Let’s put an end to ‘manels’

Given that the year is 2018, it would be perfectly understandable to assume that a panel about women would involve real-live actual women speaking on said panel. Apparently not, going by this U.S. Universities Maths department who thought it was a good idea to rustle up four blokes to speak about their unique perspective on “Women in math” earlier this year. 

This is not a new trend by any stretch of the imagination. Not so long ago, The Hollywood Reporter held a roundtable of seven white guys discussing people of colour and women in animation. You can’t make this stuff up! 

Closer to home, despite the extraordinary advances of women across so many facets of Australian society, women and marginalised individuals are still being held back by a very real threat: manels. A ‘manel’, for those of you unfamiliar, is ‘a panel of experts or participants, for example on a TV quiz show or at a conference, that consists of men only’.

Whether it be a conference, panel, board position, music lineup or political party, marginalised groups (including women, people of colour, LGBTQIA people and people with disabilities) are rarely given the same amount of space and airtime that is regularly afforded to cis-gender white men. At the Victorian Women’s Trust, we’re all about solutions which is why we’re addressing this widespread problem through Here She Is, our (free) directory of talented women and non-binary individuals available as speakers, mentors and leaders in a wide variety of fields. Now, there really is no excuse for a homogenous event line up.

But to truly take down the ‘Manels’, we need two things; more diversity at the front and we need to call out inadequate programming when we see it. Thanks to social media, ‘manels’ can now be called out in real time by just a few clicks of a keyboard. Congrats, you have an all male panel! is a twitter and tumblr account that posts photos of ‘manels’ with a congratulatory David Hasselhoff sticker plastered over them. Twitter users are encouraged to post a photo of any ‘manels’ that they witness using the hashtag #AllMalePanel. 

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the twitter account highlighted a lots of all male events on International Women’s Day.

It’s not just panels that lack full representation, of course. For some time now, the Australian music industry has failed to heed the call for equal representation on stage. Local Instagram account, Line ups without males, highlights the gender bias in the industry by calling out the lack of women and female-identifying individuals in festival line-ups by doctoring the event poster and blurring out all the names of musical acts that do not have a female band member. The result is as bleak as you might imagine.

Images: @lineupswithoutmales

Musicians are also part of this important call for change. Whilst on stage at Falls Music Festival, Australian band Camp Cope boldly called out the organisers for their inadequate curatorship. Frontwoman Georgia Maq changed a line of their song ‘The Opener’ to “it’s another festival saying we can’t play a main stage”. Triple J’s ‘By the numbers’ report, released on International Women’s Day 2018, found that none of Australia’s major touring festivals had reached 50% gender parity in their line-ups for the past three years. The fact is, female identifying and non-binary artists are just not being given the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

If we turn our attention to Australian politics, the situation there is also far from equal. Women currently make up 28.7% of the House of representatives and 40.8% in the Senate, and on a global scale, parliaments have only 23.8% of women. Not only are women not being given the same opportunities as men on panels, or in the music industry, but women are not being invited behind closed doors to create or pass laws around the world. It wasn’t that long ago that our very own Prime Minister Tony Abbott appointed himself the Minister for Women whilst his cabinet was made up of only one woman, Julie Bishop.

Image: Andrew Meares

I would be putting it politely, if I said that I was mad about the dearth of equal representation in this country. I’m sick of seeing ‘manels’, bro-heavy music line-ups, and the same old male white-bread politicians. Over the last 18 months, I have been working on the Here She Is initiative at the Victorian Women’s Trust, and in that time, we received a generous grant from the Victorian State Government (as part of their Victorian Gender Equality Strategy) to make Here She Is bigger, better and more accessible.

Since then, we have been reaching out to women and non-binary people from across Australia to get as many profiles as possible on the directory. Our mission is simple: we want to showcase the plethora of talent out there that is too often overlooked. Right now, we have a 500+ strong list of impressive array of individuals who are kicking goals across our society. We feature women and non-binary people that are all true leaders in their field, each deserving of a wider a platform.

But despite all the talent featured, it can be hard going at times. While working on this initiative, I’ve found that many women are reluctant to profile themselves on the directory. This reluctance can easily be put down to imposter syndrome with many women feeling ‘unworthy’ of the recognition. I firmly believe that the more women put themselves out there, the more likely others will be encouraged to do the same. If you’re debating whether or not to add your name to the directory, don’t question yourself — just go for it!

Since the directory has been relaunched, it has continued to grow and grow. But the next step is to ensure this directory is used by the event organisers and community members, so we can put an end to ‘manels’ and get these expert women and non-binary people out there!

So the next time you see a ‘manel’, we urge you to call it out and suggest Here She Is. When you need a speaker, leader, mentor, architect, MC, comedian, sex educator (the list goes on), make Here She Is your starting point. And if you hear the tired excuse that an event organiser “tried really hard but couldn’t find any women”, let them know that’s simply not good enough and send them to Here She Is.


Here She Is features hundreds of people available as speakers, mentors, leaders, and so much more.


Esther Davies-Brown
Esther has been with the Trust team for nearly two years, working on design projects like the VWT newsletter, Annual Reports and so much more, as well as leading our Here She Is initiative.

In her spare time she enjoys attending as many music festivals as she can and eating Vietnamese food on Victoria Street. Yum.

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