I received a tweet today from the organizer of Prose in the Park saying my comment about the gender balance on the mystery panel this year was “inappropriate” as last year they had five women and one man on the mystery panel.
I responded that I think it is important for there to be gender balance on every panel, and that no one is going to remember numbers from one year to the next.
He pointed out that Prose in Park had two all-women panels this year and that it was important to take overall numbers into account and not individual panels. I replied that I had been told that I had been told that men could not be found for those two panels, which he disputes, and that’s fair enough: I don’t know the reason behind it, I wasn’t part of the organization. But I don’t think it matters.
The people who organize these festivals (and awards, for that matter) work hard and do their best and it’s no fun to be accused of bias. I didn’t enjoy writing these posts; I wish I didn’t have to. But the fact is that when it comes to crime writing and mystery novels, women are not getting the credit they deserve.
With regard to festivals, there should be gender balance each year on those panels. I don’t really care what genre it is. No attendees are going to go home and calculate overall numbers to assess whether the number of female panellists equalled the male ones; they go to festivals to hear panels and they are influenced by what they hear. And this year, they heard a predominantly male voice when it came to crime writing.
The fact that there were two other all-female panels at this particular festival is irrelevant to my point. And the fact that there were five women and one man on last year’s mystery panel simply points to an imbalance that year too. However well-intentioned, we won’t redress this issue by shutting out either gender. Instead, I think we have to strive to achieve a balanced representation of men and women’s voices in the public face of this industry. Both have a right to be heard.