Tuesday, 21 June 2011

SF and the Gender Divide

Following on from the Guardian SF&F special in May there has been a lot of debate on the blogosphere regarding the gender divide in science fiction, exemplified by this article on the SFWA website by Cheryl Morgan.

In response to the British Library’s summer exhibition: “Out of this World”, which celebrates science fiction right back to its earliest incarnations, the Guardian asked a number of prominent SF&F authors (mostly male) to nominate their all-time favourite SF. Nearly all the men and most of the women picked male authors. Nicola Griffith on her website did some maths and found that females accounted for only 4% of these recommendations.

Do women really write so little good SF? Is there a male conspiracy at work? Are we as a book group contributing to gender inequality?

Well, I disagree with the first and cannot comment on the second, but the third question we can address.

What have we read to date and what about the books on the proposed list? Well we have so far read 40 novels, of which only six were by female authors (15%):
  • Troll Fell - Katherine Langrish
  • Speed of Dark - Elizabeth Moon (Nebula)
  • The Many-Coloured Land - Julian May (Locus)
  • Powers - Ursula K Le Guin (Nebula)
  • The Dreaming Tree - C.J. Cherryh
  • Tales from Moomin Valley - Tove Jannson
Of the 41 novels on the Proposed list, only five a by female authors (12%):
  • Lud-In-The-Mist - Hope Mirrlees
  • Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm (Hugo, Nebula)
  • The Handmaid's Tale - Margret Atwood (Arthur C Clarke)
  • The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell (Arthur C Clarke, BSFA)
  • The End Of Mr Y - Scarlett Thomas
Does this prove that women cannot write good SF or Fantasy? Or indeed only fantasy? Not really. Of the proposed works by female authors, three have won the Hugo, British Science Fiction and two Arthur C Clarke awards between them; all SF. While the six read books have won two Nebulas, one SF and one F, and a Locus.

On the subject of award winning SF&F, how do the ladies cope there? If we look at the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, World Fantasy (WFA), Arthur C Clarke and Locus awards for best novel, of the 288 awards, 74 have gone to female authors. Of the 130 winning authors, 35 were female. Thus 27% of the authors are female, winning 26% of the awards. This is at nearly twice the rate that we have been reading female authors.

It is interesting to note that the most awarded author is Ursula K Le Guin, with twelve novel awards, followed by Lois McMaster Bujold with nine, along with China MiƩville and Orson Scott Card.
These novels were:
C J Cherryh
  • Downbelow Station:  (Hugo)
  • Cyteen:  (Hugo, Locus)
Catherine Asaro
  • The Quantum Rose:  (Nebula)
Cherie Priest
  • Boneshaker:  (Locus)
Connie Willis
  • Doomsday Book:  (Hugo, Nebula, Locus)
  • To Say Nothing Of The Dog:  (Hugo, Locus)
  • Passage:  (Locus)
Elizabeth A. Lynn
  • Watchtower:  (World Fantasy)
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
  • Healer's War:  (Nebula)
Elizabeth Moon
  • The Speed Of Dark:  (Nebula)
Ellen Kushner
  • Thomas the Rhymer:  (World Fantasy)
  • The Privilege of the Sword:  (Locus)
Gwyneth Jones
  • Bold As Love:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
J K Rowling
  • Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire:  (Hugo)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:  (Locus)
Jo Walton
  • Tooth and Claw:  (World Fantasy)
Joan D Vinge
  • The Snow Queen:  (Hugo, Locus)
Julian May
  • The Many Coloured Land:  (Locus)
Kate Wilhelm
  • Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang:  (Hugo, Locus)
Lauren Beukes
  • Zoo City:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Falling Free:  (Nebula)
  • The Vor Game:  (Hugo)
  • Barrayar:  (Hugo, Locus)
  • Mirror Dance:  (Hugo, Locus)
  • Paladin Of Souls:  (Hugo, Nebula, Locus)
Louise Erdrich
  • The Antelope Wife:  (World Fantasy)
Margaret Atwood
  • The Handmaid's Tale:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
Marge Piercy
  • Body of Glass:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
Margo Lanagan
  • Tender Morsels:  (World Fantasy)
Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Mists of Avalon:  (Locus)
Mary Doria Russell
  • The Sparrow:  (Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA)
Mary Gentle
  • Ash: A Secret History:  (BSFA)
Nicola Griffith
  • Slow River:  (Nebula)
Octavia E Butler
  • Parable Of The Talents:  (Nebula)
Pat Cadigan
  • Synners:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
  • Fools:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
Pat Murphy
  • The Falling Woman:  (Nebula)
Patricia A McKillip
  • Harpist in the Wind:  (Locus)
  • The Forgotten Beasts of Eld:  (World Fantasy)
  • Ombria in Shadow:  (World Fantasy)
Rachel Pollack
  • Unquenchable Fire:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
  • Godmother Night:  (World Fantasy)
Sheri S Tepper
  • Beauty:  (Locus)
Susanna Clarke
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell:  (Hugo, World Fantasy)
Tricia Sullivan
  • Dreaming in Smoke:  (Arthur C. Clarke)
Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Left Hand Of Darkness:  (Hugo, Nebula)
  • The Lathe of Heaven:  (Locus)
  • The Dispossessed:  (Hugo, Nebula, Locus)
  • Tenau: The Last Book Of Earthsea:  (Nebula, Locus)
  • The Telling:  (Locus)
  • The Other Wind:  (World Fantasy)
  • Powers:  (Nebula)
  • Lavinia:  (Locus)
Vonda N McIntyre)
  • Dreamsnake:  (Hugo, Nebula, Locus)
  • The Moon and The Sun:  (Nebula)
If we look at which awards have been recognising female authors, then we start to see some interesting facts:

Adding one when a female wins and taking one away when it’s a male, we can see that the awards were male dominated in the 50s and 60s, but in the 70s and 90s females were being equally recognised as their male compatriots. The Arthur C. Clarke is the most equitable (at least initially), and British Science Fiction Awards the least. This is interesting support for the theory that British SF is more sexist than the US market.

So, what can we do to address this imbalance? Deliberately read more female authored works of course!

We have already read a novel by Ursula K le Guin, so something by Lois McMaster Bujold, possibly Paladin of Souls as this is the most awarded (I have not actually read any and am keen to rectify this omission). This should be followed by something by Connie Willis and Vonda N McIntyre. Going on the awards then these should be Willis’ Doomsday Book and McIntyre’s Dreamsnake.

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