On Gender in SF Blogs – Brainstorming Needed

Science Fiction has never been the darling of mainstream book review coverage. Newspapers, magazines, television, and other venues where reviews of books are published do not make a huge effort to cover the genre. There are a number of science fiction focused magazines such as Asmiov’cs, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Locus. But their circulations have been dwindling overall. Zines have been another set of venues for discussion of science fiction. I don’t have any kind of documented basis for the following, but my sense is that zines as a whole do not have the importance in science fiction coverage that they have had in the past.

So where do fans participate in discussions of the fantastic these days? Blogs. SF Signal. Blog of the Fallen. Neth Space. Hundreds of others. SF Signal alone has become a major player in What People Are Talking About™. Blogs are obviously not the only place where we talk about science fiction. There are lots of places like conventions and book clubs that also drive lots of discussion. But blogs are increasing in importance as traditional venues decline.

All this is a leadup to a post by Renay made on Lady Business on SF blog gender coverage. Renay did something I’ve wanted to do but have been too lazy to pursue. She tallied the book reviews on a number of prominent science fiction blogs and counted the number of reviews of authors that were female as compared to the reviews of authors that are male. The results:

  • Group blogs: 25% women
  • Female bloggers: 58% women
  • Male bloggers: 19% women

Overall the reviews included 42% female authors, 57% male authors, and 1% unknown authors. The highest percentage of female authors covered by a male blogger in Renay’s sample was 33%. The lowest percentage of female authors covered by a female blogger was 46%. That indicates that men are covering one set of books and women are covering a different set, with some overlap. We’re playing in our own backyards mostly, instead of the park.

The following chart best illustrates the disparity:

Gender Breakdown by Blog
Gender Breakdown by Blog (credit: Renay/KJ)

Men dominate a lot of the science fiction awards, get published more, and get discussed more. I don’t say this is a problem because I care about women’s careers (though I do) or because of a concern about justice and fairness (though it is). This is a problem for me specifically because I want to read great stories. If literature by men is what gets talked about, I’m going to miss great literature. That women are missing from discussions among men is a problem for male readers as much as it is a problem for female writers. We all lose.

Three years ago I made the decision to add a rule of thumb to my reading choices: For every book by a white male that I finished, I would start a book by someone who was not white and male. My rule isn’t ironclad. It just means that I take a look at my shelves frequently and try to pick out the unread books by women or people of color when my instinct is to go for something familiar. I am nearing the start of year four of this and female authors are becoming familiar to me rather than a category I have to actively seek out. Sweet! A new book by Cherie Priest! Oooh, I hear that Nalo Hopkinson has something coming out. I took The Russ Pledge, essentially.

I believe bloggers who write about women’s writing should be followed. This does not mean that other bloggers are bad. Read them if you want. I do. There is certainly lots of good writing by men out there, and lots of blogs cover them. I am going to highlight some blogs because one is likely to discover great writing by women on them. Drop the other folks only if you find their writing doesn’t measure up to whatever standard of quality you care about. What I am saying is that these blogs should also be considered as additions to blogrolls.

Here’s a list of bloggers who have publicly taken the Russ Pledge or a form of it, irrespective of their success at accomplishing it. It is not comprehensive. I simply searched for Russ Pledge to find people who wrote about it, and made a note of those who said in some form they were going to implement it. My search is likely to have missed people who are doing so without posting on their own blogs about it (e.g., people who posted on Twitter about their blog efforts).

I found lots of people posting about the Russ Pledge, but substantially fewer who actually pledged. I know I did not, thinking my rule of thumb (which I’ve posted about) was enough. One of the benefits of taking the Russ Pledge publicly is that it makes for finding people who care about reviewing women’s writing easier.

I’d like to also compile a list of bloggers who write a substantial amount about female authors so folks can also follow their blogs, but that will take a substantial amount of work and will have to come at a later date.

Please, my dear 3 readers, suggest additional blogs that are either making the effort publicly, or who review women’s writing lots.

Finding and reading bloggers who care is only a small thing though. Lots of people for whatever reason aren’t going to explicitly try to change this, but they can still be enlisted in the effort. There has to be additional things that could be done to encourage more diverse reviewing. Awards? Scholarships? If you had an organization and a budget and a mandate to change people’s behavior (whether you agree that it’s a problem or not), what ways would you do it?

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