Random (but not really)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gender and Genre

On the continued theme of the treatment of women in SFF, I also recently read a discussion (also, in part, mia culpa) about gender bias in SFF.

That started me wondering, what about my favorite books this year?

So I pulled out all the books I rated 9/10 or 10/10 (I removed audio books, which are rated on their own grounds, rather than just the story) and looked at what I had:

Twilight Watch (2003/2007) Sergei Lukyanenko translated by Andrew Bromfield
Night Watch (1998/2006) Sergei Lukyanenko translated by Andrew Bromfield
A History of the World in 6 Glasses (2005) Tom Standage
Walking Your Octopus (2013) Brian Kesinger
Madame Mirage (2008) Paul Dini and Kenneth Rocafort
Companions to the Moon (2007) Charles de Lint
Sabriel (1995) Garth Nix
Across the Nightingale Floor (2002) Lian Hearn
Heaven’s Net is Wide (2007) Lian Hearn
Slashback (2013) Rob Thurman
What Darkness Brings (2013) C.S. Harris
The Privilege of the Sword (2006) Ellen Kushner
Thomas the Rhymer (1990) Ellen Kushner
4:50 from Paddington (1957) Agatha Christie

Author M:F = 7:7

Main Character M:F = 7:6

Not too bad!


Do you see something there? Only three of those women write under female names. The rest are male pseudonyms or initials. So if someone who knew nothing about the authors were to look at the list, what they’d see would be only three books written by women, the rest presumed to be written by men.

That’s less good.

So, I decided to take a look over the past several years, and see how things stack up.

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Totals
Male 89 102 82 41 71 75 63 58 39 21 256
Female 11 40 62 52 43 62 56 48 83 73 322
Joint + Anthology 9 13 4 12 6 5 5 12 5 31 58
Initials 0 2 11 5 7 4 5 4 21 7 41
Male Pseudonym 0 4 1 1 1 2 3 3 8 4 20
Anthology 2 11 4 5 3 3 2 7 1 21 34
Joint 7 2 0 7 3 2 3 5 4 10 24
Female Pseudonym 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

It fluctuates from year to year, but in general, I read more female authors than male, and that ratio is more strongly female, when you add in the number of male pseudonyms and recognize that the majority of authors writing under their initials are women.


Multiple author includes two groups: anthologies, where the stories were written by both male and female authors, and books written by a male and female team (like Charles Todd & Ilona Andrews)

And although initials can be either gender, with the exception of T.A. Pratt, what I read were books written by women. And I don’t seem to have any books written by men under a female pseudonym.

I will note that my tendency to read all books in a series will skew my results for any given year. For example, this year I’m reading all the Charles Todd (a mother + son partnership) and Donna Leon books (18) I own. When I broke my ankle in 2010 I read every Robert Crais book (10) I could get my hands on and restarted Ian Rankin’s series (18 books). And the year I read all the Robert B. Parker books in the house (28) in one month? That was epic.

It’s quite interesting that of the past several years, the number of books I’ve read by male authors has been steadily decreasing. I wish that I’d been keeping track of what I’d been reading in the 90s, because that was when I got back into reading fantasy, and discovered Mercedes Lackey and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Then I became curious as to whether there was a correlation between author gender and genre.

This one isn’t quite as clear and easy to see and trends or correlations.


I believe that the uptick in both YA and Romance are strongly correlated with the number of female authors I read in 2012.

NOTE: As far as genre goes, a single book can be classified as multiple genres. So I read lots of books that are both YA and Fantasy (Megan Whalen Turner FREX), as well as books that are Fantasy and Mystery. (Jim Butcher or Simon Green.) So if you’re adding numbers and they’re not coming out right, that’s why.

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