Update: HERE's a great article at VIDA that brings up the points I mentioned here and expands on it and other relevant issues. Great reading. I had NO idea that Oprah hadn't featured a female writer on her book club in 5 years-- did you?
Lately there has been quite a discussion on the topic of gender bias and book reviews. Specifically the notion that male reviewers don't tend to review fantasy/scifi by female writers. I hadn't intended to venture into the conversation, but discovered that I played an unwitting part in the discussion when this blog was included in a statistical breakdown of how books are reviewed by gender over at Lady Business. Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' was categorized, appropriately, as a mixed gender blog since two out of the three reviewers here are male. And if you look at the breakdown of male-to-female authors that were reviewed in the period studied you'd see that this blog skews about two-thirds in the direction of male authors reviewed; almost exactly in line with the gender breakdown of this blog.
What that means is that this blog, one that has been run by a woman for over six years (this is my seventh), is one of the worst offenders when it comes to reviewing more male than female authors.
How about that.
After seeing the numbers I went and looked at my own personal list of books reviewed (through Goodreads) and saw that I was pretty equitable in my reviews-- my gender balance was almost dead-even.
Does that mean I'm going to cast a jaundiced eye at my male reviewers and start pointing fingers?
Here's the thing. Before I had male contributors to my blog I had a hard time gaining- and keeping- a male audience. I think most blogs like mine will see people come and go, and the audience does change. When I started there weren't that many female reviewers out there. I remember being sent and email from a publisher asking if I wanted to review a couple of books and asking me if I would pass on the word to other reviewers. I actually had to do some searching to find some other reviewers to ask and the only female reviewer I could find at the time was SciFi Chick. I'm sure there were probably others out there, and I'm sorry if I missed you, but we ladies weren't around en masse when review-blogging was new. How times have changed. Now there are so many blogs I can't keep track anymore. If you type in urban fantasy reviews you'll get page after page of results-- many run by women.
I tend to run from gender politics when I feel as if we're tying to make people change their behavior. But I have to admit that looking at the charts has made me think. According to the admittedly small sample it would appear that women reviewers are more equitable when it comes to the gender dispersion of their reviews. They might skew slightly toward favoring female authors, but not nearly as much as male reviewers favor male authors.
But... I have a hard time giving too much credence to such a small study. One thing I know is that correlation does not mean causation-- in other words, just because we can observe what appears to be a gender bias doesn't mean that the reviewers are choosing books based on gender preferences. There are so many other things to take into account from simple considerations like how many female vs. male authors are in print, to how books are being marketed to a certain audience. I know, as the owner of this blog, that the emails I get offering me urban fantasy titles are far larger than those offering me pure science fiction-- those offers go to Bill and Jim. So are the publishers to blame for offering books for review along certain gender lines? Personally, I'd say it's more likely that their experience tells them that men and women are receptive to different things and they make their offers accordingly.
Over the years I've had several contributors to this blog; some male, some female. And you know what? The most consistent and loyal contributors have been the guys. Is that an indictment of women? No. What it means to me is that pure fantasy and science fiction still has a larger male audience than female one. I do know a lot of women who love fantasy, but I don't know many who read a lot of science fiction- myself included. Urban Fantasy has a huge female base but the guys I know often seem drawn to the UF written by James Butcher, Simon R. Green and Mike Carey rather than books written by Patricia Briggs, Rachel Caine or Chloe Neill. I know there are exceptions and I've had my guys request authors like Gini Koch, Seanan McGuire and Sharon Shinn on a regular basis. But I think if you asked the guys what they read more, science fiction or urban fantasy, you'd see a trend toward the sci-fi. I don't have the data in front of me, but I'd hazard to guess that pure sci-fi is still a male dominated genre even though women like Kristine Katherine Rusch, CJ Cherryh and Justina Robson have shown that women can excel at the genre.
The overall gist of the conversation, as far as I can tell, seems geared toward encouraging male reviewers to making an effort toward reading, and reviewing, more female authors. And I think that's generally a good goal. But I hesitate toward trying to use guilt as a lever toward achieving that goal. I like the study done by Lady Business because it approaches the topic from an empirical standpoint rather than the I feel or I think standpoint. Logic is our friend in this discussion and guilt is the enemy.
Have I experience sexism as a female blogger? I think I have. I've beat my chest a little bit over the times I've been dismissed as a lightweight in the reviewing game. And there have been more than a few moments when I thought I should just quit. In fact, I can't give you a good reason why I don't other than I still like what I'm doing. I won't say I stopped trying to cater to a male audience, but rather than try to change what I do, I happily accepted the help of male reviewers who bring something else to the blog. Would I like women to be more represented around here? Sure-- but women aren't speaking up and asking to be included.
Think about that.
Almost every time I've had a woman other than myself contribute here, I've had to pursue them and ask them to post-- and I can't get them to stay. Maybe that's my fault. But every man who has posted here approached me first and they have a better track record for sticking around. I've also only had one female author ever write me to thank me for a review; while I've had several men reach out to do the same thing or engage me in a conversation if I didn't like what I read. What that tells me is that men are far more active in advocating for themselves. What that also tells me is that this conversation, which seems driven toward asking the men to do more heavy lifting on our behalf, might not be as forward thinking as we believe.
Again, I'm not trying to indict my own gender. But I know that I am not as likely to put myself forward as my male counterparts-- and that's my fault. So I just think that we have to tread lightly here and not be too quick to judge either side until we ask ourselves what we're doing, individually, to make sure our gender is being represented as we like through our own efforts. Could I make more of an effort to read and review female authors who write science fiction?-- you bet. Should I? I think that question answers itself.