In Search of Data

Posted by Niall Harrison

Earlier this week, occasioned by the launch of the British Library's "Out of This World" science fiction exhibition (about which more another time, hopefully), there was a discussion on the BBC Radio 4 show Woman's Hour about whether, or why, science fiction is still a male-dominated genre. It was a good discussion, featuring Gwyneth Jones, Farah Mendlesohn, and Karen Traviss; the programme webpage is here, and you should be able to listen to the discussion here for a few more days yet. Part of the discussion focused on the relative situations of the market in the US and the UK, with Farah Mendlesohn arguing (rightly, I think) that the current UK market is not hospitable to women writing sf.

Earlier today, Damien G. Walter posted about the results of an informal poll of favourite sf carried out at the Guardian which, Nicola Griffith notes, points up the inequality quite dramatically:

Yesterday, in the Guardian , Damien G. Walter asked readers to list their favourite sf. And they did. In a follow-up blog piece, Walter estimates that more than 500 books were mentioned. I scanned the Guardian comments--yes, all of them--and counted only 18 women's names. Eighteen. Out of more than five hundred.

She calls for action, and for data:

Once this bias against women in sf was named in the Twitter conversation we were able to move on to the beginnings of what I hope will become a fruitful discussion of how to mitigate said bias. I want to continue that positive discussion here. To begin with, we need numbers: ratios of women/men being published as sf in UK, US, Canada, India, New Zealand, Australia, and other English-speaking territories. Ratios of historical publication of same. Reviews of same. Of book format. Of cover design. Of sales. Of awards. And so on. Anyone got any of that to hand?

Some resources have already been provided in the comments; more would no doubt be welcome. And next weekend, I'm going to be on a panel at the BSFA/SFF AGM event, with Shana Worthen, Tricia Sullivan and Pat Cadigan, about "Women writers, science fiction and Britain in 2011", which will be an opportunity to continue the discussion. The day is free and open to anyone, not just BSFA/SFF members, so do come along if you're interested.