The Women Online panel took place on Saturday at Summer in the City 2018 in Panel Room A. Panellists included Emma Blackery, Jana Hisham, and Megan Jayne Crabbe, and it was moderated by Angela Innes.
The panel also featured Becky James, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, and Raven Navera. After everyone had introduced themselves, Angela opened with what she admitted was a difficult question, asking the panellists whether they thought Summer in the City was doing enough to represent intersectionality.
“I think it’s difficult because it’s always going to be a reflection of the audience that’s buying the tickets and who they’re expecting to see,” responded Jana, and Megan added that “you don’t want it to become a box-ticking exercise.”
Megan also observed that creators who fit the ‘conventional beauty’ standard are generally the most popular, so naturally, they’re going to be the most represented. “I think it’s less about Summer in the City being responsible for that,” she said, “and more about all of us making sure that we’re celebrating and following and engaging with a diverse bunch of people on our feed.”
The next question for the panellists was why they thought that this panel was important, and Raven’s response – “Because girls are bosses” – led to raucous cheers from the audience.
Becky said that it’s important to surface female comedians on the platform. “When it comes to comedy on YouTube, it’s like a needle in a haystack looking for a female comedy YouTuber,” she shared. Jana was in agreement, adding that any content outside of beauty and hair was much more male-dominated.
On this point, Raven said that women who are really into fashion and beauty get treated like they’re ditzy and like they don’t really know what they’re talking about. “I often have to remind myself – I am actually a lawyer. I do have a career. This is what I do,” she said.
“I always felt like I gained a following quite quickly because it was actually a niche to be a funny girl,” Emma maintained, however, saying that she’d never felt like she was at a disadvantage on the YouTube because she observed.
To this, Jana mused that Emma’s brand of outspoken humour is seen by a lot of people as much less palatable when coming from a woman: “in my mind, if you were a male coming from that perspective you would have gotten a lot less shit for that.”
Emma agreed, but also added that it’s important for creators not to fall into the trap of attributing their lack of success to being female, saying “That way you never look in and critique your own content.”
The panellists went on to discuss the comment section, with Jessica asking whether anyone else had ever experienced ‘nice sexism’ – comments like ‘you’re so smart, for a girl’.
There was a consensus on the panel that comments like these are very common for women on YouTube. For Emma, these comments are often “a bit more crass”, an example being: ‘you’re single right? I’d fuck you’. She also mentioned that she’d get comments from people insulting her boyfriend at the time, “as if that makes you look more attractive to me, insulting the person I’m in love with.”
The conversation moved on to to the pressure some creators can feel to make ‘being a women’ a defining characteristic on their channel.
Becky doesn’t feel this pressure. She explained that when she started making comedy videos her demographic became much more male, asserting that “Whatever content you make – anyone’s gonna watch it. You don’t have to be female and talk about female things all the time to get an audience.”
“Being a woman isn’t something I’m trying to be, it’s what I am,” added Jessica. She doesn’t think it’s necessary to bring it into all her YouTube content, but that it’s important to acknowledge the effect it can have on her experiences. For example, she referenced an instance in which a doctor had incorrectly diagnosed her with anorexia because in her opinion, you’re less likely to be believed by a doctor if you’re a girl.
Jana talked about the cultural pressure she felt growing up, explaining that in Middle Eastern society “there is one type of woman that you should be”, and that she didn’t relate to this type at all. She now uses her platform to let women know that it’s OK not to fit into that stereotype.
The floor was opened for questions, and an audience member asked about the cases of alleged sexual abuse in the YouTube community, and what the panellists though we should be doing to prevent abuse.
“It’s very easy to sit here and say ‘it’s so vital that we keep the conversation going’,” said Emma, “that phrase could be on a soundboard by now. Because yes, obviously, but it’s still happening, and what sucks is it’s going to still keep happening.”
“I don’t think that we need to tell little girls how they should be protecting themselves,” added Jessica, “that’s not the answer. We need to be helping people who don’t understand consent to learn what consent is.”
Drawing from her own experiences, Raven explained that a lot of people feel like if they speak out about being sexually abused they won’t be believed, or will be blamed for their actions. She thinks it’s very important for people to be supported and believed when they make these kinds of disclosures, and for them not to have to take sole responsibility for protecting themselves. “If you go to someone and say that you had this experience, it’s for that person to help you,” she said.
Photos by Rebbeca Nead-Menear.
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