25 April 2016

Gender Balance and Blue Book Balloon

We have a problem...

I was listening to the excellent Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast earlier tonight, about gender balance in SFF and horror "best of" lists. It made me think and I decided to check the balance of this humble blog. (NB when I say "gender" here I mean traditional binary - I know the world isn't that simple, but that's where I'm starting from).

So I did a quick check and was surprised that for 2015, it works out quite well: of the reviews I posted, 26 were of books by women and 28 of books by men. (One was a woman writing as a man - JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, and I've counted that as by a woman).

(Not all of the reviews I post are SFF/ horror - I also review crime and even some none genre (I know! I know! But I'm sure you follow what I mean) but this isn't an issue about genre, so i counted everything.

However, the stats for 2016 (to date) don't make such good reading. 18 men, and 8 women. Something is wrong. But before I go on and explain what i'm going to do about it, I will address a question some of you may want to put.

I don't care whether a book is by a man or a woman - as long as it's good!

It doesn't. It really doesn't. Books can be great whether they're by men or by women. I don't see anything that means either will be better writers.

But that actually makes it worse, surely - the good books should be evenly distributed. The same numbers of both should show up in my reviews. If they don't, something is going wrong. And it must means I'm missing some great books! It also means that anyone picking up recommendations from this blog is also missing out.

(OK, I know I'm not up there as one of the world's influential book blogs, but anyone can dream, right?)

What's going wrong?

I can see a number of possibilities.

(1) I am consciously selecting against women authors.

I don't believe this is the case. I'm not aware of doing this, and I certainly wasn't in 2015 as the figures show.

(2) I am unconsciously selecting against women authors.

This is possible, although again, it doesn't seem to have happened in 2015.

(3) My book sources are biased against women authors (and have become more so)

This seems more likely. I depend on reviews in papers and magazines, Twitter reviews and recs, online reviews, and what I see in bookshops. The world being a far from ideal place, all this is stuff is likely to be biased. (I also follow certain authors, which would amplify any bias. once they're on my list, as it were). To prove this I ought to record not only what I review but where I heard about the book - at present I don't do this (I love spreadsheets and stuff but there are limits).

One factor that may contribute is that - I think - the books I get offered for blog tours may have more male than female authors. I've had more of these lately so that may have skewed things a bit. I'll be keeping an eye on this in future.

What I'm going to do

OK, enough talk, now for the action. I'm going to plan things more carefully, looking at the books I accept and plan to read, and consciously try to balance things up. My reading plans tab shows intentions coming up, and I'm going to try and keep that balanced, over time - when I'm offered something I'll consider whether adding to the list maintains the balance of not, and I'll mix things up if they get out of kilter.

Let's see how it goes.


  1. I did a post on this subject last year too when I found I was consistently favouring male authors.

    When I looked into it, (and please forgive the generalisations), men write fewer contemporary family and relationship dramas, far fewer historical novels, fewer psychological thrillers. Instead they write more adventure thrillers, spy novels, corporate novels etc - and I read more of those and less of the former types - so I unwittingly bias towards male authors, it's not deliberate.

    I don't care about the gender of an author, I care whether their book is any good and engages me.

  2. I'm sure there are loads of factors here. I've just gone back and read your earlier post and I agree with a lot of what you say there - a lot perhaps does come down to the sort of books you enjoy.

    The reason I have been wondering about it was the particular discussion there seems to have been about this in science fiction and fantasy and an uneasy feeling i had that something might not be right. I have a worry that I might be missing out on something, somewhere which is why I'm going to try and be a bit more conscious of what i'm reading.

    (Like you I didn't do English past O level, and then did all sciences - so I don't pretend to any special knowledge here: my son't doing A level humanities subjects and he can already baffle me by talking about metanarrative and the like..)

  3. It's funny because I don't get the same imbalance when reading genre fiction like SF&F as I do with contemporary lit!

  4. I put it down to where I get my leads from - that's likely to be a very idiosyncratic thing for each of us I suppose!