SF and Fantasy in the New Millennium: Women Publishing Short Fiction
By Susan U. Linville
20 August 2007
[Editor's note: The following essay originally appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of the SFWA Bulletin and has been reprinted here with the permission of the author, who has also written an update to this essay.]
"No Woman Born"
The Golden Age of Science Fiction could as easily have been called the Testosterone Age, with its preponderance of men reading and writing short SF. The bold women explorers who defied this trend—C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Judith Merril—were seen as the exceptions they were. Was this evidence of editorial bias or a lack of women interested in writing SF? The two explanations may not be quite so discrete. Clearly there was a perceived bias in SF at the time. As Pamela Sargent wrote in her introduction for Women of Wonder, "Why read a literature in which the future was often made by men for men? Why be interested in worlds that excluded women from any meaningful activities?" Did editorial bias lead to lack of interest or was it the other way around? Does it matter? We have grown. The field has grown. Feminism begat postfeminism. Russ to Fowler. To say nothing of the Willis. Surely all is well in the realm.
Perhaps that, too, is more perception than reality.
"When It Changed"
With the Fantasy explosion in recent decades and a greater number of women becoming interested in and taking up careers in science, women have dramatically increased their presence in the SF and Fantasy community, as readers, writers, and fans. A random sampling (1,760 attendees) of the Millennium Philcon 2001 Worldcon membership roster indicates that 47% of the members were women. SFWA's 2001 active membership comprised 38% women. Women received 47.5% of the Nebulas and 32% of the Hugos awarded in the 1990s.
These figures offer clear evidence that women have become more involved in the SF community, increased their presence among professional writers, and won critical acclaim. You might imagine my surprise, then, to discover that only 26% of the stories published in the Big Four print magazines in 2001 were written by women (Analog 13%, Asimov's 28%, F&SF 19%, and Realms of Fantasy 33%). An aberration? To find out, I compiled a database of stories published in the Big Four from 1980 through 2001, identified gender for as many authors as I could, and examined trends.
Of 2513 stories published in Analog from 1980-2001, 11% were written by women (4% unknown gender). Asimov's published 1946 stories, 27% written by women (0.6% unknown). F&SF published 1937 stories, 26% written by women (0.1% unknown). Realms of Fantasy began publishing in 1994 and 49% of the 256 stories there were written by women (1% unknown). 2001, it seems, was not an aberration. Have women writers made any progress in the last two decades?
The proportion of women SFWA members grew from 30% in 1993 to 38% in 2001, an increase of 27%. Has there been a corresponding increase in Big Four publications? Based on Figures 1-4, it would appear not. There was, however, an increase in stories published by women between the 1980s and 1990s (averaged by decade to obviate year-by-year fluctuation). Analog (Figure 1) exhibited a 50% increase (8% to 12% stories by women). Asimov's (Figure 2) experienced an increase of 8% (26% to 28%). F&SF (Figure 3) showed an impressive 73% increase (19% to 33%). Realms of Fantasy (Figure 4), which began publication in 1994, could not be compared in this manner, but currently shows a declining trend in publication of stories by women.
Increases in the number of stories written by women over a twenty-year period is a good indication of positive change, but why, I wondered, do women continue to be underrepresented in the short fiction market?
"Expecting Sunshine and Getting It"
Demographic progress aside, the pool of professional level SF and Fantasy magazine editors remains predominantly male (22 of 28, or 79%, data from Broad Universe). Could gender bias be to blame? I asked women writers to relate their experience.
Karen Traviss wrote: "I've had absolutely no experience whatsoever of gender bias in short fiction. All the major magazine editors I've dealt with have been genuinely supportive and helpful—and they actually buy my work, which is the best evidence I have of no bias." Carrie Richerson echoed the sentiment: "I do not think there is any male editorial bias. I had only one story published in F&SF last year, but I have had a number published there over the years, and two in Realms. I have submitted to Asimov's a number of times, but not to Analog. I've been rejected every time at Asimov's (personally by Gardner), but encouraged to submit again. I have never seen anything at those magazines, or heard anything from other writers, that supports a charge of editorial bias."
Amy Hanson suggests that a subconscious bias may still exist. "I personally think so, but not an intentional one. I personally think that male editors are less interested in 'hearth' stories. They want Action, Adventure, and Big-Picture Problems. I personally think women write calmer stories, more introspective stories, small-picture problems as symbols of larger issues. I obviously have no data to prove my opinion, it's just a feeling I've gotten from listening to editorial advice at various panels."
What does the data suggest? Is there evidence of gender-based bias, subconscious or otherwise? Do women editors publish more stories by women than men editors? Shawna McCarthy publishes a higher percentage of stories by women in Realms of Fantasy, but that could be because women tend to write more fantasy than science fiction. Fortunately, Asimov's and F&SF have had both male and female editors in the past twenty years and publish both fantasy and science fiction. Ellen Datlow kindly provided additional data for Omni and SCI FICTION, which also publish(ed) both science fiction and fantasy.
For Asimov's, I had data from four editors: George Scithers 1977-1981, Kathleen Moloney 1982, Shawna McCarthy 1983-1985, and Gardner Dozois 1986-2001. I combined data from Moloney and McCarthy. Scithers published an average of 20% stories by women, Moloney and McCarthy published 26% and Dozois published 27%. Using Chi Square statistical analysis, I found no significant difference between these percentages.
For F&SF, I had data for three editors: Edward Ferman 1980-mid-1991, Kristine Kathryn Rusch mid-1991-1997, and Gordon Van Gelder 1998-2001. Ferman published an average of 21% stories by women, Rusch 34%, and Van Gelder 27.5%. Chi Square analysis indicates that Rusch published significantly more stories by women than Ferman, but there is no significant difference between Rusch and Van Gelder.
While Ellen Datlow was fiction editor at Omni (1981-1995) she published an average of 21% stories by women. While editor of SCI FICTION (2000-2002), she has published an average of 30% stories by women. Her overall average of 25.5% is not significantly different from the male editors.
In general, male editors do not publish significantly fewer stories by women than their female counterparts.
"View From a Height"
I also asked editors for their opinions on the subject of editorial bias. Ellen Datlow responded: "If you ask if I think there's a male editorial bias, I can't answer for the male editors. But looking at the percentage of fiction by male to female writers that I've published in 2 1/2 years with SCI FICTION, I've been publishing more fiction by male writers than female. Even Shawna McCarthy is publishing more fiction by men than women, and fantasy has for the past 20 years been considered a genre that women dominate. So why would this be a bias of male editors? One might say we're all biased, but I don't believe that. I'm gender blind when I read submissions."
In an interview by Christopher Hennessey-DeRose on SciFi.com, Kristine Kathryn Rusch said: "I think the idea that women are discriminated against in SF goes completely against reality. It used to be true about 30 years ago. It is not now. There are more female SF writers than male SF writers, and we're getting published in larger numbers. There are also more female editors."
"Short in the Chest"
Could low submission rates be behind the low numbers of SF and Fantasy stories published by women authors? I asked editors for estimates of stories submitted by women and received the following: Analog 30%, Asimov's 33-50%, F&SF 50%, Realms (no response), SCI FICTION 50%. Fortunately, Gordon Van Gelder at F&SF was kind enough to do an actual submission count. Of 375 submissions, he found that 265 were from men (70.5%), 94 from women (25%) and 17 unknown (4.5%). He wrote: "I have to admit these results are not what I expected—I thought the male/female ratio was closer to 50/50."
Subsequently, I have heard from other editors. Ellen Datlow wrote: "My perception of why there seems to be less short fiction published by women than men is a simple one—that fewer women submit short stories. Although I don't count the submissions to SCI FICTION by gender I estimate that 70-75% of the non-slush manuscripts I receive are by men. Kelly Link, my reader, did a count of the most recent pile of slush I gave her and she came to the same conclusion."
Jed Hartman, an editor with Strange Horizons, wrote: "I did a very rough and unscientific count of the SH submissions for the month of June 2002, and found to my surprise that only about 40% of our submissions are by women (though there's plenty of room for statistical error there—only one month, a very rough count, and I ignored any name for which I wasn't fairly certain of the associated gender). I too would have expected that it was about 50/50."
Catriona Sparks, manager and editor of a new Australian Press called Agog! had a similar experience. She wrote: "I was dismayed at how few submissions I received from women writers. I was hoping for a 50:50 gender split for the antho but I had to settle for 70:30 male to female. Overall the quality of the subs from women seemed to be higher than those of the men, but until I have produced a few anthos I guess I can't be sure if that is a trend or not."
"The Women Men Don't See"
The information I gathered indicates that fewer publications in short fiction by women is probably due to women submitting fewer stories. Why the dearth of submissions?
Gordon Van Gelder suggests that women may be less competitive. He wrote: "David Hartwell pointed out to me, as did Susan Fry in a Speculations editorial, that men tend to be more competitive than women. They tend to compete harder for available slots in a magazine and although no one has ever said as much to me, I suspect they revel more in things like how many cover stories they get. (I recall reading that Chester Gould used to brag about how long his Dick Tracy strip's run as the first cartoon in the New York Daily News ran.) I suspect that competitive spirit allows them to deal better with rejection. From my own experience, I've found that many women will submit one or two stories to me and if I don't buy either, they'll conclude that I'll never buy a story from them and they stop submitting. Men are more likely to take the two rejections as challenges and they'll keep trying."
When I asked women writers if they thought women were more easily discouraged than men, the comments were mixed. Mary Turzillo wrote: "I never get discouraged, but then I'm stubborn." Susan Harris wrote: "I think I do submit as much as the men writers I know. At least my ego is sufficiently strong to assume that what I write is worth submitting. However, I spoke to several women at the last Wiscon who confessed they didn't submit frequently. They didn't, for instance, immediately try to find another place for a rejected story."
Phoebe Wray wrote: "I am definitely less aggressive in pursuing markets than most people, but I'm not sure how much that has to do with gender. It is true that after my rejection from F&SF, the next time I had a story to shop around I didn't send it to them. I submitted it to Strange Horizons, because I knew some people who had already been published there so it seemed less unattainable. It proved to be equally unattainable, alas, but I did get some good feedback, which I used to revise the story; it's now at Asimov's, which I'm sure will prove to be just as unattainable as the other two. I'm not sure why I didn't send it to F&SF unless it's that I felt I had already had the F&SF Swift Rejection Experience, and didn't think it would be any different the second time around."
Two women suggested that the problem was not discouragement, but time. Suzette Haden Elgin wrote: "I think women tend to be far busier than men, because they are running households and responsible for all the caretaking in addition to working; that makes their submission numbers lower. But it's not because they're easily discouraged." Mary Turzillo wrote: "Men writers frequently have to work two jobs, especially at the beginning of their careers: the day-job and the writing job (yes, it is a job!). Women work three jobs: the day-job (because most women with kids have a job outside the home), the evening job of taking care of the house and kids, and the evening job of writing. They may be able to get a few stories in print, but the time angle is crushing."
Be it discouragement, time constraints, or other obstacles, the under-representation of women in the short fiction market hurts us all. Readers miss the unique insights that women bring to fiction. Women writers receive fewer reminders that it is possible to sell their work to major markets. Editors and publishers fail to connect fully with the larger audience of women. Karen Traviss commented: "I think men and women prefer different kinds of stories. Hopefully this article will get the editors thinking about what stories they are accepting, and they will realize they have a mixed audience they need to address."
In 1995, Pamela Sargent wrote, in her introduction to Women of Wonder, The Contemporary Years: "Women have unquestionably made advances. It remains to be seen whether these advances are subtle and pervasive, but not yet easily discerned, or instead ambiguous." Hopefully, the data and anecdotal evidence presented in this article provides at least a glimpse of an answer. Women have worked diligently for fifty years to achieve parity in the SF and Fantasy short fiction markets. Progress has been made and progress can continue to be made.
The future of women in SF and Fantasy is carried in every woman's intellect and imagination and her willingness to persist. If women are to achieve true parity in this field, they must finish their work, submit their work, and persist in marketing their work. It seems likely that publication success is due less to external than internal factors.
So, as a writer who lives an hour from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I end with: Ladies, start your computers!
Indexes of published short stories came from two sources: the Locus online site and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. The index for Analog (1948-1996) was already in a database compiled by Cary Thomas, to whom I am deeply grateful. This saved hours of data-input time. I only had to add the gender information. Magazine date, volume, issue, author name, author gender, and story title was entered into a database. The database was then used to calculate specific totals. In this article I used the proportion of stories published by women. Numbers were rounded. I also checked the proportion of women authors who published to see if there were any large differences in those data. The data were comparable, so I used the story counts. When there was more than one author for a story, each author received a fraction of one. For example, if there were two authors, each author was counted as 1/2. I tried to identify the gender of as many authors as possible.
I used a Chi Square test for analyses and set my p value at 0.05. This is a simple test used to determine if two proportions are statistically different from each other.
I would like to thank Gordon Van Gelder for all his help with this article. He collected data, helped me find the gender of several authors, and supplied me with comments. I would also like to thank Amy Hanson for sending my questionnaire to the Broad Universe members as well as sending me additional information.
Recommended reading and references
Women of Wonder, The Contemporary Years, Pamela Sargent, Harcourt Brace & Co., NY, 1995.
Women of Wonder, The Classic Years, Pamela Sargent, Harcourt Brace & Co., NY, 1995
Broad Universe. All women SF and Fantasy writers should be aware of this site and think about joining the Broad Universe, a group for promoting science fiction, fantasy, and horror written by women. Men are welcome to join too. Publication data for women is listed on this site.
Locus online. Locus has a wonderful site with author publications and magazine content pages that were an enormous help for this article.
Internet Speculative Fiction Database. This web site has a large amount of data available on authors, publications, and awards and saved me hours of data collection time.
Cary Thomas has a database on this site containing publication data from Analog (1948-1996).
The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide. There is a little bit about everything on this site, including the identities and pseudonyms of many authors.
"The Reality of Proportion or If You Can't Sleep, Read This: Statistics, Statistics, Statistics. . .," by David A Truesdale. This article looks that the proportions of women publishing in several publications.
This 1993 speech by Nancy Kress.
An index to female writers in SF, F and Utopia: 18th Century to present.