Thursday, December 04, 2008

Gender and Reading Habits

I like to think that I’m so aware of gender bias that my reading would be a fairly even split between male writers and female writers, give or take five percent. After I all, I commented on the inequity in the Table of Contents for Eclipse Two and it is something I think about in regards to anthologies and collections. When I think about my favorite SFF novelists working today I come up with names like Elizabeth Bear, Karen Traviss, Cherie Priest, and Emma Bull. When I think about my favorite short story writers today I’ll say Mary Robinette Kowal, Jennifer Pelland, and Rachel Swirsky. I don’t forget about Glen Cook, Stephen King, John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, Scott Lynch, or Joe Abercrombie, but they come to mind second, behind the ladies.

Earlier today I took a look at what I’ve read through the first eleven months of the year and took stock of how many books I’ve read so far this year and how many of those were written (or edited) by women.

I’ve finished 143 books so far this year. 44 of them were written by women. 30.77%. This is surprising. I expected the number to be at least 40%, if not higher. But my obsessive recordkeeping doesn’t lie.

Breaking it out by month:

January: 3/11 – 27.27%
February: 3/9 – 33.33%
March: 1/6 – 16.66%
April: 4/15 – 26.66%
May: 5/12 – 41.66%
June: 2/8 – 25.00%
July: 4/18 – 22.22%
August: 4/13 – 30.77%
September: 6/18 – 33.33%
October: 4/16 – 25.00%
November: 8/17 – 47.06%

Now, I’m not saying there is a magic number I should hit here, but given my presumed awareness of gender bias and my desire for a more equitable balance of gender in publishing, I’m surprised. I’m also not saying I (or anyone) should choose a book simply because it was written by a woman, but given the large number of extremely talented women writing SFF, I’d think that even had I not been thinking about the issue I would have accidently had more than 30% of books I read written by women.

At least five of the books I read in December will be written or edited by women because that’s what I currently have out from the library.

18 of these 44 books (40.91%) are written by four women: Elizabeth Bear (7), Kage Baker (4), Karen Traviss (4), L. Timmel Duchamp (3), so I wonder what would / will happen when I finish up with Bear’s back catalog.

Just for giggles, let’s look at 2006 and 2007 (the only other years I have any kind of records for)

2006: 41/134 – 30.60%
2007: 67/226 – 29.65%

If nothing else, I’m remarkably consistent.

As I’ve said, I don’t think the solution is necessarily to choose a book simply because a woman wrote it, but on the other hand there is a realm of reading experiences and perspectives here that I’m simply missing because barely 30% of the books I read are written by women. I need to seek out more *good* novels and collections written by women and if only 30% of my reading is by female authors, clearly there is a large number of quality works out there which I simply have never read…possibly have never heard of.

This post and the numbers I’ve pulled deal solely with gender. If I bring race into the conversation then the numbers will be nothing less then glaring. A quick scan of what I’ve read in the last couple of years will only reveal a small handful of writers who I know are not white. If there is an inequity regarding gender in what I read, the racial inequity is much, much larger. There’s all sorts of worldview which I have never encountered, or scarcely encountered.

I hope that a year from now, if I think to examine what I’ve read, that there will be a noticeable shift in what I’ve read. It’s just something I need to be conscious about during the year.

I don't really have a conclusion about this, or why the consistency even though I became more aware of gender and SFF in the last year or so, but that's my reading breakout.


Lsrry said...

Joe, for comparison's sake, I just glanced through my 2008 reads. I have read 68 books written by/edited by women, which isn't too shabby...until I note that I'm about to start book #358. That comes out to a 19% mark. But considering that I do try on occasion to seek out PoVs that are not my own and since a lot of what I read is of things traditionally dominated by males, I'm not very dismayed by it (for the record, if I were to include stories by people of color, the percentage would be somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3, since I read so many Latin American fictions). It just means more motivation for next year, no? :D

P.S. I just received my copy of Rikki Ducornet's latest book, The One Marvelous Thing. Nice timing, huh? ;)

Joe said...

I knew you read a lot of latin american / spanish language fiction, so regardless of the gender percentage you're definitely reading outside the traditional white male perspective and you get a different cultural perspective.

Me? not so much. :)

Lsrry said...

To be honest, I get outside that perspective more by interacting with my students (it's roughly 50/50 between Caucasians and PoC) than I do from reading. I remember earlier this week helping a female Haitian student teaching an A-A female student some basic phrases in Haitian during the study period before lunch. Things like that make teaching tolerable for me.

Elizabeth said...

Really interesting post - I probably skew the opposite direction, with the majority of my reads being by women. I know I specifically seek out works by women, but also know that my list of favorite authors tends to include primarily women. Looks like you are not the only one who needs to branch out. =)