"Every time I decline to be part of a Women in Comics panel feels like a tiny victory." - Hope Larson (on twitter)I've seen this same sentiment from a good number of women working in comics, and talking to Kate Brown, I know that from her perspective it can feel demeaning to be invited to a panel simply on the basis of gender. I don't know Hope Larson's specific reasons, but I'm assuming many other people feel the same way. That being said, whenever I see someone decline to be part of a Women in Comics panel on principle, it makes me worry that something important that they might have had to say will go unheard. This is an important discussion after all!
So here's a very direct call-out to convention organisers everywhere who want to be gender aware:
It's fantastic to discuss gender representation in comics, and invite women as well as men, this needs to be done. But every time someone stages a "Women in Comics" panel, and every time an organiser lets a creator assume that they've been invited just to redress the gender balance, something unfortunate happens. Despite the best of intentions all round, it's hard for the creator to avoid the conclusion that the convention doesn't care about their work, only their gender.
The answer to this is very simple: instead of a "Women in Comics" panel populated by women, go for a "Gender Representation in Comics" panel populated by people (of any gender), who have made intelligent and active commentary on the issue! Just like any other panel, the best people to discuss the topic are the ones who are well suited to do so! This way, the discussion can go on, it can be discussed by informed people who want to be discussing it, and no-one is made to feel like a token addition.
If organisers are still worried about equal representation, and they want to make sure that they're promoting the work of the women in their show, I recognise that there can still be issues. Often, popular panels will focus on popular areas of interest (such as superheroes) that are traditionally dominated by male creators, leaving women less represented in panels than they are on the show floor. The best way to counter-balance this is to take an interest in the work itself, and create new panels that showcase it! Most creators want to talk about their work rather than their gender after all, and that way the male creators whose work also sits in the cracks between popularly discussed genres can be included as well, making conventions more diverse all-round!