loaded with rhetorical bias. Can you imagine any panel organiser actually doing that? "

If they want Paul Cornell to be on said panel, yes.
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From:hollowpoint
Date:February 15th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
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Aye, hence my subsequent edit at the bottom of my last comment. He has since elucidated upon the point to which you are referring - within the post Farah linked to.

There have been some more measured and pragmatic responses than my own from others but they are behind an f-lock so I am hesitant to reference them. Suffice to say that I stand by every general statement I made in response to your comments, but I grant that in retrospect perhaps Cornell's approach is too blunt an instrument given the context of Eastercon.
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From:gaspode
Date:February 15th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
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He has said his comments are so not much aimed at Eastercon as to other much more obvious examples - Kapow! is a good one. Comics con in may with around 40 announced 'Guests' all male. They were in fact pulled up on the same thing last year (it earned the name sausage con in some quarters) so you would have thought they might have learnt.

Edited at 2012-02-15 03:05 pm (UTC)
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From:hollowpoint
Date:February 15th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
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I am increasingly feeling like I have clumsily blundered into something and mansplained all over the place!
From:emmzzi
Date:February 15th, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
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well now you two have put the phrase "sausagesplained" in my head. Make it stop!!
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From:shelly_rae
Date:February 15th, 2012 09:29 am (UTC)
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And yet. I've been on panels with a decent ratio of men to women 3:2 and only one man had direct experience with the topic. The woman and myself were experts--that's two 'token' men. Both the extra men started their intro with 'I'm 'famous writer' but I don't know why I'm on this panel." now that's a good reason to excuse yourself from a panel--if you don't know why you're on it. But they did not. </p>

I think gender parity on panels in sf is getting better. I think if potential panel participants would write better statements on what they can talk about it might improve. At least it's not like the beowulf panel I was on once were not only was I the only female on the panel but of the 50 or so people in the room only 3 of us were women-- the other two friends of mine. Yet, I can see Paul's point. Gender parity is still rare in many events it wouldn't hurt to give it a little help.

I realize this is a much bigger can of worms or barrel of monkeys than simply panels at a fantasy or sf convention. And goodness knows I've not had to try and put such things together. People who do are far braver than I.
Anon

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From:gaspodia
Date:February 15th, 2012 09:35 am (UTC)
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Seconded! And now, a plug :) Please do come and fill in the programme volunteer form if you are attending Eastercon this year http://www.olympus2012.org/programme_volunteer_form.php
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From:hollowpoint
Date:February 15th, 2012 10:28 am (UTC)
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I've only been to a few cons myself but even with that limited range of experience it's surprising how many times I saw people saying "I don't know why I'm on this panel..." They were always men.

Incidentally, I don't know if I ever got the opportunity to say but I had tremendous fun seeing you on a panel with Tanith Lee and wanted to applaud your interjection where you stood up for the idea of being a good critic over a mediocre novelist (I remember Lee looking somewhat confused by the notion; I can't remember the name of your co-panelist who had inadvertently prompted the discussion).
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From:ninebelow
Date:February 15th, 2012 11:17 am (UTC)
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And it's not just cons. I've just received a review of six Target Doctor Who novels that have been re-issued with new introductions. All six introductions are by men, including the one from Charlie Higson that basically says "I don't know why I've been asked to do this".
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From:hollowpoint
Date:February 15th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
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I suppose I could understand that if jobbing writers get paid to write introductions, which I assume they do for popular fiction. It still doesn't speak well of the editor who solicited said introductions, though.
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From:nihilistic_kid
Date:February 19th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
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I did have an experience at Worldcon with a woman declaring that she had no idea why she was on the panel. She then took out her knitting. At one point, she actually answered her phone during the panel.

I had no idea why she was on a panel either until earlier this month when my Worlcon membership fee was refunded as a gesture of thanks for participating on a panel. And that, I now see, is one reason why people on panels may be happy to put their ignorance on display for an hour or so...
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From:fjm
Date:February 19th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
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I forgot to say thank you for the compliment here. Thank you.
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From:rmc28
Date:February 15th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
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I agree entirely: it is depressing how often I see responses to "there should be equal representation" of "but I don't want a token woman, I want the best person for the job".

Unless you actually believe that most of the "best people for the job" are men, then quite obviously we are getting a lot of "token men" in place.
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From:brownnicky
Date:February 15th, 2012 10:49 am (UTC)
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I want to be outraged that I've never been invited on a panel and then I realise that this might have something to do with never having been to a convention : ) In a broad and sweeping generalisation IME women are generally more reluctant to display their ignorance than men and fewer women are prepared to pontificate on information gleaned from the back of a cornflakes packet.
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From:fjm
Date:February 15th, 2012 12:26 pm (UTC)
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There are many men who's first experience of a convention is from an invitation, not necessarily as a GoH but just "we'd really like it if you came and we could offer you x panels".
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From:the_changeling
Date:February 15th, 2012 12:11 pm (UTC)
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Mind you, sometimes you don't want to be the only women on the panel with actual facts.

Especially when the facts counter everyone's opinions.

It can get brutal.... ;-)
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From:fjm
Date:February 15th, 2012 12:26 pm (UTC)
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Yep.
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From:shelly_rae
Date:February 15th, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
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Yep. A feminist reading of beowulf? This was 1983or84. I was met with blank stares. "there are women in Beowulf?" I realized that my linen dress was fighting a sea of tweed.
But it got better. I won them over & was invited for drinks after. </p>

I no more represent "all women" than does say, Madonna or mother Teresa.

Anon

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From:bibliolicious
Date:February 15th, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
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So screw "positive discrimination": let's genuinely start building up records of who know what--tell us what your friends know, persuade them to fill in those programme forms, tell me about the flower arranging/knitting/geocaching you do*--and let's ditch those token men.

I second this, especially now I've seen how programming works from the inside, in my role as a minor ideas minion of lit-prog head Liz. For months, Liz has been working extremely hard on precisely this issue - approaching specific women, seeking suggestions of interested parties, applying gentle pressure to people like me who generally avoid doing panels, and most recently putting out a call for women for particular areas in which they're under-represented (comics and gaming) - but at the moment this has to be done vitually from the ground up with every new con, based on what a given con comm knows anecdotally or has the time and energy to research. It would be good to see something more systematic and enduring.

I do think this is a more constructive strategy than asking for a show of hands once a panel has already started.
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From:gaspode
Date:February 15th, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
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Absolutely - and Liz and us are busy pointing out we have been actively trying to do this for ages - As usual people are slow to volunteer. So the fact we are likely to have fairly balanced panels in the main is nothing to do with Paul's comments - just down to the fact we would like to do that any way. Its not going to be 100% 50/50 but I wouldnt expect it to ever be. We will have some mainly or even all male and I suspect some mainly or even all female, because those are the people that have expressed an interest in being on a panel on those subjects.
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From:fredbassett
Date:February 15th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
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Whilst I fully agree with the sentiments that prompted his blog, I really don;t think that causing ad hoc chaos for con organisors by changing the make up of panels on the fly on the day is the way to go about curing inequalities.

Surely a better way would be, when contacted about a prospective panel, to ask its full make up, and then refuse to take part - with reasons - if women are unreasonably unrepresented.
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From:fjm
Date:February 15th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
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I'm genuinely confused that anyone here thinks I'm agreeing with Paul's approach.
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From:fredbassett
Date:February 15th, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
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I didn't think you were. I was just commenting on the approach he was taking.
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From:la_marquise_de_
Date:February 15th, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
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thank you. I've been trying to find a way to write about this without causing upsets, but you nail it here.
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From:negothick
Date:February 17th, 2012 05:18 am (UTC)
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And here I assumed he was writing "A Modest Proposal"--right down to "If I'm alone at the microphone, I'll still try to achieve 50/50."

But seriously, what is magical about parity? Must all panels consist then of even numbers? I'm happy to be on all-female panels, or as the only woman among males (except for certain males, with whom I am doomed to share panels because of our shared interests).
After appearing on panels for nearly 30 years, I continue to be amazed at the continued interest of con-goers who politely sit through yawn-provoking panels that I would walk out on if I could. And the yawn-inducers were male AND female, myself included.
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