Official SinC Response regarding Men of Mystery Inclusion in Bouchercon 2014
First posted to our blog at http://sisters-in-crime-sinc.blogspot.com
Monday, November 3rd, the Sisters in Crime board of directors spent many hours discussing the inclusion of a two-hour, 65-men, breakfast event at Bouchercon called Men of Mystery. We feel that the event represents a huge step backward in the fight for gender equity in the crime fiction community. Below you will find the response we have sent to the Bouchercon organizers.
I recognize that some of you will think stronger measures were called for, and others will think we were too harsh. Some of the factors that went into our response include the closeness of the event and the contractual obligations Bouchercon has incurred with the hotel, the hardship forced on the men participating in the event if it were to be cancelled suddenly, and the frustration to fans (and their possible backlash against the entire mystery community) if Bouchercon pulled a "bait and switch" by convincing some of them to register for Bouchercon with the promise that the Men of Mystery function would be part of it, and then withdrew it.
If nothing else, this situation shows us the ongoing need for Sisters in Crime. I thank you all for being part of this organization, and for your continuing support of the crime fiction community, readers and writers, men and women. I hope to chat with many of you at Bouchercon, about this issue or anything else that's on your mind.
President of Sisters in Crime
Letter Sent to Ingrid Willis (Bouchercon 2014 Chair) on Tuesday November 4, 2014Dear Ingrid and Bouchercon steering committee members:
Sisters in Crime's board of directors and many of our members are gravely concerned about Bouchercon sponsoring the Men of Mystery event during the convention. While we understand your reasons for folding the event into Bouchercon (thank you for sharing them), the message that many writers are getting from its inclusion is that women are still marginalized in the crime fiction community. You may have enticed a few new fans to Bouchercon, and avoided the possibility of dueling events, but at what cost? We know that Joan Hansen has been a stalwart, Raven award winning, supporter of the mystery community for many years, and she is certainly entitled to organize any event she wants to, but when the largest mystery fan convention gives that event its sponsorship and imprimatur - without a corresponding and comparable platform for women - the situation changes.
Our last monitoring project report noted that "taking the [crime fiction] genre as a whole, things are improving for women, but inequality remains and is particularly noticeable when prestige within the genre is factored into the analysis." We would have hoped that Bouchercon would present a level playing field for men and women writers, but that is not the case this year. If this correspondence were taking place a few months ago, we would strongly call for the event's cancellation. Given the lateness, however, and the harm caused to individual writers by cancelling now, we ask instead that an explanation of the process which led to Bouchercon's association with Men of Mystery, an acknowledgement of the unfortunate result, and a statement of future intent be delivered at the beginning of the session. In upcoming years, we urge you to dissociate the convention from Men of Mystery, and support in word and deed the value of diversity and gender equity.
President, Sisters in Crime
Bouchercon's Response on November 4, 2014 (Ingrid Willis gave us permission to reprint her thoughtful and prompt response)
I sincerely appreciate the concerns expressed in your letter, but I think there is a misunderstanding here that’s fueling a controversy threatening to unintentionally undermine the good work of a lot of caring, dedicated people without a gender biased bone in their bodies.
In formulating the panels for Bouchercon it never crossed our minds that granting a panel to Joan Hansen’s longstanding Men of Mystery organization would somehow be considered an insult to women of mystery, or less than supportive of all mystery writers without regard to gender, for that was never our intention in any way.
Please permit me to explain how this panel came to be. Men of Mystery is a charitable event put on in Orange County, California annually on the third Saturday of each November (this would be the 15th year) by Joan Hansen, 83, who won a Raven for her efforts to promote the mystery genre through Men of Mystery and other contributions.
This year, Bouchercon takes place on that weekend, a few miles from where Joan’s event customarily takes place. Rather than undermining that well-regarded charitable organization with a competitive event, we agreed to allow Men of Mystery to host an abbreviated two-hour event starting at 8:30 AM. It is not a breakfast meeting, not sponsored by any publisher, nor is it in the format of the traditional Bouchercon panel of six authors sharing 60 minutes. This event crams 70 authors into 120 minutes, and Bouchercon has nothing to do with its planning or selection of authors.
What seems to have triggered the current controversy is a misunderstanding circulating over a phrase lifted from an email I wrote elaborating on my reasoning behind giving Joan’s event a slot. It’s been characterized as the Programming Committee endorsing "marginalizing women.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact it’s diametrically opposed to what I meant.
In allowing Men of Mystery and its fans to participate, we exposed Joan’s 500 member audience—at least 480 of whom are women—to the wider and more gender-balanced mystery world of Bouchercon as represented in our programing throughout the day. By "a small price to pay” I was referring to the opportunity of exposing those nearly 500 women to the overall mix of authors. In no way did I mean in any way to suggest it was intended to attract more male authors or "marginalize women.”
I personally take the mission of Sisters in Crime – to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers – very seriously. I think you’ll find our schedule of programming meets those goals and point out that it was put together exclusively by women authors and readers of women authors.
Bouchercon takes great pride in being gender neutral. This year we have Judy Jance as our American Guest of Honor. Last year Albany honored Sue Graton, Tess Gerritsen, and Anne Perry, Cleveland in 2012 honored Elizabeth George and Mary Higgins Clark, and in 2011 St. Louis honored Charlaine Harris, Val McDermid and Sara Paretsky. Again, it was never our intention to disrespect any member of our diverse mystery community. I apologize to any who took offense, for none was intended.
I think your suggestion that we give an explanation at the beginning of the session as to how we got there is a very good one, for I’m certain neither of us wants such a horrid miscommunication among people of good intentions to polarize our mystery community.
Chair, Bouchercon 2014