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How science fiction/fantasy blogs cover female writers
March 16, 2013 4:13 AM   Subscribe

"When looking at a sample of bloggers reviewing SF/F, a majority of men will skew toward reviewing more men. A majority of women will skew toward a more equal gender parity, or the opposite in which they review a majority of women. There will be a handful of outliers." -- An analysis of the visibility of women in (online) science fiction and fantasy reviews and whether the gender of the reviewer impacts that visibility.
posted by MartinWisse (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
So the data they present shows male reviewers looked at 74% male authors and 26% female authors, while female reviewers look at 42% male authors and 58% female authors. Which is indeed interesting. But aren't we missing a vital piece of data placing these numbers in context? That is, the proportion of works by male and female authors in the F/SF field in 2012?
posted by Justinian at 5:29 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's a study by Lynn Cherny of the gender of the top UK bestsellers.
posted by honest knave at 5:39 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to this, roughly even ratio of male to female writers, and in some sub genders more female writers.
posted by francesca too at 6:32 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Strange Horizons has some useful numbers on the proportion of male to female authors, as well as some greater detail on the impact of the gender of the reviewer.
posted by Morriscat at 6:34 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I gave up long ago reliance on reviews to find out when my favorite female writers have new books out. I have instead bookmarked their individual blogs to find their new books.

I had been a member of the Science Fiction Book Club since the early seventies, but I gave it up after a long string of years barren of female book of the month authors.
posted by francesca too at 6:45 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


That is, the proportion of works by male and female authors in the F/SF field in 2012?

You could generate a variety of answers, depending on how you define "the F/SF field." If you include all of Paranormal Romance, I'd expect the result that substantially more than 50% of titles in the field are by women.
posted by Zed at 7:28 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I plead guilty. While I was reading Robin Hobb's Farseer and Liveships series I kept imagining the reviews I would write about them on goodreads. They are dense and complicated works, with all sorts of interesting events and characters I wanted to say something about. But I also wanted to get on to the next book. It was easier to move on. I still think about them.
posted by wobh at 8:30 AM on March 16, 2013


Note also that this problem isn't limited to genre, by any means.

Here's a Publishers Weekly piece about how the NY Times Book Review affects sales. I would assume that genre reviewers like Locus or Romantic Times have a similar effect on sales.

So the net effect here is a vicious circle where women don't get reviewed as often, which means they won't get a review-caused sales boost in equal measure, and are therefore slightly more likely to suffer the midlist problem of not being able to sell a subsequent book because of weak sales from the last one. And so women don't have quite the same literary careers, which leads to the idea that they're not as good, and so the problem continues.

It's disheartening, and it's the reason a fair number of women in genre (I'm looking at you, J.K. Rowling) use initials or else androgynous and even outright masculine names.
posted by Andrhia at 8:36 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


First: I love ladybusiness. They're the bomb.

Second: I wonder what our review proportion was at my YA sci-fi blog, which shut down at the end of the year. That might be a good thing to procrastinate with.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:23 AM on March 16, 2013


Just did some quick (coffeeless, so rough) counting: my co-reviewer, a dude, and I reviewed 31 men and 54 women over the course of 15 months. One title was co-written between a man or a woman. That's actually more dudes than I expected.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:31 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just found out that Kate Wilhelm lives in my town and is a friend of a friend*, so today I'm going to start reading her Hugo award-winning novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang and hope for a meet.

*Also recently learned that I'm just 3 degrees of separation from Paul McCartney.
posted by neuron at 10:00 AM on March 16, 2013


[A few comments removed; people use the terms 'sex' and 'gender' in a few different ways, but that discussion is really a derail here.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:18 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


But aren't we missing ... the proportion of works by male and female authors in the F/SF field in 2012? - Justinian

According to this, roughly even ratio of male to female writers - francesca too

So that page does indicate that the number of female SF writers (43%) is roughly half, but if we combine that number with the first set of stats:
(1) Male authors are overrepresented by +29.8% by male reviewers and underrepresented by -26.3% by female reviews.
(2) Female authors are overrepresented by +34.9% by female reviewers and underrepresented by -39.4% by male reviewers.

Obviously the numbers for female authors are both larger simply because there were fewer female authors overall (there must be a better way to express these results). If the number of male and female reviewers were even, the effect of reviewer bias on reviewed books' authors' genders would be negligible (~1%), but we know from Strange Horizons that there are, in fact, more male reviewers. That probably hurts female authors' chances. In any case there doesn't seem to be any significant indication that male reviewers are more biased than female reviewers, but of course we're relying on 3 data sets from different time periods with different sampling methods, so everything I just said is probably wrong.
posted by orinoco at 12:58 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that looks like a reasonable reading of the information we have. Male reviewers seem to preferentially review works by male authors while female reviewers seem to preferentially review works by female authors. But there are more male reviewers than female reviewers which leads to an overall rate of preferential review for male authors. As orinco says, the easiest and best way to address this would be for the ratio of male and female reviewers to be more even. Then everyone could keep reading and reviewing whichever books they wish, but female authors would be reviewed at more or less the same rate as male authors.
posted by Justinian at 6:32 PM on March 16, 2013


Oh, 43% isn't really roughly half. 48% might be fairly called roughly half, but a 43-57 split means there is 1/3 more of one thing than the other.
posted by Justinian at 6:37 PM on March 16, 2013


Yeah, that looks like a reasonable reading of the information we have. Male reviewers seem to preferentially review works by male authors while female reviewers seem to preferentially review works by female authors.

But from what I have read on review blogs, male reviewers are reviewing "what I happen to read" while female reviewers tend to actively choose to review female authors, in part because of the disparity in reviews in more formal arenas.

So that page does indicate that the number of female SF writers (43%) is roughly half, but if we combine that number with the first set of stats:

The stats are about SFF writers, not just SF. There aren't 43% of female authors in (Australian) SFF according to the link. There are 43% in SF and 62% fantasy, with 53% and 55% for all adult and children's lit, respectively.
posted by jeather at 7:26 PM on March 16, 2013


It could well be that female reviewers are deliberately seeking out books by female authors to even the scales a bit. But to me that would be something we would have to show, not something we assume. The only real data we have is the raw numbers on male and female reviewers.
posted by Justinian at 8:04 PM on March 16, 2013


It could well be that female reviewers are deliberately seeking out books by female authors to even the scales a bit. But to me that would be something we would have to show, not something we assume.

I meant to go on about this more, because this is my memory of reading blogs and so it's anecdata squared, really.

Then again, the numbers -- women write 55% of SFF books and female reviewers review 58% books by women (probably equal within the margin of error) while male reviewers review 26% books by women -- could suggest that men consciously or unconsciously avoid books by women, while women do not do the same for books by men or by women.
posted by jeather at 8:57 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we want to get the whole picture of gender bias in genre publishing, we could go even a little further and look at submissions, too. There have definitely been accusations that a publisher is more likely to publish a book by a male author. But then finding a good methodology gets pretty dicey.

Do you just tally up the slush pile? Of course a lot of slush is simply unpublishable, and if one gender or the other were more likely to send in truly awful material, that would skew the results. Maybe tally up the volume of slush that a first reader thinks is worth a second look, with all cover pages and other identifying material removed?

Not practical to do on any major scale, but it would certainly be interesting.
posted by Andrhia at 7:03 AM on March 17, 2013


women write 55% of SFF books

In Australia, but not overall, according to the numbers from the USA. There are a lot more FSF authors in the USA.
posted by Justinian at 8:03 AM on March 17, 2013


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