Since founding ConTessa, I’ve largely taken a back seat to discussing anything that would be considered ‘political’ in the sense that it would be disallowed at the convention. As I was the sole organizer of the first convention and the de facto ‘face’ of the convention, everything fell on my shoulders – including keeping everything apolitical. Those of you who have known me longer know that I do have opinions, and they’re fairly strong opinions, and they often go against what a lot of my contemporaries have to say about the issue. In particular, I take strong exception to the idea that in order for women to get content and material they like and want to consume, they have to demand that men write, draw, and create that content. I find that largely misses the point of feminism altogether.
To be clear, the entire reason many women feel they need to demand that men create content they will enjoy is because so few women actually work in positions where they can create the things that they enjoy. So therein lies the major disagreement that I hold with many of the Social Justice activists that presume to act as the thought police of others who create. We both want the same thing, I’m just not willing to waste my time asking someone to create something that they dislike so that I can have something that I like. Indeed, two decades of experience working in the corporate world has led me to the overall conclusion that people work harder, do better work, and create more awesome things when they’re allowed to do the things that they feel passionate about and that they enjoy. Conversely, things that people are asked to create that they dislike and aren’t passionate about end up missing the details.
This happens all the time in modern software engineering. I’ve been an engineer for a very long time, and I can promise you I’ve never seen great code come from corporate projects. The code is often adequate, and almost always does the job its supposed to, but when an engineer truly wants to create something beautiful or perfect (at least to them), they almost always have to do so on private projects outside of work or on various open source projects also done outside of work. When software engineers get together to talk at the water cooler, the conversation is almost always about how their ability to be passionate about a project is largely truncated by the sloppy code written before them or the sloppy code a business owner is asking them to write just to get the project out the door. Knowing this, I would never ask someone to work on a project that they aren’t completely in love with, and I’d have a difficult time telling a large company like Wizards of the Coast or Paizo to tell their people not to make things that they like and they get passionate about, but to instead create things that I will be passionate about.
ConTessa really opened my eyes to this even more. In the beginning, I sent out open calls for volunteers and came back with mixed responses. Most often, I didn’t get a single response at all. When I did, I found that the people who responded had great intentions, but did not have the time or capability to actually complete the work they said that they’d do. I can’t really blame them, I’ve done the same thing in the past. I soldiered on and did all the work myself, calling in helpers only towards the end when I started to get a feel for who was truly interested, and what sort of skill sets they could bring to the table. After the first convention, I knew who the stand-outs were. These were the people who showed the most passion and creativity, and who really made ConTessa shine. Of that group, I chose three to be my staff members for ConTessa 2014 and the quality of work, the degree of passion, the level of creativity, and their ability to get shit done has blown me away.
That’s a long way of getting around to the point I’m about to make, and it’s mostly to otherwise well-intentioned men working in the industry who really want to give women that ‘break’ they’re looking for to get their work out there.
Stop trawling the internet with requests for women to work on your projects. Just stop. Stop it with the tweets declaring that as a male industry insider, its up to you to give women opportunities to get published that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Stop making posts on Facebook and Google+ stating that you need women to work on your projects. Just stop. It’s great that you want to find women who will work on your projects, and I applaud you for the effort to actually get more work made by women out there rather than just trying to make work that more women will enjoy, however it’s quite degrading.
I am not your social capital. I do not exist as an artist, creator, programmer, writer, voice, or anything else simply to make you look like you’re more liberal and understand your privilege. I do not want to be chosen to work on a project first because of my gender, then because of my good work, and I most certainly don’t want to be your token woman that you trot out to prove that you really do have women working on your projects. Further, when I see these requests fly around, it gives me an immediate poor impression of the company, person, or project that is being represented in this very tactless manner.
If your heart is truly in the right place, and you truly do want to hire more women, you’ll need to do something dramatic. You’ll need to go out and look for them. Read fan fiction. Spend time on deviantArt. Follow women on social media and pay attention to what they’re saying, particularly what they’re passionate about. Play their games on Google+, invite them into gaming groups that you run, in other words … get to know them the same way you got to know all of the other men that you’ve already asked to work on your project. This takes time. It takes personal investment, and it won’t always be easy … but it’ll be worth it. Worth it for you to work with a more diverse group of people. Worth it for you to find women who are truly passionate about what you’re doing. Worth it for you not to treat women as a commodity, even as a fairly benign social commodity. If you wouldn’t take the shotgun approach to the men you hire, don’t take a shotgun approach to the women you hire, either.
Lest anyone think that this message is solely for the men out there, it isn’t. Women in this industry need to do a better job of self-promoting. All of that crap up there that I’m saying men should do? I did all of that when building Randomocity and when looking for people to pull into ConTessa. It wasn’t easy, and it isn’t as though it wasn’t easy because these women don’t exist. It wasn’t easy because they’re not talking about themselves enough. I’m guilty of this, too, and I think I’m better at tooting my own horn than most women out there that I meet or find.
Stop saying you can’t create. If you’ve ever run a game, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever thought you could do a better job at art direction, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever written a single house rule, whether as a GM or a player, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever written anything longer than a tweet, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever doodled in the margins of your character sheet, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever thought up an idea for a new monster, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever created anything at all at any time in any place for anyTHING that you absolutely adore, you’re a creator. Stop making excuses. Even project management and curation are core parts of the creation process. If you know what you like and you know what you don’t like, you have the skills to create. The only way you’re going to get better at it is if you practice.
Talk about more than just the things you hate. Not only is this a good idea to keep yourself from falling into a 100′ Pit of Constant Negativity, but it also gives people an idea of the things that you’re passionate about. If all that you’re putting out there is criticism, creators looking to hire other creators are likely going to pass up all of the awesome you have to offer the world because they think all you want to do is criticize, and they’re not looking for critics. I’m not even going to get into discussing whether or not criticism is vital or helpful because the answer doesn’t matter. The point is that you need to show me what interests you so that I can decide whether or not you’d be a good fit for my project. Talk about the things that you love, what you enjoy creating and, first and foremost, what you’ve created. Don’t undersell yourself into believing that the world you created for you and your best friend to write fan fiction in is uninteresting to the rest of the world. If you love it, chances are there are other people around who also love it, and some of them might even want to hire you.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself by only talking about “Women’s Issues”. A big part of why I stepped away from talking about feminism and politics is due to the fact that after a while, that’s all I was asked to comment on or participate in. For several months, a majority of my free time was taken up by actually answering those calls and making those comments. I realized that I’d stopped becoming a creator in my effort to fight for my right to create however I (and others) feel fit. That’s a dark place to be. When I ran out of time for these discussions because I was too busy creating things and started to turn down these requests, they came at a lesser and lesser frequency until now they hardly come at all. The requests that I get now are for collaboration and sponsorship. To avoid yet another common attack, I’ll point out that I’m not saying that these conversations are important or unimportant. That answer is just as irrelevant as the criticism question. If what you really want to do in this space is talk about women’s issues, then by all means that should be your first priority. However, based on things like the 1ReasonWhy hashtag that went around a while ago, there’s a whole lot of you out there that want to do more than that. So do it.
Break out of those echo chamber social circles full of only other women. For creators to see you, you have to put yourself in their space. I’m not advocating ditching all of your female friends, just broaden your horizons. Statistically speaking, if you’re looking to be hired by someone else, that person is going to typically be male. There’s no getting around that. You might get lucky and have someone like me looking for you, but even then I don’t limit my social circles to mainly women, either, so it’s going to be hard for me to see you, too. Get in on their conversations, play in their games, make friends with them, get to know them, meet them in person whenever possible, invite them into your projects, ask to be part of their projects. Form relationships. Never, ever, ever underestimate how important those relationship are.
Lastly, and most importantly … stop telling yourself that you’re not good enough. Stop telling yourself that someone’s going to jump up and tell you that you’re “fake”. Stop telling yourself that you have to have everything perfect before you can show it to the rest of the world. Stop worrying about who might attack you or dislike what you’ve created. If you create things that you enjoy and share them with the world, other people will enjoy them. If not enough people enjoy them for your taste, then you can always hit the drawing board again. Failure is an enormous part of any creative process. Don’t let it frighten you away from the things you want to do, make friends with it. Failure tells us much more than success.
Above all else, in my creative endeavor, this quote by Ira Glass has turned out to be the most true thing I’ve ever read:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
– Ira Glass
I have – and continue to have – a wonderful experience working with all of the people who have chosen to help make all of my projects awesome. Taking my time and hand picking people whom I’ve cultivated relationships with (and continue to cultivate relationships with) has been an extremely eye-opening and rewarding experience. I’d love to see more women take up the reigns on projects that they want to see happen and make them happen. I’d love to see more women putting out work that they enjoy. Not work that they think others will enjoy, not work they think is socially responsible, work that makes them tingle with joy, work that tempts them during the workday, work that’s so compelling that they go everywhere with a notebook so they can have something to scribble down notes on in between other day to day chores, work that makes them happy. THAT is the diversity that I want to see.