The topic of diversity is the most talked about topic in the SFF community this year and I wanted to analyze a part of the diversity conversation, the amount of women authors that I have read. I looked at all the books I have reviewed on this site over the last 2 years and came out with the following statistics:
Amount of books reviewed/read: 122
Amount of Men: 79, which is 65%
Amount of Women: 43, which is 35%
If I take into consideration how much I like Robin Hobb and the fact that I’ve read 9 books from her in the last 2 years, removing those books, my percentage goes to 30%.
I was also curious how I was rating female authors vs male authors. Was there actually an unknown prejudice within myself inherent in the scoring of my books?
My results with this portion of my exercise surprised me some and I am slightly ashamed by the results. My average rating for my male books is 3.6 while my average rating for my female books is 3.4. If you remove the Robin Hobb books from the equation my average rating for female authors drops to a dismal 3.2.
5 Star ratings – 9 Women and 16 Men
4 Star Ratings – 12 Women and 29 Men
3 Star Ratings – 15 Women and 22 Men
2 Star Ratings – 4 Women and 9 Men
1 Star Rating – 3 Women and 4 Men
In a perfect scenario, I would be reading an equal amount of men to women with an average rating around 3.5 for both genders(this is my target rating average for myself). I would like to talk about how this can be difficult at times for a backlist SFF reader that averages around 60 books a year later on in this post but first I want to focus on the numbers first. Am I happy with the split I have going on at the moment? I think that I’m not too upset with my representation at the moment, but I do see that there is a lot of room for improvement. The biggest and most telling thing about these statistics are that my average rating without Robin Hobb(one of my favorite authors) is a little lower than I want it to be. Am I not picking the right female authors or do I have a possible unconscious prejudice to score female books lower than men? I’m not sure I can answer that question but just asking that question will help me be more cognizant of the variables in the future. I definitely need to be more careful about which female-authored books I read to make sure that the books are something that I’ll enjoy, in fact, maybe my research on female author’s books is somewhat lacking.
Now is the time where I delve into some of my more controversial opinions on this subject. It is easy to make a blanketed statement that readers should be reading an equal amount of men and women and the people that make those statements are not incorrect in saying so but there are so many other variables at play. The first variable is the ability to get diverse books. Not everyone lives in an amazing library system or has the funds to get new books often. My own personal library system carries much less female SFF than it does the male equivalents. I would love to read The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley but my library system,the entire state, doesn’t even have a copy.
Another important variable to consider when we approach gender diversity is that we are all at a different point in our reading journey. I just started to get back into reading fantasy about 3 years ago after a 10-year break and I just started to get into reading science fiction. There are a ton of books and series out there that I’ve missed out on. I’m trying to catch up with the series that people consider some of the best fantasy series of all time. It is no surprise that there are a lot of white dudes on the most popular fantasy lists, especially modern fantasy lists. If we take a look at Martin, Sanderson, Jordan, Erikson, Kay, Sullivan, Lynch, Pratchett, Abercrombie, Cameron, and Rothfuss, names that are constantly thrown around as “must read modern fantasy,” we have enough books that would take a normal person 3+ years to complete reading. That individual is not sexist because they want to read those books, they just want to discover what everyone else has already discovered. They want to be a part of the conversation. The only female name that routinely gets mentioned in this long list of modern fantasy greats is Robin Hobb, and that is way too few. If we want people to read more female fantasy authors, casual readers, who make up a large bulk of the SFF reading market, we need to keep mentioning other female writers into our all time favorite series. The list is what is important and everyone has their own list. The more we talk about the female authors on our list, the chance they will appear on other people’s list.
Also, it is unfair to look down on individuals that don’t read as diversely as others because they might not be able to read as many books as you. I’ve noticed that the call for gender equality in reading is usually from the people that are A)well read and B) read a ton of books. When you read 100 books a year it is much easier to read more gender equal because you are not as bogged down with long series as someone that might only read 12 books a year. If a guy reads only Malazan in 2016, doesn’t mean he is against reading female authors. Just the same way as if a female reader only read Lois McMaster Bujold and Ursula K. Le Guin books the entire year, she isn’t against men. If anything, the call for longer series from women is needed.
In the end, we cannot base someone’s personal viewpoints on gender, race, and sexuality on what they read. People are sexist, racist, and intolerant based on how they treat people, not what books they read. I could read all white science fiction dudes from the 1950s and still stand up for equality in my own personal life. I’ve seen bloggers get harassed online because their individual cannon of science fiction didn’t include women. Calling someone sexist, racist, or a bigot is a big deal, but the internet seems to throw these words around like they mean very little. Personally, if someone called me one of these things, I would be completely gutted, and heartbroken. I am terrified to say the wrong thing on Booktube, all the time because in an instant I could be labeled something I’m not. Once I mentioned something during a conversation on twitter last year with booktubers and I was accused of “tone policing,” and about 3 people were upset with me after that. I learned my lesson quickly, don’t get involved, and keep your opinion to yourself. A friend of mine got called a racist, and her comments were removed, because she was discussing in the comments on a very popular book website about why she was frustrated with diversity posts.
So what are you getting at Paul? People want to read the books they want to read. Listen, even if people don’t want to diversify their reading, it’s O.K., they aren’t a bad person, they are choosing to spend their free time reading something they know they will enjoy, they are not your enemy. Reading is something we do for fun and not a measurement of someone’s character. The language around the call for gender equality and diversity is very important. The goal for diversity should be to make those people want to read diverse books. We accomplish that, not through guilt, and definitely not through harassment, but through talking about how amazing the books are that we are reading. I understand that there are minorities and women getting harassed online all the time but we need to not take that frustration and point it towards others. We need to help them understand that we are not saying what they are doing is wrong or they have to change but to be open to change in the future. We create real change by adding more female authors on our own personal lists. That is why doing my stats was so important to me, because I need to find someone other than Robin Hobb to mention when I talk about my favorite authors. That is why I need to read more gender equal, so I can find those amazing female authors to recommend to other readers, and in turn, they can tell their friends. Remember, we are all readers, and we can read whatever we want to read, so be kind to each other, and talk about the books you love with others.
If you would like to read an excellent Reddit post from author Krista D Ball that counters some of my points and brings up a ton of information, go here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/4stya7/is_good_good_enough_marketings_effect_on_what_we/ I agree with a lot of what she says and I think she is right on a lot of things but I also feel that there can be other degrees of correctness too, including what I wrote above. When it comes to discussions, a lot of people want easy Yes/No answers, but very rarely is the actual circumstance for each individual as black and white.