Are You a Female SF&F Writer? You Might Be Able to Get Published, But Good Luck Getting Reviewed
by Rebecca Pahle | 2:09 pm, April 24th, 2013
For the past two years speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons has put their researcher’s hat on to look at gender in genre publishing. Specifically they analyze the breakdown of male and female authors, male and female reviewers, and how many books by male and female authors get reviewed.
So what’d they find about genre publishing in 2012? There’s good news and bad news.
First, let’s get some methodology out of the way: The 1,326 books included in the study were those received by Locus magazine in January, April, July, and October 2012. Locus doesn’t get some genre books that are marketed as mainstream fiction, so those aren’t included. The reviews of 14 sci-fi/fantasy magazines and journals, including Locus, published in the US and the UK were counted.
Now to the findings. The good: The male-female split when it comes to authors is pretty even, with 45.8% of books written by females and 52.5% written by males (the remaining 1.7% is made up of mixed-gender partnerships and unknowns). The genre world’s a bit more dude-heavy in the UK than in the US; only 41.3% of the genre books published in the UK are by women, compared to 47.3% in the US. (I should note here that the representative sample for US books was much larger: 963 to the UK’s 363.)
The UK breakdown is a bit disappointing, but overall I’d say 45.8% is pretty darn good. Surely a similar percentage of reviews, then, will be of books written by women!
Ah. No. That’s the bad news. For nine of the 14 publications included the percentage of reviews of female-written books is around or under (sometimes well under) 25%. Locus itself is about 50/50 (good for them!), and one magazine, Cascadia Subduction Zone (mission statement: “to treat work by women as vital and central rather than marginal”), reviews more books written by women than by men. You can see the chart here. It’s pretty depressing.
So, basically, there are tons of female sci-fi authors out there, but they’re not getting nearly the same coverage as their male counterparts. (Go on, tell me that this particular gender equality is a result of women just not wanting to be reviewed or of women inherently being less review-worthy. Someone’s going to say it. I’m just waiting to see who.) That could be a result of there being many more male reviewers than female (you can see that chart here). But there’s another major factor at play. While the gender ratio of in sci-fi/fantasy is close to even, that’s not the case if you break it down into subgenres; only about 25% of sci-fi books submitted were written by women, while over half of fantasy books were. So there might be an anti-fantasy bias going on here, which in turn could tie into fantasy being perceived as a less “serious” genre, in part because it’s more “feminine” than sci-fi. And around and around we go.
That last bit is just my own opinion. Strange Horizons has given us the numbers; now it’s up to us, lovers of sci-fi/fantasy, to hypothesize what the deal is with the review imbalance and what can/should be done about it. (Ideally the guilty publications will step forward and do their part—wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?) Here’s my view: I can’t imagine that, for the most part, male reviewers see a book written by, say “Jane Smith,” and think to themselves “Ew, that book’s written by a lady! I’m not going to like that!” Overt sexism happens, sure, but for the most part I’m going to err on the side of humanity not being completely awful and say that a lot of the gender bias held by reviewers is unconscious. So I would say that reviewers should confront their own gender biases and make themselves put some serious thought into their selection process if they notice that the last five or so books they’ve chosen for review have been written by dudes.
I don’t know if that would do any good. But hey, it’s a start. And regardless of our differing viewpoints on how this gender imbalance should be handled, we should at least all be able to recognize that it’s a problem. Female genre writers should have an equal shot at getting their books reviewed, and as things stand now they clearly don’t.
What to do, what to do. Thoughts?