There is some interesting discussion going on about the Women and the Hugos issue over at the Feminist SF blog, and this has prompted me to dig out some numbers.
In order to do so, I had to define what I meant by a “female” nominee, because some nominations have many names attached to them. I decided that the best thing to do would be to count any nomination with at least 50% women’s names on it. So Weird Tales counts as “female” because it is Ann and Stephen, but METAtropolis does not because Bear is one woman amongst five. With that assumption in mind, what results do we get?
Well 40% of this year’s Hugos were won by “female” nominees. That’s pretty good. On the other hand, only 23% of nominees were “female”.
Before I get into reasons for this I also want to note that the categories with no women nominees were almost all very high profile: Best Novel, and the two Dramatic Presentation categories, plus Artist. So male dominance is much more pronounced when there is more money at stake, and where more people participate in the voting. That’s interesting.
But why the imbalance in nominees? I think it is fairly obvious, and I talked about it at length here. Reading is a gendered behavior. Way too many men simply don’t read books by women unless they are prompted to do so in some way. So once a work gets on the final ballot the chances are that most men will take a look, and judge the works fairly, but when they have to pick nominees from works they have read they pick all men, because they haven’t read anything that is eligible and is written by women.
So the effect is at least in part statistical. Imagine you have an electorate of 1000 voters, split equally between men and women. The women and 100 of the men read works by both men and women, so that’s 600 votes split equally: 300 to each gender. The other 400 men only read books by men, so that’s 400 more votes for male writers. The end result will be 30% of the nominees are female, and 70% male.
In practice things are apparently even worse than that. Other factors obviously come into play, including the possibility that it may be harder for women to get published, or that women choose to write books that don’t appeal to Hugo voters. So I’m not claiming that gendered reading is the entire explanation, just one (potentially major) contributing factor.
But does it matter? Isn’t the fact that 40% of this year’s Hugos were won by women evidence that nothing is wrong? Well, no, because in the long run the Hugos are going to get judged against other awards. Many of those other awards are juried (e.g. the World Fantasy Awards, the Clarke, the PK Dick). Members of a jury are expected to read all of the submitted works, so gendered reading doesn’t come into the equation. Also juries these days are well aware of the opprobrium that will be heaped upon them if they produce all-male short lists. In a world in which juried awards produce, say, 40% women nominees, and the Hugos produce only 25%, the Hugos will look very bad indeed.
I’m not sure what can be done about this. The amendment we crafted for Yonmei was a long way from ideal, though it was much better that her original proposal. If I could have thought of something better I would have suggested it. But there is no easy short term solution to a generation of male voters who have grown up “not seeing” women’s work unless it is thrust in front of their noses.