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23Feb/120

Women in Comics: Tokenism

In the aftermath of the discussion about women guests at Kapow! Comic Con, much has been made of the issue of "tokenism" when it comes to including women guests at these kind of events. A request for more women creators to come into the industry, for publishers to perhaps look harder for talented women, for events to have woman guests, or indeed for a comic to include a woman character, is often met with the brick wall of "well you wouldn't want tokenism would you?!" or perhaps "positive discrimination gone mad!".

Let's be clear, "tokenism" has a very specific meaning: the limited inclusion of a member of a minority that creates a false impression of inclusion. A false impression. It's a pretty easy pitfall to avoid, just make sure that the women you include are ones you truly want to be there. Like you do already with guys... it's very easy. "Tokenism" is an easy way of saying "can't be bothered looking". Because believe me, there are LOTS of women creators in the comic industry, at all levels, who are constantly trying to step forward and bumping into that brick wall. Saying their inclusion is "tokenism" is not far from saying those women don't deserve to be there, which is far from true!

Paradise Island by Kate BeatonKate Beaton - one of the biggest names in comics?

Alternatively, "tokenism" is getting one woman guest and thinking "job done!", something that no one has been advocating.

Furthermore, this is something the fanbase, ie the paying customers, are actually asking for. Women and men readers (and creators) are saying they want to see more women as the guests at these conventions. This isn't a call for the organisers to be “PC” but to respond to a market demand. Again, a far cry from "tokenism". No woman should feel slighted because fans want her to appear at a convention!

Additionally, this argument of "tokenism" fails to take into account that the conventions in question DO have women guests. Most simply hadn't been announced as part of the promotional package. This is not a case of having zero women guests, but of having women guests that organisers think aren't interesting to the fans – which is of course wrong, and something organisers are realising. Kapow! for example is a superhero convention. Great! I love superheroes. But I also love all the other comics that sell in the UK, some of them of course selling far more than superhero titles do. Women creators, from Becky Cloonan to Gail Simone to Mary Talbot to Simone Lia are "mainstream", a term that Millar cited. Funnily enough, the announced guests – the creators of the gorgeous looking Bayou Arcana – are not (or not yet), which means superhero only certainly isn't the criteria. And why would it be? Comic fans are an incredibly diverse bunch, and maybe indie fans will find new superhero books to try, and cape fans will find some small press treasures.

Miss Fury by Tarpé MillsMiss Fury, an early action star created by Tarpé Mills pre-Wonder Woman!

Somehow, and for some reason, we seem to be saying there can't be any good women creators out there. But we know this isn't true! Institutionalised sexism isn't about men (or women) sitting at their desks cackling as they throw women created comics into the furnace, it's about not looking beyond the group of men you have around you in a male dominated industry. Maybe there is no woman as good as any man in the industry, or no woman that would attract more fans than any man, but I sincerely doubt it. By making an effort to look beyond the status quo, we don't get positive discrimination, we get the very best choice for each piece of work or appearance. I don't believe in gender essentialism one bit (social conditioning is another matter), and there is no reason why we should be measured on anything other than talent – as long as everyone is being considered at the get go. The gaming industry is currently going through the same revolution, the book publishing industry is far further on in the battle.

And you know what? People will always call it "tokenism" until gender isn't an issue in comics at all. The status quo is so much safer, speaking out against it is far too radical. It makes you one of the "angry feminists", but actually all I am asking for is what I'd like to see – and it seems there are a fair few others who are coming from the same angle. More women guests at conventions is only "tokenism" if you don't believe any women are good enough to be there on their own merit. Because right now, merit isn't enough – there are countless women producing stellar comics work through book publishers and getting literary recognition but snubbed by the comics media. Women are appearing at the conventions and not being advertised in advance to the fans. Famous "mainstream" women are attending as fans rather than guests!

Conan the Barbarian by Becky CloonanMan's man, Conan the Barbarian, by Becky Cloonan

I dearly hope people stop pointing at these Comic Cons and calling "tokenism", as it is a very negative tact to take with respect to Women in Comics, and I've had a few e-mails now with people worried about the impact this will have on discussions about diversity in comics. It must be dreadful for those women who are appearing at the conventions to hear that. Not only is the industry itself male dominated, and the fanbase, and the media coverage, but now even when they've been invited to appear at a convention, either due to their success or by popular demand, they are told they're only there because of their boobs. Don't be put off going to conventions and making your voice heard – we want you there, old and new creators alike, and the overall movement in comics right now is very positive indeed. Don't give up!

Read more:
Women in Comics: Kapow! No Women at Cons
Women in Comics: Kapow! The Women are Here
Women in Comics: Women Guests at the LSCC

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