Apr 20, 2012
The internet is forever, or: how to prove you're nothing but a snide sexist
A couple of years ago, Hilary Lawson, the director of the Institute of Art and Ideas, wrote this piece in the Guardian about the accusations of gender imbalance levelled at his pet philosophy and music festival, How The Light Gets In (a sort of hipster alternative to the increasingly uncool Hay-on-Wye literature festival).
I didn't like the piece when I read it; I thought the tone was snide and the arguments immaterial. But I read after having met Lawson at the 2011 festival, and he seemed like a decent and intelligent man; so I gave the whole thing the benefit of the doubt. For context, the benefit of the doubt was about the fact that it was shortness of time and difficulty of getting female participants that prevented the festival from breaking the industry representation ceiling of about 30%, and not the usual stuff like, you know, laziness and institutional sexism.
So when an email landed in my mailbox today gleefully announcing the publication of the 2012 festival program, I went to look at it with mixed fear and hope: will they have done better? They've had 2 years to formulate a strategy to respond to the criticisms of cultural femicide they treated so lightly. They've presumably built up some relationships with women who've spoken at the previous couple of festivals. So you'd expect an incremental uptick in gender parity, wouldn't you?
Well, not really. Out of 98 discrete speakers, 21 are women. That's 29% - wading in the shallow waters of the rest of the lacklustre British culture & media industry. In 4 days of talks and panels, only 1 is a solo talk by a woman, and only 3 have a gender balance in which women are not a minority.
How The Light Gets In could not find women to speak on the following sample of topics; architecture, religion, the future of science, privacy in the age of the internet (I bet it would have been way hard to find a feminist blogger with opinions on that one!), politics or economics.
HTLGI have had plenty of time to do something about the absence of women from their program. They haven't, not really. Oh, I'm sure some mealy mouthed statement about having "encouraged women to participate" will be forthcoming at some point, if more people than just myself kick up a fuss about this. But frankly, the proof of the pudding is in the program. And the program is a sausagefest. Or a spotted dick, for those with a sweeter tooth.