05 July 2011

“They don’t feel smart enough to be on our panels”

From Rose Fox at Genreville:

I’ve been putting together the program for Readercon, and I was entirely shocked when two women we invited told me they don’t feel smart enough to be on our panels. I’ve never heard anything like that from a man. [EDIT: A woman has emailed me to say she heard a man once say "Readercon is where I go to feel stupid"--though I wouldn't classify that the same way as withdrawing from the program.]

I’m also pretty sure I received more “may I be on your program?” requests from men than from women (I’ll try to remember to keep statistics next year). It’s pretty well known that that sort of behavior is socially gendered.

I would not be at all surprised if female authors are more likely to self-sabotage by saying “I’m not good enough to be in this anthology” or “I don’t have anything that works for this” or “I can’t write in that genre”, while men might be more likely to send in a story that’s a little off-topic, or send something unsolicited even if the anthology is supposedly closed to submissions.
This particular discussion involves the world of science fiction, and its awards and anthologies. The situation is probably different in other literary genres; as one example, as Fox quotes Liz Williams, “in urban fantasy…women do seem to be on strong ground.” (According to Library Journal in 2008, “Contemporary urban fantasy started as an offshoot of horror fiction rather than sf/fantasy but has blended with other genres, most notably romance and mystery.”)


Rachel Stark said...

Interesting thought. I've heard this theme again and again, and it still saddens me. I recall reading an article from an NYU art professor who noted that the majority of his most successful former students were men. He argued that he felt his male and female students were equally gifted, but he witnessed men taking more chances in interviews, being more willing to exaggerate their strengths and showing less of a tendency to downplay accomplishments. Of course it's important to represent oneself truthfully, but I hope more women will own their awesomeness in years to come!

J. L. Bell said...

Most of the writing conferences I attend are in children’s books, and there are so many women working and wanting to work in that field that we usually have to convert men’s bathrooms to women’s.

(But do you hear me complain? No! Because I’m all the way at the other end of the hotel, trying to find a urinal without an attractive planter placed in it. But I digress.)

I noticed the low percentage of men at SCBWI conferences from the first one I went to. But the percentage of men among the conference speakers (most of whom were published, some prominently, and all of whom were of course willing to speak) was clearly higher.

Editors and agents at children’s publishing conferences seem to be largely women, but the percentage of men among illustrators and art directors appears higher than among those who work just with words.