I was lucky enough to be able to attend the AGM of the British Science Fiction Association yesterday.
The morning session included a panel on “Women writers, science fiction and Britain”, chaired by Shana Worthen, with panelists Tricia Sullivan and Pat Cadigan.
The debate about the lack of women writers in science fiction has been rumbling on and off for as long as I’ve known it. What has sparked the recent wave of interest is Tricia Sullivan’s observation that only one woman has won the Arthur C Clarke Award in the last decade, compared to five in the previous decade. Statistics include only 20 out of 500 ‘Pick of the Best SF’ books in the recent Guardian poll were by women writers. Yet, somewhere between about a quarter and a third of SF books are by women.
Why the the difference between the volume published and the recognition (whether through awards or in polls)?
I have heard it said that women tend to write more character driven SF, while men tend to be biased towards action-packed SF, and it is the action-packed SF that gets the notice. How many times have I seen the requirement for character-driven stories? Definitely more than for plot or action driven stories. So by this argument women should be published more than men.
I have also heard it said that women are more likely to have home-caring responsibilities, which detracts from the quality of their writing. As a (male) SF-writer points out, men have jobs to go to which can take up all sorts of crazy hours in order to support the family. They have their own responsibilities. So this argument is out.
Another point that was made was that a lack of women in science and technology means there is a lack of women hard SF writers, which leads to a lack of recognition. Well this could certainly lead to a lack in the number of women SF writers. But what I’m talking about here, is the lack of recognition proportional to the number of women writers in the field. So could this suggest there may be a bias for awards and polls to go to the hard end of science fiction? Others who have a greater overview of the field will be in a better position to answer this question than me.
But here’s the worrying thing. By a quirk of fate, I know quite a few up and coming female writers. Each and every one of us has a different escape route out of writing science fiction. This means science fiction as a genre is going to lose some very talented and interesting writers, unless this bad press about women SF writers is stopped.
How? Does the science fiction community including the readers and publishing houses really want to do something about it?
Only time will tell…