A Personal Challenge: Gender Balance in 2013

Original Art by Witblogi

Last year was the first time that I took part in Goodread’s Reading Challenge, which allows you to set a goal of how many novels you wish to read in the year. I read 25 books. It’s not a lot, but it’s what I can fit into an increasingly busy life. What I found more interested, however, was looking back at the list and reflecting on my reading habits throughout the year.

This year, I set myself a new goal 26 books, one more than last year and, more importantly, an even number. My secondary goal is to end the year not only at this number, but with 13 novels by female authors, and 13 novels by male authors, an equal split of gender. Why? Because last year I only read 8 novels by women, about 33% of my total output. Also, because I think it’s good to challenge oneself.

A major reason why my reading list is consistently filled with an abundance of male authors is due to the fact that I always make time to read the new books from my favourite authors, most of whom happen to be male. It’s a slippery slope. Looking at 2012, I read two novels by Terry Brooks, one by Daniel Abraham, one by Tad Williams, and four by Robert Jordan. Those four men alone comprise the same chunk as the female authors. Until I discover new, female authors, there’s no real way for them to break into that list of ‘favourites’ without me making a conscious effort to ensure that it happens. Is this guaranteed to happen? Of course not, but why not try?

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Aidan has
read 2 books toward a goal of 26 books.
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As you can see, if you view my 2013 Goodreads Challenge page, I’ve already finished two novels this year, both by J.R.R. Tolkien, an author who has a dubious place in the discussion of gender in Fantasy. I’m also in the midst of re-reading The Lord of the Rings, which means that I’m beginning the year with three of my thirteen male-written novels already completed, so I will be picking and choosing very carefully as I move forward.

What happens if I break the 26 book mark early? Good! I’ll continue to read and, hopefully, keep up a balance between male and female authors.

So, onward.

Discussion
  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    I guess I just never pay attention to the gender of the author when I decide what to read. It’s not a factor for me. I read about 70 books last year, but I haven’t counted yet what the M/F balance is. Out of the 8 books I listed in my personal “Best of 2012″ list, 6 were by female authors (and 1 by KJ Parker, who may be female), so there’s that… but I only noticed it a week after I’d posted the list. *shrug*

  • Johannah January 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Great idea! My reading goal is small too so I can read larger novels and focus on more adult novels. That is the idea anyway.

  • kamo January 9, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    I’m trying to do something similar myself. About 14 months ago I started using my blog to keep a record of every book I read. I did a 12 month recap in November and it was only when I was able to see for definite exactly what I’d read that I realized how skewed towards male authors my reading habits were. And not just men, but white, anglo men at that. That doesn’t speak to the quality or otherwise of any specific book, of course, but it was something of an eye opener. I think it’s because my default genre is SF, and perhaps white men are even more over-represented in that genre than others.

    I’ve not put numbers on it like you have, but I’m trying to read more books by ‘Not White Men’ this year. I realize that’s a ridiculously broad category, but the fact that it’s still fit for purpose says something not entirely flattering. Here endeth the pinko lefty hand-wringing.

    How do the numbers look if you count the authors, as opposed to the books? I read the entire run of Transmetropolitan last year, and that would certainly skew things if I counted every volume separately. If you’re trying to challenge yourself by (I assume) reading more broadly, and all 13 of those ‘female’ books are by the same author then that’s not really stretching your range. Hope you have fun with it!

  • Locusmortis January 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Just before christmas I ordered a bunch of books for the first few months of this year. After checking the order, out of 12 genre books, 6 were by men, 5 by women and 1 was an anthology. I ordered those particular books either because they were by authors I already liked or they were books that I’d seen on blogs that intrigued me. The gender of the author didn’t enter my decisions, it just so happened that it came out pretty much 50/50.

    I think you’re overthinking things, just read books that you want to read, don’t let political correctness cloud that process too much.

  • Scott January 10, 2013 at 4:22 am

    Yeah, I’m with Stefan. It doesn’t even enter into my head what gender an author is…never has, never will…and certainly not enough to feel the need to seek out a particular gender and book…I read what I like, and what I think I might like. Their gender shouldn’t and doesn’t enter into it as a factor.

    Good on your for challenging yourself though Aidan. :)

  • Scott January 10, 2013 at 4:27 am

    That said, if i check, a number of my fave series to happen to be written by women (Robin Hobb, Robyn Young, J.K. Rowling, and Linda Buckley-Archer to name a few)…so I guess even if you don’t pay attention to gender things balance out on their own.

  • Aidan Moher January 10, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Stefan:

    I guess I just never pay attention to the gender of the author when I decide what to read. It’s not a factor for me. I read about 70 books last year, but I haven’t counted yet what the M/F balance is. Out of the 8 books I listed in my personal “Best of 2012″ list, 6 were by female authors (and 1 by KJ Parker, who may be female), so there’s that… but I only noticed it a week after I’d posted the list. *shrug*

    Scott:

    Yeah, I’m with Stefan. It doesn’t even enter into my head what gender an author is…never has, never will…and certainly not enough to feel the need to seek out a particular gender and book…I read what I like, and what I think I might like. Their gender shouldn’t and doesn’t enter into it as a factor.

    Good on your for challenging yourself though Aidan.

    This used to be my line of thought, as well. I have no stated or conscious bias against female authors, and have never let the gender of the author enter my decision making process when choosing new books to read/buy. This disassociation allowed me to, without guilt, choose anything I wanted to read, and absolved me of any sort of bias. But, of course, bias is always present in something as subjective as choosing books to read.

    When I looked at my bookshelves, buying and reading habits, however, there was a clear bias towards male authors. Last year, I made a (poor) effort to read more female authors, and still I only walked away with a 2:1 male-to-female ratio. Why was this?

    It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, especially since I’ve begun to host more discussion here on A Dribble of Ink about the gender issues that often crop up in the SF/F field. I haven’t found a specific answer to why my tastes seem to trend towards male authors, though I do believe that my long established favourite authors being male, as mentioned in the piece above, has something to do with this. It could be an overall bias in the industry (I receive more male-authored books from publishers than female-authored), it could be cover art, it could be the female:male balance of my twitter feed. There are probably lots of reasons. However, whatever that reason is, I don’t read as many female authors as I do male. It’s curious to me, so, this challenge exists.

    Johanna:

    Great idea! My reading goal is small too so I can read larger novels and focus on more adult novels. That is the idea anyway.

    That’s terrific! Like you and me, I hope others decide to set themselves reading challenges that allow them to broaden their reading habits.

    kamo:

    How do the numbers look if you count the authors, as opposed to the books? I read the entire run of Transmetropolitan last year, and that would certainly skew things if I counted every volume separately. If you’re trying to challenge yourself by (I assume) reading more broadly, and all 13 of those ‘female’ books are by the same author then that’s not really stretching your range. Hope you have fun with it!

    This is an interesting question. Taking authors into account, rather than books, the male-to-female ratio is 13:8, which is better, but there’s still an obvious bias towards males. Take out my established favourite authors (Brooks, Zafon, Williams, Abraham), who I will read every book they publish immediately, and the ratio drops to 9:8, which accounts for those unplanned novels that I decide to read, more-or-less, on a whim. Interesting.

    locusmortis:

    I think you’re overthinking things, just read books that you want to read, don’t let political correctness cloud that process too much.

    It’s not about political correctness, but about allowing myself an opportunity to stretch the comfort zones of my reading habits by forcing myself to follow a set of rules that I don’t otherwise follow. My main personal goal from this is to discover new writers.

    Scott:

    That said, if i check, a number of my fave series to happen to be written by women (Robin Hobb, Robyn Young, J.K. Rowling, and Linda Buckley-Archer to name a few)…so I guess even if you don’t pay attention to gender things balance out on their own.

    In my case, things weren’t balancing themselves on their own. That’s why I want to step in and see what happens if I try to force some change.

  • Paul (@princejvstin) January 10, 2013 at 9:23 am

    A couple of years ago, I took a look at my (in progress) balance and was horrified, and started rectifying that. I don’t explicitly go for a 1:1, but I am starting to choose more female authors, directly.

    I’ve made great discoveries the last couple of years this way.

  • Stina January 10, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Thanks for this, Aidan. I think it’s important to be aware of and work on such things. People often just state “I don’t select based on gender.” and walk away as if that absolves them of any fault. The trouble with that response is it’s often an unexamined one–because what they’re actually saying is that the issue isn’t important to them and thus, not worth considering. This unwillingness to self-examine perpetrates the problem. To be clear, I do not believe that only males have this bias. I struggle with it myeself, and I’m a feminist. The way I see it, we’re all works in progress and that’s okay. The first step is to admit that we’re not perfect. The second is to do something about it.

    For the record, screaming that you don’t care is an indication that you do–rather strongly, in fact.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 10, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Stina said : “The trouble with that response is it’s often an unexamined one–because what they’re actually saying is that the issue isn’t important to them and thus, not worth considering. ”

    Excuse me, but that’s not what I was actually saying in my original comment. It may be what you think some people who take this position are implying. It may even be true for some of them. However, it certainly doesn’t apply to me. I also certainly don’t feel the issue is “not worth considering,” thank you very much. I simply refuse to let anything but the novel or story guide my reading and reviewing decisions. I don’t care if a book was written by someone who’s male or female, straight or gay, white or not-white, and you can easily add another bunch of categories to this. I review books, not authors. I refuse to start deciding what to read or review based on the author’s gender or race or sexuality, making sure I cover the right amount of each to avoid showing bias. As mentioned, my Best-of-21012 list included, completely by accident, 6 out of 8 women (possibly 7). I only realized this after the fact, days after I’d made the list. I deal the exact same way with books before I read them.

    Now, to be clear: yes, I do care that women are underrepresented in SFF publishing. I think about it every time I walk past my two shelves of C.J. Cherryh novels, actually. I would love to see a more even playing field when it comes to gender (and race, and sexuality…) However, I truly feel that it would compromise my impartiality and integrity as a reviewer if I were to decide what to read based on anything but what I expect to find inside the book. Unless I’m already familiar with the author, the name on the cover is meaningless to me.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    (Clarification – the CJ Cherryh reference is of course to the way her author name turned out. Carolyn became C.J., and Cherry became Cherryh. There are a ton of examples of this sort of name-mangling, obviously, but that one always comes to mind first.)

  • neth January 10, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    The ‘gender-blind’ arguement is just as fraudulent as the ‘color-blind’ argument of recial discussions. It’s generally born of ignorance rather than balance, but it ultimately comes from a place of previledge – oen who is previledged enough to not notice such things. I’m not going into the details of it though as many have made the argument much better than I ever could.

    With that said, there is nothing wrong with ackowledging that one prefers male authors over female authors. There are lots of reasons whey that can be the case and they are not (necessarily) sexist reasons. However, I do believe that an informed choice on what one reads (and that gender of author when readily available among many other aspects) is typically the better way to go. Stepping beyond one’s comfort zone often has very positive results.

    So says a blogger who in 2012 read 18 books authored by men and 7 by women. (over the 7 year life of my blog the number is ~200 books by men and 50 by women – and yes, I do keep track).

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Meh. I think I need to step back from this discussion, because seeing words like “fraudulence” and “ignorance” applied to what I consider more or less the opposite of bias is getting me way too worked up. I hope I’ll never feel like I should pick up one book instead of another one, simply to make sure I’m not slighting one group or another. I love books. I spend my days writing about them and, I hope, helping people find the ones they might like. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Picking one novel or story over another one based on anything but that novel or story is something I never plan to do.

  • Peter Ahlstrom January 10, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    I think this is very cool! I haven’t kept track, but I suspect my ratio is fairly even. Maybe I should keep track.

  • Martin January 11, 2013 at 1:34 am

    Picking one novel or story over another one based on anything but that novel or story is something I never plan to do.

    This is one of those statements that at first sounds reasonable but quickly crumbles after a second glance. It is nonsense to suggest the answer to the question “how do you pick a novel to read?” can be “based on the novel” since obviously you haven’t read the novel yet. Instead you have to pick based on other factors: a good review, interesting cover, intriguing synopsis, word of mouth, previous experience of the author or genre or publisher, etc, etc. Guess what? You can still pick what you read using those factors whilst also ensuring you split your reading 50/50 by gender.

  • Scott January 11, 2013 at 7:49 am

    @Stina. Yeah, Stefan worded his response to you much as I would have. I take umbrage at having any of the things you said leveled at me.

    I read for entertainment. What I choose to read is based on story and NOTHING else. It is unfair to attempt to hang a moniker on someone and say things like “People often just state “I don’t select based on gender.” and walk away as if that absolves them of any fault.”…excuse me? Why on earth are you looking for fault? How is my choosing based on stories as opposed to authors a reason to select me out for something to be at fault for? I’ll go one further, how does my choice for entertainment…become beholden (by a writer no less!) to some set of “rules” which remove “choice” from the endeavor in some attempt to make me feel guilty for not bothering to check out what author’s are women and what authors are men?

    Do I go to see films directed by Kathryn Bigelow because she’s female and deserves balance in Hollywood? No, I go to see her films because she’s a DAMN fine director and makes some of the most compelling stuff on the big screen. I also go to see Ridley Scott’s films with such drive as well…not because he’s a male, but because he makes DAMN fine films. Selecting those films to see based on the gender of the director or the screenwriter would be…I’m sorry…asinine as a way to choose.

    When listening to music, I often end up listening to female artists because those are the ones I hear samples of and enjoy. I enjoy some male artists as well, but more often than not my iPod is filled with female singers. Should I choose them based on gender as well? I fail to see how that would be relevant in the category of “what I like and enjoy”.

    When choosing new material to read I don’t go round looking to select a specific gender of author…I look for books I’d like to read about stories I think I’d like. Full. Stop.

    So no Stina, I am not “at fault” in any way for what I choose and how I choose to entertain myself. No more than I’m not at fault for choosing to see the films I see for story reasons and not paying attention to the crew who made it to make my choices (unless they are ones I’m already fans of, like Bigelow and Scott).

    @Martin: Ensuring you split your reading by gender…skews the numbers in a false way…sorry but it’s true. Once you set out to divide your reading in such a way, you are fudging the numbers. In a lab, this would be a BIG fail. I set out to read stories I find might be interesting and when I peruse the bookshelves or amazon synopses for stories I’d like I’m NOT going to decide to or not to read one based on gender. It’s stupid and is an attempt to stack the deck. Imagine a world where no one knew the genders of authors….how would you “split” your reading to be unbiased then? You wouldn’t. You’d pick based on stories and what you think you’d enjoy based on premise…that’s what Stefan and I do, and that’s why there is nothing wrong with it.

    I’ll give you an example. My fave historical fiction author (Robyn Young) is a female Scot. When I picked up her book I didn’t know if she was male or female (with Robyn being a unisex name)..and you know what, I really didn’t care. It sounded interesting, so I bought it. Turned out her books are absolutely some of the best I’ve read in the genre. That’s not a check in the “female author” column for me, it’s a check in the “kickass storyteller” category.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 11, 2013 at 8:56 am

    @Martin: What I meant, obviously, is that I pick novels based on what I know about the novel BEFORE reading it and not what I know about the author. I read plot summaries. I read the press releases that come with the stacks of books I receive for review every month. I try to read at least a few pages of everything I receive, and often a chapter or two before I decide to plunge in for the rest or not. I may be familiar with other works by the author. I may know the book is set in a sub-genre I tend to like. I may, rarely, have seen comments from other reviewers, but I tend to avoid looking at full reviews because I like to come at a book with a clean slate, no preconceived notions.
    What does NOT enter into that decision process is the gender of the author. Or the race, or the sexuality, or their geographical location, or whether they’re with one of the big publishers or an indie house. But definitely, categorically NOT the gender of the author. Sure, I’m aware of it. But I’ve never picked up one book instead of another one based on what I know about the author, not when I was just reading for fun and definitely not now I’m reviewing. I find the idea that each reviewer must ensure reading 50/50 from any group to avoid this kind of unpleasantness thoroughly offensive.

  • Martin January 11, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Ensuring you split your reading by gender…skews the numbers in a false way…sorry but it’s true. Once you set out to divide your reading in such a way, you are fudging the numbers. In a lab, this would be a BIG fail.

    I have absolutely no idea what you are trying to say here.

    I set out to read stories I find might be interesting and when I peruse the bookshelves or amazon synopses for stories I’d like I’m NOT going to decide to or not to read one based on gender.

    However, it appears you didn’t understand what I said (or indeed what Aidan said). This is nothing to do with deciding to read a book based on gender, it is to do with balancing the books you’ve decided to read by gender.

    I could quite easily list a couple of hundred books I’d like to read this year and there are hundreds of others that I would like to read if only I knew about them. I will probably only manage to read 50 books this. My experience – and I would think it holds true for most readers – is that there are far more interesting books than there is time to read them. This means prioritising and structuring your reading. One way of doing this is by ensuring a gender balance to enrich your reading experience by maximising its diversity.

    Imagine a world where no one knew the genders of authors….how would you “split” your reading to be unbiased then?

    Erm, you don’t need to. That’s kind of the whole point. But this world doesn’t exist so no, you and Stefan aren’t (and can’t be) gender-blind.

    You make a pretty striking example of this yourself by refering to Kathryn Bigelow, one of the vanishingly small number women to be a Hollywood director. She is also famously the only woman to win a Best Director Oscar in the eighty odd year going. There are two choices here: you either believe women are inherently worse than men or you believe that there are levels of gender bias that put women at a disadvantage. I believe the latter. How do you know she is a damn fine director? Because she’s got through the system and had a profile high enough to bring her to your attention. There are lots of women who don’t reach this stage. So by being ‘gender-blind’ in a biased system, you are actually reinforcing that bias. This bias also informs your own tastes since your tastes are based on what you consume. Hence the need to self-examine hence Stina’s comment above.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 11, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Martin said: “However, it appears you didn’t understand what I said (or indeed what Aidan said). This is nothing to do with deciding to read a book based on gender, it is to do with balancing the books you’ve decided to read by gender.”

    Semantics. You’re not “deciding” what to read “based on gender”, you’re “balancing” what you’ve decided to read “by gender”. Balancing is deciding too. “Balancing” means you’re going to pick one book over another, to maintain that balance. If I read e.g. 60 books per year, and I need to make sure 30 are by authors from one group or another, I’ll need to decide against some books that aren’t part of that group. I simply don’t want to do this. I have no problem with anyone who structures their reading, in any way they want. I just don’t like the suggestion of implied bias if someone doesn’t actively try to structure their reading according to one criterion or another. Someone who refuses to read books by authors in one group or another – that’s something else.
    It would be more interesting to look at this process higher up the food chain. Publishers. Acquiring editors. Folks who suggest hiding the gender of an author by changing their name. I recently read a book by an “Alex Bell” and was so happy a friend looked over the review before I submitted it, because it turned out Alex is female. I had no idea. I don’t know if that name was changed for a reason or if it’s just the nickname she goes by, but there are numerous examples of this sort of thing happening. I believe that looking at the process at that level would be more productive.

  • Scott January 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

    @Martin, Stefan replied to you as I would have.

    As for Kathryn Bigelow, I’ve met the woman, and quite frankly if you asked her if she was pleased to be the first woman director to win that Oscar, she’d likely look at you and say “I’m glad people enjoyed my film, my gender doesn’t enter into it.” Are the Academy Awards and Hollywood an old boys club? Sure, but that doesn’t have the REMOTEST thing to do with the quality of someone like Kathryn as a director and her films in that industry. So my choice of her films (which are now weighed on her worth as I know her to be in retrospect) to begin with (NEAR DARK and STRANGE DAYS) didn’t make themselves evident to me before I saw those films. It was only after the credits rolled that I knew a female had directed them…

    Could I choose to watch a bunch of films each year done by females for a balance principle? Sure, but it would be no different from watching a bunch by men. Some would be good, some would be shit. I’d much rather choose based on stories I’d like to see, and let the chips fall where they may as to who wrote and directed them. It makes zero sense to do it any other way.

  • Aidan Moher January 11, 2013 at 11:34 am

    @Scott & Stefan: The point isn’t to please Kathryn Bigelow, but to consciously correct an obvious bias in my reading habits, and explore the reasons it might exist in the first place.

  • Mazarkis Williams January 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

    I think we should be careful to distinguish between the bias of an individual and the bias that may underlie the structure of a society or an industry. I am not certain that such bias exists, but if it did, it would play into what books were front and center and most easily chosen. Therefore giving such choices little consideration would play into that bias.

    I’m still wondering (in the aftermath of Teresa Frohock’s gender experiment) if anybody has the sorts of numbers that would suggest such an institutional bias. We talk about it as if it exists, and it quacks like a duck at times, but I haven’t seen any numbers yet.

  • Weirdmage January 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I think I said everything I feel the need to say about this in my blog post in March 2012: http://weirdmage.blogspot.no/2012/03/sff-written-by-women.html

  • Jessica January 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Wanting to read books exclusively for their stories is completely valid and understandable. But until AI becomes sentient (or infinite monkeys have infinite typewriters), every single book on Earth is still written by a real live person. A person who may have a vastly different worldview or experience than you. Or uncannily similar. Who knows. The point of making a conscious effort to read a more diverse array of authors is to gain a larger understanding of the world and the human experience. Reading just for the story and completely ignoring the author is well and good, but don’t glorify it as the height of equality. Call it for what it is — maintaining a comfort zone.

  • xaraan January 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    So far, I’ve pretty much followed the route of some and just read what I liked. Some of my favorite authors are female, some are male (well, most probably) and that doesn’t really bother me. If I like something, I like it and if I don’t, I don’t; the writer’s gender doesn’t matter. Same applies to trying new books, if it looks interesting, I’ll give it a try. Although not reading quite as many books as that (25/26 a year) probably plays into it. (Sometimes I feel like I can’t even keep up with the stories I’m already addicted to.) But, I think it’s a pretty interesting challenge when you are pushing yourself to read more books and try new authors.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I keep seeing the term “comfort zone” used in this discussion. How is excluding nothing from your reading habits a comfort zone? Isn’t it the opposite? If some hypothetical reader only read books authored by a certain group (gender, race, whatever), that’s a comfort zone. There’s a boundary to cross. If I knew such a person, I’d actively try to get them to read outside of it. But if someone else read anything and everything, regardless of who wrote it, I wouldn’t consider that a comfort zone, let alone “bias”. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what Aidan is doing, on the contrary even, but I also don’t like the tendency to cast aspersions on anyone who doesn’t work by some sort of quota to ensure equality.

  • Scott January 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    @Jessica: Nonsense. You imply that because I look for story first and foremost that somehow I’m missing out on books that I can’t get at unless I actively balance author genders. This suggestion falls apart under the scrutiny of my bookshelves which are actually QUITE fairly divided between male and female authors. All chosen by story first. So are those half of my books that are female-authored somehow discounted because I chose them based on story and not gender? Nonsense.

  • Scott January 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Indeed, “comfort zone” is as far from my truth as it gets. I look at titles, and when I pull books of shelves to read what they are about I look at synopsis. As far as I am concerned the name on the cover should NOT be part of your decision making system (unless you are a fan of that author already)…no more than the race, religious beliefs, and author-personal opinions should be a part of it.

    I really want to read ALIF THE UNSEEN. Why? Because it’s written by a female (and a Muslim)? No, because it sounds like something I’ll enjoy. That it’s written by a female is totally beside the point. It sounds fascinating and has been getting good reviews…and that’s why I’ll be reading it.

  • Scott January 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I’ve said my piece. I think that what Aidan is doing is great, and hopefully it will tighten his ratio of m/f authors, and have no issues with why he’s doing it at all.

    But I will repeat what Stefan said in that …my not caring who wrote what means I will read (or at least give a shot) to absolutely anything, written by anyone regardless of criteria. End of story.

  • Richard Palmer January 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Aidan, I hope you discover some great new authors. :-)

    Everyone saying they are gender blind: really? First… that’s just unexamined privilege. Second, if you don’t care, why go to so much of an effort to defend your choics?

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    @Richard – I’m wary about continuing this discussion, seeing the tone it’s starting to take on Twitter etc, but replying in good faith: of course, I’m not gender-blind. No one is. I know (in most cases) whether an author is male or female before I start reading the book. I merely wanted to explain that this is not a factor, for me personally, in deciding whether I’ll read the book or not. Maybe it affects me subconsciously in some way, but I doubt it. I just look for a good book to read and review. It saddens me that this is being called “sexist”. It saddens me to see the words “prejudice” and “privilege”. I didn’t feel the need to defend myself until people came in with “fraudulent” and “ignorant” and “biased” and so on. I know full well that there are people out there who exclude certain groups from their reading. I’m quite the opposite, and that’s pretty much all I came here to say when I dropped my friend Aidan’s blog yesterday.

  • matthew January 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I applaud the attempts at balance. People who profess to be gender-blind are invariably coming from a place of privilege, in my experience. Any attempt by those in privilege to problematize their privilege has to be met with interest, rather than skepticism.

  • Richard Palmer January 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    @Stefan

    Happy to engage. A couple of observations.

    First. Tone of the discussion is irrelevant. I can discuss this quietly and calmly, sure. But then, I’m a straight white dude. Most of the field looks like me (though perhaps not quite so pretty). Sexism and bias do not negatively affect me. All of this is, to me, academic. The very least I can do is empathise and recognise there is a problem.

    Second. Fine, it’s not a factor. That’s possibly true. However, historically, straight white men dominate in genre publishing. This means even if you are to randomly select from all the published SFF (and that’s before we consider the impact of marketing upon visibility) you’re probably going to pick a majority of male writers.

    Thirdly. Please do not use scare quotes. It is awful in the Daily Mail and it is awful here. The point is it *is* sexist. Sexism is about institutional biases. SFF publishing is institutionally biased (as per previous point); this is not up for debate. The issue is, what are you going (or what do you wish to do) to do about it?

    The idea of being blind to difference is a compelling one, sure. However, just as when someone says they don’t notice race, do they actually mean they don’t notice race.

  • Richard Palmer January 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    …sorry, do they mean they are blind to racism?

    You know what I mean. ;)

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 11, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    @Richard – Alright, great, thanks. Here we go, point by point.

    First – Understood, and mostly agreed. Still, easier to discuss these things and maybe educate someone who was unaware he was giving offense when people talk rather than scream. I’m a reasonable guy. I was truly taken aback by some of the reactions. But I like to talk and learn. So, here we are.

    Second. True, can’t argue, as unfortunate as that fact may be. I wasn’t trying to argue this, or imply that I endorse it in any way. I just wandered in reacting to Aidan’s post, saying I pick my reads differently.

    Third. I guess this is the core of it. I’m going to try and paraphrase. If I understand you correctly (and if not, please let me know), you’re saying that it’s sexist to pick books solely on what I expect to find in the book, not taking into account the author’s gender, race, sexuality and so on, because I’m operating inside the established institutional bias that’s pre-set to favor straight white dudes like us. What Aidan is doing, and what I could do, is compensate for this pre-established bias by actively looking out for books that fall outside of the institutionally approved range, because otherwise my (innocent) choices are automatically tainted by the prejudices built into the system. I’m playing with a deck that’s been pre-stacked.

    Okay. So. I expect some heads are going to explode at this point, but really and truly: I had no idea that this is what set everyone off. Thank you for explaining your reasoning. Here’s what I was thinking, all along: if someone refuses to read books by a certain group, sure, I’d call that sexist, racist, etc. I’ve seen people like that, and their mindset is alien to me. But… what I was describing, simply picking a book without any pre-established personal bias, seeing what’s out there and grabbing the next good one regardless of the name on the cover – maybe I’d call that unawareness? I mean, there’s a big difference there with active intolerance, no? Maybe some people are not on the barricades trying to change the system, as messed up as it may be, but is that really sexism or racism?

    I enjoy books that challenge my preconceptions. I wouldn’t know how to describe what my comfort zone is, but whatever it may be, I’m not afraid to stray out of it. I’ll read and review anything by anyone. I honestly don’t know what my ratio of M/F authors is. I just never actively considered compensating going for the average bookshelf. I guess I was letting the books come to me, rather than looking for them? I still think setting a quota is odd, just like I don’t get all the “I’m going to read 100 books in 2013″ reading challenges. I’m not a numbers and percentages guy. But I consider myself open-minded when it comes to books and authors, and I genuinely didn’t realize that the way I explained that set off such a discussion.

  • Martin January 12, 2013 at 1:16 am

    Setting a quota is odd. It is totally artificial and, ideally, there would be no need for them. But unfortunately setting quotas is one of the only ways of changing things. However, no one is forcing you to read 50/50 men and women and no one is going to call you sexist if you don’t. But, even if you aren’t a numbers and percentages guy, I’d suggest keeping a track of your reading this year just as an experiment.

    I’ve done this for the last decade or so and in all those years where I’ve just read what I wanted to read it turned out that only about one in five of these books were my women. So last year I decided to make sure my reading was 50/50 and this didn’t mean reading books I didn’t want to read and it didn’t mean banning myself from books I wanted to read by men but it did mean discovering a lot of interesting writers. Even if you never take that step, it might be interesting for you to see exactly what you do read.

  • kamo January 12, 2013 at 2:11 am

    “…even if you aren’t a numbers and percentages guy, I’d suggest keeping a track of your reading this year just as an experiment.”

    Been following this discussion with interest since my rather breathless initial contribution. Without casting aspersions, and speaking purely for myself, this is pretty much exactly what I did. Whenever I’d thought about it before (which wasn’t often) I’d always assumed that my reading was fairly diverse. I didn’t start keeping a record with the aim of monitoring anything, but seeing an entire year’s worth in front of you makes drawing conclusions inevitable.

    The deck is stacked. Of course it is. Whether someone chooses to go with that or makes an effort to play a different game is entirely their call, but who’d choose to play a game they already knew was rigged? That’s ultimately only going to benefit the people it’s rigged in favour of, which means someone else is going to lose out unjustly.

    Personally I feel there’s a fine line between being in a groove and being in a rut, and, without putting numbers on it, just making an effort to read more diversely seems a simple and effective way of ensuring one doesn’t become the other.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) January 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    @Martin, kamo: Thank you for your kind response. I definitely see the point you (and Richard yesterday) are making. I will go with the suggestion of tracking my reading for a year.

  • GoddessCarlie January 13, 2013 at 4:17 am

    Aiden, I am interested in how your experiment goes! I have only glossed over the comments, but what I did read was fascinating, and I don’t think I can really add much to the discussion at the moment.
    However I was curious to see what my skew was from last year. I read 40 books last year. Of those, 15 were male, 25 female.
    I do read romance books as well as sci-fi and fantasy. The romance books are 100% female (although I haven’t looked to see if there are any writing under pseudonym).
    If I exclude the romance novels, I read 15 male, 11 female books. Which I think is almost even.
    I did read a lot of series books, so I then decided to look at the number of actual authors I read (in sci-fi and fantasy) and it was even, three each.
    Oh yeah I’m naturally awesome.
    Although, my romance novels are a bit bias. I read historical romance. Can anyone recommend some male historical romance authors? I would love to try some.

  • Michelle January 13, 2013 at 9:32 am

    It seems rather sexist to purposefully seek out female/male authors in an equal ratio. Where are the transsexuals represented? Be sure to include a good mix of bisexual authors and homosexual ones as well. Also, an equal mix of authors that like the color purple and authors that like the color green would be good to have as well.

    Why not just read books based on their merits rather than a contrived balancing?

  • Aidan Moher January 13, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Michelle:

    It seems rather sexist to purposefully seek out female/male authors in an equal ratio. Where are the transsexuals represented? Be sure to include a good mix of bisexual authors and homosexual ones as well. Also, an equal mix of authors that like the color purple and authors that like the color green would be good to have as well.

    Why not just read books based on their merits rather than a contrived balancing?

    Gender and sexuality are two different (though often intersecting) metrics, and I don’t believe that that has a bearing on this challenge. Author sexuality is not indicated plainly on the covers of their novels as their gender (usually) is. If searching out novels by gay or bi-sexual authors is another method for expanding variety of reading, or stepping outside of a comfort zone, then I see no problem with it, but it’s outside the scope here.

    Transexual authors will be grouped in with whichever gender they identify with.

  • Michelle January 13, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Why not read books based on their merits? It is inherently sexist to divide books up based on the authors’ genders. I can not think of any good that would come of it, and plenty of bad.

    “Until I discover new, female authors, there’s no real way for them to break into that list of ‘favourites’ without me making a conscious effort to ensure that it happens.”
    If you didn’t divide authors by female and male you would not have this contrived problem. Sexism will not dictate our actions if we do not let it.

    I read books by authors. Some authors may be female. Some may be male. I have tried to not let this interfere with my choice of reading material, and I have never actively sought to make it a priority.

  • David Wagner January 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Last year in March, for the A to Z Challenge, I decided to go through my “Favorite Everything” List as the daily fodder. Favorite books, authors, movies, actors/performances/games, songs, bands, book characters, movie characters, TV characters, and even People I’d Like To Meet. I assembled a massive list, and blogged my way through the alphabet, covering the topics each day, etc. About 3/4 the way through the list, I recalled a similar post on this very blog that Aiden started last year, and so I crunched the numbers on my “favorites” across the board… and found a sickeningly overwhelming gender bias in every single category.

    Favorite Books, Authors and Book Characters, TV Characters and ‘People I’d Like to Meet’ (ALL men).
    Favorite Bands/Singers (14 M, 1 F).
    Favorite Movie Performances (11M, 2F),
    Favorite Actors/Actresses (14M, 2F),
    Favorite Movies (Male lead 24, Female lead 4).

    In the previous post last year, I went on and on about how I gave no thought to gender when it came to what I chose to read, I had no intended bias… and at the time, I believed it. But seeing the overwhelming bias spread across so many forms of entertainment, I think it’s obvious that in my case at least, it exists. I guess what remains is to figure out why it’s there. I can force myself to balance it, but that strikes me as treating the symptom rather than finding out the cause…

  • K. January 15, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Wow, this post really generated some discussion!

    I just started my blog/site, and this morning I was going through my list of bookmarks and favorites that I wanted to link to my site. While doing this, it dawned on me that just about every link was to a male author (almost exclusively fantasy for me). There are many female authors I am a huge fan of, but when I went in search of their web presence I found that they were not active bloggers and did not have an active presence in social media.

    Aidan, I think your point about how new authors ‘break into’ your list is a very good one, and I think that is the issue with my list as well. I also think it is due to the fact that for whatever reason, female authors don’t seem to be as ‘present’ or as visible as some of their male counterparts, and well, out of sight out of mind as they say.

    Whatever the cause, I intend to also read much more widely of female authors this year, I think approaching this with intention is a great way of breaking open your own boundaries and exposing yourself to new things.

    Great post! Thank you.

    k

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  • James Davis Nicoll May 12, 2013 at 8:23 am

    I read a book or so a day and while I am not allowed to comment on the f/m ratio for the books I read for Publishers Weekly, it turned out as far as Bookspan goes I read about 45 books by women for every 55 books by men. I was very smug about that until I got a look at my stats for Romantic Times and discovered that the f/t ratio for my reviews looked like this: 2010: 33%, 2011: 0%, 2012: 20%. I’ve taken steps to address this, basically eschewing reviewing any books by men for RT until I’ve read enough books by women to make the two columns equal. This is not a hardship because even at my reading speed, I always have far more material I could read than I can read.

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