The science fiction gender problem – a report from the front line

From Nick Mamatas:

“As the readership of science fiction is widely believed to be overwhelmingly male, there is a long history of women writers obscuring their gender (so as not to have their work prejudged) by writing under a name that includes their initials and their last name.

Going through the slush recently, I decided to count up the number of women who use initials versus the number of men who do so.

One hundred percent of the authors who submit their work to Clarkesworld under an initialed byline are women.”

There’s no doubt that there are gender and cultural imbalances in the genre fiction scenes. Is this doing anything to help the situation?

4 thoughts on “The science fiction gender problem – a report from the front line”

  1. It seems to me that this is a dangerous thing to do.

    If women feel they have to disguise their gender in order to be accepted as genre writers then this gives an inflated impression of the number of male writers on the scene, thus forcing more women to consider disguising their gender, as it appears that fewer women are being published than is actually the case.

    The genre doesn’t need more female writers any more than it needs more male writers – it just needs more good writers, and it’s a shame that a small percentage of the existing good writers are not getting the personal recognition that they deserve.

    Is this the fault of the female writers who choose to disguide their gender, the fault of the publishers, or the fault of the buying public? Do we really choose who to read on the basis of gender? If this is the case, perhaps we need some form of programme of education – better to address the problem (if there is one), rather than sweep it under the carpet.

  2. Good points, Lee. I believe that some of the feminist lobby would argue that the imbalance is so pervasive that it prevents female writers from bothering to submit their work anywhere, or in extreme cases from trying to write fiction at all, and I can see how that argument could be supported – sexism is still a major thread in modern life, as subliminal and disguised as it may be. But I don’t really see that sort of imbalance in the genre fiction blogosphere, at least; the colour/culture imbalance is a little more obvious.

    But you’ve pointed out the difficulty that I have with this argument, and the reason I’ve kept my nose out of the debates over it – it simply doesn’t compute for me. What I mean is that, having had the good fortune to be raised by open-minded parents, I’ve never had any reason to consider the art of women or persons of colour to be in any way inferior (or indeed different) to that of white males. As I’ve been introduced to the arguments, I can see that such attitudes do exist. But coming from a point of only seeing them as something that other people hold, I have no first hand knowledge of reaching such conclusions, nor of being on the receiving end of such prejudice; hence, it’s hard for me argue in support of diversity without sounding like a ‘bleeding heart middle-class white liberal’ to the very people I want to support. A strangely ironic situation!

    But as I’ve remarked elsewhere, I think the only thing that will change these attitudes are the passage of time. Once the majority of readers and editors are people who were raised in a more enlightened and accepting era, without the subconscious cultural biases that older persons may still be harbouring as a result of the culture they were raised in, then this should no longer be a problem. I wish there was a clear and simple way to hasten that day, but I fear there probably isn’t.

  3. I find your comments very interesting on this subject. I am one of the few Australian women published in novel length SF. I’ve often wondered why that is. I assumed it was more about what people choose to write than anything else.


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