Nothing Changes

Meghan McCarron has just written eloquently about sexism in publishing. Why do so many anthologies and short stories magazines have way more stories by men than by women? Why do men get more awards and reviewed more widely? The ensuing discussion is very cool, too.

I confess that I get very tired when I consider all of this. I spent years researching gender, sexuality, men, women and hermaphrodites in science fiction. Hell, I even wrote a book about it. Sometimes I wonder if anything has changed at all.

Fortunately, I’m now in a genre—Young Adult fiction—that’s overwhelmingly written by women. And its awards reflect that. The Prinz has only been awarded six times thus far and so far it’s 50% women. The US National Book Award has had a Young People’s Literature award since 1996 and women have won six times to the bloke’s three. The Australian Children’s Book Council Awards for Best Book of the Year (Older Readers) was first awarded in 1987: women eleven; blokes eight. (My counts may be out because I’m innumerate and jetlagged.)

Looks good to me.


  1. jonathan on #

    i should go read the mccarron piece, but a quick observation: when i was in oakland two weeks ago i grabbed galleys for lou anders’ futureshocks and sharyn november’s firebirds rising. both books look good, and both feature something like 16 stories each. the anders antho has 14 stories by men and 2 stories by women. the november antho has 14 stories by women and 2 by men. i thought it interesting.

  2. Justine on #

    Lou Anders’ is adult sf, right? And Sharyn’s, of course, is YA. Nicely backs up both me and Meghan.

  3. Meghan on #

    Justine! It is disturbing that all this shit is still going down, but I do honestly believe it is slowly slowly getting better. The YA thing is interesting — it didn’t even occur to me that it was women-dominated. YA made a huge difference to me when I was a kid, and I still read it like mad.

  4. Justine on #

    I was just being grumpy. I know things are better than the 1930s. My evidence for YA being dominated by women is kind of circumstantial. I’m on a list for YA authors and it’s overwhelmingly gals. I know agents who represent only YA/children’s authors who are on the lookout for boy clients because their lists are 95% female. And when I look at the YA shelves there do seem to be more women than men.

    Yeah, YA made a big diff to me, too. It’s one of the many pleasures of writing it—the feeling that I might be helping some kid somewhere the way I was helped. Oooops, sorry if I got mushy there.

  5. Roger on #

    You old softie, you.

  6. jason erik lundberg on #

    I was (and am) extremely proud of the fact that when I edited Scattered, Covered, Smothered, our thirty contributors were split exactly down the middle, 15 female and 15 male. Just to let you know that there are anthologies out there honestly trying to represent both sides.

  7. Sir Tessa on #

    Perhaps it’s young and naive of me, but I thought stories were judged by the stories, not whether or not the writer had a sausage….

  8. Justine on #

    Jason: You should be proud (well, if the stories are good, that is!). And there are a number of other anthos out there like Kelly Link’s Trampoline that are likewise. It just doesn’t seem to happen as much in the big magazines or anthos from big houses.

    Hi, Ms First-Time-Commenter Tessa, if you go read the discussion over on Meghan McCarron’s livejournal you’ll see that this isn’t about how stories are judged. The vast majority of editors are not deliberately picking boy stories, most of them seem to publish the same proportions of boys and girls as send them stories. Which begs the question of why do more boys than girls submit? And etc.

    But I’d also say that it is niave of you to think that editors aren’t influenced by factors other than the story in front of them. In an ideal world yes, but we’re not in an ideal world. Excellent stories get rejected because the editor was in a bad mood, doesn’t like things written in present tense, is uninterested in stories about middle-aged women and etc.

    It’s just kind of tiresome that, lo, these many years after the advent of second wave feminism we’re still counting heads and it’s still not looking good. And that an antho that’s all women causes comment, but one that’s all blokes not so much.

    Which is why I’m loving the YA world where this is a non-issue.

  9. Carbonelle on #

    Hrmm… Let me guess you a guess. What are the relative numbers of women in fantasy as opposed to SF? And which genre has more market share?

    For my part, the other day, when I was trying to come up with “My favorite SF&F writers” who were male I was at a bit of a loss. Outside of John C. Wright and Garth Nix they were all dead (or heading that way fast). By “favorite” I mean, of course, that I’ll buy their books reviews-unseen, rather than wait for a library copy.

    Lois Bujold
    Diana Wynne Jones
    Rosemary Kirstein
    Pamela Dean
    Janet Kagen
    Sherwood Smith
    Eluki bes Shahar

    Beginning to see a pattern? And genderwossnamethinking gives me a pain: I swear I’m not doing this deliberately to Right the Great Wrong of the Evil Pale Penis People conspiracy.

  10. Justine on #

    If only there were a conspiracy, t’would be so much simpler!

    You’re right fantasy definitely has the bigger market share. Though many of those big sellers are the boys like Robert Jordan. My favourite big seller is Robin Hobb, though I hear from many of the joys of George R. R. Martin.

  11. Ben Payne on #

    I recently worked out the ratio at Aurealis, but then I lost the figures:) But the percentage of female authors published was high compared to the percentage of submissions. Submissions are *way* dominated by males.

  12. Lou Anders on #

    I have talked about this issue with both Ellen Datlow and Pamela Sargent. Ellen’s view is that you publish the best stories you can find, regardless of gender. Pam’s is that it is extremely hard to get the women in adult SF to write for anthologies and her “Women of Wonder” series is a nightmare for this reason. Not that the talent isn’t there – it is – but the women in adult SF (as opposed to fantasy where the numbers are more even) are in great demand. I will not tell tales out of school, but quite a few of them turned me down for both LIVE WITHOUT A NET and FUTURESHOCKS (with the explanation that they were tied up in novel writing commitments which took priority. This is no bad thing.) For some reason, I have had more luck with the next anthology, FAST FORWARD (due out in 07), which approaches an even split. But this has more to do with luck and timing than with the effort expended to deliberate balance the anthology. I tried just as hard with the previous anthology and it just didn’t shake out that way. Plus, at a certain point, you worry that you are leaving behind the merits of story in favor of tokenism, which is where Ellen’s comment becomes relevant.

  13. sdn on #

    i just took the best stories i got. i didn’t even know what the breakdown was until jonathan pointed it out to me. end of story.

  14. claire on #

    can i just ask: “the best stories” by what standard? women novelists in the 18th and 19th century were routinely told that they couldn’t be great writers because all they ever wrote about was the domestic sphere. “great” writing was about wars and tempests and politics and kidnappings and colonization ‘n’ stuff. courtship and marriage and child-rearing was lightweight and couldn’t be the subject of truly “good” writing.

    literary fiction’s stringent requirements about realism, coupled with the fact that the literary class in the first world just doesn’t have as much military or political experience or physical adventure anymore, has shifted the matter of “great” male themes into a more domestic arena. that’s why more women lit fic writers are allowed onto the scene. but despite the overwhelming numbers of women getting MFAs, writing stuff, and submitting it, still a lot more men get published, particularly in the more reputable journals and publishing houses. (i’m afraid i don’t read enough sf/f to comment on the field, but it sounds really similar to “lit” fic.)

    don’t know about you, but i’m suspecting that the “standards” are still skewed towards male points of view, if not male themes. frankly, i still think that even male bylines get closer readings. this is anecdotal, but i taught a china mieville story in a fiction writing class. the students had a lot of trouble with it and didn’t want to discuss it in class. at one point someone called the author “she” and i corrected her, telling everyone mieville is a man. everyone perked up after that and dug deeper into the story, and the discussion ended with two students commenting that they’d have to read the story again.

    i’m thinking that this attitude, among both men and women, is still prevalent, if not as virulent as it was last century. and if we’re all carrying around a little secret, unconscious prejudice in favor of male writers, how would we know if our standards of “best” writing don’t include little tics and details that skew towards men?

  15. David Moles on #

    And if we’re all carrying around a little secret, unconscious prejudice in favor of male writers, how would we know if our standards of “best” writing don’t include little tics and details that skew towards men?

    I think that’s two different questions. In the sense that, on the one hand, we may be more willing to give men the benefit of the doubt, and on the other hand there may be things we like that men are more likely to write than women.

    As an editor, I have to admit I’ve got a secret (less secret now, oops) conscious prejudice against male writers. And yet an embarrassing proportion of my favorite books—of the books I read, for that matter—are by men. What’s up with that, I’m not entirely sure.

  16. Jackie M. on #

    I would like to revisit Gwenda Bond’s comment on McCarron’s weblog about editors reading submissions blind: I think that’s the only way to really test theories of “stylistic bias” vs. “author gender bias.”

    Instead there’s the slush system. If an editor does have an unconscious bias, any unconscious bias, that’s where it’s going to show up: in the moment when they sort an author into the slush or non-slush piles. And editors of major mags would undoubtedly argue that there’s no other way, given the volume of submissions flushing through their systems every year.

    But I would argue that GvG, for example, can’t make the claim that he “just prefers men’s writing,” — not until he’s read a couple thousand submissions blind. Slush and all!

  17. David Moles on #

    You could try to come up with objective criteria (not requiring sorter to know the identity or gender of the writer) for putting something in the “non-slush” pile, but that would require a lot of extra bookkeeping.

  18. Ted on #

    Regarding the proposal of reading submissions blind as compared to the existing slushpile system: I have long heard editors say that the author’s name doesn’t affect what stories they buy, that they give unknown writers the same chance as big names. I have never believed this. I think the separation of manuscripts out of the slushpile makes some degree of bias inevitable. If human beings were really capable of absolute objectivity, there’d be no need for double-blind studies in medicine. I expect that if editors had to read all submissions blind, they would pick a somewhat different set of stories than they are picking now.

    Would this technique lead to better magazines and anthologies? I wouldn’t be surprised. But given the practical realities of publishing, the added cost of reading submissions blind would probably far outweigh the benefits, so there’s no economic incentive to adopt this technique. Reading blind is something that can only be done in situations where economic considerations are really low on the list of priorities.

  19. Jackie M. on #

    ooo, you mean like lawsuits? :>

  20. Jackie M. on #

    That’s how they got ETS to finally renormalize the PSAT, isn’t it? And why corporate america has generally better sexual harrassment policies than academia. But presumably threatening to put the already-struggling mags under with legal dirtywork isn’t going to help anybody.

    Nonetheless, it might be interesting if they tried it just for a month or two, then checked to see if that made a difference in their published gender ratio. how many months would it take to get a one-sigma result? Too many, probably. it might also be interesting just to examine the gender ratios of the slush and non-slush piles.

    Heck, if I could interview for jobs behind a gender blind, I’d do that too.

  21. Ted on #

    You mean a lawsuit claiming that the current editorial policy is discriminatory? That would certainly increase the economic benefit of reading blind, so it might become a more feasible option. On the other hand, some form of quota system might be a cheaper way to get around that (if it can be done in such a way as to avoid other legal challenges). 🙂

  22. David Moles on #

    If I read blind, those of my friends who persist in thinking that “monospaced” means “monospaced unless you’re me, because I’m a pro and I know that Times New Roman is the new Courier, whatever Dave says” would be in trouble. 🙂

  23. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Here’s my two cents, culled from my experiences in the movie world. According to “market research” women will read/watch stories about men but men will not read/watch stories about women. This “fact” colors every greenlight decision made in Hollywood and led to the invention of the “chick flick” (read: movie with lowered budget to compensate for the loss of half of the potential box office).

    I was watching Snow White (the original Disney animation) the other day with my niece and realized that this movie was considered a film for all ages and both genders, despite the fact that both main characters are female. I think what has happened is that market researchers and focus group leaders have justified their existence by carving up the marketplace into demographic segments which are easily quantifiable. Content providers (movie studios, publishers, etc.) can use this data to target content. What’s lost, however, is the notion of a shared culture and, even more importantly, the idea that a man can enjoy seeing things through the POV of a female character.

  24. David Moles on #


    And it becomes self-reinforcing, right? Pop culture tells guys that liking a chick flick is something they have to be defensive about.

  25. Ben Payne on #

    I don’t know if it’s fair to make the above film comparison…. given that chickflicks are a genre, whereas films with a male in the lead aren’t limited to a particular genre…

    There are good films with female leads which aren’t chick flicks… like Ghost World… but I couldn’t in all honesty blame anyone for being hesitant to go to a chick flick because 90% of that genre is imho absolute crap…

    To me the problem isn’t that males are unwilling to watch a film with a female lead (although some may be) but merely that not enough films with strong female characters are being made, so it does become self-perpetuating…

  26. claire on #

    There are good films with female leads which aren’t chick flicks—ike Ghost World… but I couldn’t in all honesty blame anyone for being hesitant to go to a chick flick because 90% of that genre is imho absolute crap

    QE fuckin’ D. not to jump all over you, ben, (really not) but this is exactly what i was saying above when i suggested that the standards are skewed towards male points of view and male-suggestive tics and details. the diff between “chick flicks” and films with female leads like ghost world is WHO THEY’RE MADE FOR (and i think lauren kind of addressed this already.)

    first of all 90% of all movies are crap. so it makes sense that 90% of chick flicks are crap too. so why does the crappiness of most chick flicks get special mention?

    secondly, ghost world was made by and for men. hipster women will tell you how good they thought “ghost world” was because it was universally praised by the (male dominated) critics’ college but you will not find “ghost world” on any women’s top ten lists. let’s review why: two luscious, nubile, yet intelligent and hip young things career through the depressing, depressing world together. is there anything more frightening to geeky-literate males of all ages than two hot 18-y/o hipster girls making fun of everything? but never fear, because a middle aged, ugly literate-geek, remarkably like daniel clowes, through the sheer force of his culture-savviness peels the arguably lusher bunny away from her two-fer and fucks her brains out. eventually she wanders away again, leaving him in an enviably melancholy funk.

    yeah, that was MY fantasy when i was 18. THAT movie was about accurately representing and empowering women. SURE.

  27. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Thank you, Claire. You expressed my sentiments precisely. And I too am bored by the seeming ubiquity of storylines featuring shabby middle-aged dudes snaring luscious babes (Sideways, Lost in Translation) and no this is not restricted to movie world. I just bailed out of Salman Rushdie’s Fury which featured, you betcha, a shabby 55-year-old dude who dumps his wife and infant son for a younger woman who is so beautiful she–and I’m not kidding here-stops traffic. I think we need a new term for this storytelling phenomenon. How about DickLit.

  28. claire on #

    dicklit is purrrrfect! let’s make tom robbins the sloping-shouldered hippie godfather of dicklit. and philip roth a la “the ghostwriter” the anti-dickliterati.

  29. Ben Payne on #

    Claire, fair enough re: middle aged males and young chicks genre:)

    what about amelie, then? that’s a good film with a female lead that I wouldn’t consider (and have never heard refered to as) a chick flick… but according to the movie show list recently it’s resoundingly popular with female viewers…

    i dunno… perhaps it’s just the circles I move in, but the word “chickflick” only ever seems to be used to refer to movies that are pretty crap but that women will like (it is assumed) because they adhere to stereotypes of romantic desire…

    perhaps we’ve just had differing experiences with use of the term…

  30. Justine on #

    “Chicklit” is overwhelmingly used to dismiss stuff by pretty much everyone. Personally, I couldn’t stand Amelie so hideously French and cute. Aaarggh!! But I am a grumpy old hater of things cute.

  31. Ben Payne on #

    …in any case I’m no expert on chickflick or chicklit genres so will accept that i could be completely wrong and bow out of this argument (un)gracefully…

  32. Lawrence on #

    I think its a bit disingenuous for an editor of an invitation-only anthology to say they only look at the stories, not the gender of who’s submitting (or in this case being invited), unless they’re inviting more people than are actually included in the book (which is not often the case for closed anthologies, if only because budgets usually limit how many stories can be bought for a project, and an editor doens’t like to find her-/himself of having requested something that s/he can’t use).

    Looking at some of the mixed-gender anthologies I’ve edited myself (excluding for the moment anthologies of only gay material, although even there I’ve often included work by women writing under male bylines unless it was a non-fic antho) the gender-breakdowns of contributors are as follows:

    6 women (although 7 stories, since 2 by Martha Soukup)
    4 men

    12 women (11 stories, one poem)
    4 men

    8 women
    9 men (8 stories, and one poem)

    3 women
    4 men
    (These were almost all novelettes, so few contribs)

    For the American Vampire series, which was primarily a reprint anthology series, we were restricted by what stories were available with a setting from each of the states in that region. Nonetheless, the gender-balances are not too uneven:

    7 women
    6 men

    7 women
    6 men

    5 women
    5 men

    4 women
    8 men

    But I’m probably a lot more senstitive to these issues than most (especially SF) editors.

  33. Justine on #

    Yay you, Lawrence. Ample evidence of a very even hand. I’m not sure about the disingenousness of other editors though. I really think there’s more at work here than the choice editors make. There’s still the big old problem of so many women not sending stuff out the way so many of the men do . . .

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