Are men better than women at writing science fiction and fantasy books? The major awards in the field certainly seem to think so. And in case you weren’t aware of how widespread the problem is, a groundbreaking new research project has generated some utterly staggering charts.
The folks over at Ladybusiness spent over 100 hours collecting data on the main awards in science fiction and fantasy—they surveyed 19 different awards, and a staggering 751 winners for book categories. (These are just for novels and book-length works, not short fiction.) And as you can see above, the most prestigious awards in the field tend to be awarded to men between 60 percent and 70 percent of the time—with only things like the Goodreads Choice Awards and the YA-focused Andre Norton Award going to a majority of women authors.
Let’s be clear about what we’re looking at in the above chart—we’re seeing works by women being passed over, and probably not even considered, in favor of works by men. That means that even if the best book in a given year might have been written by a woman, her work was passed over in favor of a book by a man. That is what the above chart means, and that’s why this is so tragic—some of the best work isn’t getting noticed, purely because of who wrote it. (The alternative reading of the above chart is that women are simply worse at writing SF than men. If you believe this, then I feel sorry for you, because you are missing out on some utterly brilliant books, and your life will be emptier as a result.)
Bear in mind, the above chart covers the life of each award—so, for example, the Hugo Awards number goes back to 1953 and includes a lot of data from the era when women were much less well represented in science fiction publishing—although there were some fantastic authors, like C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett, among many others.
There are 100 charts over at Ladybusiness, and they drill down into some intense detail about just who’s being recognized by these awards. Among other things, 10 percent of cisgender men write books with cisgender female protagonists, but about 20 percent of cis women write books with cis male protagonists.
Here’s another telling chart, where the study’s authors combine all 19 awards and look at them year by year:
You see some pretty incredible gains, gender-wise, in the past five years— but you also see that any period where women score some gains is usually followed by a period where men come racing back into dominance. (See: the late 1990s.)
They also broke down award-winning books by the gender of the main character—and found that a male main character (or a mixed group of protagonists) has historically done much better than any books with only female protagonists:
This incredibly intensive survey was spurred on by a similar post by Hild author Nicola Griffith, who studied the most prestigious literary prizes, like the Pulitzer, the Booker, and the National Book Award. Griffith found that: “When women win literary awards for fiction it’s usually for writing from a male perspective and/or about men.”
Griffith adds that, “when it comes to literary prizes, the more prestigious, influential and financially remunerative the award, the less likely the winner is to write about grown women. Either this means that women writers are self-censoring, or those who judge literary worthiness find women frightening, distasteful, or boring. Certainly the results argue for women’s perspectives being considered uninteresting or unworthy. Women seem to have literary cooties.”
Check out the rest of the charts over at Ladybusiness.