Some of the responses to the women and the Hugos debate have suggested that we need to do more to promote SF written by women so that people know to read it. Others have said that few women are eligible, or that women don’t vote. Niall Harrison made the point that only 13% of submissions to this year’s Clarke Award were from women. Elsewhere it has been suggested that only around 39% of Worldcon attendees are female, which might introduce a bias.
We don’t get hard data on actual voters, which is a shame. I have a sneaking suspicion that, because so many women are brought up to be self-effacing and non-competitive, we are more likely to come out with excuses for not voting such as, “I don’t think I know enough to decide” or “I couldn’t bear to choose between them.”
The number of women writers, however, can be checked, sort of. The first thing to note here is that the Clarke is supposedly for “science fiction” only, while the Hugos are definitely (because it says so in the WSFS Constitution) for “science fiction and fantasy”. The Hugos are also open to all books published anywhere in the world, and I’m not going to be able to get a list of those. But I did think I could make a start. As usual, the Feminist SF Wiki has a page for eligible works by women, and people like Tempest keep an eye on the market. However, there are not many novels listed. I thought that there must be more. Also there was no comparison with male writers.
So I figured I could just go to the Locus list of Forthcoming Books and count. I confess to having done this very quickly, and there are all sorts of issues. I was by no means 100% sure which books were novels, which were not reprints, and even which people using their initials were women. Bearing that in mind, this is what I found: over the whole of 2009 Locus listed 243 novels by men, and 74 by women. That’s only 30% of the eligible novels by women.
Is that the whole picture? I suspect not. To start with Locus doesn’t list everything. I did not see any books from Juno in the list, for example. Not did I see Seanan McGuire’s Rosemary and Rue, which is a DAW book by someone well known in fandom on both sides of the Atlantic that has been getting a lot of good press. So Locus may have a bias against “urban fantasy” and “paranormal romance”, or the publishers of such books may not submit data to Locus.
But the thing that really scared me was this. I looked down my list of novels by women that might reasonably be described as “science fiction” as opposed to “fantasy”. I found 9. Yes, just nine. There were two books I did not count: Justina Robson and Elizabeth Bear have both written what is clearly SF to me but which uses characters from mythology and is therefore likely to be seen as fantasy by many people. I did include a book by Margaret Atwood because it is very clearly SF no matter what the author says.
But the bottom line is that of all the Hugo-eligible novels produced this year (that Locus reports), less than 4% are science fiction by women. And because Locus under-reports classes of fantasy books that are generally written by women that number is probably an over-estimate.
I don’t like the sound of that.