Unfortunately, the audience’s response to this panel was sexist and predictable.
A panel called “Women Who Kick Ass” follows Hunger Games. It’s in its fourth iteration, and the fact that it’s in Hall H on Saturday is a surprise. On the surface, it makes sense for this to follow Hunger Games, and it’s also likely the Con intended it to be something that would allow for the room to clear out a bit while shuffling in more people from the line that still snakes off across the street outside. But, all the same, there’s something gutsy about placing a frank discussion of Hollywood sexism, feminism, and the limited opportunities for women in the entertainment industry right before 20th Century Fox and Marvel come out to present superhero-heavy slates.
And “Women Who Kick Ass” is the most fascinating and enriching panel I attend at Comic-Con. In particular, its discussion of how sexism still rules far too often in Hollywood is terrific, with panelist Katee Sackhoff (of Battlestar Galactica fame) discussing a time an unnamed male actor pulled her arms out of their sockets while filming a fight sequence, in what she believes was recourse for her questioning him earlier in the shoot; and fellow panelist Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black discussing how a male crew member inappropriately hit on her when she was just 18 and bound to a bed for a shot. The moderator is good, in that she knows to get out of the way when the women on the panel — particularly Michelle Rodriguez — cut loose, and the content is engaging throughout.
For the most part, the dudes I’m sitting near either pay respectful attention or check Twitter, though there are some jokes from an older guy in front of me about how stupid he finds all of this. Then Rodriguez uses the phrase “destructive male culture” — as part of a larger answer about how women need to take more agency in telling their own stories — and something in the crowd flips. A certain subset of the audience begins to get more and more vocal, and when the panel runs slightly over, as all panels have done during the day, the vocalizations begin to get easier to hear, even to someone sitting clear across a giant room in a place that tends to eat sound from specific individuals in the audience; one really has to make a ruckus to be heard.
The final question — from a young woman about what aspects the perfect kick-ass woman would have — turns into a digression about the many roles that women play in real life and the few that they are asked to play onscreen. It’s all fascinating stuff, with Sackhoff talking about wanting to see someone as kind and strong as her mother onscreen, and Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira talking about the effectiveness of female political protestors in her native Zimbabwe, the sort of story that would almost never appear in a Hollywood film — but the longer it goes on, the more restless the crowd gets. When Rodriguez grabs the microphone again to follow up on a point made by another panelist, for the first time, the audience ripples with something close to jeering anger. When the panel finally ends and the five women on it proceed off to the side for photographs, something done at the end of most Hall H panels, someone shouts something from the audience, to a mixture of supportive laughs and horrified gasps, and the women quickly leave the stage. (I was not sitting close enough to hear what was said, but I confirmed with several people sitting in the immediate vicinity that it was a young man shouting “Women who talk too much!” after the loudspeaker asked attendees to voice their appreciation for the participants in the “Women Who Kick Ass” panel.)
It’s an ugly moment, an unfortunate capper to a great session, to be followed by many of the guys sitting around me offering up tired lines like “I hope they feel empowered now!” and several recitations of the Twilight mantra about ruining the Con. To be sure, most people in the room were respectful. But at a certain point, there needs to be an accounting for the fact that there is an ugliness that burbles beneath the surface of too many Comic-Con events, sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional. That’s not a task for the Con itself. It’s a task for nerd culture, and one that will require an earnest attempt to understand why this sort of ugliness rises up so often around women, lest all the nerd culture stereotypes prove unfortunately true.
I was in Hall H for this panel and did not get the same audience vibe that the OP did. There was some definite indifference in our area (even from us) but not outright rudeness. I do think the panel subject or perhaps the panelists weren’t right for that room (would have done much better in Ballroom 20). The panel may have been more successful with the audience if it had included women who were being featured that day or in the genre of the day (Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johannson, etc) and I know that would have been difficult with the “secrecy” of who was still to come. I think the ladies did a great job (moderator may have also contributed some to the tone of the panel) but they were in a room where the audience was there for Fox and Marvel and not for a group of highly successful TV actors (primarily).
Regarding the panelists and their experience: Michelle Rodriguez is a star in one of the world’s largest film franchises and Maggie Q is an international superstar who is so famous, when you go to Nikita panels at SDCC 90% of the audience Q&A is people asking her questions about her film career. Both Katee Sackhoff and Danai Gurira were on other Hall H panels that weekend for their big franchises (Sackhoff’s new movie and Gurira’s show, the most watched cable show ever), and Tatiana Maslany’s breakout show was the belle of the convention.
I do think that any panel featuring a broad range of women performers— particularly one as diverse as this one—would necessitate the inclusion of TV actors (in this case, 2 out of 5) simply because the film industry does not provide many genre roles for women, particularly women of color. In any case, during the same weekend there was a panel of actors, all men, and all TV show stars only, in the same venue.
But I want to address this primarily because I’ve seen some other reblogs of this post saying the same thing.
I think this is super cool. But i feel like theyre at the wrong place. Most men who go to comic con arent exactly female friendly people really. Odd seeing as most the women who go are open minded thinkers. (source)
I was here and honestly, a lot of people around me were napping including myself. I tried to pay attention as long as I could but going over 2 days without sleep, it hit me and plenty of others. It sucks that they got a negative reaction but the room that they were put in was too big and not the right audience. (source)
It’s this whole “This is awesome but not right for that room” mentality. It’s probably an unconscious reflex because when something as disturbing as what happened to these panelists happens, we try and rationalize what happened, and all too often we follow our instincts in a society where we are conditioned to blame women for the sexist crap that happens to them.
In this case, it’s the idea that the women were in the wrong place, and while it’s too bad that did happen to them, if they had been in a different room and not the biggest, most important, main headlining showroom at San Diego ComicCon this wouldn’t have happened.
This response is likely instinctual, but it still (intentionally or unintentionally) communicates these troubling and sexist messages:
A panel about women isn’t meant to be in Hall H….even though a similar panel of guy actors was held in Hall H that weekend, too.
ComicCon and the panel organizers erred by placing the women in this room. They should have understood that ComicCon attendees are not there for women (but for male-dominated franchises such as WB’s DC Comics or Disney’s Marvel Studios.)
Men who are interested in the Hall H programming are the “wrong audience” for a panel of all women. We can’t expect men to be interested in women’s issues, by jove!
When you put a panel of experienced and talented women performers in front of the wrong audience, some men won’t be able to help themselves and will say rude things, so the best thing to do is for an all-women panel is to not show up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Too bad they didn’t know to not appear in the most important venue at the convention.
It’s a form of victim-blaming. It places the responsibility on the women who were on the panel, the women who organized the panel, and ComicCon programming to find a less important space—rather than on the minority (but still significant enough to be harmful) of men in Hall H and their choices to be openly rude, disrespectful, and misogynistic.
Nobody is forced to attend Hall H programming. If at any point Hall H programming becomes uninteresting to you, you have a multitude of options. You could do some soul searching and wonder why it’s coincidentally the all-women panel you’ve decided to check out on. You have the ComicCon catalog to read or your phone, or you can nap like the person above did. If at any point you can’t handle a discussion about sexism or diversity, you also have the option to leave. Hall H offers 45 minute long bathroom passes for you to go take a man poop and get more nachos.
Those men made a conscious choice to stay in the room, a choice to be sexist and loudly declare things like “we need a man-power panel” and "she should shut up and take her clothes off" while the panelists talked about their experiences being patronized, sexually harassed, and physically maimed by systemic sexism and sexist men in their workplaces.
Hall H was exactly where this panel of genre actresses deserved to be.
It wasn’t the wrong room. It wasn’t the wrong audience. The audience was wrong. Not the women panelists and not the organizers.