Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cons, Representation and Balance

It seems that there is a lot of discussion about women in comics flying around again, between some of the reports on female representation at SFX Weekender panels, and the so-far-announced Kapow! lineup and whilst this is the sort of debate I usually try to hide under a desk from, I just can't help but hold opinions.Now as you can tell from my profile picture, I am a not-yet-middle-age-dammit white male, and I can't - and won't - try to speak on "how women feel" about the comics industry or panels. There are already many erudite and thoughtful posts from women on this subject (like this one) and hand-on-heart I never looked at a panel at SFX and thought "gosh I wish there was more women on it" so in many ways I may be part of the problem. 

But there clearly is a problem - most people seem to agree on it. The question is why?

Firstly I think that we would all love to live in a world where the age, gender, ethnicity or sexuality (or any other mostly artificial line we stick across our society to mess things up with) just simply didn't matter, and it's frustrating that it still does. I'd love to think that I moved in a sub-culture where we could genuinely be beyond it but I know we don't. But it comes from us - from the community - and we need to look to ourselves to drive change as much as expect con organisers to make tokenistic placements or panel guests to make noble gestures in the name of equality. 

Kapow! is headlining guests that will get ticket sales through the door. SFX fills its panels with people that will get bums on auditorium seats. I'm no great con veteran but I've stood enough queues to know that a lot of con-goers aren't interested in up-and-coming creators, or small press publishing, or first time authors, and that means that change takes a long time, and also means that some genres are going struggle more than others. With so few women writers and artists at mainstream comics top table, for instance, they don't get the exposure, so a lot of fans never hear about them, so they don't get the con invites, and it's all a horribly vicious circle. 

Literary genres don't quite seem so bad, although there does seem to be a growing opinion I overheard at SFX that SF has become the "boys genre" and Fantasy the "girl writers" genre, something the reported treatment of a female panelist at one event may be a symptom of. And it's clearly nonsense - but if the community reacts so that SF panels become male-audienced and fantasy female-audienced, that it will be come a "truth" in no time at all. 

Is there an answer to this? Well if I had an answer to this then I'd screaming it from the rooftops, but I don't. I suspect that the fact that we're talking about female representation in a way we aren't talking about say, ethnicity, is a sign both that women are really, properly, breaking into a white male geek world, and a sign that there are still battles to be fought. Because I don't believe that there is much malice in Geek Culture, I don't think we mean to exclude anyone, or make anyone feel uncomfortable. But often we don't think enough, and debates like this show that we should.