If you’re an SF fan, you would have had to be living with your head in the sand to miss this debate. It’s such a big one, I feel like it needs caps, or possibly a scrolly, fading-into-the-distance introduction akin to something you’d find in Star Wars. It is: WOMEN IN SF. Or, more specifically, why the heck aren’t there more recognised women writers in the SF field?
Let’s start with one issue: the stigma surrounding SF. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s in SPACE, there are SPACESHIPS and warp speed and aliens with green blood who fight us puny humans and somehow we prevail! This is not helped by the SF films that tend to hit the big time, just look at what you’ve got coming out this summer: After Earth, Pacific Rim, World War Z. Now, I’m not saying these films are bad, and I’m certainly not saying that I don’t like them (I recently saw the new Star Trek: Into Darkness, and god did I want MORE), but what I am saying is that all of these films perpetuate the myth outlined above: SF is space opera. Alongside this you have the audience these films are targeting: men. Clearly, demonstrably, men. I’ve not seen many SF films specifically targeted at women, have you? I mean, you’ve got The Hunger Games, which is SF, but that’s for kids/teenagers/adult-kids, whatever. It follows then, that SF is seen as a male-dominated field.
But does that translate into book sales? I’m not sure. It has already been demonstrated that far more women read books than men, so, logically, this would suggest that more women read science-fiction. Except it’s not a perfect balance, is it? You can’t spread all the genders out over all the genres and assign each one slices of the pie. It comes down to personal taste: in my opinion, that’s unquantifiable. And in any case, why should the gender of the audience matter? I read books by both men and women, I see a book, I want that book based on the cover/the synopsis/the plot/a recommendation; I will buy that book regardless of the gender of the author writing it. So, am I unusual in this? I’d like to know (comments below please!). No matter how hard I try, I just can’t believe that male SF readers would genuinely be turned off by the horrifying sight of a woman’s name on the cover of an SF book.
I think, what we really need to know first is: how many female authors are writing in the SF field compared to male authors? This seems like a logical place to start, to me. If SF has always previously been seen as the realm of men, then it might follow that more men are interested in writing it, which would address some of the balance (bear with me). Of course, gender barriers are more broken down now than they ever were in say, the 1800s, but what I am thinking is that, if in the past it was less acceptable for women to write Science Fiction, then perhaps less women did? HOWEVER, I do not believe this would fully address the odd balance that prevails at the moment simply because of the numbers: SF writers would have to be almost 100% male to tip the balance in the way it currently stands. This, I think you’ll agree, is not true.
We do need more recognition of female writers in Science Fiction, but I also think we are in the process of addressing this. You’ve got Karen Lord, Stephanie Saulter & Naomi Foyle from us this year. And I, for one, have read Janet Edwards from Harper Voyager and Jaine Fenn from Gollancz. And – shock horror – neither of them have been asked to take male names. And this is just a very small sample. You’ve also got the issue that SF just doesn’t sell as well as other genres – whether that be Fantasy or otherwise – so you might expect recognition of the authors writing SF to be confined to just a very small percentage of them. And let’s admit it, the way it stands at the moment, the biggest SF authors are men; whether this was because, at the time, there were less women writing SF, or because male SF readers really do only read male SF writers, or because us evil publishers don’t publish female SF writers, or because these are just the best SF books and it just so happens that they’re written by men, I don’t know.
One thing I do know, however, is that you’re about to see far more female SF writers coming from all of the publishers, and hopefully, this will reflect in both next year’s awards system and sales numbers alike. Until then, keep reading, keep exploring and if you’re after a good rescource for finding female genre authors, you could check out worldswithoutend.com, who have a huge database, and whom JFB will be linking up with soon. If you’ve got any more recommendations, I’d love to seethem below. And I’d love to hear your comments, too, so feel free!