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My panels will not be all-male.
We define a panel as a group of three or more people, not including the moderator. If only one woman is included, she must be a panelist, although we also support inclusion of more women as moderators. We will show preference to panels that include intersectional representation.
Addendum: “panels” is how this pledge is framed, but it applies equally to lineups for conferences and book festivals.
It’s not hard to come up reasons to refrain from making this pledge. Anyone who’s not an event organizer can legitimately say that they’re not the ones issuing faculty invitations. Event fees are how many of us make a living, and voluntarily giving them up is a palpable sacrifice. Chris Barton has some very helpful thoughts on that. Constructively handling social media criticism requires fortitude, delicacy, and vast amounts of mental energy. There will very likely be objections to me claiming airtime in a dialogue that is rightfully centered on those of us who aren’t cisgender men, and those objections will have merit. Making this pledge more than a mouthful of empty words means acting in ways that will make me feel uncomfortable and exposed, sometimes intensely so.
But speaking as a cisgender man, what kind of ally am I if I prioritize my own comfort over the gender-driven inequities faced by my colleagues every single day? What kind of ally am I if I silently cheer on people working to fight gender bias at their own risk without doing any of the work or assuming any of the risk myself? Not much of an ally, really. Maybe not any kind of an ally.
Fortunately,there are very concrete, straightforward ways I can be an ally. For example, I don’t organize events myself, but I can pro-actively communicate with event organizers who extend their invitations to me. I can ask who the other presenters/panelists are, and if it’s an exclusively male lineup, I can voice my concern, and suggest names of people who aren’t men that could be added. In the worst-case scenario, I can respectfully decline the invitation while clearly articulating why.
I can also pro-actively inform the people I regularly work with on events about this pledge, and have them build it into our working process. This includes publicists, school visit coordinators, booking agents, and sometimes our agents and editors. Some of those people and organizations – the Author Village, for example – already do this; consider working with them if you can. We should obviously hold ourselves to the same standard when pitching our own panel ideas to event organizers, and we mustn’t forget that intersectionality is essential. As author Tracey Baptiste says, without intersectionality, the movement will fail.
There are resources with much more information than I’m providing here. Kate Messner’s March 9 post for #kidlitwomen provides a very thorough breakdown of concerns and action items. Feminist Philosophers’ Gendered Conference Campaign is rooted in the world of academia, but their FAQ page is very useful for us too. And developmental economist Owen Barder’s pledge for men in the business world provided a helpful antecedent.
This pledge won’t bring an end to mistakes, oversights, and moments of personal frailty. It will not protect me or anyone else who pledges with me from criticism, and rightfully so. However, I believe our declared intentions have importance, limited and perishable though that importance may be.
There will always be moments along the way when we ask “what else can I do?” There’s an answer that’s always right, of course: try harder. I hope anyone who identifies as male will take this pledge with me by leaving a comment to that effect. The invitation is a standing one.