It’s funny being on the periphery of things when they happen. Over the past day or so of Twitter, I’ve been following the very rapid development of a plan to encourage gender parity on panels at conventions, in particular SF/F ones. This was precipitated by Paul Cornell in a ‘blog post and has been picked up by others (such as debut author and boss of the dancefloor, Tom Pollock). There is, as I understand from Twitter-grapevine, an official 50/50 brand being developed, which would encourage awareness at a con-organisation level.
As someone who doesn’t really have a role in the SFF community aside from being a guy who turns up at a couple of conventions every year, I think it’s great. One of the things I’ve noticed about Paul Cornell is that he’s a nice guy. Super-nice, in fact. I can well imagine the headache he has caused for convention organisers this year, but I can’t help but think that a year or two from now we’ll be looking back and thinking his sudden impulse, that little flash of inspiration that made him go right, here’s how *I’m* going to play my part was worth the headaches and the inevitable ten-minute muddles that are going to crop up in panels across conventions for the rest of 2012.
As a con attendee, I like the idea of parity. I think there are a lot of interesting female creators and critics out there who would come across very well on panels. I think female creators deserve as much right to exposure as men – while I don’t think authors should be sat on a panel simply to plug their books, I will freely admit to having picked up books on the sole basis of an interesting performance by the author on a panel.
I can well understand that it is a mind-buggeringly difficult task to organise a convention, and to organise panels within that convention, and to match the topic to the guests to the moderators, and then have to schedule it all so it fits into a weekend with as few conceptual overlaps as possible. But I think that while this is the case, introducing gender parity is a great step forward towards reducing the bias that the SF/F community struggles to shed itself of.
I can accept there are going to be problems – and some blinding arguments – on the way there, but as Mr Cornell puts it, there is only one moral unit I am in control of.
So what I’m going to do is simple. I’m going to turn up to the conventions I can afford and find time for, as I usually do. If I go to a panel and a guest drops out to achieve parity, I’m not going to grumble. I’m not going to complain, or moan on Twitter, even if it’s a guest I really, really wanted to see. Instead, I’m going to applaud.
Even if it takes up half the time slot with seat changes and introductions and arguments and wrangling, I’m going to applaud. Because at the very heart of it, people are making an effort.