Michael Lee of CONvergence, where Paul Cornell will appear in July, sends his answers to my survey questions about the gender balance initiative.
> Do you think Cornell’s initiative will change or has already changed your approach?
> Do you have any comments on Paul Cornell’s and Si Spurrier’s actions?
Michael Lee: It’s possible that since our convention’s theme is Women Characters and Creators this year, and we’ve had Paul as a guest, I might have something to add.
I’m the head of activities at CONvergence, and that means the programming department reports up to me, and I also sit on the board of directors for our non-profit. I was also a programming head for five years before that. This is primarily my own thoughts here, and isn’t an official CONvergence statement.
CONvergence had Paul Cornell as a guest of honor two years ago, and he’s returning on his own this year. He’s a popular and fantastic panelist and participant, and I respect what he’s trying to do here. Our convention theme this year is “Women Characters and Creators in Science Fiction in Fantasy” — and the organization chose to make all of our guests this year women, in part because we haven’t historically been as representative as we could have been with guests of honor, and we’re trying to do better. Our membership is very evenly matched with men and women, as well as having a mix of men and women on our staff all the way up to our board of directors.
One thing I did was I started to track the overall distribution a little closer than before in response to Paul’s request in our programming database for CONvergence — not because I expected that each panels will balance 50/50, and we don’t have genders identified for all of our panel participants. We’re still in the process, so I don’t know where we’re going to end up, and I’m sure we’ll have things that work well and things that don’t.
I believe that the threat of civil disobedience to make spontaneous programming replacements is something that most conventions can avoid with some co-operation with participants. I know that he’s made his request about being on gender-balanced programming items to CONvergence’s programming team, and that’s not really much different of a request than people who don’t want panels before noon, or don’t want to be on a panel with someone they don’t get along with, or that they want to be on a panel with their friends, or any number of other requests that people make to program teams. I know that we try to plan our programming schedule out far enough that we’re trying to work with Paul on specific items, just as we try to balance a lot of peoples’ desires to see what they want in programming.
I think Paul’s efforts have helped emphasize the issue of women on convention panels, and I think that is a good discussion to have. I think we’ve seen that across the wide variety of responses you’ve already had on this subject, by a lot of people that I have a lot of respect for.
I think it’s part of a larger movement that we’ve been seeing, not just in SF fandom, but also very strongly in comics fandom and Doctor Who fandom (which Paul is actively a part in as well), and other parts of the culture (like technology) where women making their presence known and acknowledging the institutional barriers to women (as well as other groups) in the culture. And really, I think it’s important for those of us that are conrunners toot just making programming participants more varied, but also making a stronger more diverse mix as guests of honor. And it’s also to seek out and be happy when you see a more varied mix of creators in books, comics, and television shows. We’re after all in a world where perhaps the most successful fantasy book series and the most successful science fiction book series are written by women. That needs to be reflected in our conventions as well.