For a long while, I've been concerned about sexism in transmedia, and not just because of the brunette problem. Last year, in the same private discussion that the Transmedia Artists Guild sprang out of, I confessed that I felt like we women who create are generally considered the B-list. We do the work too, but don't get quite the same level of press or attention for it. It's a hard thing to talk about, though, because it's really easy to come off as sort of whiny about it, and nobody wants sort-of-whiny to be their professional face.
And then, yesterday, the StoryWorld conference announced their panel of advisors. And as easy as that, I'm finally moved to address this in a public venue.
It's a list I wouldn't disagree with on other grounds -- in fact, it's a pretty great list. There's certainly a lot of star power represented there. On the other hand... the teams I've been on have been pretty evenly split between men and women. There's no good reason there should be only two women and eleven men on that board. (And indeed, one of the two women, Alison Norrington, is on there by virtue of being the one organizing the conference.)
It might not matter so much; this is, after all, only one conference. But I've seen a number of similar lists in recent months, with a similar gender split, and it won't change if we don't talk about it.
If you're reading this blog at all, it's likely you agree that sexism is bad, mmkay? And I am absolutely not accusing StoryWorld (or anyone else!) of any sort of intentional setting-out-to-exclude-women. But here's the horrible, insidious thing: Sexism isn't always deliberate. And indeed, sometimes the people who have done something a little sexist would be horrified if they thought to look at it in that light.
Because we swim in a sexist society, men more easily fit into our mental category of "important thought leaders." Indeed, if you try to think up a bunch of "important people," I'd be shocked if you didn't come up with, say, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. I'd be very surprised indeed if your initial list included powerful women like Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton. Over time this kind of thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy -- it's tremendously harder to become an important person if you don't fit the image. And there we have the perpetuation of sexism in one ugly, totally-not-on-purpose tangle.
Even me, who talks about sexism all the day long? I have to work really hard not to think that way. If you ask me to name the top people in transmedia, I'm going to start off with the same Mike Monello, Jeff Gomez, Henry Jenkins, Ivan Askwith, Elan Lee, Steve Peters, Adrian Hon as everyone else.
The only real remedy is to consciously combat that reflex. And so, for your and my future reference, I'm assembling a list here of smart and talented women in transmedia that you should consider inviting to speak at your event, interviewing in media as transmedia experts, or hiring for consulting work when you need it. Every one of them is or should be a rock star in our field.
Christy Dena - She made it onto the StoryWorld board, and good on her; she's earned it.
Jan Libby - A much-loved indie and commercial creator.
Nina Bargiel - A writer, responsible for Valemont, among other things.
Maureen McHugh - Super-awesome Hugo-award-winning writer, now at Fourth Wall.
Victoria Ha - Savvy businesswoman, producer and partner at Stitch Media.
Haley Moore - Incredibly talented design fiction artist and writer.
Naomi Alderman - Award-winning literary novelist, and lead writer on Perplex City.
Brooke Thompson - A wonderful creator who also put together last year's wildly successful ARGfest.
Caitlin Burns - A producer on the Starlight Runner team, branching out to Jurassic Park Slope.
Sarah Szalavitz - Founder of 7 Robot, a social design agency.
Sara Thacher - A transmedia producer and artist in San Francisco.
Aina Abiodun - A multiplatform creator who founded the NYC Transmedia Meetup.
Krystyn Wells - A game designer and smart cookie who has worked with 42E and No Mimes.
This is a partial list, and I just know I'm going to be leaving off somebody I love and admire in the space. I may be editing to add a few; otherwise, if you're a woman working in transmedia, please comment and let us know you're out there.