Guest Post: Checking the Gender Balance

by Cheryl Morgan

Over the past few weeks there have been a lot of discussions around the blogosphere about matters of gender balance, particularly with respect to women science fiction writers. These matters are, of course, not new. One of the reasons for the sudden interest may in fact be the recent sad death of Joanna Russ, whose How to Suppress Women’s Writing deals explicitly with this topic. Previous years have also seen debates about the number of women in anthologies, on award short lists and so on.

Of late some of the news has been good. Anthology editors such as Jonathan Strahan are very much aware of the issue, and the number of women on the Hugo and Nebula ballots appears to be increasing. Lauren Beukes recently became an international sensation after winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award. But in other areas it has been very much the same old story.

The most recent round of controversy has centered around The Guardian, a British newspaper with an internationally read website. The paper has been very proactive in covering SF&F literature, using young bloggers such as Sam Jordison, Alison Flood and Damien G. Walter. But at the same time there is a suggestion of an emphasis on science fiction as “books for boys”. A similar attitude was displayed by Ginia Bellafante in her now notorious New York Times review of the Game of Thrones TV series.

Prompted by the British Library’s wonderful summer exhibition about science fiction, “Out of this World”, The Guardian’s weekend review section devoted an entire issue to SF. This included a number of luminaries writing about their favorite novel. Most of the people asked to contribute were men. Of the men, only Kim Stanley Robinson picked a book by a woman, and many of the women also picked books by men. Later The Guardian asked its readers to pick their all-time favorite SF book. Nicola Griffith did some quick math on the results and found that women writers accounted for only 4% of reader picks.

From there the debate spiraled away with many people, including myself, pontificating on the subject. The Guardian ran an article by David Barnett with the provocative opening line of “Is science fiction sexist?”, illustrated with Chris Foss’s 1975 cover of J.G. Ballard’s Crash which features a near-naked woman. Unsurprisingly the article’s comment thread quickly became dominated by male trolls.

The same British Library exhibition prompted the BBC to take an interest. Gwyneth Jones, Karen Traviss and Farah Mendlesohn were invited onto Radio 4’s venerable Woman’s Hour program to talk about women in SF. Traviss, who writes exclusively for US-based publishers, said that she had experienced no problems because of her gender, despite specializing in military themes. Mendlesohn, on the other hand, noted that, “…the market in the States is far better, the market here is problematic…”. Jones expressed the view that, “the word feminist is poison to many sectors of the science fiction audience.” A transcript of the session is available at Torque Control. In addition The Guardian invited Gwyneth Jones onto a podcast in which she appears to give the impression that hardly any women write SF.

Before I get on to discussion the actual issues, I should comment on the role of The Guardian in all this. Although it is predominantly sympathetic to feminism, the paper still has to earn advertising revenue, and if you are looking for lots of hits on a website then controversy is the way to go. That appears to have informed their SF coverage. John Clute tells me that contributors to the review special issue were given a range of topics to write about, including “a book that influenced you a lot as a child,” which he opted for. He was somewhat surprised to see all of the picks published as the contributors’ view of the “best science fiction novel.”

Ursula K. Le Guin had a similar experience. On her website she comments:

For this article on sf books in the Guardian, I agreed to write about a book or writer that inspired or influenced my writing. I thought it would be useful and refreshing to write about a writer not usually thought of as having written fantasy or sf, who taught me a great deal about writing them. But the headline calls it ‘Best SF,’ which isn’t, I think, really what any of us was asked to write about.

So what appears to have happened here is that someone at The Guardian decided to “sex up” that article in order to generate fan controversy. David Barnett had asked me for input to his article, but while I was writing that up the newspaper insisted on rapid publication and he had to go live  without my help (though he did kindly link to my post in the comments). And Gwyneth Jones has said that on the podcast she was encouraged to speak off the cuff without allowing time for thought. Whether the issue is lack of time, a desire for spontaneity, or the need to generate controversy to drive traffic, the business realities of modern journalism do not always allow for thoughtful, reasoned discussion, and we should be wary of assuming people meant to say what the media quote them as saying.

I note also that The Guardian’s staff appear to have never heard of Nicola Griffith, referring to her in the podcast as simply “a sharp-eyed blogger”. There is considerable irony in people discussing the invisibility of women SF writers being unaware that the woman they were quoting was a Nebula-winning author.

The machinations of journalists aside, there does appear to be something of a trans-Atlantic divide here. On Twitter British writer, Sarah Pinborough, responded to the Nicola Griffith blog post with: “Seen another ‘bias against women in SF’ blog going around. Christ, I’m bored and I’m a girl.” Blogger Amanda Rutter said, “For me, this is the height of a storm in a teacup, and I’m so tired of hearing about it now.”  Over at the Aqueduct Press blog, Timmi Duchamp expressed surprise at some of the things Gwyneth Jones had said, and wondered if they perhaps had different views of what feminism was all about.  A response from Jones appeared to confirm those differences.

Are British publishers and fans more sexist than their US counterparts? Farah Mendlesohn did some quick counts of winners of science fiction awards and found that the (fan-voted) British Science Fiction Association Awards had a very low number of women winners (2 Best Novel wins in 41 years) compared to other well-known awards, although the (juried) Arthur C. Clarke Award seemed fairly well-disposed towards women. The matter was even discussed at the BSFA’s recent Annual General Meeting, which lead to a long discussion on Juliet E. McKenna’s LiveJournal.

The discussion between Duchamp and Jones suggests a genuine difference in attitudes, with Jones seeing feminism as purely about “The Battle of the Sexes” and Duchamp taking a more diverse civil rights approach. I addressed these issues on my own blog.  It isn’t clear whether this is a real cultural difference, or simply an artifact of limited data.

What, however, of the issue that started the recent discussions? Why is it that, when several hundred presumed fans were asked to name their favorite SF book, only 4% picked a book by a woman? Why also did a recent Gollancz poll looking for the top 5 SF books of all time  feature only 2 women in a field of 25? Why does Forbidden Planet’s recent “50 SF Books You Must Read”  include only 4 by women?

This being the Internet, I should start by addressing the obvious strawman argument. No one is expecting a 50:50 split. But 96:4? Really?

Many of the responses to the discussion have focused on the fact that The Guardian’s readers were asked to pick their all time favorite. The explanation given was that, back in the old days, SF really was a boys own preserve, so if you look back over time the vast majority of books will be by men. Gwyneth Jones appears to echo this idea, suggesting that women only came to the fore during the 1970s. Recent academic research, however, suggests that this is not true. There were many women writing SF back then, and they were not all C.L. Moore. Books such as Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, edited by Justine Larbalestier, and Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women’s Science Fiction by Lisa Yaszek have shone a torch into the dark recesses of early SF, and found many women writers to be admired.

Why have we forgotten these women? Partly feminism is to blame. The eager young feminists of the 1970s were keen to throw off the perceived shackles of their mothers, and rejected many of their predecessors as too “domestic” in their subject matter. But also we would have remembered these women more had their work been discussed more at the time, and had they won awards. Recent studies of mainstream literary reviewing have shown that men tend to dominate in reviewing roles, and they tend to review mainly books by men. At Strange Horizons Niall Harrison has shown that the SF&F community exhibits similar habits. Equally men have dominated the major awards of our field.

What is happening here is the creation of what we might call “his-story”. If the only books talked about, the only books that find their way into the historical record, are books by men, then anyone looking back over time will get the impression that the only important people involved in the field, perhaps the only people involved in the field, were men. The only way to break out of this cycle is to make sure we talk about women SF writers, and remember them when it comes to awards. The SF Mistressworks blog, started by British fan Ian Sales, is one such initiative.

The root causes of the problem, however, doubtless run deeper. Gwyneth Jones blames British fans. If they had bought more books by women, she says, then publishers would sign up more women to write such books. I have some sympathy with this. In the past I have championed the cause of fine British writers such as Liz Williams and Karen Traviss, and have been disappointed at how the UK SF community has treated them. But publishers also may be at fault. In a recent blog at Book View Café, Ursula K. Le Guin vented about how marketing departments at publishers (whom we are led to believe call all the shots these days) tend to get tunnel vision when it comes to looking at new writers. Want to sell YA fantasy? Well it has to look like the next Harry Potter, because “that’s what kids want”. By the same logic, if the most successful science fiction books are by men, the over-focused marketing executive can easily turn that into “science fiction by women doesn’t sell well enough, we won’t buy any.” Of course if every publisher thought like that then no one would have bought The Hunger Games, but it only takes a proportion of them to think that way to make life harder for the female SF writer.

Look deeper still and the issues are cultural. Boys are still generally brought up to believe that being “girly” is something to be ashamed of. Consequently they avoid female things for fear of catching “girl cooties”. That means that they tend to grow up mostly reading books by men. I’ve met many men who claim that they never read books by women, but I can’t think of any woman I know who never reads books by men. If that is the case, it is no wonder that, if you ask a man to name his favorite book, it will probably have been written by a man. And it is a self-perpetuating cycle, because if fathers say they never read books by women, their sons will grow up thinking that is the right thing to do. While such cultural attitudes exist, no amount of pointing fingers at fans, publishers, bookstores or whatever will change things much.


Cheryl Morgan is the non-fiction editor of Clarkesworld Magazine. She blogs at Cheryl’s Mewsings and Science Fiction Awards Watch. She owns Wizard’s Tower Press, which operates an ebook store. Cheryl is also a director of the parent organization for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards. Her writing and editing have won her three Hugo Awards. She lives near Bath in England.

32 Responses

  1. Jeannine Hall Gailey

    It seems so strange because, growing up in the seventies, I just assumed everyone had read the same scifi I had: yes, Ray Bradbury and Isaac A, but also Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Ursula LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle. I think of my friend Felicity Shoulders, who can really write a sci-fi story (as her appearances in Asimov’s and her recent Nebula nomination might attest)and hope she doesn’t encounter any idiotic sexism in her publishing forays. Because really, shouldn’t we be past that now? But I don’t think we are, yet.

  2. --E

    nitpick: 4 out of 50 or 2 out of 25 is a ratio of 92:8, not 96:4. Figured I’d note it before the trolls show up and claim you’re inflating the bias. (Because 92:8 is nearly ten percent and isn’t that sufficient tokenism? You chicks are never satisfied!)

  3. JonCG

    Yes, the Guardian brief was write about a book that has influenced you. I wrote about Shadow of the Torturer but turned out they had a piece about Gene Wolfe, so I offered them a handful of books including Maul by Trish Sullivan (which is spectacular) and they chose MJH’s Light, again fine because it’s an amazing book. My gut feeling (fwiw) is they didn’t take Maul because Trish was, unknown to me, also contributing and it might have looked like log rolling. 

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  5. Amanda

    E: The 96:4 is a percentage. To quote: “Why is it that, when several hundred presumed fans were asked to name their favorite SF book, only 4% picked a book by a woman?”

    I really hope you were being sarcastic about tokenism.

  6. GlennS

    I guess I’m weird. I never paid much attention to my dad’s book-reading tastes; he doesn’t read much outside magazines. Probably Sarah Palin’s little adventure is the first book by a woman he’s ever read, and he’s had his AARP card a while.

    Mom, on the other hand, is the bibliophile. From her library I read *both* Nancy Drew *and* the Hardy Boys, progressed to Christie, devoured Jenkin’s authoritative tome on Elizabeth I for my high school senior theme, and then in college picked up LeGuin and Vonda McIntyre alongside Asimov and Pohl. Katherine Kurtz set my world on its ear, and Bradley was where Mom and I found common ground again. Elizabeth Moon taught me that I like characters that screw up by the numbers occasionally, a delight continued in Bujold’s work.

    I do think it’s a question of awareness, and of culture. Nobody ever told *me* “girls can’t do x”; it surprises me more to find out a writer is of a lesser-known *religion* than it does to find out she’s female… from *my* point of view, I think it’s weird to see other guys get their anatomy in a sheet bend over the fact that an author in question isn’t built like they are.

    That doesn’t, alas, mean it doesn’t happen.

    You’ll pardon me for doing the guy thing and proposing a solution? I think you’re looking at it. The Internet allows discussions like this to get attention, out in the open, unfettered by the old boy network. It also allows women reviewers to be heard, particularly on Amazon, which is rapidly becoming a yardstick by which a book’s performance is measured, particularly amongst B- and C-list authors… but also on individual blogs. I’ve bought a number of things on the recce of Angela Korra’ti, a budding author as well as a voracious reader and reviewer – I think the last thing I bought on her say-so was Cherie Priest’s _Dreadnought_.

    Please note I’m not trying to defend “guys” by my own anecdotes… I’m just saying the voices are starting to be heard… and I’m enjoying the read…. and surprising myself. I didn’t think I’d enjoy zombies, or Austen’s style, but Korra’ti hooked me on Priest, and Kowal personally won me over on _Shades of Milk and Honey_… and then went out and landed the VPship of SFWA. I’m thinking there *needs* to be more voices… if for no other reason than to answer the question, “what the heck *else* are we missing?”

    Please, ladies, more? I’d love to know what else I might be missing.

  7. Kathrine Roid

    @E – You probably didn’t mean this, but by suggesting “tokenism” is only necessary and calling us “chicks,” you don’t sound like you have a lot of respect for women. Tokenism is having one black guy in the team and killing him first (which the latest X-Men movie has shown isn’t a dead ploy).


    I’ve never noticed the sex of the authors I like and buy before. I didn’t – don’t – care. Now that you’ve brought up the subject and I think about it, if you asked me to name my favorite speculative fiction authors, you’d get a couple male names. My SF bookshelf appears to be “biased” toward men 3 1/2 to 1. My SF wanted list only has one female author (although I did just knock one lady and her book off the list because I found out more about the book and decided it wasn’t for me). For pete’s sake, I’m female!

    I see three ways to explain the figures and facts you presented.

    Option #1)The figures are some of the more shocking (Ie, if you were to compare other figures you might find the ratio even out at least a bit more.), haven’t been adjusted properly for other factors (For example, I’m interested in these figures: What is the ratio of men to women SF authors</em? You can't expect a semi-even break if one sex dominates the authors of the genre.) or are otherwise not completely reliable. Understand me here, I'm not saying Cherly did this on purpose, not at all! It's just a possibility.

    Option #2)Men are more prone to write better or loved or popular or whatever sf. It is a fact of biology that men and women are wired differently; we have different chemicals and hormones coursing through our bodies and brains. Just another possibility. I wonder along these lines whenever someone jumps up and down and yells that women are only payed so-and-such cents for every dollar men make.

    Option #3)SF women authors are being forgotten by authorities (reviewers, etc.) or audience.

    First, a male POV will often – usually, even – appeal to both sexes, while it would take some work to find a female POV that appeals to both sexes. Since – I'm assuming – it is easier for writers to write from their own sex's POV, I could imagine this affecting women's stand in this field as well. This could account for more women choosing books written by men than men choosing books written by women.

    I'm also curious about the ratio of men to women in the audience. Cheryl already pulled that figure about male reviewers. If the readers of a market are mostly of one sex or another, some leeway must be allowed for those readers preferring the differences of their own sex that come out in writing. That would be a natural affect of the market you just have to deal with. Or you could start groups to rouse up female interest as readers in SF and try to change the market, but that's another matter entirely.

    So, theoretically, it is possible for the audience to have a perfectly natural “bias” and we women just got the short end of science.

    That’s my $.02. I suspect No. 1 is the case – I’m optimistic that way – but I just don’t know enough facts. This article isn’t convincing me. But what’s the point? Am I supposed to get upset over this and worry that I’ll not be as successful as a SF writer because I’m female? Of course not. Am I supposed to go run donate or volunteer for groups who claim to work against this “problem”? Um. . .

    If you think people need to have and read and like more female SF, shut up, sit down, write some good SF, and market like your life depends on it. You’ll have taken a route that can’t be bad and you’ll have made another SF written by a woman for people to choose.

    (A little side warning about those groups and sites that exist for the purpose of “raising awareness” for women’s SF: they can claim to be trying to give a boost to a smothered cause (maybe they are, maybe they aren’t), but it easily turns into reverse discrimination. Be careful. Reverse discrimination helps nobody, and makes the cause look hypocritical. Personally, I think sites and groups that exist to up the quality or appeal of SF written by women – aimed at the authors – would be more useful in this endeavor.)

  8. David Marshall

    I personally don’t care what sort of genitals the author has. I just want to read a good story.

  9. Susan

    But it isn’t 4 out of 50, it is 4 out of 100. There were 500 men to 18 women, so it is not quite 4% actually–Griffith rounded up.

  10. JMS

    Thanks for this.

    David Marshall, you are making two significant oversimplifications in your post. A) Gender and genitals are not synonymous. B) Gender does seem to have a lot to do with which of the “good stories” get to market, and to whom they are marketed.

    Books aren’t carried from the author’s desk into the hands of readers by the Book Fairies, but by an industry that is susceptible to gender bias at every level. And by “at every level” I mean from editorial to production to scheduling to sales, marketing, and promotion on the publishing side; from buying to display to promotion on the retail side (not to mention handselling at the bookstore level); and regarding both reviewing and publicity on the media side.

    Looking carefully at what is going on at each of these levels is part of determining how we got to where we are, and how we move on from there.

  11. JMS

    And by “susceptible” here I mean “it can happen.” I don’t know at which of those levels it does happen, or to what extent it happens, and people looking at those things are to be commended for providing us with more information.

  12. Allan Lloyd

    I’m not being a troll, honestly, and in the mainstream many of my favorite writers are women (why is it impossible to say this without sounding like a racist saying some of my best friends are black) but I really dislike these lists of “neglected” female writers. The reason many are neglected is because they are not very good. As soon as someone parades Anne MacCaffrey as a good writer I just think of the huge gulf in standards in science fiction in general.

    If we look at the facts we see that, historically, many more men than women write science fiction. Probably a similar proportion are pretty bad. But where are the female writers of the stature of John Crowley, Gene Wolfe, Brian Aldiss, Mike Moorcock, J G Ballard, Christopher Priest, Neal Stephenson, Michael Bishop, Jonathan Carroll, Michael Swanwick and many more. I would only count Ursula Leguin, Gwynneth Jones, James Tiptree Jnr and Joanna Russ as being comparable in quality.

    There are many female writers who are good but not yet in the top ranks and these will improve as time passes and they fulfill their potential, but it does no-one any good to write lists of neglected writers who are not very good. It is just tokenism of the worst sort. Of course I support and encourage women to write sf, and I’m sure many publishers have sexist attitudes, but it does not help to encourage readers to look up “classics” which are best forgotten.

  13. Ole

    “Nicola Griffith did some quick math on the results and found that women writers accounted for only 4% of reader picks.”

    Ehm, no. That is incorrect. Griffith took the estimate that Damien G. Walter stated of 500 books (not authors) suggested, counted the women mentioned in the comments of the article asking for suggestions (the suggestions had a separate form on the page), and came up with 4%.

    I counted the authors in the follow-up article that has every suggestion that came through the form. There are 165 authors suggested, of which 20 are women. That comes to 12.12%.

    On the article Griffith uses as the basis of her “math” there are only 135 authors mentioned in the comments, of which 19 are women, making 14%.

    I have no problem with a discussion of if this is sexism or not, but when you write an article called “Checking the Gender Balance” you should actually check the gender balance. Neither 12% nor 14% are close to 4%.

  14. --E

    Yes, the comment about tokenism was definitely sarcasm, as if from the POV of the men who seem to think there is no gender bias in SF.

    Cheryl: Ah, I see now where you were pulling the percentage from. I was confused because it’s right after those other two citations, so I thought you were referencing those.

  15. --E

    David Marshall Says: I personally don’t care what sort of genitals the author has. I just want to read a good story.

    –>I’m sure you honestly do.

    The problem is that they human brain isn’t a perfect filter. It is full of biases its owner doesn’t even know about, and can’t even see. (Try looking at your own eyes. Can’t do it without a mirror, right?)

    There’s the now fairly famous study regarding blind auditions for orchestras. ( may allow you to download it). The tl;dr version: When orchestras started doing blind auditions, where the judges couldn’t know if the performer was male or female, suddenly the percentage of women making it through to the final round was a lot higher.

    Without even realizing it, the judges would, if they knew a woman was playing, mentally filter the sound they heard and interpret it as inferior.

    That’s the problem with bias. It’s built in to the culture. A person with honest desires to not be biased may nonetheless be biased. I don’t know what they cure for this is, but raising awareness amongst people that “what they see” isn’t necessarily “what is there” might be a good first step.

  16. Petréa Mitchell


    The Internet may look wide-open, but it can actually amplify the old-boy-network effect becuase it’s a lot harder to have accidental encounters with new things you might like. (And that’s even before you add in the effect of software designed to offer you recommendations; if Google or Facebook notices you’re reading mostly men, they’ll suggest links to more men.)

    What might you be missing? I’ll assume you already know about the biggest female names in the field… Have you tried any Patricia McKillip’s books yet? I’ve read _The Bell at Sealey Head_ and _The Bards of Bone Plain_, and they’re both great.

  17. Ole

    Looks like my earlier comment didn’t get through. I hope I didn’t offend anyone, and I apologise if I did.
    I’ll try again.

    I’m very concerned with facts, and when I saw the 4% in Nicola Griffith’s article it didn’t look quite right so I checked it myself, this is what I found.

    The comments on the Guardian article mentions 135 authors, 19 of them women. Making 14% of authors mentioned women.

    There was a separate form for suggestions, and a follow-up article in the Guardian with all the suggestions. I also counted these. There are 165 authors suggested, 20 of them women. Making 12.2% of the authors suggested women.

    I think the debate about sexism is an important one, but I think in any debate you hurt your argument if you don’t stick to the facts. There is no doubt that the percentage of women mentioned by Guardian readers is still low, but it is actually three times higher than the 4% everyone is quoting.

  18. Stuart Clark

    I’m surprised and a little tired of the fact that three weeks after this poll was taken, this debate is still raging on. To me, this whole “women sf writers are being ignored” in this particular instance is a straw man argument, and I’ll explain why.

    Let’s lay down a basic fact – this was a favourite 500 list based on reader votes, not a best of list decided upon by luminaries in the SF field. I don’t think ‘favourite’ and ‘best’ are interchangeable. As a result, I think basing any argument on a bunch of readers’ preferences is putting you on shaky ground to begin with. That said, there are a number of factors that just don’t seem to be taken in to consideration here. Firstly, who voted? (and more importantly, who didn’t?) – taking these results, which represent a tiny subset of the sf reading population and extrapolating them to encompass everyone for the sake of argument distorts them beyond all recognition. For every person who did vote, there are dozens, no, millions, who didn’t. I’m sure a lot of those non-voters have a favorite sf author who is female. Therefore I have trouble reading this poll as representative as a whole.
    Secondly, of the people who did vote, who can say what their reading tastes are like? I’m sure there are a lot of voters who’ve never read a female SF author – but that’s their choice – in which case voting for a female author is impossible.
    Finally, let’s look at the medium through which this poll was conducted – The Guardian. The Guardian is a high-brow, broadsheet newspaper with a readership that is a roughly 50/50 male to female split, but which is heavily weighted towards older readers. 48% if it’s readership is over the age of 45. 69% of it’s readership is over the age of 35. Now let’s look at the authors who top this favourites list with the most mentions. Asimov, Heinlein, Bester, Clark, Wyndham – all from the golden age of sci-fi. PKD, Herbert, Stanislaw Lem, and Ursula Le Guin – all of whom were born in the 1920’s. Then lets look at who’s under represented (apart from women), China Mieville with two mentions and John Scalzi – also with two mentions. Both of these men are massive in SF today. Notably absent – Cory Doctorow. Again, another huge influence in SF circles – yet i don’t see him throwing his rattle out of his cot.
    Put together though all of this starts making sense. The only “surprise” in all of this is that Ian M Banks tops the list with 32 mentions.

    Again, let me get back to the fact that we know nothing about the people who voted. One might assume that they are SF fans, but it could also be true that they are random people who read a SF classic once, saw a poll and voted for the only book they could.

    I think one of the more troubling aspects of the argument being made is the implication that voters just should have chosen more women and that by not doing so they snubbed women authors. Let’s remember that this was a favourites poll and there’s no accounting for individual tastes. I read a lot of fantasy growing up. I tried Anne McCaffrey – didn’t like her stuff. I tried Marion Zimmer Bradley, didn’t like her stuff either, but hey, I didn’t like David Eddings either. Now, if you ask me who my favourite fantasy author is and I reply Terry Brooks that doesn’t make me sexist, it just means I like Terry Brooks. It doesn’t mean female authors aren’t being read. It’s almost like someone is saying, “Here, choose between apples and oranges – but don’t pick oranges.”

    I feel like a huge amount of assumptions are being made and those assumptions flaw the argument. The only other person who makes any sense to me on this topic is here

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  20. Kaz Augustin

    Here from Cora Buhlert’s excellent blog!

    OT but this is a useful tip. If you are in any way not the majority (due to sex, colour, creed, inclination, whatever), then a newspaper report will try to milk you for every piece of controversy it can get. I was forcibly reminded of this after a recent interview with a national overseas paper.

    I knew the paper was trolling for arguments to buttress a particular position of theirs and I gave, say, 3 positive remarks for every negative remark about the subject at hand. To nobody’s surprise, ALL the negative remarks made it through. NONE of the positive ones did.

    I also remember stories from other writers, one who, for example, was also doing an interview and “hammed it up” for the photographer while waiting for the interviewer to arrive. Guess which kind of photo (professional or silly) accompanied the interview text?

    Never trust any journalist. There’s always an agenda at play and they will play you.

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  22. NNH

    I’m so over the argument that goes, “I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t notice the gender/race/sexualities etc. of the authors whose books I read. I don’t care who or what they are.” That’s not enlightenment, it’s indifference. It’s a position that people take who don’t want to be bothered to do anything differently.

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  24. Sean Melican

    Whether women are represented at 4% or 14%, the fact is that women — and people of color and LGBT — are underrepresented in readers’ polls, awards, reviews, and bookshelves. The causes are many and varied and reinforcing.

    David Marshall said, “I just want to read a good story.”

    Take that statement apart. For starters, what is a ‘good’ story? Are you interested in reading a story about a black, a Muslim, a bisexual, a woman, a transgendered person? More importantly, are you willing to read a story that is about any of those issues?

    Are publishers willing to publish those stories?

    Are writers writing and submitting those stories?

    Are reviwers discussing these stories?

    If writers aren’t interested in writing them (because they believe they won’t be published) then they won’t be available to readers. If publishers don’t publish them (believing they won’t be profitable) they won’t be avalable to readers. If reviewers don’t review them (because they aren’t interested in reading books about blacks, a Muslims, bisexuals, a women, a transgendered persons), readers won’t know they exist. So when they are written and published, readers don’t know they exist, so they don’t buy and read and talk about them, so publishers conclude they aren’t profitable, so writers decide it isn’t worth the time to write them.

    Blaming any one group is stupid, because each depends on the other. Publishers need to make money so writers need to write profitable books. Reviewers can, in theory, have more leeway but (I speak from experience) they can also be forced to review books for reasons having nothing to do with the book’s qualities.

    Saying it doesn’t matter what the author’s identity is is stupid, because readers need to be willing to read potentially challenging stories otherwise the stories will be the same as if the writer were white, male, and heterosexual.

    Saying the statistic is 14% not 4% is stupid, because either way, it’s a substantial underrepresentation. Not to mention that the numbers are generated from a subjective experience (favorite or most influential book) to generate a pseudo-objective value. Unless there is an underlying agree-upon framework for generating statistics, they are meaningless numbers.

    Saying it doesn’t matter is stupid, because diversity in authorship and story content is critical.

    Saying it doesn’t matter is stupid, because science fiction and fantasy can explore more permutations of identity than stories grounded in historical periods (and yes, today is a historical period).

    Saying it doesn’t matter is stupid because women buy more than half the books published. Yet SF and F continue to be a ridicously small minority of all books published. Is that truly a coincidence?

    Saying it doesn’t matter is stupid because, well, it matters.


  26. Amanda

    Alan Lloyd: I know you’re trying, but trying doesn’t help when you parrot the arguments set out in Russ’ “How to suppress women’s writing”.

    Stuart Clark: Ah well, I suppose we couldn’t get through one discussion about sexism without one mansplainer. Perhaps you need to read Russ’ book AND Derailing For Dummies.

    I love it when men try to tell us what is and isn’t sexism.

  27. Tocks Nedlog

    It’s too bad that there aren’t any women writers — say like with names like Lois McMaster Bujold or Connie Willis — that have come along to win a high percentage of the major SF awards over the past 20-25 years.

    What’s that? There has?


    Never mind.

  28. Ian Sales

    Tocks, it’s too bad there have been 55 Hugos for Best Novel handed out but only 15 women have won it. Which I make to be 27%, otherwise known as “a low percentage”. It’s too bad it didn’t happen until 1970. It’s too bad that women are under-represented and no amount of sexist snark can change that.

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