The real problem about women SF writers…


Thanks to many people for their very kind comments, some public, others private, about my short story, Flame of Desire. It’s certainly proved popular.

In the meantime, the business about the bias against women science fiction writers had flared up again. This time an author sent a novel to 50 agents under her real name and got two requests for the full manuscript. She also sent the same novel to 50 agents under a male pseudonym. Guess what? She got 17 requests for the full manuscript. In fact one agent asked for the full manuscript under her male pseudonym, whilst it was rejected under her real name. There were other biases in the responses. See here for the article in the Guardian. And see here for Catherine’s original post about it.

I have argued in previous posts that this bias reduces the quality and variety of science fiction novels that are being offered to the public. But I’m going to add another interesting argument to the debate.

The government (at least here in the UK) is actively encouraging more women to have careers in the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This is to help reduce the overall industrial shortfall in these areas. So the proportion of STEM-based career women is going to increase. With this general overall increase, there will come an increase in science fiction readership because of the relationship between STEM and science fiction.

Needless to say it will follow that men wanting a male author bias will become diluted somewhat. Once the commercial people realise that, they will start to look more closely at the pile of submissions by women. Because the proportion of women is small compared to what it should be (given the evidence from Catherine, amongst other things), the quality of science fiction will rise.

Before anyone says I’m making a bold assumption with this argument, this is exactly what happened with the Oxbridge students when the number of women students was only a small proportion compared with men. The women’s colleges were consistently getting high scores. In the end the men’s colleges had to open their doors to women students in order to raise their results.

So I’m arguing the greater equality for women writers in science fiction will be forced on the genre because of pressures coming from outside of the genre. Yes, it will take time, but it will happen.

The only real debate is whether the science fiction genre is going to sort this inequality out from internal initiatives or just sit back for the change to be forced on it.

If it is the latter, then the world will think less of the genre than it otherwise might have done. The choice is really up to the genre.

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