The Issue of Gender in Genre Fiction: Conclusions
What is the situation with women in SFWA-qualifying science fiction short story markets? What proportion of publications are authored by women? What proportion of submissions are authored by women? Is science fiction significantly different from the other genres in these markets? Can we see any trends that might explain the differences between markets?
These were the questions I wanted to ask when I began emailing editors back in the early months of 2014. In all honesty, I was not aware of the size or complexity of the task I was taking on when I began this study. As the data began to come in, and I saw the numbers of submissions that editors were categorizing for me, I gained an even greater appreciation for their assistance. This study has, in many ways, been a community project, with slush readers and editorial staff taking time out of their already busy working days to help provide valuable information to the science fiction and fantasy community.
Where We Are
Overall, authors who are women are less well represented in terms of submissions and publications than authors who are men. While some markets published more women than men in both all genres and in science fiction specifically, no market received more submissions from women than from men. However, markets displayed significant differences in terms of both submissions received, and stories published, for both science fiction alone, and all genres.
There are differences between markets, so there is something that makes a difference. What that is, we cannot say from our data. We found some relationships and correlations, but nothing we can point to and say, “This is it. If all markets made this change, we would see a greater representation of women authors.”
Upon deeper analysis of multi-genre markets, I found that there was a correlation between a high proportion of women authors overall, and a high proportion of women authors of science fiction stories. However, we still found that women were, in many cases, not as well-represented in the science fiction section as they were in the market taken all together. Clearly, many of these markets are very friendly to authors who are women, and in some cases are attracting relatively high numbers of submissions by women, and still, science fiction is lagging behind other genres. The cause of this is unclear from our data, but it is an interesting result.
What Might Affect Gender Ratios?
Age of senior editorial team, gender of senior editorial team, or whether a market is multi-genre or science fiction only had no relationship with the proportion of submissions received from women.
Gender of senior editorial team had a moderate relationship with the proportion of published stories by authors who are men, but no relationship with science fiction stories.
Age of senior editorial team had no impact on the proportion of women and men selected for publication.
Science fiction only markets were more likely to publish stories by men than were the science fiction sections of mixed-genre markets.
Study Limitations: Submissions/Publications
Given the limitations of the data, it would be misleading to statistically analyze submission data and publication data together. The reasoning for this is given in the previous article, but in essence, it’s because there are differing and inconsistent time lags between receipt of submissions and selection of stories for publication, and between acceptance of stories and the final publication date. We can’t know from our data what the proportions of submissions were for a particular issue’s publications.
No editor considered their submissions data to have an unusual proportion of men and women authors. A few points of percentage difference might not be noticed by an editor, but could lead to significant differences in statistical results. Hence, we can’t really run correlative tests and so on for various factors. That said, we can draw general inferences from the submissions data, when considered with the publication data. Large swings of 10%+ would likely have been noticed by editors, so it seems fair to say that we can see large differences in the relative proportions of men and women selected from slush by different markets.
As you can see from the chart, it is not as simple an issue as saying, “We need to increase submissions by women,” or “Markets who publish more women have greater numbers of submissions to choose from.” While some markets closely track publications percentages to submissions percentages, other markets do not, showing that submissions ratios are not the only factor affecting publications ratios. Basically, we don’t have an easy linear relationship between proportions of submissions by women and proportions of publications by women.
Whether or not increasing submissions from women would lead to an increase in acceptances from authors who are women is not a question I can answer from the data. I would need to compare markets over time, controlling for other factors that might affect acceptances. In addition, due to the time-lags and variation between submissions and publications, I can’t run the tests necessary to say there is a statistically significant over-representation of women in publications, as compared to submissions. I can say that from a general reading, markets are at least matching their proportions of submissions, with some individual markets publishing a greater proportion of authors who are women than they have in submissions.
One useful outcome from this study has been a decision by some markets to update their guidelines to explicitly welcome submissions from authors who are women. Should this increase submissions from women, the time-study mentioned earlier would be possible, and the question of the relationship between submissions and publications ratios might be more easily answered.
At the start of June, Escape Pod made use of this strategy. In terms of raw numbers, their June submissions from authors who are women increased from an average of 19 of 75 total submissions (25% share), to 27 of 83 total, making up 32.53% of that month's submissions. July (up to the 29th of the month) showed a similar increase, with 36 submissions by women of 111 total, for a 32.43% share of submissions.
This is only a single market, and two months of data. However, apart from the updated guidelines and the announcements of such on Twitter, the only other changing factor, according to the staff, was an increase in pay to the new SFWA qualifying rate. While it is possible that this increase led to a greater number of submissions, it would not explain why women were more motivated by that increase than men. There is always the possibility that a third, more unlikely factor has caused this increase, but it does give an indication that such explicit welcoming of women may increase their share of submissions.
According to Nathaniel Lee of Escape Pod, their reasoning was simple. They discovered that they were receiving only a small proportion of submissions from women, and felt that the easiest-to-implement first step would simply be to encourage women to consider Escape Pod as a market. Whether this increase is a transient response or a sustained development is currently unclear, as is whether it will make an impact on the proportion of published stories by women. Even still, either result will give fruitful data for analysis and discussion.
Study Limitations: Gender Identification
One area in which this study was lacking was in data on non-binary individuals. In most cases, the gender categorization for each submission was based on first name, although some editors also engaged in Googling public bios of authors. As such, there are undoubtedly submissions from non-binary individuals which were miscategorized. Rose Lemberg raised this issue on Twitter, where it generated a fruitful discussion. Excitingly, a proposal was put forward suggesting that markets include an optional post-submission survey allowing for collection of demographic information based on the self-identity of authors. Crossed Genres expressed an interest in such a survey, and if there is follow through from markets, the full picture for both gender identity and other demographic areas would be much easier to analyze.
With that said the fact that we are looking at data on ‘apparent’ gender, does not invalidate the study. Rather, it gives us another factor to consider when we assess the rigor and implications of the results. I am grateful to all those who took part in the Twitter discussion for elaborating on these implications and effects.
Further Avenues for Study
My aim in carrying out this study was to answer some of the underlying questions about representation of men and women in science fiction. Discussion of this topic often reaches an impasse when differing contributors disagree on the potential causes of a problem or whether there is in fact a problem at all. I hope that at least some of these issues can now be more easily discussed, with common reference points for the actual circumstances.
However, to say that all the questions are answered is, of course, blatantly false. Firstly, there are the limitations of the data collection and analysis, which I hope have been made clear in all instalments of the study. Secondly, there is the fact that complete investigation of many of these questions would require different data, samples, and methodologies. Thirdly, there is the fact that there are important questions that I have not even attempted to answer.
During my communications with editors, a number of questions were raised which this data could not answer, but which would be fruitful areas for further research and discussion. Are women less likely to resubmit to a market after receiving a rejection? Are women less likely to submit the same story to a different market after it has been rejected elsewhere? Are women less likely to self-categorize a story as science fiction when submitting to multi-genre markets? Are women less likely to submit a story to a market that only publishes science fiction, perhaps due to this self-categorization issue?
I would very much welcome further research aimed at answering these questions. Post-submission surveys, along with the continued tracking of data which many publications have expressed an intention to carry out, will hopefully allow for follow-up and comparative studies. This data will hopefully better elucidate how various initiatives and strategies affect the submissions and publications gender ratios in the genre.
Overall, this study has been time-consuming, occasionally frustrating, and always challenging, yet has, I believe, revealed important data for the community. We have no smoking gun for the differing levels of women’s submissions and publication rates across different markets. And yet, those differences do exist. This is an important realization. Again, I wish to thank all the editors and editorial staff who assisted, and the insightful comments from readers. The engagement and support of the community in investigating gender parity has been immense—we have not yet reached our destination, but our feet are firmly on the road.
Susan E. Connolly's short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, The Center For Digital Ethics and the fanzine Journey Planet. She is the author of Damsel, a middle-grade fantasy from Mercier Press and Granuaile, an upcoming historical comic book from Atomic Diner. Her degree in Veterinary Medicine given her strong opinions about the accurate portrayal of animal sidekicks in fiction. Susan lives in Ireland, near the mountains. Also near the sea. Also near the forest (Ireland is a small country).