Gender in Writing, Reviewing and Reading
I’ve come across some posts and articles recently on gender bias in writing or awards. In fact, I’m currently doing a series of interviews of female fantasy writers to counter an apparent bias where fantasy appears to be a bit of a boy’s club in the US and the UK. ( I hasten to add it is not that way in Australia, the majority of our wonderful fantasy writers are female, which is why this discovery surprised me).
As best selling fantasy author Trudi Canavan said in her interview:
‘When I considered the ratio of male to female overseas authors I knew of, there didn’t seem to be a big imbalance. Then I learned that I would be attending a Mega Signing in the UK as part of the publicity tour for The Rogue in May, and that I was the lone woman in a pack of eight male writers. That certainly made me sit up and take notice!’
I began to wonder if the imbalance might be in the perception and not the reality, meaning that there are plenty of female fantasy writers out there, they just don’t get reviewed, or promoted as much. Then there was this interesting article on Strange Horizons. It’s a break down of the male/female balance of reviewers on diferent sites and in magazines, along with the books reviewed by gender. (I know, you could get lost in the statistics). To quote Strange Horizons:
‘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.’
And it’s not just in our genre. As you can see from this article on Ms Magazine Blog. And here is their source article, VIDA, Women in literary arts. According to their number crunching The New York Review of Books consists of 39 women reviewers and 200 men and in 2010 they reviewed 59 books by women and 306 by men.
I’m sure somewhere out there is a list of how many books are printed each year, in each genre with a breakdown of the gender. I found this on Broad Universe’s site:
From Locus (Dec 2007), U.S. Publishers for October 2007 through September 2008. Approximately 1/3 are reprints or reissue editions:
- 695 female authors/editors (39.7%)
- 1019 male authors/editors (58.3%)
- 35 unknown (anonymous, gender concealed by author) (2%)
- Total: 1749
That looks to be around a 60 – 40 split between male and female authors. Of course that is just speculative fiction and there is the romance genre where female authors outnumber males by a large margin.
The disparity in gender seems to start very young. I found this article in the Guardian UK. To quote:
‘Looking at almost 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, the study, led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, found that males are central characters in 57% of children’s books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5%.’
They also found that while the gender disaparity was reduce in the 1990s, it remained high in animal characters with a disparity of nearly two to one. Does this mean that the default setting for our society is masculine? (You’ll notice the first picture of the child on the beach is male. Just to even them up here’s a girl on a beach <grin>).
So there you are. Were you surprised by the statistics? Do you think books by male authors in our genre get more review space?