Monday, 23 November 2015

Virtual FantasyCon 2015 Line Up & a thought on panel parity

Every year at FantasyCon, I hungrily gobble up all the panels I can from the all-you-can-eat buffet, and I always take copious notes as it's the only way to keep myself listening to talks, otherwise my attention wanders. Once I started this blog, I started sharing them, for the benefit of my students, and for anyone who couldn't make FantasyCon or couldn't make that panel because it clashed with something else. The assorted ideas and discussions are wonderfully rich, so I enjoy snatching them from the jaws of the langoliers for us all to enjoy. (You can further defy the langoliers and read FantasyCon 2014 here, and World Fantasy Con 2013 here.)

~ before the line-up: a quick word on panel parity ~

FantasyCon 2015 was a brilliant line-up of topics, as you'll see in a moment, and tightly packed, and - a real pleasure - very close to panel parity. In the organiser's words, "We aimed for panel parity across the Con as a whole (rather than necessarily on every individual panel) and failed - but only just. Across all speaker slots (including moderator) we have a gender split of Female 48% Male 52%. Close, but no cigar. We approached lots of female authors who were unable to attend, but ultimately we had notably more male volunteers for speaking slots than female. We need to ensure that more female speakers feel comfortable putting themselves forwards as panellists for future FantasyCons."

I was very pleased they'd worked hard to try for panel parity, especially given what a woeful example World Fantasy Con sets on that front, and impressed they'd done so well. I wasn't surprised that they had more male volunteers and I thought this wording was exemplary: "We need to ensure that more female speakers feel comfortable putting themselves forwards..."

That's something worth thinking about. This is the first year that I put myself forward to speak and I only felt comfortable doing so by half-wearing my writing-teacher hat. Despite 8 novels, a couple of novellas, a dozen or so short stories, and even a short story award, despite this being my fourth con, I didn't feel confident that I "belonged" on a panel - because very little of that work is published under my own name, because I write slipstream not mainstream fantasy, because I'm not promoting anything...

Women are more inclined towards this sort of "imposter syndrome" than men are, and we are less inclined to just "chance it" than men are, but this is not because we're dainty timid shrinking little violets. It's because we can do maths. A quick look at the publishing, reviewing, and prize-winning gender stats speaks for itself: men get chosen more. A quick look at any peer-reviewed double-blind study on the effect of attaching a female name to something, whether that's a patient history, a piece of fiction, an academic study, or a CV, speaks for itself: men get chosen more. That means men are, stastically, consistently, chosen for stuff in favour of women who are better than them at it. This much is just stats. And this is the world we live in, all the time, and this is the world we navigate. So it makes statistical sense for men to chance it, they have a good chance, and statistical sense for women to only compete with their best stuff or when they more than meet the criteria. Simply advocating that more women should "put themselves forward" ignores the statistical discrimination of the rest of the world we live in. (And that's well before we get to how women who do put themselves forward are viewed - the whole "pushy" thing.) So I thought it was astute that the organisers took responsibility for that, by saying "we need to ensure".

One aspect that might help ensure women feel comfortable is, very simply, criteria. At the moment, anyone can put themselves forwards to suggest a topic, speak on a panel, moderate a panel. Perhaps there are unwritten rules about when it's "okay" to do so. If there are, I've never found them, and after four cons, I still don't know what they are. Do you have to be published? If so, does a single short story count or do you need more? Does self-publishing count? What makes a person worth listening to on a panel? At the moment, without any criteria, this is left entirely up to the confidence and chutzpah of the person volunteering - and in a world where men's confidence and chutzpah is merrily rewarded while women's is generally punished, it's not surprising more men volunteer. The world is always telling them how worth listening to they are! The same world is interrupting women and talking over them and not selecting their work even when it's better.

Between explicit criteria and an explicit call for more women to volunteer, I think the next con most likely can reach panel parity.  And three cheers to this con's organisers for coming so close. They get a cigar from me!

~ The panel line-up ~

Fae-Fi, Folk-Fum: Faerie and Folktale with Charlotte Bond, Charles Christian, Victoria Leslie, Emma Newman, Mike Shevdon, and Alison Littlewood (mod)

Funtasy: Comedy & humour in genre fiction with Frances Hardinge, Steve Jordan, Heather Lindsley, Terry Newman, Craig Saunders, and Donna Scott (mod)

Welcome to my place: Making your world better with James Brogden, Adrian Faulkner, Megan Kerr, Sophia McDougall, Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, and Martin Owton (mod)

Is it legit? Crime in fantasy, horror and SF with Alexandra Benedict, Debbie Bennett, Matthew Blakstad, John Connolly, Guy Haley, and David Tallerman (mod)

The fantastic mundane: imaginary social infrastructure with Leigh Bardugo, Lucy Hounsom, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Brandon Sanderson, Neil Williamson, and Karina Coldrick (mod)

Turn up the volumes: marketing and selling books with Sophie Calder, Jo Fletcher, Graeme Reynolds, Matt Shaw, Danie Ware, and Adele Wearing (mod)

Agent charter: from pitch to deal and beyond with Meg Davis, Ellen Gallagher, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Juliet Mushens, John Wordsworth, and Jared Shurin (mod)

Genre publishing in the 21st century with Meg Davis, Jo Fletcher, Natalie Laverick, Anne Perry, Gillian Redfearn, and Marc Gascogine (mod)

The short story: short-lived or part of the long game? with Nina Allan, Gary Couzens, Andrew Hook, Laura Mauro, Marie O'Regan, and Allen Ashley (mod)

By the gods! Religion & beliefs in fantasy with John Connolly, Adam Dalton, Iain Grant, Jasper Kent, Susan Murray, and Juliet E McKenna (mod)

The future of the future with Alex Lamb, Libby McGugan, Adam Millard, Ian Sales, Tom Toner, and Foz Meadows (mod)

~ Each panel will be linked to as its write-up goes online ~ 
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And while you're waiting, here's World Fantasy Con 2013, with added Gaiman, and FantasyCon 2014 with, inter alia, the best panel on working with your editor I've ever heard.

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