When I tell strangers that I was a gender studies major in college, or that I write for a feminist geek website, I often find myself bracing for their reaction. Most of the time, it turns out fine. Going to TimeGate was the first time I found myself having to make that statement multiple times in a day (for those wondering, it went pretty well). As I looked around the panels I attended, the audience was frequently either evenly balanced, or the majority were women. The two major guests on the cover of the con program? Both actresses from the show. The panelists at the front of the room for other panels? Not so much.
I attended multiple panels at TimeGate where all of the panelists were men. Were they inherently bad or not as good because of this? No, and in fact I was very impressed by how willing some of the male-dominated panels were to delve into issues of gender bias in some of the shows or movies we were discussing, regardless of whether the issue was supposed to be part of the focus. There was only one panel where audience members started to bring up issues of sexism in a show and one panelist (along with support of some male audience members) suggested that should be a separate discussion, and changed course. It was only once, but obviously it stayed with me, because I’m writing about it now, days after the con has ended.
I’m lucky that on the average day, if I make reference to feminism, or issues related to gender bias, those around me will not react negatively. Most of my social circle would probably proudly identify as feminists, but then again, I did attend a pretty liberal-leaning women’s college in southern California – having lots of feminist friends isn’t that surprising. I want to note again here that TimeGate 2015 was the first convention I’ve ever attended, so I really don’t have anything with which I can compare it. I’m sure there are conventions that wouldn’t even include a panel titled “From Wonder Woman to River Tam: The Evolution of Female Protagonists.” I just wanted to share about my experience at TimeGate, and the fact that I did sometimes feel like there was a feminist elephant in the room.
What do I mean by feminist elephant in the room? I mean there were discussions that touched on moments where the writing for female characters got remarkably worse, but never mentioned sexism among the writers or producers as a possible reason for it. There were panels that mentioned shows depicting domestic violence, but didn’t hold the heroes perpetrating it accountable. When the audience in a panel on “The Future of SciFi in America” was asked what they wanted to see in the future, my immediate response was “diversity.” I thought about the recent anthology Octavia’s Brood and how much I loved it. Unfortunately my voice was drowned out, and we were running out of time because it was also the last panel on the last day of the con.
None of this ruined my experience at TimeGate. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and should I happen to be in Atlanta for it again, I would absolutely attend. But I was constantly aware of those feminist elephants in the room and I know if some of my friends were there they would have been thinking about it too. So I guess I’m left with questions. How do we make those elephants a little bit smaller? How can panelists work to address questions of gender bias in the media we love so much without upsetting their fellow fans? A good place to start may just be accepting that not everything we love is going to be perfect (read: feminist, anti-racist, queer-inclusive), but that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to love it.
Have you ever experienced having a feminist elephant in the room? What was the context? Share your stories in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share if you enjoyed the post!