Science fiction and fantasy                                            

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Musings and rants

Pandemic Reading
As the Covid pandemic rages, it has affected the way we read in a number of ways.

Reading Resolutions For The New Decade
Here are seven reading resolutions suitable for the 2020s.

Mastodon For SFF Fans
Where to go in the Fediverse to find the best speculative fiction and literary discussions.

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation
Following news that Simon and Schuster plan to publish an inflammatory commentator, here are nine political books that deserve more attention.

Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
Penguin Random House have decided not to recognise Unite and the NUJ as a result of staff negotiations, leaving the publisher with a stain on its reputation as an employer.

Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
Some authors have had enough of divisive and xenophobic elements in the British press, and are willing to make an ethical stand.

Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
The Sieghart report on libraries missed its mark by miles. Yet the real cause of the decline of the UK library network is depressingly obvious.

A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
When nastiness dominates online conversations about books it is time to appreciate the well-behaved authors.

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories
The appeal of a certain writing critique website. Or, why I have neglected this blog.

Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
Some thoughts on Jonathan Ross, Loncon, and the twitchfork mob.

Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

An Explosion Of Discovery Tools
New book discovery engines are popping up all over the web. But which ones will come out on top?

Blog Tours From Both Sides
Blog tours are the lastest marketing fad. But what are the pros and cons of this kind of publicity?

It's Not Your Story Any More
When a book is published, authors lose control over how the story should be read. They should let go the reins and enjoy the ride.

Same Old, Same Old
Are current methods of book discovery pushing us further away from original literature?

Female Protagonists In Genre Fiction
A list of recommended SFF books for adults which feature a female as the main character.

Is This The End Of Sweeping Vistas?
Do recent trends in fantasy art styles and the constraints of online book discovery mark the decline of landscape cover art?

Where Are All The Women?

18th March 2012

On 15th March @kevmcveigh tweeted

"Prospective publisher advises my friend to change her protagonist from girl to boy as boys won't read about girls."

Now, maybe that was an isolated incident, but it's something I've heard rumours of before. Certainly Violette Malan, writing on Black Gate, notes the difficulty she had in finding female fantasy characters to read about when she was younger.

"When I found sword and sorcery in my teens, there weren’t a lot of strong female protagonists for me to relate to. Jirel of Joiry comes to mind, maybe Red Sonya – but they were already very old by the time I got to them. When I think now of the books and stories I read then, I’m hard pressed to come up with female characters, let alone female protagonists."

The data

I've posted before about my reading statistics regarding male and female authors, and my unconscious bias towards reading more books written by men. My reading ratio hasn't improved since I wrote that, so it looks like for me at least, merely being aware of the issue isn't enough to make a difference.

However I do think my reading habits are fairly close to the typical gender bias of many sff readers, in that I read more male authors than female. But who are these authors writing about? It's not merely a question any more of how women are portrayed in fiction, but whether or not they get a look in at all for those meaty, in-depth main character roles. And it looks like in fiction, as in life, women really are less visible.

It just so happens I've been tracking this data for years. I've been tagging books as having male, female or neutral protagonists because it's one of the ways my book recommendation quiz works. I tag books as neutral when they have multiple points of view or are anthologies, or, far more rarely, if there's a character who changes sex or is intersex. It's not always possible to be exact. Bear in mind this is just my opinion of who the main character is, and quite often I've erred on the side of caution and designated a book as neutral.

Where are all the women?

For the 310 works of fiction I've reviewed, this is how it breaks down:

Male protagonist
34.84 %
41.61 %
Female protagonist
23.23 %

It doesn't look great. But if we slice the data up, it's possible to track how things have changed over time. So this is how graph looks for the 55 books published in the 20th century:

Male protagonist
34.55 %
49.09 %
Female protagonist
14.55 %

How about this century?

Male protagonist
34.9 %
40 %
Female protagonist
25.1 %

Phew! At least things are improving, aren't they? It looks like things are evening out, but then I looked closer at the data from 90 books I've reviewed since 2010.

Male protagonist
38.89 %
44.44 %
Female protagonist
16.67 %

I was quite surprised by these results, since I like to read about strong female characters and yet again I'm not nearly as egalitarian as I thought I was. I don't set out to bias my reading towards male characters, just as I don't set out to favour male authors over females, but ultimately this could be no more than a reflection of one person's taste. What would be interesting would be a survey of character gender balance within genre publishing as a whole. Perhaps some other book bloggers could fill in the gaps?

Harriet Potter

Finally, this is an excellent excuse to link to the artist Maaria who has created genderswapped versions of many of the popular Harry Potter characters. We'll never know if the adventures of Harriet Potter would have been as huge a success as Harry's were, but it's fun to do a "rule 63", whereby all characters can have an opposite sex equivalent.