There’s an ongoing… let’s call it debate (substitute lecture or fuss if that suites your position better) on the subject of the representation of female authors in fantasy and science fiction.
I steer largely clear of it because my job as a reader is simply to read what I enjoy and I’m neither a published writer nor a publisher. But it did make me wonder how my own reading was split. Going into this I strongly suspect that the authors I read would be predominantly male.
So I grabbed my GoodReads book stats, pruned down the records to fantasy, science fiction and graphic novels etc. (the genre stuff) and then did my best to identify the author as male or female.
That gave me a healthy sample of 365 books to work with and the breakdown as I anticipated was overwhelmingly towards male authors.
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
Before I go any further a note of caution on the statistics here. They’re imperfect at best. I don’t necessarily know the gender of every author I read. I don’t really care to be honest, and some use deliberately neutral names or pseudonyms of various sorts. Plus there are books written by more than one author.
And that doesn’t even touch on the murky area of non-binary gender which I really don’t want to touch for the purposes of feeding my mild curiosity about my own reading habits.
Also, while there do seem to be patterns here. Keep in mind that a lot of data is not being analysed. Factors that should really be considered include when I read the books and when the books were written.
Charts, Charts and More Charts
So that’s interesting but not terribly enlightening. Does this result stem from a clear preference for the works of male authors?
Well based on the median ratings I’ve given it seems that is a possibility at least. Although keep in mind given these are medians and the ratings generally jump in whole numbers… that difference is actually not as large as it looks.
So then I decided to break things down by genre and see if the gap was consistent across all of them. And I think this is the most telling of all the charts really.
You can largely discount the Urban Fantasy category as it’s a relatively small number of books and it’s being skewed by the fact that I faithfully follow the Dresden series (so that’s about a third of those books). Fantasy is remarkably balanced. I’d basically call that a tie. So really the issue is only show in Graphic Novels and Science Fiction.
Again though. Why the difference? Guess what… I have a chart for that!
First off I’d like to pat myself on the back for being such a good judge of what I will enjoy. My median scores never fall below 3!
But the point is there’s really not much in it at all when it comes to my enjoyment of the books whether they be written by men or women. In fact in science fiction it’s a dead heat and in graphic novels we’re talking about a half point score difference.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
Well… nowhere honestly.
I already knew there was a gap of some sort (though it’s larger than I anticipated) but my motivation when picking out books is whether I think I’ll enjoy them and clearly I’m doing that quite well. So I don’t intend to start targetting based on gender or any other factor.
But the strength of the gap in Science Fiction and Graphic Novels despite my apparently enjoying female author’s work just as much does suggest that the issue is one of availability/awareness of books of this sort.