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Equality of Opportunity and Visibility

Flight of fantasy
I've been thinking a bit about this lately. I've been on panels at a few conventions when the question of bias against women in publishing has come up and hand on heart, I cannot say I've seen or experienced anything leading me to suspect that men have an easier time of getting a book into print. Swapping notes with other female writers, they have concurred.

However, in a major Waterstones last week, I noted that all the fantasy novels featured on displays were by men - great books, all of them - so that was certainly going to perpetuate this pernicious and persistent notion that the fantasy worth noticing is the fantasy written by the chaps.

I don't ascribe this to any malice. Far from it. Just this past week, I've seen male fantasy fans and writers as appalled as anyone else at David Willetts saying women's entry into the workplace has reduced opportunities for working class men, and just as quick to see the lies and perverted logic there in service of Tory ideology and avoiding blame for its policy consequences.

But our genre still suffers from that Default/Lazy Sexism which results in, for instance, the British Fantasy Society publishing a book about horror without a single female contributor and an anthology I contributed to, which when I got my contributor's copy, turned out to have one woman writer - me. When I mentioned this to the editors, a woman among them, they were genuinely shocked and contrite.

The most compelling evidence of this of late has been Niall Harrison's 'The SF Count' over at Strange Horizons Niall used the 'Books Received' from Locus to get a baseline, finding
55% of books written by men, 43% written by women and 2% as gender-anonymous
across the UK and US. Then he went looking to see how the percentages of books reviewed compared with those numbers. The detail is very interesting and I urge you to go and look when you have time. For the moment, his overall conclusion was
"Across all venues, 29.6% of books reviewed were by women, compared to 70.4% by men; and 27.6% of reviewers were women, compared to 72.4% men."
Given that research I cited a while ago, on the importance of reviews, good or bad, for driving sales I find that profoundly depressing.

We must do better.

In common, I sincerely hope, with other reviewers, I hastily drew up some numbers of my own. Not of all my reviews but focusing on my regular column in Albedo One since that data was most readily to hand. I found 55% of my own reviews there are of male writers, 45% by women. Yes, my sigh of relief rattled the study windows. No, I'm not about to claim that's anything more than the sheerest luck so I don't claim any credit there.

I will be keeping tabs on those numbers in future though.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
la_marquise_de_
Apr. 4th, 2011 09:43 am (UTC)
I really think that we're still battling against the wider societal belief that men's work is more meaningful and that this is often something we all assume without examining or unpacking it. It's so rooted in how we're socialised that we don't notice it until someone flags it for some reason. The degree to which it operates varies from place to place and to some degree genre to genre (women tend to get far more respect in crime writing) but my general observation is that sf is still seen as 'male', that there is is resistance to 'girl cooties' invading it, and that that spills into fantasy. Though the next time I see a list of 'important fantasy' dominated by a) male sf writers who dabble in fantasy, reinvent the wheel and get big prizes because their sf-reading fans have no idea of the fantasy field is but know their hero must have improved it because he's cool and b) fat fantasy written by men, because it's Better and Full of Boy Stuff, I am going to thump the list-maker with the complete works of Diana Wynne Jones, Tanith Lee and Susan Cooper.
Ahem.
I admire G R R Martin hugely, and I don't think he's sexist at all, but it depresses me that reviewers note his strengths but fail to see that writers like you, and Kate Elliott (to name but two) have been addressing the same issues in fantasy for years and years and years, right alongside him. And it irritated me that there was so much fuss over the all-female Newcon Press anthology Myth/Understandings, but all male or nearly all male ones fly under the radar all the time. We are still the Other, the Incomplete, the Also Rans.
I owe three reviews to SH, all of women. Not to self: get on with it!
saare_snowqueen
Apr. 4th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
I think that as women writers we need to:

Keep writing and pushing for our work to be published.

Continue to review as much good female fantasy as we can get our hands on

Learn from out masculine colleagues / friends how to be more effective promoters of our work.

We've come a long way since the 1950's when I came of age. That means we can go all the way if we don't stop pushing.
aberwyn
Apr. 4th, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
Very interesting numbers! Thanks for posting them.

Back in the very early 90s I was told by a senior editor at Bantam USA that my fantasy books would get no publicity budget because "men don't read books by women." At the same time, the general belief in the SF community was that only women read fantasy. This has all stuck in my mind for years as prime examples of Non-Think.

It's also the reason my books have never done as well in the US as in the UK, where I did get a lot of publicity opportunities in the early years despite being an American.
green_knight
Apr. 5th, 2011 08:42 am (UTC)
Of course, if the 25% of reviewers continue to review 50/50 and the 75% of reviewers continue to review 75/25, we'll never get equality unless we get a pool of all-female reviewers. Or until men also review 50/50. It's great that *your* reviews are balanced - but in order to remedy the problem, those interested in balance need to review (and invite to anthologies) *more* women, *more* minorities, because nobody else will.
marthawells
Apr. 5th, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, I found this profoundly depressing, too.
glass_mountain
Apr. 5th, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jules, that's very interesting, though not terribly cheering.
steamshovelmama
Apr. 7th, 2011 09:58 am (UTC)
"in a major Waterstones last week, I noted that all the fantasy novels featured on displays were by men"

Eeeep! I run the SF&F section at the Birmingham High St branch and I currently have a major fantasy display called, "Heirs of the King". I'm really hoping it's not this one but you've made me realise that the *only* female fantasy writer I have represented is Marion Zimmer Bradley - and, feminist as I am, I *hadn't noticed*

To be fair to myself, I do have 8 major displays in place, of between 13 and 28 titles each, and overall I've got a good representation of women writers, plus I did an LGBTQ display for February LGBTQ month and I'm going to be doing specific women-writers and writers of colour displays as well as trying to be generally representative - but the fantasy display has slipped under my radar.

With so many rolling displays (40 themes a year, not counting the awards shortlists) I'm very reliant on people's online best/favourite lists - after all, noone wants to see my thirty favourite genre titles recycled over and over again - and it does occur to me that there were very few women fantasy authors in the lists I pulled off the net.

Note to self: make a conscious effort to include more female fantasy authors. And, yeah, keep a tab on those numbers!
jemck
Apr. 7th, 2011 01:13 pm (UTC)
That's exactly the thing we're all up against - it's so incredibly easy simply not to notice.

I don't imagine I would have registered the all-maleness of that display if I hadn't been thinking about this topic after reading that Strange Horizons survey.

It wasn't in Brum, btw :-)

And thanks in anticipation for your consciously balanced view in future!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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