Fantasticon and some notes on the sexism discussion

A week or so after the fact, a short report from Fantasticon 2013 in Copenhagen. I went with great anticipation, because even though I live just half an hour away from Copenhagen I've had very little contact with Danish SFF writers or fandom. Fantasticon turned out to be well organized and very friendly, with somewhere between 80 to 100 participants and two program tracks. The guests and participants were mainly Danish, sprinkled with some Swedish fans and writers, and of course the guest of honor Tricia Sullivan. I didn't spend much time at the con outside of the panels I was participating in and listening to, but I did get to hang out and geek out with Nene and Tricia and get introduced to a bunch of absolutely lovely Danes.

For some reason, there's very little contact between Denmark and Sweden in the SFF field. I realized with some embarrassment that with the exeption of Lene Kaaberböl, I haven't read any of the current fantastic fiction produced in Denmark. Happily I managed to collect some books by Lars Ahn Pedersen (who writes science fiction as well as organized the con together with Jesper Rugård), Peter Adolphsen, and a fresh anthology. Hopefully we can get a more lively exchange going.

So, many interesting panels (and if I'd blogged continuously I could have done a decent recap, but I didn't). I spent an hour talking about writing in other languages with the excellent Michael Kamp, who writes horror, and Henrik Sandbeck Harksen, who publishes and occasionally writes in the same genre. We were pretty much in agreement on the difficulties, what it takes and what's needed: immerse, read, work. (as usual, no magic tricks, just persistence)

The most engaging panel by far was "The Women Men Don't See", about sexism in the SFF world. We veered in different directions during the discussion, which isn't strange; there were so many things to talk about, from the situation among readers to writers to fandom to the publishing business. What was interesting was that all of us on the panel found ourselves emphasizing to the men in the audience that we weren't out to get them personally, that this isn't about them personally but about a structure, and about men and women as groups - although they all have a vested interest in and a personal responsibility. I have a feeling that all of us were anticipating a defensive backlash. It wasn't as bad as it could be, but it was definitely a problematic discussion.

There was a definite difference in how the audience behaved. The behavior and group dynamics I describe below I didn't see at any of the other panels I sat in on.  The "The Women Men Don't See" panel was both about sexism, here traditionally regarded as a female problem, and the participants were all women. I came straight from the panel about writing in English, where we'd been one woman and three men. The difference in the audience's behavior was pretty dramatic. Firstly, the behavior towards the moderator. In the first panel, people fell quiet immediately. In the second, with a female moderator, people continued talking amongst themselves as she introduced the panel, for a good while. Secondly, during the first panel I don't remember anybody interrupting to ask questions or comment. Maybe once. Any questions were questions for the panelists. During the second panel, we were interrupted several times by the audience, and the "questions" were less questions than lengthy comments, many of them in defense against what we were saying or attempts at poking holes in what was really a fairly basic discussion on sexism in literature, among readers and how to handle it. More men spoke up than women did, and the men who talked did so at length. Someone even started snapping their fingers to get the moderator's attention. I'm sure there are several things going on here: the audience may have been a little different, the subject of sexism in literature may invite more to debate - sure. Still, there was such a distinct shift in atmosphere that those factors weren't enough explanation. This is not to say that we were on the barricades fighting a roiling mass of enraged masculinists, not by far. There were plenty of supporting voices in the audience as well, and many important points were raised. Still, it was a discussion that got stuck in the basics and became an illustration of the problem itself.

The Scandinavian countries are supposedly at the top of gender equal countries. This doesn't mean that we have achieved equality, not by far. On the contrary, a widespread view that the work is finished, that we've achieved equality, blocks attempts to discuss the problems we do have. And we do have them, on all levels. So we'll need to keep talking.

Edit: Nene Ormes wrote a post (in Swedish) with the same observations, however she also points out that there was no backlash to this discussion. And here's the moderator Majbrit Höyrup's commentary (Danish)