The Evidence Continues to Mount Up…

The issue about the bias against women science fiction and fantasy writers just will not go away. Why? Because it’s a bias that is real, tangible and has evidence.

The latest bit if evidence comes from Juliet McKenna about Waterstones having a bias towards displaying male-authored books. See here. This evidence has been added to by Cheryl Morgan saying that businesses have a bias against women in an indirect way. See here.

Quite frankly, the fact that this is still going on, nearly a hundred years after women earned the right to vote, is disgusting. If the genre can’t be fair and seen to be fair, then it deserves to wither and die. No right-minded citizen would condone such behaviour, and they’ll vote with feet and with what they choose to purchase. 

The trouble is that such actions will take the innocent down with them, the ones who are trying to do a good job, develop their art and generally give good entertainment. And this will happen as society in general becomes more fair-minded and justice-conscious over time, which in turn is a driver for globalisation. [Hint – this is a good theme for a science fiction story.]

And the publishing industry being in an chaotic maelstrom is no excuse. Decent people do not tolerate such biases, rise to the occasion and after a while get rewarded for their acting with honour. What is more, their businesses do well. [Look at history if you want the evidence.]

What I find extremely worrying is the comment on Cheryl’s blog:

 “At Finncon Elizabeth Bear noted that she found UK publishers much more hostile to women SF writers than in the USA.”

When you push the logic through it boils down to this:

The British publishing industry will give way to, be bought out by, whatever, the American publishing industry. End of story.


24 thoughts on “The Evidence Continues to Mount Up…

  1. I really don’t get why book sellers think they know a readership better than readers do. When I pick up a book in Waterstones (or surfing the Kindle store), I don’t care about the gender, colour, sexuality or anything else about the writer. I am concerned about only the following things:

    1. Is it my sort of thing?
    2. What are the Amazon reviews saying? (Yes, I am one of those people who stands in Waterstones surfing Amazon to see if the book is any good)

    Personally, I think this is what happens when marketing people – and not passionate readers – run an industry. They think they know what readers want. I know plenty of women who vomit in their mouths at the prospect of coming into contact with a Sophie Kinsella book.

    1. The problem is those people who pop into a bookshop to see what is on offer… if there’s a majority of SF books by men, then the bookshop’ll sell the majority of books by men, then they’ll order a majority of books by men for business reasons, and so the vicious circle goes on…

      To illustrate the point… the story about one Waterstone’s store not even getting any copies of Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice into the store is not only really dumb and silly, but also horrifying.

      1. Don’t you know by now Rosie? As a woman you should only be reading books with pink covers and pictures of handbags and glitter on the front. *face palm*

  2. Hm… let me think about this, as a respected engineer (whose design work has been out into practice), spent yesterday enjoying herself on the Great Central Railway (the steam powered variety), and even worse, a trained mathematician… can anyone imagine me reading a book whose covers have handbags and glitter?

  3. I have a vivid imagination, so the answer would be yes. Though I have to say that the picture would be disturbingly ‘dick-ish’. Good article (though second link needs correcting – it sends to Juliet’s instead of Cheryl’s blog). Just cause, though I worry (only a little) it will become a point on the ‘political correctness’ list. Time will tell.

    1. Welcome Lloth,

      I hope your vision of me with a handbag-covered book with glitter doesn’t give you nightmares!

      Thanks for the check on the links – now corrected (unless I have had another bout of cack-handedness…). Apologies to all concerned.

      Political correctness when it’s got a good reason behind it, is always a good thing. It’s when it hasn’t that it becomes a problem…

      1. The problem with political correctness is that it is… well, political. Regardless of how good the reason is, the source of ‘correctness’ should lie within (I’m risking sounding a bit hippy, I know). However male/female equality, sexual preferences, faith preferences etc. – these are the parts of life that state should steer as far away from as possible. Because the results in the long run are always ugly.

      2. A slight edit, not to be misunderstood. I am completely in support of any citizen based initiatives to get rid of the bias we’re discussing (or any other for that matter). It’s simply the prospect of having the equality regulated by state that I find repulsive.
        Howgh! 😉

  4. Handbags and glitter concept made me giggle! I suspect use of male pseudonyms or initials instead of forenames are still widely in practice? Which is exactly why I use my full name – as another bona-fide G.I.R.L with a (shock, horror) science degree and love of sci-fi, I say stuff ’em!

    1. How about adding pink ribbons or hairband to the hairdo?

      As for the use of initials or pseudonyms… there’s Julian May, but she’s been around for quite a while. More common are those names that can be either male or female and certain notorious characters thinking their books are so good that they must be male – as I believed happened in Pat Cardigan’s case…

  5. As a now supposedly retired engineer (male) I am all for female engineers. The big problem is that engineering is very seldom given as a career path for girls yet some of the best engineers that I have employed were female and specialised in design but I wish that more of them would head to the diagnostic side of engineering (it requires a much broader mindset and set of skills than the normal specialist degree produces).

    I actually wonder just how much of the bias is down to men pushing against what they see as a tide of feminism trying to take over every thing and reduce men to an also ran object.

    1. Hello Ivan – you only need to look at the history of the all female colleges at Oxford University. There were five of them – Lady Margaret Hall, St Anne’s, St Hilda’s, St Hugh’s and Somerville. This was compared to about 30 or so men’s colleges.

      Of course, when the league table of how well colleges did in the class of degrees came out, the women’s colleges were always near the top. The men’s colleges got jealous. So they started going mixed. At first it was only five of them and lo and behold, those colleges started climbing up the league table.

      So all the men’s colleges had to go mixed, so they could grab good students.

      You were probably seeing the same with female engineers. They are so few of them and they’ve had to struggle to be engineers, that they are good.

      I’m rather hoping that the same will happen in science fiction. The women writers having struggled so much to be published will be the good ones, that produce the sales. When the publishers realise this… well they’ll try and get more women published…

      1. Rosie, I hope you are correct but I won’t be holding my breath because it take a long time for trends to filter through the publishing industry.

        I have always had one overriding criteria when employing people – can they do the job to the highest standard. It does not matter what gender they are, they could be little green men from Mars for all I care.

        It should be the same with authors, is it the best story available on that subject, if it is publish it, if not put it in the slush pile.

        Unfortunately women writers of science fiction have a double hill to climb. First the gender thing and second, because of the first, there is the general idea that women don’t know anything about science and engineering. Both of those are total BS but that is what a lot of the population think, for no other reason that is what they see around them.

      2. Hello Ivan… don’t I half know with the science fiction side of things… I’m trying very hard to think of a hard SF female writer who is alive today (apart from Justine, of course)….

      3. Hmm, present company excluded…
        C J Cherryh
        CS Friedman
        Louis McMaster Bujold
        Jaga Rydzewska (perhaps not known outside of Poland)
        Joan D Vinge

        to name few I can see on the shelf from my chair 😉

  6. …interesting list, Ivan. Two using initials and one with a neutral name!
    PS: Rosie is about to be disappointed with my fantasy short story coming out at the weekend, so please don’t mention it to her! 😉

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