Why I stopped talking about #plzdiversifyyourpanel even though I basically agree with it
An initiative called “plzdiversifyyourpanel” was a thing I talked about a lot for a couple days, and then, for the most part, I stopped talking about it. The reasons for this are complex, so instead of tweeting them, I decided to write something longer by way of explanation.
Last Friday, I made a series of tweets about a thing I wanted to exist: a public list of prominent men who had taken a pledge not to be on any men-only games-related panels.
The original idea had three points:
- The list would be created and governed by men. This would have shifted the onus away from women, non-binary, and genderqueer people who have historically been disproportionately responsible for fighting for their own representation.
- The demands would be simple. No, gender isn’t simple, and I anticipated there would have been complications along the way, but I wanted participants to be able to ask themselves one yes-or-no question prior to accepting panel invitations: “Is this panel made up solely of men?”
- The result would be a concrete (if small) step toward gender representation equality in the games industry. Men often ask “What can I/we do?” Here would be something they could do.
The idea took off pretty fast, and Anthony Burch came forward to create and curate the list. He made a tumblr and called it “plzdiversifyyourpanel” with the heading “No More Men-Only Panels.”
Almost immediately, concerns were raised about our use of the word “diversity.” We weren’t trying to “claim” the word or concept, but intent isn’t magic, and in retrospect, I wish we had started by calling the tumblr something that made it clear our primary goal was gender diversity.
Though from the beginning we emphasized and encouraged intersectionality among members of “acceptable” panels, specifically the non-men invited to be on them, enough people took issue with our wording that it became clear we had two options:
- Remove “diversity” and related language from the tumblr. Make it clear that the initiative was about eliminating all-male panels, with an eye toward supplementing the men with intersectionally diverse women, genderqueer, & non-binary people. Or:
- Keep the word “diversity” and expand the initiative to address every marginalized group (including men who fall into those groups) without exception.
I would have done the first thing. But I was at a family reunion all weekend and couldn’t manage to be present or level-headed enough to keep up with the influx of (mostly legitimate) demands, questions, & criticism. So I asked my friends Soha and Nina to tag in for me, because I have a huge amount of respect for them and knew they would err on the side of inclusivity. And they ended up going with the second option as outlined above (keeping “diversity” and expanding the project’s scope).
Since then, the (greatly changed) initiative has received lots of praise and lots of criticism, just as it did before. Their new FAQ page addresses many of the concerns I and others have. I encourage you to read it, whatever your opinions.
I hope that #plzdiversifyyourpanel is able to make a difference. I’m rooting for them, but on Sunday I decided to remove myself from direct involvement in favor of other types of support (signal boosts, etc). Here’s why I decided to take my name off the list of organizers:
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experiences in and adjacent to this industry, it’s that in order to get anywhere (or, as the case often is, nowhere), people who aren’t men have to compromise. We’re taught to be happy when Giantbomb’s E3 podcasts have 5 women on out of 50 total guests, because last year they didn’t have any. We’re taught that Penny-Arcade’s appalling record of rape apologia has absolutely no effect on their bottom line. We’re taught that very nearly all of the games journalists worth hiring as or promoting to “editor” are men.
Where does that leave women, not to mention genderqueer and non-binary people? To start, it leaves us with very little space in which we don’t have to compromise. A “men against all-men panels” initiative, I hoped, would be such a space. I wanted to put as much work in as had to be done to make sure it didn’t turn into “hire more (and only) white women!” But I didn’t want to compromise and leave room for men to find ways to continue to dominate the industry.
Gender representation is far from the only problem in games. The industry is also predominantly white, wealthy, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and any other number of traits that falls squarely under the banner of “privilege.” (I personally fall into many, though not all, of those categories.) But I’m at a loss to understand why focusing on gender equality—along the intersections of other types of equality—is an ethical impossibility.
To me, it sounds a lot like making way for men: in the problems that the initiative addresses; on the panels themselves. And we do enough of that already.
I agree that all modes of intersectionality need to be addressed and emphasized in this woefully stubborn industry. And that’s why I still think #plzdiversifyyourpanel is a net positive. I want privileged people to sign it. But the thing I wanted to exist last week—a place for men to point to when they refuse to be on a panel with only men—I still want to exist.
In the past few days I’ve been asked to trust that #plzdiversifyyourpanel, as it is now, won’t lead to an endless parade of very diverse all-male panels. Considering what I know about men and this industry, that’s a lot to ask.