Well, this is interesting.
I’ve been invited onto the “Broads with Swords” panel at World Fantasy. The one about women and heroic fantasy that’s been causing some, shall we say, ructions. (See Cheryl Morgan’s blog, Jess Haines’ blog, and Kameron Hurley’s twitter feed @KameronHurley. There are probably others). Very short version – the name is problematic, since ‘broads’ is generally considered a (female-specific) insult. And the panel specifics suggest that women in fantasy writing about women who fight is a recent development, which as a number of people have pointed out, (see the links) is hardly the case.
I decided to accept. I did so because I thought that the best place to have a discussion about the naming and assumptions of the panel might be actually on the panel. (I was not aware at this point that Kameron Hurley had dropped out. I understand why she did so, though I am rather selfishly sorry that she did, because it would have been more than somewhat awesome to be on a panel with her).
I am now, of course, second guessing myself; will I look like a patsy? Will it appear I am not aware of/don’t care about the issues? Will I be sitting there all on my own because everyone else has taken a stand and dropped out? (Yes, all right, I realise that’s unlikely as if everyone else drops out they’ll probably cancel the panel, but it’s the kind of nightmare scenario my subconscious does so love to throw at me). But eventually you have to decide to take a stand, in the way that seems best to you.
On a less self-obsessed and rather more relevant note, am I helping to support untenable attitudes towards women and the history of women’s writing by accepting? That’s the bother, actually, that’s the one. This stuff is important, in case anyone hasn’t got that yet. It matters.
I get that the name was an attempted pun on ‘broadsword’ but…no. (I started to think of equivalent titles that you really wouldn’t have for, for example, a panel on crime writing by People of Colour, and shuddered).
As to the content: women have been written out of the history of science, of art, of war and of literature, for centuries. Their contributions have been dismissed as minor, irrelevant, not theirs or simply not there. So this is a conversation that needs to be had, and keep being had, until people do, finally, get it.
But should it be had on this panel? I’ve been to more than a few panel discussions that have skewed wildly away from the stated subject matter towards panelists’ personal hobbyhorses. This can be interesting, but is often irritating. Is it fair to the audience, not to mention the other panelists, to go on a panel actually intending to turn the discussion to the wider issues it brings up, rather than sticking strictly to the listed subject? But since this panel has been, so to speak, pre-subverted, simply because the discussion is already taking place, maybe it’s better simply to go with it. One cannot, and should not, pretend that the issues are not there.
Whatever the difficulties, I think it’s well worth having this discussion offline as well as on, in a public venue. Among other things, it encourages people of different opinions to engage face to face, rather than with the intervention of a screen. It’s generally harder for things to descend into CAPSLOCK RANTAGE under those circumstances.
So, I’ll be there, and I’ll hope to contribute something useful to the debate. I also hope that I am doing the right thing.
Opinions are invited. However, I reserve the right to delete any CAPSLOCK RANTAGE, unless I find it entertaining.