Not for the first time have I ended up on a long list of people (in this case 64) and been the only female on it! Nor do I suspect it will be the last time I will be in such prestigious position.
[I’m not going to say what the list is about, because neither the organisation compiling the list nor the people on the list had any real choice in the matter – it’s not their fault I’m the lone female on there, so they don’t deserve any opprobrium!]
Fortunately in science fiction that ratio of women to men authors is far more favourable. It ranges from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3, depending on what sub-genre of science fiction the writer specialises in. This is roughly in line with ratios for submissions at a lot of publishers. So again the biased ratio against women is not really in the publishers fault or those who are being published.
But the question remains, why are there so few women science fiction authors?
When there is a huge bias and no obvious reasons. quite rightly questions are asked. This was the case for an anthology that had 13 short science fiction stories in it, all written by men. When the publisher was asked why, his response was that he had not had a single story from a female writer. Fortunately for him, he had others, not directly involved in the anthology, who could back up his version of events.
Given this kind of history, publishers are wary of any backlash that can affect not only the sales of their current anthology, but also potential future sales.
So what is stopping more women from becoming science fiction authors?
Joanna Russ gives us a hint, when she wrote in 1983, ‘She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. She wrote it, but she only wrote one of it. She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist and it isn’t really art. She wrote it, but she had help. She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. She wrote it BUT…’
In short, in 1983, when I was working as an aerodynamics engineer, women’s writing was being marginalised with excuses, reasons, explanations, anything but genuine praise for a good story.
Even at the start of this century, when I was working as a systems engineer, there was a row about the heavy bias against women winning high profile science fiction awards. In other words the problem still has not been sorted. I should note that since the facts were put to the general public, more women have been winning these awards. But why in this day and age did it have to take such publicity to get a fair chance of winning such awards?
Whenever I examine the science fiction titles for sale in a bookshop, I feel appalled at the low proportion written by women. Some of this is inevitably historical. But even if you restrict yourself to modern offerings, the bias is still so noticeable it kind of screams injustice. Where that injustice lies, whose fault it is, I don’t know.
All I know is that the struggle for getting current women science fictions authors their due proportion of acclaim is not over, nor is the fight to get more women authors into the genre.
Which is why I was especially pleased to see the high quality of eight short science fiction stories that I have recently helped to edit. In fact some of the stories were excellent. They not only had the good writing, but also the ideas, world-building that was out of this world and characters that were coherent and subtly nuanced, as any darned good character should be.
For those that say the women tend to write more toward the soft end or fantasy end of the spectrum, the stories I edited were firmly and squarely in the sciency end of science fiction.
This indicates there are the good quality women science fiction writers out there; they are just not getting the recognition even now.
But hopefully the anthology I’m involved in will get published in the not too distant future, which will be one small step to rebalancing the situation to what it ought to be. And you never know, it may turn out to be one giant leap for women science fiction authors as a group.