A gender imbalance exists in science fiction and fantasy--male authors get anthologized more, get more awards, and get picked for lists more, as discussed in this article by Alisa Krasnostein--The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction. Stella Matutina picked up on this issue today, and has vowed to spend the next 14 weeks highlighting great women writers of fantasy.
In composing a response to that post, it struck me that there exists the opposite gender imbalance (men getting noticeably less attention) in the genre I care most about--middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction. I see it in my own reviewing--out of the last twenty books I reviewed, only three have been by men. This seems fairly typical of my blog. Looking through all my posts, I seem to review about 4 sff books by women for every 1 book by a man. To see if this bias was unique to me, I went through the last five of my middle-grade science fiction/fantasy roundups, to get data--female writers are reviewed or interviewed 63 times, male writers 37 times. That's just middle grade--I don't have any data for YA, but my impression is that YA bloggers are giving an even greater percentage of their attention to female writers.
Now, one could argue that this bias is because the book blogging community has a similarly disproportionate gender imbalance (I don't think I'm simply unaware of the 100s of teenaged boys blogging about sff books). I myself (female) find middle grade speculative fiction that features non-stop, sometimes icky, slapsticky violence, and/or overt grossness, unappealing, although I have reviewed some such books, and try to be fair to them (even if they aren't the sort of book I love myself). And many of these books are written by guys, for guys, and that is just fine. But it does mean that I won't be seeking them out all that eagerly. I haven't, for instance, been tempted by Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger, by Kevin Bolger.
Turning, however, beyond the day-to-day life of blogs to the awards, one sees the same gender imbalance. Out of the 14 books shortlisted for the Cybils in sff in 2009, only one was by a man (and he was Neil Gaiman). Out of the 8 books shortlisted for this year's Andre Norton Award (the Nebula for children's/YA books), 6 were by women; last year, 4 out of 5 were women, the year before, 5 out of 7. No man has ever won this award. Of the four fantasy books in contention for this year's Guardian's Children's Book Award, 3 are by women.
I looked at my last five posts on new releases of science fiction and fantasy for children and teens, to see if more women were being published. They are--there are 57 books by men, 102 by women. If I were writing this as an academic article, I'd also look at the sales data (NY Times bestseller list, books on display at bookstores), but life is too short...Still, even without that piece of the picture, it seems clear that middle grade/YA fantasy and science fiction is a female-dominated genre.
I thought it would be interesting to throw out all the reasons I could think of (whether I believe in them or not--so please don't assume I do!), under two main categories:
The Gender of the Readers:
Is this because girls ostensibly read more than boys, and, since women more often write girl-friendly books than boys, more women are being published (and more girls then want to read the books, continuing the cycle)? The gender imbalance in published books is more pronounced in YA--are boys moving more quickly into the adult section (for whatever reason), where there are more male authors? Is it the case that grown-up women (like me!) are more likely to "read down" than grown-up men, and publishers are thinking of this demographic (women with credit cards) when they make their decisions?
Larger Social Expectations/Gender Stereotypes
Are there larger social issues at play? Are women, for instance, (I write with tongue in cheek), subtly conditioned to take on the role of those who look after children, and thus choose to write for children? Or are there factors of ego at play? One can argue (although I wouldn't) that writing for children is less "prestigious" than writing for adults. Are women more comfortable with writing for children, because they are more accustomed to being told that what they do is not important? Or because they give less of a hoot about what other people think?
Or, more insidiously, is it because the publishers are suggesting to female authors that they write younger than they had originally wanted to, while marketing male-written sff as adult? An unconscious patronizing attitude, that may be coming into play in the Andre Norton Awards, that writing for children is the province of women.
I have a huge respect for books written for children and teens--those are the books I enjoy the most myself, and I think many of them are gorgeously written, incredibly creative, and all around excellent. I don't mind at all that so many talented women are writing just the sort of book I want to read. But I do mind the possibility that men might be having a harder time getting their mg/ya fantasy/science fiction published than women (if this is in fact, the case), and then getting attention for their books.
And I mind very much indeed that I, myself, have such a glaring gender imbalance on my blog, because I do care very much about boys reading (since boys is what I have at home), and I want my blog to be a useful resource to those looking for books for boys. Moreover, since it's absurd to think that "men write books for boys, and only boys," I would hate to think that I was unconsciously overlooking books by men that I (and other girl-type people) would like lots. So I will try to be mindful of that, when I am at ALA next weekend and pouncing on books. I will try to pounce with gender equity and an open mind.