There’s going to be a hefty ‘but’ dominating this post, so let’s start by saying I had a great time at the SFX weekender. I made (I hope!) new friends. I played ridiculous games with old ones. I discovered how some of the biggest names in the industry are also the nicest, friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. There was joyous spontaneous Doctor Who line-dancing. There was copious booze. And I danced with Giant David Bowie, so my life is pretty much complete.
SFX deserves a tonne of credit for being awesome and imaginative enough to make all of that happen, for creating a little enclave of crazy wonder and excitement in the bleak Welsh winter.
But here’s the ‘but’.
I wrote to the SFX team expressing interest in appearing on panels. I did several pretty successful ones last Eastercon, so I think that was a reasonable thing to do? I wouldn’t mind the fact that I didn’t even get a reply if I hadn’t turned up to find that the writer panels featured, at my count, 46 male writers to 8 female writers, with two all male panels. (This is counting bloggers and SFX reviewers) I wasn’t the only female genre writer/blogger who was definitely available because she was there, by the way. There were also Suzanne McLeod, Alex Bell, Amanda Rutter, Kim Lakin-Smith, Fran Terminiello, Ro Smith (Ro and Fran write for The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. Oh and talking of apocalypses, Anne Perry was there, she just co-edited an anthology on that very subject! There was a panel on the apocalypse in genre! It was one of the all-male ones!) Lou Morgan was there, as was Danie Ware. I think Elspeth Cooper may have been there or at least wanted to go-- if she didn’t make it in the end perhaps an invitation would have helped! And that isn’t anywhere near a comprehensive list -- these are just ones I happen to know about, and there were thousands of people there. I’m sure there were more. As for women writers who might have been able to attend if asked, who knows?
...And I wouldn’t mind that so much if I hadn’t watched a steward at a panel hand the mic only to male audience members, walking right past several women with their hands up, when the panel was thrown open to questions from the floor.
And I wouldn’t mind that so much if there hadn’t been all those half-naked women on stilts, (not cosplayers doing it for the thrills, entertainment paid for by the con) roaming around, and no half-naked men on stilts. And I wouldn’t mind that so much if there hadn’t also been girls wearing nothing but flashing lights strapped to their breasts and groins, dancing on the stage for the crowd’s edification at the final disco.
All of that put together, I minded quite a lot. I started thinking of the slogan “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met?” provoked by the fact that women made up 5% of the artists in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and 85% of the nudes. I started thinking of this comment on Ta-Nehisi Coate’s blog: “Rule of thumb: If you do not see as many naked men as naked women, and/or if the men are not equally as exposed as the women, you're being pandered to, not told a story. Also you are being assumed to be male.”
I went and collared the hapless, woman-blind steward, by the way, and said how disappointed I was at what I’d just seen. He said he was sorry and he hadn’t meant to do it. Of course he didn’t mean to. Some people do mean to make women feel ignored and unwelcome, of course, but well-meaning thoughtlessness will often get the job done just as well. There is only one remedy for unmalicious, unthinking prejudice, and that is deliberate thinking.
And hey, SFX, you know what, I spoke to a lot of men who were thoroughly uncomfortable about the objectification of female bodies going on, who didn’t like having half-clothed female bums, however shapely, at eye level. Some of them said they’d even raised the issue before. So even if your primary aim is to keep the men entertained and happy, there are plenty of men (China Miéville, Ian Sales, Jared Shurin -- list, again, not comprehensive) on whom it’s definitely not working.
The thing that makes this so frustrating is SFXweekender could so easily be light-years ahead of this. It has an incredibly energised, youthful, diverse, creative audience in the thousands, who are enthused enough to come all the way to sodding Pontins in Prestatyn in February. As Jaine Fenn, one of the few female guests says here, you look around SFX weekender and the future of geek culture looks bright. And with all that potential at your disposal, SFX, you’re still going to the same tired old depressing TITS OR GTFO places. It would take so little thought and effort to fix this.
2012 wasn’t the year for that to happen. Let’s hope 2013 will be.
(N.B, I don’t want anyone to think that I didn’t notice or care that the panels were also overwhelmingly white. I think that given the current state of the industry, that’s harder to fix and not so much SFX’s fault, whereas the gender thing could be fixed or at least greatly improved so freaking easily. But I’m very open to comments/ideas/contradiction on that score.)
CORRECTION: It's been pointed out to me that the apocalypse panel wasn't in fact all male -- Sam Stone was on it. Apologies to Ms Stone and partial apologies to SFX, though the schedule I was going by here shows only men. The final ratio must have been 4:1 or 5:1 male to female, roughly in line with the con's selection of guests overall.
Also a couple of the women I thought were there couldn't make it, though they were interested. I don't think this takes much from the overall point, as I dare say a number of the male guests wouldn't have come without an invitation and the paid-for accommodation that entails.