The Issue of Gender in Genre Fiction: A Detailed Analysis
In 2013, Lightspeed Magazine announced a special, “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue, written and edited solely by women. The issue was intended to challenge the misapprehension that women don’t write “real” science fiction. On reading this, my first thought was “cool.” My second thought was, “I wonder how women authors are currently represented in science fiction short markets.”
Gender representation in genre fiction is an issue that’s been getting more and more attention, but nobody had yet assembled a comprehensive review of the data. Now that I have collected this data, I can see why. So many emails . . . So much Excel.
I quickly realized that the raw numbers of women-authored fiction published was only part of the story. In the first place, finished magazines are the end result of a process. This process starts with submissions, and so any analysis needs to also look there. Secondly, there are various other factors that could be investigated, such as whether gender or age of editors has an impact on what gets published.
When conducting a study, it’s important to choose your sample carefully. SFWA qualifying markets get the most attention in terms of award nominations, gaining of “professional” status, and by-and-large have the largest readerships. So, I chose the SFWA qualifying markets that publish science fiction and accept unsolicited submissions as a sample group.
Originally, I emailed the editors of these markets with four questions. By the end of my investigations, I had asked them a total of fourteen (with multiple sub-questions). The amount of work done by these editors, slush-readers and other staff was absolutely immense, and none of this would have been possible without their willingness to take time away from their actual work to help me with this study.
This article should not be read as some kind of hit piece, pointing out “bad” markets and “good” markets. What I’m trying to do is make available some facts, as far as I can discern them. What is the situation regarding gender representation in science fiction? Whether or not this is something we should care about, and what strategies should be employed to deal with it, if any, are a separate issue. The one thing I’m certain of is that the more data and analysis we have, the easier it is to discuss these issues in a productive way.
In this specific article, I’m looking at Publications, by which I mean published prose fiction stories, including those accepted from slush, reprints of previously published stories, and stories solicited by editors. Basically, what was seen by readers in an issue of the magazine or on the market’s website. Most markets gave their data for the year 2013, however, in some cases (such as the F&SF special issue) the data is from 2014.
In future installments, I’m going to look at Acceptances (stories accepted from slush for publication), Submissions, and Interactions between these categories.
Overall, I looked at seventeen markets: AE, Analog, Apex, Asimov’s, Bull Spec, Buzzy Mag, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Fantasy & Science Fiction, the Fantasy & Science Fiction Special Issue edited by C.C. Finlay, Flash Fiction Online, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Lightspeed, Nature Futures, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com.
Four of these markets, AE, Analog, Escape Pod and Nature Futures, publish only science fiction. The remaining thirteen publish other genres along with science fiction.
No market in this study asks for authors to identify their gender when submitting. As such, this is not actually a study of publication and submission gender. Rather, it is a study of the apparent gender of authors based on name and publicly available information.
The gender breakdown for all published stories and for science fiction stories only can be seen in the table below. Three facts regarding SFWA-qualifying markets are clear from this data:
- More stories by men are published than stories by women.
- 56.2% : 42.4%
- 61.8% : 36.8%
- 71.9% : 28.1%
|Total||Authors who are men||Authors who are women||Non-binary authors||Unknown Authors|
|Science Fiction Stories||Overall||639||395||235||0||9|
Gender and Markets
Looking at these markets individually (see the graphs below), we can see obvious differences—for example Strange Horizons published more women than men, Escape Pod published more men than women. While it is clear from the aggregate figures above that overall more stories by men are published than stories by women, seven markets publish greater than 50% stories by women, and six markets publish greater than 50% science fiction stories by women. After running some statistical analysis, there is no evidence that markets overall are biased towards publishing men, whether we’re looking at all genres or science fiction stories specifically.
So, we cannot say that SFWA markets in general are skewed towards publishing stories by men. This does not mean there is no skew at all, rather it means that we cannot make broad generalizations about the group as a whole in this matter.
Indeed, we can see there are what seem to be large differences between individual markets, from F&SF’s ~80% of stories by men down to Bull Spec’s ~25% (see graph 3). Are these differences “significant?” Significant, in statistics, means that something is not just due to chance alone.
For example, if all of our markets published between 55% and 57% stories by men, we’d feel that this level of difference between the markets wasn’t that important—we would feel comfortable making generalizations. If half of the SFWA qualifying markets published 95% stories by men, and half published only 7% stories by men, we’d be pretty sure that was an important difference! The difficulty is when the numbers aren’t quite so clear-cut, such as those we have here. Thankfully, we have statistical tests to help us figure this out. It turns out that the differences we see here are significant, both for all stories and science fiction stories specifically.
Enough markets skew towards authors who are women that we can’t say anything about a possible gender bias of all seventeen markets as a group. So, where do the large differences we saw in Publications Overall come from? Well, for all stories, the markets that skew towards authors who are men averaged 71% stories by men, for a total of 328 publications, while those that skewed towards stories by women averaged 60% stories by women, for a total of 288.5 publications.
The markets that skew towards authors who are men averaged 67.5% science fiction stories by men, for a total of 329.5 science fiction publications, while those that skewed towards stories by women averaged 60.1% science fiction stories by women, for a total of 59.5 science fiction publications. From this, we can see that the markets that skew towards authors who are men publish more stories in total than those that skew towards authors who are women. Secondly, markets that skew towards authors who are men publish a higher proportion of stories by men than those that skew towards stories by women publish stories by women. (i.e., they have a greater degree of divergence from parity.) The overall result is more stories by men being published.
Does Genre Matter?
Among the seventeen markets there are two intuitive categories: those that publish science-fiction-only, and those that publish science fiction in addition to other genres. Does this have an effect on the gender ratios of published science fiction stories? Are science fiction-only markets more likely to skew towards authors who are men than the science fiction sections of mixed-genre markets? If you’ve looked at the graphs, you’ll see that it looks pretty likely. And indeed, according to the analysis, the answer is yes. Markets that publish science-fiction-only are correlated with a greater proportion of science fiction publications by men.
What about those markets that publish science fiction along with other genres? Their gender ratios tend to look like they’re less skewed towards the side of stories by men, or in some cases, are skewed towards stories by women. However, when looking only at science fiction stories from these markets, these ratios change. By graphing science fiction stories as a percentage of total stories by men and women, we can see whether each gender is over-or under-represented in science fiction within each market, compared to their overall ratio. So, for these markets, a high proportion of stories by men overall, does not necessarily mean a correspondingly high proportion of science fiction stories by men.
However, the fact that there is not an exact correspondence does not mean there is no relationship at all. Among these markets, the gender breakdown of total published stories is correlated with the gender breakdown of published science fiction stories. So, while individual markets may not display the exact same gender ratio for science fiction stories as for their overall stories, markets in general that tend to publish more men than women overall, also tend to publish more science fiction stories by men and vice-versa.
What About Editors?
During my research, two theories regarding gender representation of authors were brought to my attention.
The first theory: editors who are men might be more likely to select stories by men for publication, and editors who are women might be more likely to select stories by women for publication.
The second theory: older editors might be more likely to select stories by men for publication. (The reasoning behind this theory is that our tastes are shaped by our reading in early life, and that older editors are more likely to have grown up reading predominantly stories by men.)
I was unable to gather this data for all the editors and editorial teams, but with the data I did have, I tested those theories, with some interesting results.
As far as science fiction stories go, gender of senior editorial teams had no relationship with gender breakdown of published stories. (Here, “relationship” is another statistical term that means one thing depends on the other, or, affects or is affected by the other). However, when looking at total published stories in the markets, there was a relationship, with all-men senior editorial teams more likely to publish stories by men, when compared to all-woman senior editorial teams and mixed-gender senior editorial teams.
I also tested for relationships with the age of the senior editorial team. A very weak relationship was found, and only bears mentioning to maintain completeness in presentation.
What Does This All Mean?
There are a couple of takeaway points from the analysis so far.
If we believe that science fiction story authorship should reflect the gender breakdown of the world population, the analysis shows that currently, published science fiction short stories in SFWA qualifying markets are skewed towards authors who are men. However, this is not something that all markets contribute to equally. Multiple markets are close to parity, or even skew towards stories by women.
However, there’s no one single factor that explains why some markets skew towards authors who are men and others skew towards authors who are women. While the science fiction-only markets all skew towards authors who are men, this characteristic can also be found in mixed-genre markets, especially when we look at science fiction stories separately.
Seven of the thirteen mixed-genre markets have a greater representation of authors who are men in their science fiction section than in their overall catalog. However, in general, mixed-genre markets that publish a high proportion of stories by women overall will also publish a high proportion of science fiction stories by women, and vice-versa.
This next bit is kind of fuzzy. Age of senior editorial team, technically shows a positive relationship with a high representation of authors who are men for all stories, and a negative relationship with a high representation of authors who are men for science-fiction stories. However, this is not a reliable result. Yes, there’s a correlation, but it’s very weak, such that we really can’t draw any conclusions from it. Gender of senior editorial team does show a relationship with the gender breakdown of total published stories, but has no relationships with science fiction stories. This relationship with total stories, by the way, is a classic example of correlation vs. causation. We can’t say that gender of senior editor causes the difference in gender representation in stories. It could be the other way around, or it could be due to a separate factor that affects both.
I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that publications are the end result of a process, and this analysis is a process as well. Looking at publications alone is insufficient. However, it does give us some important information—it shows us the situation as it is, and that’s our first step in figuring out how it came to be.
Next time on Adventures in Statistics: Do Acceptances show the same patterns? Are editors displaying preferences in the stories they solicit and the reprints they choose to publish? Do different markets show significant differences in the gender ratios of submitted stories? Will our heroine have an Excel-induced meltdown? Stay tuned . . .
Note: A previous version of this article wrongly identified Asimov’s Science Fiction as a magazine that published only science-fiction stories. The current version has remedied that error and included the non-science-fiction stories published by Asimov’s in 2013.