Big Idea Gender Breakdown

Via Annalee Newitz’s Twitter feed, I see that Strange Horizons has done a gender breakdown of reviews in SF publications, and learns that more sf/f by men is reviewed than sf/f by women. This made me curious as to how my Big Idea feature here at Whatever has been doing, gender-wise, in terms of authors/editors featured.

So I tallied up the gender of writers who contributed Big Idea pieces between 4/23/12 and 4/24/13 (I’m counting tomorrow’s Big Idea piece, as I already have it in hand). Here’s how it turned out:

44 men wrote or co-wrote Big Idea pieces during that span of time;

48 women wrote or co-wrote Big Idea pieces.

Some notes on that: One, Big Idea pieces aren’t reviews, although they perform one of the publicity-related functions of reviews, i.e., raising awareness of the work in question. Also, not every Big Idea piece was for a science fiction or fantasy work, although most were (there were several works in other genres, including non-fiction), and a couple of them were for non-books, including one for a video game and one for a calendar. The male/female division on individual works featured is closer to 50/50 because three Big Ideas were co-written by women who wrote/edited the same book, while one book was co-written by a man and a woman.

(No trans authors in the mix, so far as I am aware; if there were I would have tallied them by their preferred gender. No authors who would identify as genderfluid, as far as I know.)

I should also note that I don’t generally actively check to see if I’ve gender-balanced Big Idea posts over any span of time; I mostly operate the Big Idea on a “first-come, first-served” basis in terms of slotting people in. It would be interesting to see whether the gender balance of the Big Idea feature is this balanced over time. Someone else will need to check that, however, since I’m not planning to do it at the moment.

But in any event, interesting data. And I don’t mind admitting being happy that the Big Idea gender mix seems to be mostly balanced.

73 thoughts on “Big Idea Gender Breakdown

  1. I’ve noticed this imbalance in my reviews, so I’ve made a concerted effort the last year or so to read more female authors (also more non-European/non-American authors). Don’t want to miss good books due to overlooking a whole gender and large swathes of the world.

  2. Did Strange Horizons also do any survey of the gender balance of SF/F books published in that period? Without that background to compare to it’s hard to say if the reviewed proportions are skewing.

  3. Haar, they don’t survey the entire industry and tally by gender. What they do is look at the books recieved by Locus for the year, as an approximation of the industry. Grep the page for this text: ” these data have some limitations as a proxy for the gender balance of the SF field as a whole or the pool of books from which reviews editors select”

  4. Disregard my previous question. I was misreading “received” as “reviewed”. They don’t make it easy to make the comparison though, with different chart types (pie for Locus received, unlabelled-value bars for reviewed) for the two sets.

  5. One of things that comes up in the impact-of-gender discussion that attends my professional outreach work is that, all other factors being equal, men are more likely than women to draw attention to themselves. There’ve been plenty of discussions on this site and others why that might be reliable as anecdotes go…

  6. Out of curiosity, if you had a “James Tiptree” type author, would you count that under the male or under the female author category? Ms. Sheldon was emphatically female, but her pen name was deliberately male.

  7. That’s fantastic! Assuming that clamoring for publicity is equal between the genders and that people cognizant of you is also relatively equal between the genders, that really is great to hear that there are so many female writers out there! If they were equal and your stats showed a disparity, then that would imply that there are more of one or the other.

  8. Was there more sf/f released by men than women? Does the percentage of reviews match the percentage of books in general?

  9. @Ben Henick: I will challenge your claim of “all else being equal.” In general, men are safe drawing attention to themselves in more places than women are safely able to draw attention to themselves. So a space that seems safe to a man, may not seem equally safe to a woman. And I am including conference rooms and boardrooms in this statement. The female default position is not safe until proven otherwise, The male default is safe until shocked that he was attacked. This leads to women not promoting themselves. In most cultures, men are people, but women are women, i.e. not people but other.

    I think it is a testament to John that women feel safe promoting themselves here, and are therefore able to be represented in proportion to their actual percentage of the population.

  10. How about you not reveal the gender of the author at all, and let the book stand on its own merits such as plot, dialogue, characters?

  11. Thanks for thinking of Trans and nonconforming Gender folk.

    Technically I’m not Trans, but Intersex. To some the change comes naturally… usually FtoM though MtoF happens too.

    See http://www.usrf.org/news/010308-guevedoces.html

    That’s 5ARD. 17BHSD is similar. I have 3BHSD, which can causes a change in either direction, though usually before rather than after birth. But there are exceptions.

    Which is why my early published papers say “Alan”, the later ones “Zoe”.Brain.

    p.s. The change was a release from Hell, I’d identified as female since before age 10, but there didn’t seem much point pressing the issue in view of the body shape. So although technically Intersex, Trans is close enough.

  12. As long as the slots are given on (mostly) “first come first served” basis, should the gender balance matter?

  13. Rob G:

    “How about you not reveal the gender of the author at all”

    Because authors tend to like having their names on their work, and sometimes those names can reveal gender, Rob.

    Junsok Yang:

    If I had discovered I was massively tipped over on one or the other gender, I might intentionally start programming in more of the underrepresented gender, actually. Fortunately at this point “first come, first served” seems to be working just fine.

  14. Ben Henick: “all other factors being equal, men are more likely than women to draw attention to themselves.” — To a certain extent this is true, but to another extent, it’s a handy excuse for having fewer articles and reviews about women authors — it’s all the women’s fault, you see, for not being aggressive promoters, rather than there being biases and obstacles that cause women to be excluded and prevent them from being able to call attention to themselves, such as for instance, women being discouraged from joining the males at the bar at conventions where reviewers kick back with authors. And women who are drawing attention to themselves then being disliked as too aggressive and too irritating and so rejected for review, because that behavior is not considered acceptable or admirable when it comes from females. (That’s a viewpoint that even female magazine editors may consciously or unconsciously have.)

    But there are two other issues related to this. One is that while female authors may or may not be flashy extroverts on promotion, they are on average better at networking than male authors. They build mailing lists, they stay in touch more with their fan base, they blog more when they blog, they go out of their way to chat and get to know other SFF authors and people in the industry, they keep up relationships with booksellers, they are more in touch with their local community opportunities, and they are often more involved in organizing conventions, book affairs and book events. All of this can mean that women get a lot of talking going on about their books, do events, and get a lot of reviews in general areas. But if the major SFF publications are less interested in reviewing their work (and certainly it’s not a problem limited to just the SFF media either,) that means that they are blocked from the core readers who pay attention to reviews and may talk the most about new books. Second, the major SFF publications get most of their solicitations not from the authors but from their publishers, and those publishers do push female authors as lead titles. (This is why Scalzi ends up with an even split.) So if it’s simply a matter of getting their attention, both male and female authors should be getting plenty of attention thanks to their publishers, regardless of whether they are aggressive promoters themselves.

    Rob G: “How about you not reveal the gender of the author at all, and let the book stand on its own merits such as plot, dialogue, characters?” — The question you are really after is why do female authors have to hide their gender in order to have their work judged on its merits? Authors like C.J. Cherryh, Andre Norton, and Tiptree hid behind male pseudonyms so that they’d have a better chance of selling. As late as the late 1990’s, J.K. Rowling was J.K. on the grounds that boys wouldn’t read a book about a boy written by a female author — even though there were bestselling middle school and YA novels with boy protagonists written by female authors already out there. Despite that it cost them, women came forward as female authors in more and more numbers in SFF. Why should they have to go back in the shadows about who they are to get decently reviewed? Reviewers are likely to regard female written works as more romantic, lighter, less political, because that’s what they’ve been taught female authors write and that’s how they’ve been taught to view their work. Fans are uncomfortable with female pov main characters and prefer the male pov main characters, which are the default perspective we’ve all grown up with. They are all likely to claim that female-written works seldom interest them on content (merit,) without considering why in the society female works are so seldom viewed as interesting (gender bias.)

    Even if women authors don’t want to emphasize their gender, their publishers often do and the demands of promotion often mean it’s difficult for a female author to hide her gender even if she wants to (but not impossible if you’re willing to give up a lot of promotional opportunities.) So given that women authors often cannot and should not have to hide their gender, given that this blocks them from many promotional opportunities, given that their work is regarded as having stereotypical feminine characteristics on the basis of their gender rather than on the works themselves, given that these characteristics are then declared uninteresting by reviewers who then select out a lot of women authors, that is a fairly substantial wall still to having a day when the gender of the author doesn’t matter.

    And the only way that wall comes down is to point out that it is there and to ask the people who are helping to keep it up, (which again includes males and females,) if maybe they can take a second look at their choices and whether they are unconsciously pre-judging female written works on the basis of author gender; if maybe trying female written works and female pov’s wouldn’t be expansive; and if maybe making an effort to check out the female authors in the field instead of waiting for female writers to come busting through the door, (whereupon they get a nasty scold for being uppity,) might be a better plan.

    In every field you can think of, even ones where plenty of women work or create, again and again social science studies discover that women are less likely to be employed, promoted, put in managerial positions and reach the top levels. Mommy tracks, glass ceilings and the like show up as hard statistical data. In every survey of this type in SFF, the bias shows up — women are less present, less promoted and less likely to be seen as worthy. These findings don’t mean that the people involved are nasty people who hate women. Many of them are women. What it means is there’s an unconscious gender bias going on that reflects the wider society. Getting people talking and thinking about it means that bias can change, just as it became more acceptable for female SFF writers to stop hiding behind male pseudonyms.

  15. Well, Rob G., perhaps you haven’t noticed, but bookstores and libraries tend to shelves book, first by genre, and then by name. So if you’re reviewing a book, especially if you review it positively, you might like your readers to be able to find that book on a shelf somewhere. So letting readers know the name of the author is helpful. And, since most names are in some way gendered, then the gender of the author is likely going to be revealed. And that’s to say nothing of talking about the author of the book using pronouns, which are also gendered. Also, consider all the women authors who take on a male nom de plume, or even a non-gender specific pseudonym. J.K. Rowling comes to mind.

    I mean, I get what you’re saying, rob, and it’s a nice idea. But we’re not going to get there by fiat. And so you know, suggesting otherwise makes you sound kind of clueless.

  16. And so, because I didn’t refresh the page before posting. I didn’t see John say in about 20 words what I took 120 to say. I guess that’s why he’s the pro, who has written a book on astronomy (my field, for chrissake!), and I’m just the science-teacher-cum-internet-commenter. Le sigh.

  17. I’d never considered the gender balance of The Big Idea until John mentioned it, and The Big Idea is my favorite feature on Whatever. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but most of what I’ve read in the last 3 years has been chosen from the books discussed here.

    Obviously the name could reveal the gender, but if the purpose of the Big Idea is “raising awareness of the work in question”, why should gender matter at all? Is the book being discussed a good book that is made even better due to the gender of the author, or because of its unique take on a genre, a ripping yarn, a groundbreaking novel, regardless of the author’s gender?

    I’ve read many the works of many female authors who published under male pseudonyms as well as those who haven’t and enjoyed them immensely. In choosing those books I never once considered, whether it was “more romantic, lighter, less political”, I wanted to know if it was a story worth reading. On the occasions when I’ve discovered the gender of the author, generally my response was “Really? That’s interesting.” A good book is a good book, no matter the gender of the author. It also means a bad book is a bad book, no matter the gender.

  18. Good for you John. However, I have a numbers question that I didn’t see answered in the Strange Horizons post.

    While I have no doubt that there us a male bias in the number of reviewers and books being reviewed, I wonder how the numbers are influenced by the amount if “supernatural romance” books being published lately. Those seem to often be lumped into the sff category, and I’m guessing that like non-supernatural romance they are disproportionately written by women. And (to be a little mean here), they’re not exactly the type if material that begs for thoughtful reviews and deep analysis. Essentially, I think that you have a fair chunk of the romance market masquerading as fantasy because it has werewolves and vampires in it, and it’s being (rightfully) ignored by the sff reviewers in this survey. This might make things look a little worse than they are, though I’m sure that even after controlling for the “romance factor” there us still room for a lot of gender-related improvement.

    Also, this whole area seems like a great place for an enterprising grad student to find dissertation material.

  19. JasonG says: “…they’re not exactly the type of material that begs for thoughtful reviews and deep analysis”. Really? I mean, really? It’s like you never heard of Catherine Asaro or Lois McMaster Bujold. Alternatively, it’s like you never heard of the history of SF (in which it has been dismissed as “not worthy” by many folks at many times).

    Also, romance novels with werewolves and vampires? Are SF according to some people (including me). So don’t be so quick to kick them out of the genre, or you’re kicking out a bunch of fans.

  20. After posting I thought of a better response, which is: check out Dear Author, and Smart Bitches Trashy Books, for a couple of places where many romances are given serious thoughtful reviews and deep analysis.

  21. For the people saying the author’s gender doesn’t matter (it SHOULDN’T, but that’s another topic entirely), check out this post on Carrie Vaughn’s blog: http://carriev.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/true-story-2/

    TL;DR: A man comes up to Carrie at a con, say’s he’s a massive fan of her work and it’s all thanks to Bujold. He had refused to read books by female authors until one day, by accident, he picked up a Bujold book because he misread Lois as Louis. And then he realized that, gosh, women CAN write!

  22. he picked up a Bujold book because he misread Lois as Louis. And then he realized that, gosh, women CAN write!

    God, can she ever. She and R. M. Meluch are on the short, short list of authors I’ve been voracious about in recent years.

  23. I confess, to my shame, that my younger self spent several years thinking her first name was “Louis”. To be fair, it was mostly because I didn’t really care – the important part was “Bujold”, as that was the name by which these wonderful novels were shelved. I can be pretty sure the name wouldn’t have stopped me as I was a big Anne McCaffery and C.J. Cherryh (whom I knew was female) fan at the time. But there was definitely an unconcious assuption that SFF was written by males unless otherwise noted.

  24. I heard about a very interesting book, It’s called “Blind Spot” by Tony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji. It discusses(as far as I can get from the review) how prejudice is more often displayed by giving preference to your preferred group than by actively injuring the non-preferred group.

    Let that sink in a moment in all its glory. Perhaps the exclusion of female authors is not a conscious effort to hurt them but an unconscious effort to support a favored group (please feel free to carry this thought into every other corner of human life). This makes the sorts of EEO and minority/under-represented efforts that the friends of the rshd hate so much really important. You cannot correct this sort of bias by pretending it does not exist and hoping that people don’t favor the already favored.

    Good on you John for apparently not falling into this trap

  25. Hmm. Re the ‘romance stories’ let’s remember there are a fair number of male authors who write romance novels of all sorts who use female pen names to do so… And Jeez, my name is one that could be either male or female, unless I write it out in full at Patricia instead of Pat!

  26. From what I see in the bookstore, it looks like SFF is dominated by guys. Since you post Big Ideas based on ‘first come first serve’, it is interesting that women disproportionately take advantage of this to promote their books.

    I wonder why more guys don’t ask to be promoted?

  27. @ Cendare:

    “check out Dear Author, and Smart Bitches Trashy Books, for a couple of places where many romances are given serious thoughtful reviews and deep analysis.”

    Indeed, all proper places for serious discussions of whether to take the vampire or the werewolf to the prom. But we’re talking about reviews here, and I think that there are types of books for which reviews are helpful and types for which they aren’t. For example, I enjoy Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, but have never read a review of one and probably never will because really, what’s the point? They’re trashy and formulaic. I happen to like that flavor of trashy formula, but I can’t imagine that a review of the umpteenth novel in the series would shed any light on aspects of the story that hadn’t occurred to me. They’re popcorn books, beach reads, brain candy stuff. I know what I’m getting when I see them on the shelf at the grocery store, no further description is required. (And yes there are masculine and/or middle of the road equivalents. Charlie Stross’ Laundry books or Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series come to mind.)

    When I read a review of something I’m looking for information about an author who has done something new and thoughtful. Most romance, supernatural or otherwise, doesn’t. That’s fine, and I wish the fans many hours of happy reading. But reviews? I’ll pass and I think a lot of the editors at the publications cited do too. And thus we’re back to my point, which is really a stastical sampling question: does the pool of eligible books include supernatural romance or not? Because if it does, my guess is that some of what looks like a gender bias trend is really a this-isn’t-sff-bias trend. And while some people may not like not that particular line in the sand, it’s not as insidious as a gender bias.

  28. guess:

    “From what I see in the bookstore, it looks like what I notice in SFF section in the bookstore is dominated by guys.”

    FTFY.

  29. I’ll agree that the Stephanie Plum novels are “trashy and formulaic”. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t need reviews – there’s quality formula novels and godawful bad formula novels. I don’t need Janet Evanovich reviews because I’ve already binned her into the quality side, but I’d want one before I delved into a competitor in that genre.

    To steal an example from the movies, consider Spiderman and Catwoman – they were both formula tentpole superhero movies, but one was really good and one was a complete trainwreck. Thankfully, the critics were willing to review them, mostly for what they were, so I could decide which to see.

    In the end, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a gender thing. The SFF romance genre gets downplayed, but no one would suggest space opera or high fantasy or any of the classic SFF formula novels should get a similar treatment. Guess which niche is percieved to be “female”.

  30. You may not have fixed that, Bearpaw. guess might be British, and there *is* a dominance of men in the area here (moreso in SF than in F). IIRC Strange Horizons have written on this issue too. Look up recent discussion of the Clarke Award if you want to see what I mean, and the relative lack of books by women submitted for that was very much noticed.

    However, to go back to guess’s post:

    “Since you post Big Ideas based on ‘first come first serve’, it is interesting that women disproportionately take advantage of this to promote their books”

    Except, it’s not interesting, as they don’t disproportionally take advantage. As our esteemed host has noted, not every Big Idea is for an SF/F book, and indeed not all Big Ideas are even books! So, generally speaking, they’re probably pretty much proportionally represented, really.

  31. JasonG:

    “When I read a review of something I’m looking for information about an author who has done something new and thoughtful. Most romance, supernatural or otherwise, doesn’t.”

    Without getting into debating the value of specific titles, I think you’re making exactly the mistake people used to make when judging the quality of Sci-Fi, Mystery, and Comic Books. Just as you pointed out, some romance is strictly for fun, but that doesn’t mean all or even most falls into that category. If the review process has critics at these locations reading material then determining it values review, that would be appropriate. But if they’re selecting titles and reading them specifically to review, and dismissing titles because they think the genre is too fluffy, then some reflection is necessary.

  32. Cambias:

    “Ultimately, why does this matter?”

    You know, I’m looking forward to the day when the proportion of people who ask “why does this matter?” or some variation thereof is itself gender-balanced instead of overwhelmingly male, as it is in this very comment thread.

    And in this particular case, it matters because it matters to me, and this is my site.

    I’d note that your second question is not necessarily related to the first. Or necessarily related to the issue of proportion of Big Idea pieces written by men or women, since the Big Idea feature is genre-neutral; I’ll consider books in most any category (it tends to attract SF/F writers because those are the ones who know me and know I do it, I suspect).

  33. Nick H.

    guess might be British, and there *is* a dominance of men in the area here (moreso in SF than in F).

    And how. Lois McMaster Bujold (mentioned earlier in the thread as a fantastic SF writer, and her fantasy is fantastic, too) has a terrible time with her books in Britain. Her sales there are way below par. It’s very sad as it means many Britons are missing a fabulous writer.

    She’s got her books out on amazon.co.uk. But brick and morter stores really help generate sales and she’s way underrepresented there. It’s a shame in both directions.

  34. I do wonder if being published by Baen affects sales in the UK, either through distribution of marketing. Up until I was interacting more on the interwebs I never really read many authors publisehd Baen, as they simply weren’t in the shops. There was no exposure to authors like Bujold or Weber. Which is a crying shame.

    It also meant I wasn’t exposed to some of the less savoury Baen authors, so… swings and roundabouts.

  35. @Rob G

    Is the book being discussed a good book that is made even better due to the gender of the author, or because of its unique take on a genre, a ripping yarn, a groundbreaking novel, regardless of the author’s gender?

    I have seen trains of thought in other, similar discussions that went: “I judge a book only on its merits –> I took an inventory of my bookshelves and 90% of the books are by men –> therefore men tell better stories. QED.”

  36. I’m curious how many Big Ideas result in sales. I think so far I’ve bought one, but I saw another commenter here (Rob G) say that BIs are mostly where they get their reading from these days.

    As an aside, for the book I bought, I emailed the author and told her I got it based on her BI here, and she replied and seemed quite pleased with my email. I bet other authors would appreciate same.

  37. I wrote in to SFX magazine in 2010 about the exact same thing.

    This was after noting that a few of the female authors I read had rarely or never been reviewed in SFX, and subsequently looking through the three issues I had to hand at the time (not a massive sample I grant you but it was a letter to a magazine, not a formal study…) I found that, to quote from my email to SFX:

    “In issue #203, you reviewed two books by female authors, and two that were collaborations between men and women, compared with twelve solely by male authors. In issue #202 the situation was even worse – apparently Michelle Paver was the one and only female author you reviewed that month. Issue #201 had one solo female author, and one collaboration between a man and a woman.”

    It is possible I suppose that it has less to do with what books the SFX team (and other SF publications) choose to review, and more to do with what books publishers choose to send to them?

  38. “Essentially, I think that you have a fair chunk of the romance market masquerading as fantasy because it has werewolves and vampires in it, and it’s being (rightfully) ignored by the sff reviewers in this survey.”

    Sigh.

    As a sci-fi & fantasy fan who likes to read an occasional romance, I would say I’d absolutely like to see more SF publications review paranormal or sci-fi romances. Partly because it would be nice to be able to see in advance which ones I should avoid at all costs (I’ve had a few cases of sincerely regretting paying the money) but mostly because I hate the snobby idea that because a book is marketed as a romance it’s inherently inferior to “real” SF.

  39. I can (sorta) say I bought something because of the Big Idea – the new Guy Gavriel Kay novel. I say sorta because he’s been on my buy in hardcover list for at least a decade. I just hadn’t realized he had a new book out.

  40. “I do wonder if being published by Baen affects sales in the UK”

    I think that’s likely; I had also never heard of Baen, and of only a couple of its authors (both probably also published elsewhere) prior to discovering their website whilst searching for SF ebooks.

    I recently noticed a bunch of Baen books (including Bujold) in Waterstones and was amazed because the only other time I ever remember seeing them in print is in the library – where I had to specifically ask the library service to order most of the Vorkosigan series because they only had about three of the books over the whole region (they were very helpful and bought the lot).

  41. Rob: why should gender matter at all? Is the book being discussed a good book that is made even better due to the gender of the author,

    Most cops will tell you they’re not racist. And yet, racial profiling exists.

    So, lets say some city decides to survey every single stop made by cops and finds that, as a whole, cops stop black people far, far out of proportion to the number of blacks in the local population. Lets say that the city decides to implement some awareness training for police officers so that the numbers next year more closely match the population mix as a whole.

    Lets say that one specific cop during the middle of one of these training sessions says:
    “Why should race matter at all?”

    There is a known bias in police profiling. And the cop is saying “Why should race matter?” when the bias is pointed out.

    There is a bias in book reviewing. The above links show that the number of books recieved by Locus is about 50/50, which is somewhat representational of the market as a whole. And yet, reviews are severely proportionally favoring male authors.

    And here you are, Rob, like the nice police officer, asking the question: Why should gender matter at all?

    Because Rob, the numbers say that something is out of whack, that implicit or explicit bias is happening at a systemically observable level.

  42. Hi, John,

    I live as a woman, but do answer to both genders. The joke is “bisexual, bigendered, bisectional.” The last means I sing alto and soprano. So you’ve got one trans person on that list, FWIW.

    A.M. Dellamonica

  43. Two of my favourite authors are Robin Hobb and C.J.Cherryh. Both happen to be female, and both slide out of the gender question by being ambiguous. This is very common amongst female writers who want to be taken seriously in their genre – especially if that genre is SF/F. The trick is now so common I’ve come to expect SF authors with initials to be female.
    I’m a female SF writer myself, and yet, I still feel the same gender bias when it comes to /reading/ SF. Part of my bias is because traditionally, most SF writers were men, however some is also due to the surge in the romance genre. Rightly or wrongly, I associate overtly female writers with a certain kind of romance novel.
    I’d love to know exactly how the genders do tally in SF/F. I can’t believe it’s 50:50, and if it isn’t, that would have to skew the stats on the reviews as well.

  44. Apologies. In reading the comments I just realised that werewolf and vampire novels are classified as fantasy. I assumed they’d be a sub-genre of romance. That simple mistake obviously changes the numbers in a significant way. And reveals a bias I refuse to recant. :(

  45. The romance issue again exposes biases that come up to try and explain away the biases. :) In SF, men are still the majority for writers. (Which again brings up issues about women being discouraged from writing SF and being pre-rejected based on gender when they do SF.) But women do make up a solid 30 percent of SF writers, and women write more short SF then they do novels. In fantasy, which as people like to point out to me is the bigger market still, the majority issue has not been relevant since the early 1990’s, twenty years ago. Women make up 50 percent of the fantasy writers, and may be edging up even higher. That is not counting any of the paranormal romances. Fifty percent of epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, comic fantasy, dark fantasy, steampunk fantasy, futuristic fantasy, multi-dimensional and portal fantasy, books put out by Del Rey, Orbit, Spectra, Pyr, etc. are written by women. And the publishers are definitely going to reviewers with their titles from both male and female authors. But they aren’t getting fifty percent of the fantasy reviews in major SFF publications.

    Stephanie Plum is an excellent example — those suspense books are comic amateur (soft-boiled) mystery thrillers with romance sub-plots. They’re no different from many other comic amateur mystery thrillers with guy detectives who have romance sub-plots. But they are assumed to be romances and they are viewed as romances by many because the author is female. Likewise, Charlaine Harris never has written romance. She wrote mysteries, and then wrote a comic mystery thriller fantasy series with a psychic amateur detective who has romantic sub-plots — like the same sort of novels with guys. But the initial covers she was given caused many to assume she’s a romance author. And a lot of the female contemporary fantasy authors ran into the same thing whether they ever wrote romance before or not, often because their publishers or booksellers played up the romance sub-plots in marketing. The spine-bender covers with leather and skin that get put on a lot of female written fantasy may act with these social gender biases to again have reviewers pre-select out many books offered on the basis of having female authors. Reviewers aren’t avoiding paranormal romances and thus fewer females get reviewed because there are plenty of non-paranormal romance female fantasy writers, but they definitely seem to be assuming paranormal romance is bigger than it is and on the basis of author gender, greatly limiting the number of female writers they will consider.

    So again, unless a reviewer and magazines are willing to confront potential bias, like Mark is trying to do, that bias is going to remain. Trying to justify it by blaming paranormal romance (which is largely separate from category SFF,) or claiming women to be scarce on the ground (they aren’t,) or invisible shrinking flowers on promotion (they aren’t,) isn’t going to work from the numbers. If you don’t care whether an author is male or female, that’s great. Neither do I. I would also like to see a lot more males writing paranormal romance. But a majority out there apparently do care whether the author is male and female. Female authors therefore have to deal with obstacles to getting out in the market on the basis of their gender. And male authors lose out too, because if female authors get a better chance to sell, then because fiction is a symbiotic market, that means more growth and expansion of the whole market and more opportunities for male authors too. One of the reasons fantasy has grown as big as it has over the last fifteen years is because of women authors getting more attention in adult fantasy and YA fantasy. It benefits everyone to eliminate this bias, and the same for non-white authors in the Western market.

  46. Kat – “But a majority out there apparently do care whether the author is male and female.”

    If you’re talking about the audience and not the reviewers, I’m not sure that’s true anymore – it certainly was, and might still be, but isn’t required for the market we see. If the gatekeepers (editors/publishers/reviewers/etc) have a bias, the market ends up biased no matter what the customers think. And a lot of the gatekeepers have a bias because everyone had it 30 years ago when they were first cutting their teeth in the business. And, to be frank, there’s a lot of herd behavior in management – following the conventional wisdom and failing is generally safer for your career than defying conventional wisdom and succeeding.

    I’m not saying there’s no customer bias, btw. I’m just positing that the gatekeeper bias might be strong enough that we can’t actually tell much about the customers right now.

  47. And (to be a little mean here), they’re not exactly the type if material that begs for thoughtful reviews and deep analysis. Essentially, I think that you have a fair chunk of the romance market masquerading as fantasy because it has werewolves and vampires in it, and it’s being (rightfully) ignored by the sff reviewers in this survey.

    According to How to Suppress Women’s Writing the primary methods used to make sure people don’t consider works by women are the following:
    Prohibitions
    Bad Faith
    Denial of Agency (deny that a woman wrote it)
    Pollution of Agency (show that their art is immodest, not actually art, or shouldn’t have been written about)
    The Double Standard of Content (one set of experiences is considered more valuable than another)
    False Categorizing (women artists are categorized as the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists)
    Isolation (the myth of isolated achievement: only one work, or a short series of poems are considered great)[1][2]
    Anomalousness
    Lack of Models
    Responses
    Aesthetics

    What would that be, Pollution of Agency, The Double Standard of Content or Aesthetics? Or some combination of the three?

  48. Nathan D.: “If you’re talking about the audience and not the reviewers, I’m not sure that’s true anymore – it certainly was, and might still be, but isn’t required for the market we see. If the gatekeepers (editors/publishers/reviewers/etc) have a bias, the market ends up biased no matter what the customers think.”

    Again, as nice as it would be to pin everything on one small group, the bias is far more systemic then that. The bias is throughout our society and it is throughout the arts and it is throughout fiction. It is the view of women in the society. The publishers, reviewers, etc., don’t have that much gatekeeping control over the market. While reviewers in major publications keep women from marketing opportunities, they again don’t keep women from marketing — most readers don’t read reviews. And reviewers themselves are readers, reflections of the reading public. Publishers are very committed overall to female authors, but they do react in marketing to what they think readers want from reader feedback. There is the issue of getting boys to read and getting them to read stories written by females and possibly about females (the conditioning that female perspective is other, not normal, and lesser starts early.) A male protagonist oggling a woman’s breasts and legs is considered normal, the default, and does not interfere with the plot. A female protagonist oggling a guy’s butt is considered uncomfortable, sex-obsessed and interfering with the plot. A lot of readers feel that women can’t write battle scenes, politics, science, grim horror, hard action suspense, etc. A lot of readers regard most female written works as potentially fluffy, and possibly containing romantic girl cooties. We have an entire area of fiction called women’s fiction (separate from romance.) We don’t have an entire area called men’s fiction because men are the normal default. Women’s fiction is fiction about women, which is assumed to be read mainly by women because men are taught not to read about women. It is considered therefore not as important, lacking in depth, is less reviewed and not worthy of men’s attention. And that attitude is still very prevalent in fandom in SFFH. Usually readers will think that one or two women writers are exceptional and write most of the rest off.

    I would say that the usual ratio for readers I run into is that three out of four readers are less interested and more uncomfortable with women written fiction and the fourth one doesn’t care about the gender of the author. That is an improvement and it’s getting better, and the improvement is much faster (though older) than in games and comics. But the backlash we’ve seen in the last few years towards women fans and women authors, with women authors getting death and rape threats, prominent media people and comics artists decrying women erroneously as johnny come latelys who are fake and trying to give them sexy thoughts, the continued battle to get convention organizers to care that female attendees and authors don’t get groped, the bad stats on reviews, award nominations and wins — including reader driven awards like the Hugo, magazine and anthology make-ups, etc. indicate that the readership is still struggling a lot. And the industry and the SFFH media are also therefore struggling, both with inherent biases, but also with how to deal with readership biases, real and perceived. The sheer fact that many people here think women authors are scarce in SFFH and on the shelves illustrates the problem — women are often invisible and when noticed, often discounted as not worth the time on the basis of their gender. And when you point that out, even casually as Scalzi did, people backpedal over it furiously because they don’t want to deal with it. But it doesn’t change unless it’s made visible and people accept the stats.

  49. Jason: a fair chunk of the romance market masquerading as fantasy because it has werewolves and vampires in it, and it’s being (rightfully) ignored by the sff reviewers

    James: What would that be, Pollution of Agency, The Double Standard of Content or Aesthetics?

    Meh. Romance is a genre as much as SF or Fantasy. If you take a Romance Novel and add a vampire, it’s not suddenly transformed into Fantasy genre. Twilight is in the Romance genre, with a side salad of vampire. If SFF reviewers ignored Twilight, I wouldn’t begrudge them that choice. Granted, you’ll probably see some review it just because, hey, bandwagon.

    Kat: A lot of readers feel that women can’t write battle scenes, politics, science, grim horror, hard action suspense …

    Writers in general can’t seem to write battle scenes. The only ones I’ve read that I thought did a good job were Tolkien and Hemingway and they were both had experience in war. Women, for the most part, weren’t allowed in combat situations until relatively recently, so it might take a while to counterbalance that ban. Tolkien probably had PTSD and it shows in Frodo being permanently damaged by the Ring. Hemingway was nearly killed a couple times in WW1, he was badly injured in one attack and spent months in a hospital recovering.

    Both show fairly clearly in their writing that they had lost any infatuation with war.

    I’m interested in suggestions of any author who represetns war well, has a good plot, good characters, and good narrative voice. If they’re female authors, cool.

    I do recall reading a book a few years ago, written by a woman, main character was a woman, all important characters were women, and wasn’t bothered by any of that. But halfway through the book, I couldn’t help but notice that every male character was a cardboard jerk. And the fights that took place were always… horrendously represented. The motivations of the combatants were chest-thumpingly stupid. The tactics, nonexistent.

    That was probably the worst representation of combat I’ve ever read. It happened to be written by a woman. But women certainly don’t have a monopoly on bad combat scenes.

  50. “And a lot of the female contemporary fantasy authors ran into the same thing whether they ever wrote romance before or not, often because their publishers or booksellers played up the romance sub-plots in marketing.”

    I’ve noticed this with Devon Monk – she is often regarded as a romance author and even marketed as such by her publisher (presumably because romances sell more) but if she’s actually written a book where romance is the focus of the plot I’ve yet to find it. She writes urban fantasy & steampunk as far as I’m concerned.

    “Romance is a genre as much as SF or Fantasy. If you take a Romance Novel and add a vampire, it’s not suddenly transformed into Fantasy genre. ”

    This presumes that books can’t fit into more than one genre. So every comedy mystery or sci-fi thriller out there has to pick which club they want to join?

  51. @Emma Welsby:

    It is possible I suppose that it has less to do with what books the SFX team (and other SF publications) choose to review, and more to do with what books publishers choose to send to them?

    If whoever is responsible for commissioning and editing the reviews at SFX is just passively sitting on their arse waiting for the mail to be delivered, they should be fired and replaced with someone who’s actually going to put some time and effort into keeping up to date with what’s being published, and thinking imaginatively about what would be relevant to their readers. Oh, and any halfway competent reviews editor at SF/fantasy related magazines should have a bulging contact book full of the contact details of every publicist at every publisher in the field from Angry Robot to Gollancz. I’d be very much surprised if they weren’t perfectly happy to send review copies to any outlet that doesn’t think SF books written by women cause space herpes.

  52. You know, there’s a lot of military sci-fi that is just military fiction with zap guns and spaceships. When you get down to it, most fantasy is just medieval history fiction with magic and elves. And don’t get me started on that SteamPunk which is nothing more than Victorian fiction with googles.

  53. @JasonG

    I wonder how the numbers are influenced by the amount if “supernatural romance” books being published lately. Those seem to often be lumped into the sff category, and I’m guessing that like non-supernatural romance they are disproportionately written by women.

    Yes, but conversely, how many female authors write really good SF&F–or historical fiction for that matter–but get lumped into the romance category because they’re women? And how many female authors would prefer to write “straight” SF&F or historical fiction but are pressured towards the romance genre because of market realities? Why is a book like Sharon Shinn’s Archangel, which has a romance between its two lead characters as a major part of its SF plot, sometimes labelled a romance novel, but Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, which has an even more plot-relevant romance between its two leads and even more erotic scenes, never considered anything but epic fantasy?

    Also, what Jack Lint said.

  54. Kat: Relevant stats and events for the day:

    Oh lord. That doesn’t mean anything.
    I used to edit wikipedia quite a bit and gave up because of all the nonsense over there.

    looking into just a little bit, it appears mainly to be the work of one user/editor. Categories are a bit hard to track in wikipedia. You can’t just go to

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:American_novelists

    and look at the edit history. That’s a compiled page. Instead you have to go to the pages that are compiled into that category and check the edit history of each page. For example, on the american novelist category page, one can currently find the author Hailey Abbott listed.

    ht tp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hailey_Abbott

    If you scroll to the bottom of that page, you will see something that looks like:

    Categories: American women novelists American romantic fiction writers Living people

    If you click on the “edit history” tab at the top of the page, you’ll see tihs:

    ht tp://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hailey_Abbott&action=history

    Some user named Johnpacklambert changed the category for that page from American novelists to american women novelists. This happened on 1 april 2013.

    Johnpacklambert’s user page is here:

    ht tp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Johnpacklambert

    It says:

    My name is John Pack Lambert. I used to go to Brigham Young University but am now studying at Wayne State University. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

    You can see his last 500 edits here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Contributions/Johnpacklambert&offset=&limit=500&target=Johnpacklambert

    Looking at his edit history, he seems to be on a mission to recategorize… everything. He also appears to be a busy fucking beaver, as he did 500 edits in about 5 days.

    And THEN, if you go over to one of the search pages, you can search his edit history for specific phrases, and this link is the search results for all his edits that contained the phrase “american novelist”:

    ht tp://toolserver.org/~snottywong/cgi-bin/commentsearch.cgi?name=Johnpacklambert&search=american+novelist&max=500&server=enwiki&ns=none

    He’s got tons and tons of edits all recategorizing american novelists into american female novelists.

    Based on those results, it looks like he started recategorizing back in 11 December of 2012, where he removed a category of “American writers” and added the category “American novelists”

    Anyway, it appears that a whole bunch of this boils down to one guy.

  55. @Greg: In fairness, it’s a good demonstration of the mentality – whether innocuous or malign.

    (Innocuous: “The American Novelists entry is getting crowded – better take Wikipedia’s suggestion and start moving entries over to other subheads. Woman author? Goes in the “American Women Novelists” subhead.”

    (Malign: “Women aren’t real authors, so into the subhead they go so’s nothing but REAL MEN are in the main entry.”)

    I suspect it’s more the former than the latter…but yeah, in honesty, it was rather stupid.

  56. That it occurs to a man to create the category is an example of the systemic social issues women face because of how they are viewed by the whole society. It’s an ingrained idea — put the women off to the side as a category choice. The negative impact on women is the same whether it is a direct and malicious attack, or merely thoughtless and assumptive. It discriminates against women, removes women and silences female voices in the society. That it remained the official Wikipedia fact page until some women noticed and attempted to correct it is emblematic of the problems women authors face — and continue to face unless they speak up and draw attention to how history is being rewritten about them. That the majority of the Wiki’s editors and contributors are men who make the choice of how women are portrayed in the encyclopedia that everyone online uses as a main reference, that the NYTimes reviews only 40 female authors and over 200 male ones, etc., none of these things are done as malignant conscious sexism. But they are sexism and they impact women the same as if it were malignant and direct. It is the same sexist society that women are forced to live in and deal with, such as starting a rescue effort on Wikipedia. In order to get it to even occur to a man that it is a dumb and sexist idea, we have to throw a screaming fit and then we are shrews. Even if we don’t scream, we are shrews, irrational, overreacting, hating men, etc., etc., etc. Because the sexist society says it’s no big deal, that we stopped being people and instead were just women, which everyone in the society including women are trained to see as lesser. That the SFF media reviews fewer women authors is stupid. It’s also sexist. It also impacts women authors, women readers and women in general, including young women, negatively in a harmful manner. That the reviewers are nice clueless people doesn’t change it or the society at all. As long as they review women in fewer numbers and the bias continues, the harm and discrimination continues to be inflicted. Benevolent, unthinking discrimination is just as and often more harmful than deliberate and malicious attacks. That women are thought to be naturally nurturing, for instance, has been one of the major obstacles women face in everything from being allowed to parent their own children to serving in politics.

    I was putting a list together for someone today of secondary world fantasy authors over the last several decades who were major, bestselling authors who had impact on the category field. (And using Wiki in part for data actually.) When I was done, a huge amount of that list were women authors, authors like Katherine Kurtz, Nancy Springer, Robin Hobb. And I reflected on this conversation, all the people here (and granted not all of Scazi’s visitors are SFF fans,) and how so many people thought that these women — who had a massive impact in sales alone and most of whom are still publishing — weren’t there; they knew nothing of them. So that little, nonsense blip in Wikipedia? That’s the signal flag of the whole problem.

  57. Kat: That it remained the official Wikipedia fact page until some women noticed and attempted to correct it is emblematic of the problems women authors face

    ????

    There is no such thing as an “official” wikipedia anything. I can only assume that you have no actual experience editing on wikipedia. Any twit can edit any page. And EVERYTHING remains on wikipedia as it is until someone notices it and changes it. That’s how wikipedia works.

    He started making these changes on 1 April. Someone noticed it 3 weeks later and people started reverting. That’s how it works. It appears that a number of people have given him notice to cut it out and are reverting his changes. It may take a little time, but the system is correcting itself. The good outnumber the bad.

    we have to throw a screaming fit

    I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

  58. >Look up recent discussion of the Clarke Award if you want to see what I mean, and the relative lack of books by women submitted for that was very much noticed.

    I’m one of the Clarke judges – thanks for your accurate comment about the submissions. We have had a certain amount of flack for the all-male shortlist, and stand by our choices, but the nature of the criticism has been interesting. I have been told what to think (by men), how I should read SF (by men), scolded and told how bad I should be feeling (by men), informed that I am a misogynist, in denial and don’t understand things like unconscious gender bias, despite having been a feminist for lo these 30+ years (by men), whereas the majority of women commenting on the Clarke list have made remarks like “Oh, too bad the submissions by women were so low this year – it’s a buyer issue. Let’s hope it improves by 2014.” Really, with ‘allies’ like some of the guys out there, who needs enemies?

    We made our actual selection on hopelessly out-of-date elements like worldbuilding, characterisation, sense of wonder, whether the plot hung together, prose, narrative drive…You know, all that girly stuff.

    It is perhaps worth noting that one of the women authors whom we did seriously consider (I won’t say whom) turned down a SF prize elsewhere when her novel came out as she does not consider it to be SF.

  59. Really, with ‘allies’ like some of the guys out there, who needs enemies?

    Gee, thanks for that ynysprydain. Perhaps I’m not looking in the right place, but most of the comments I’ve read (from both men and women) just find it hard to credit that no women published a Clarke shortlist worthy novel in the United Kingdom this past year. (For the first time since 1988, by the way._ And if the equally all-male shortlist for the BSFA best novel award is any indication, perhaps they’re out there and nobody is reading the damn things.

  60. “I do recall reading a book a few years ago, written by a woman, main character was a woman, all important characters were women, and wasn’t bothered by any of that. But halfway through the book, I couldn’t help but notice that every male character was a cardboard jerk.”

    Fortunately, male authors never write books in which all the female characters are cardboard bimbos or mommies. That might impact how fans perceive writing by men.

  61. Elusis: male authors never write books in which all the female characters are cardboard

    Yes, you captured exactly what I was trying to say. Thank you.

  62. letter to the editor:

    it’s MADNESS, i tell you! MADNESS!!

    as stated on http://www.thelessergender.com, every woman is subjugating herself by accepting a spouse or a significant other who is a man and who is superior to her in height. everywhere i look, it’s tall man/short vagina. i don’t understand how vaginas everywhere could not be ashamed of themselves, proclaiming gender-equality while adding insult to inferiority by publicly proclaiming their lesser states-of-being with each and every date-night that they partake in.

    ALL WOMEN MUST DATE SHORTER MEN, STARTING TODAY!!!! DO IT FOR FEMINISM, DO IT FOR PRIDE, DO IT FOR KIRSTEN FIKE AND EVERY OTHER COAST-GUARD VAGINA WHO DIES OF HEAT-EXHAUTION ON THE JOB. DO IT FOR YEARDLEY LOVE, WHO WAS NOT WOMAN ENOUGH TO FIGHT OFF HER BOYFRIEND AND WHO WAS KILLED WITH HIS BARE HANDS..

    heck, do it for the memory of all “strong women” who were murdered not by a weapon but by a strong(er) man.

    first came gender-based sporting events to keep the vaginas from competing with men (and from being a detriment to the team). then came gender-based requirements for acceptance into both the military and the police-force (making these forces look more like farces, where masculine competency is sacrificed for the politically-correct inclusion of members of the shorter/smaller/weaker gender whose physical competency pales in comparison to that of men). for crying out loud, coney island went and added a “womens’ division” to their frankfurter-eating competition so that there could be such a thing as a female champion. AND, on top of everything else, there’s the “do it HERself” workshop at the home depot (which, like “curves fitness,” serves as a “mister rogers” type of “land of make believe” and caters to vaginas who are either too intimidated or too pious to function around a superior gender…ahem, make that “unjustifiably pious,” just because there is no reason for feminists to feel that their gender can trump anything but a defenseless baby’s head).

    as a way to battle the meek public-image of women that the aforementioned physical competitions contribute to, please IMPLORE all women to STOP LOOKING UP TO THEIR DATES. society must STOP seeing a man with a vagina on his arm if the man is taller than the vagina. women must be the tall ones in the relationship – if society got used to the concept of “short man/tall woman,” then the concept of “the lesser gender” would not necessarily signify the female gender. granted, mens’ broad shoulders would still point to a the existence of a stronger gender (as would their superior biceps, v-shaped backs, ripped chests and thick legs), but if every vagina would only date men who are shorter…well, i truly believe that the whole “masculine superiority” thing would slowly fade away.

    mr. dylan terreri, i
    dr. sheldon cooper, ii
    miss abingdon blazavich
    http://www.abbyblazavich.com
    ————————–
    “When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it.” – Madonna
    http://www.jaggedlittledyl.com/essays
    ————————–

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