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Gender Bias and Reading Lists: A Dose of Self-Criticism June 29, 2011

Posted by futurewired in comment.
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Recently I’ve read a number of articles suggesting latent sexism when it comes to discussing science fiction, fantasy and genre fiction in general. There was a poll in the Guardian of the best sf novels and out of the 500 books mentioned, someone worked out that only 18 were written by women. There was also the well documented case of a horror anthology put out by the British Fantasy Society featuring a total of zero female authors. This was apparently a case of unintentional gender bias, described by the publishers as ‘lazy sexism’, the editors were too busy focusing on who they wanted to include to realise who they were omitting, (and what they might have in common.)

Stuff like this always makes me want to examine my own tastes to see if I have any blind spots as it were. (Oh, FYI I’m a guy.)  When it comes to reading in general, my favourite authors tend in fact to be women; Donna Tartt, Scarlett Thomas, Patricia Highsmith and Agatha Christie would all push other favourites like Umberto Eco, Roberto Bolano and John Le Carre to the lower end of my top ten.

Looking back at the ten or so reviews on this blog however, the only female author to be found so far is Scarlett Thomas, whose works can probably only just be described as speculative fiction. Now ten books isn’t really a big enough representative sample but when I try to think more broadly, of the science fiction and fantasy books I’ve read in the recent past, things seem to get even worse… I’m struggling to think of any!

Why is this? As I’ve written before, I’m in the process of rediscovering a love for sf, after a long period of not really reading anything in the genre. This could have an impact in a couple of ways. Firstly I tend to pick books on the basis of stuff like reviews in magazines and blogs, awards, recomendations and so on, so what I choose might be reflective of a more general pre-existing bias in these sources. Secondly, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy when I was a kid; Frank Herbert and Tolkein loomed large in my reading lists for many years. I probably did tend to pick books by male authors at that point, pre-pubescent boys not being known for their gender blindness. So, I’m wondering, are my current tastes being informed by associations formed back then?

For whatever reason it seems that I’m missing out, and I’m going to make a conscious effort to try and read more sf by women authors. I’ve got a few lined up, all of which suspiciously fall into the category of books that I’ve been meaning to read but for some reason I keep putting off. I’ve got a few more reviews and things lined up for this blog first, but after that you might be seeing a few things by Catherynne M Valente, Mary Doria Russell, Connie Willis, Justina Robson, and Lauren Beuekes among others.

Any other suggestions gratefully recieved of course!

Oh and because I’m a wikipedia addict I came across this on Lauren Beukes page and found it mildly amusing;

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1. Rowen Sivertsen - December 17, 2012

I’m of the fairer sex, and your article made me look at my bookshelf. Interesting. Most of the best sci. fi is written by men, much of the best fantasy by women, and the best ethnic/geographical fiction (my weekness) is definitely ruled by women. I will try to redress the balance on Sci fi! 🙂


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