Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Weekend Question: Is there Sexism in Review Blogging?

So, lately there have been a number of posts going around twitter and fantasy blogs in general that have gotten me interested in gender and the role it plays in book reviews. Let me give you a quick peek at the kinds of numbers I'm seeing.

First, there was this wonderful post about how review bloggers need to be included in the Hugo Awards by the ever-interesting Stefan Raets. I totally agree with this, and I've been meaning to feature this post on my blog for a couple of days now.

NOTE: Yes, it's $50 to be a "supporting member," and vote on the Hugos, but let's remember that you get cool stuff. Just look at this post from last year about what they got.

This post inadvertently got some negative attention when it was pointed out that Stefan only included male bloggers in his examples of recommendations. Now, I don't think there was anything behind that at all, but it did get people started talking about women authors and their representation in our wonderful little corner of the internet (review blogs).

That talk (and there are several posts that I should link to, but i'm trying my damndest to be brief) led to this post about gender issues with regard to how many female authors get reviewed by male bloggers. While I don't think the data can give us very many conclusions, it did cause quite a stir. It certainly got me thinking about how many reviews I've done of female authors versus male authors, and the numbers are pretty pathetic.

My Awful Reviews currently has two full-time reviewers that have submitted content. Between nrlymrtl and I, we've managed to do something along the lines of 31 reviews this year. 28 of those reviews were male authors. Now, one of those reviews was for a trilogy of books by a female author, so the numbers are a bit skewed, but not by much.

When I started talking to other bloggers on twitter about it (or reading their comments on the above posts), I noticed several things

  • Many male bloggers complained that they were sent an overwhelming number of review copies by male authors, but relatively few female authors.
  • Urban fantasy was pointed at a number of times as being something very different in the fantasy world (primarily female writers and readers, with more female reviews than male reviews).
  • I got some disturbing information in the form of links that led me to believe this disparity in male vs female reviewing was VERY widespread. Read them here and here and here
So, here's the long and short of what those links told me.

  • authorship is about 50/50 between males and females each year in publishing. (this one still needs verified in a major way, but I'm letting it slide while I await their sources).
  • Women get roughly 1/3 the review representation that men get.
  • A random selection of 25 bloggers can pretty quickly show striking similarities to that 1/3 rule from the previous bullet point.
So, if the 50/50 thing stands, then we've got a problem the size of a giant pair of hairy testicles covering roughly 2/3 of the US and UK (don't you just love how description can really make something semi-professional suddenly sound like a 15 year old ranting in his basement?).

The biggest question I'm left with is WHY? Why does there seem to be so much more promotion and reviewing of male authors? Do female writers all suck horribly? I can't imagine that's the case. Are all the readers male? Nope, can't imagine that's right either. Even more strangely, all the publicists that I have worked with are female, yet of the 5 books I've gotten unsolicited from publishers (stop laughing right this instant! The blog is a work in progress, damn it!) 3 were male authors, and one was co-written by a husband and wife. Six authors, four of them men. I don't have enough personal data to prove there's a disparity, but I'm sure that some older blogs do, and I'd love to see it.

How can we change this depressing trend?

Regardless of the reason that this disparity exists (is it the bloggers? The publishers? The Flying Spaghetti Monster?) the important thing to remember is review blogs have a unique opportunity to strike a dent in the disparity between male and female authors and their publicity. We are the people suggesting the books, after all. So, why don't we take some time to ask around and get a feel for some of the great women writing in the genres that we know and love? I know that going forward, I'm going to be paying special attention to books that catch my eye and have a female author, and maybe you should, too. I'm not saying go incredibly far out of your way, or read and review ONLY female authors. That would be a whole new mess that I don't want my dear blog associated with at all. I'm just saying look around, and see if maybe there aren't some great female authors doing something that interests you. If there are, ask them or their publicist for a review copy. Simple, and effective. In fact, if you really like what you read, buy a copy. Capitalism can definitely help even the score here. If we all change just a little, we can really make an impact on what looks like a big problem.

I'd like to end on a person note. I think the thing that hit closest to home for me in studying out all of this is the number of opportunities I've likely missed to read great books by female authors, simply because they went unnoticed. It's depressing thinking back on some of the mediocre books I've waded through in the past few years. All that time there was a much better book, written by a woman, that no one talked about enough to catch my eye. Instead, I read some by-the-numbers fantasy plot that had me yawning and struggling to finish, simply because it got more press. We (reviewers) are the press now. Let's change up our reading habits, if for no other reason than we all hate reading crappy books when there's something better out there.


  1. Excellent post, Bryce! As a female author who also reviews books on her blog, I do try to include books by women in the subgenres I enjoy - but as you say, they can be harder to find. Chicken and egg...

    I do wonder if these by-the-numbers fantasy books you speak of are seen as more commercial by the publishers, and therefore get more publicity and hence sell more, creating a self-perpetuating cycle?

    P.S. To any book reviewers out there: Do feel free to contact me or my publishers Angry Robot for an eARC - I have a fantasy novel out later this month, full of action, intrigue and other good stuff :)

  2. In general though, book blogging is dominated by women. I went to a blogger event the other week and there was one man and he said that's just how it is. Young adult authors seem to be primarily female too. Traditionally, press reviews have been men talking about books written by men but I don't see that replicated in the blogging world. I don't follow blogs that just review high fantasy though and I have heard that they can be a bit anti-women at times but that is just one sub-genre.

  3. Interesting point, I didn't read much that was happening in the blogosphere lately due to some hectic schedule so I completely missed the discussion on how many women authors are represented by bloggers.
    I must say though, as a woman, my reading habits lean toward female authors but I think this has more to do with the fact that I read genres that are mostly written by women.
    Another thing working for me is that if the book fails to move my imagination and I don't feel a need to continue reading it, I stop and don't look back. And I must say, when that happens, those are mostly male authors. :)
    (I would never realize this before your post, but now I went back in my head and counted them).

  4. I did some counting and some quick calcs. So far this year, I have read 28 books, 4 of which were written by ladies. That's ~14%! I even counted up last year and 47 out of 125 books were written by women, equaling ~37%! Biased Slacker!

  5. So I'm going to have to start reviewing, I guess, because I just counted up, and the last 50 or so books, with the exception of Dead Six by Larry Correia have all been by female authors. Then again, I've been reading a lot of paranormal romance lately, so this makes sense (the overwhelming majority of authors in that genre are women, as far as I've noticed.)

  6. Great post.   I've been following the Stefan and Aiden's posts a bit.

    Do I think bloggers should be eligible for a Hugo? ehhhh, as a blogger, I've got to say no.  sorry bloggers, we sit on our butts all day long reading stuff for free (hello ARCs and library card!), and then shout our thoughts at the internet.  try your hand at writing and then tell me that what we do isn't the easiest thing on the planet by comparison.

    to piss people off even more, i quickly went through my review index of stuff I've post for the last 2 years. Yup. mostly dudes.  Apparently I review like a man  (interesting. I've also been told by co-workers that I "manage like a man"), because while one or two female writers, Cat Valente and Robin Hobb, show up on the index plenty, the balance is a variety of men.

    I'm still at odds with how i feel about all this.  As a blogger is it my job to balance the scales? I truly don't know. If I found out that people only subscribed to my blog because I'm a woman, I know I'd be pretty damn pissed off. Read my shit because you enjoy it, not because I have ovaries.  Same with books. I read stuff I like, and try to find more books like them. . .   because I like what I'm reading, not because of the authors plumbing. 

    I bet that if the statistics from the study above covered romance, PNR, and general fiction blogs, it would be more balanced male/female. or maybe not, i've no stats, I just know that most of the PNR blogs i read are run by ladies, and there is a ton of PNR written by ladies as well. (maybe that's why guys tend to shy away from that stuff?  too much of a hen party? and damn have you seen some of that hot eye candy cover art!)

    Sometimes I wish authors would only go by first initial and last name, so it was harder for readers to determine their gender right off the bat.

    sorry for all the rambling and going off the handle. . .

  7.  Don't you worry, Anne. You're on our watch list. We're part of the Army :) Also, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for your input.

  8.  I don't think it's a bad thing to be a man that enjoys reading men, or a woman that enjoys reading women. Like you say, it's all about what moves our imaginations. I guess the problem starts somewhere before that, in the publicity and publishing houses, and I don't quite understand why there's a problem anymore.

    Thanks for the great comment, and for dropping by!

  9.  I find it interesting that both you and Andrea read more men than women, but not terribly surprising. I guess if the majority of the books we hear about are written by men, then it makes sense we'd all be reading more men unless it's a genre that is dominated by women.

  10.  Do! You know you've got an open invitation to post here, bro! Nepotism rears its ugly head :P

  11.  I love your rambles, and you know it! I'm fine with bloggers being eligible for Hugos, as long as it's in a field where it makes sense that bloggers are there. I think it might be best if the Hugos started by creating a new category for Best SF&F Review Blog, so we weren't stepping on the toes of others who perhaps write professionally for a living. Then again, if our content is better, maybe those toes need to be stepped for thought.

  12. Great post.
    As a book blogger, I pick up a book because the blurb interests me or for the great reviews, the gender of the author doesn't factor into it. There are a lot of great female authors in SFF lately, Elspeth Cooper, Teresa Frohock, Anne Lyle, Sarah Cawkwell, just to name a few.

    I don't think we need to all start reviewing books by female authors but rather keep our minds open to all the great stories that are out there.

  13. I always feel a bit frustrated with this discussion when it appears. I consider myself a reader/listener first and a blogger second. I listed to what I want. It's my entertainment, not my job. I only request review copies for titles I want, and feel absolutely no obligation to review anything that I receive that I didn't request. Last year, out of 185ish titles I reviewed only 20 were titles by female authors. In my year end top 20 post two were by female authors. I am very aware of this fact, but I don't apologize.

    I think this issue is important, but, more so for professional reviewers than bloggers. Yes, bloggers drive discussion, and influence readers, but in the end, it's not their job to rectify social injustices. The vast majority of the bloggers I read are female. Most of them are literary bloggers, and in fact, I rarely get boom ideas from them. I read them because I enjoy their approach to reviewing and interact with them often about blogging. When it comes to book recommendations that I do get from bloggers, the bloggers that have probably influenced what I read are all female as well. Jenn's Bookshelves is typically a literary blog, but we both share a love of horror and zombie fiction. Jenn Forbus runs my favorite blog on suspense thrillers. Kat Hooper from Fantasy Lit is probably the blogger whose opinion on spec lit fiction I most value and the Little Red Reviewer has introduced me to Cat Valente as well as a few other excellent books. Yet, for the most part, I find what I want to read by perusing publisher sites, Audible, and recommendations from people I trust.

    I don't consider myself a SF/F blogger. I am an audiobook blogger who tends to listen to decent percentage of speculative fiction along with thrillers, suspense, mysteries, and the occasional bit of that high falutin' literature. So, the blogs I read are all over the place. I will often reach out and ask for recommendations on female writers who I have missed out on, and I do try to include at least one female author a month in my reading. Some months I fail, other months, I end up listening to more than one. But, I would never criticize a amateur blogger for choosing what they want to read.

    All that being said. I do think their is a huge disparity in the gender coverage in professional review sources and I can think of any excuse for that.

    On the matter of Blogs for Hugos. I think some bloggers do so much for SF and that their actions should be recognized in some way. For me personally, if I was eligible to nominate, I would go for blogs that offer news, interviews and reviews, not just those like me who tend to mostly write reviews with an occasional feature. I think sites like The Wertzone, Fantasy Literature and Scifi Chick definitely deserve acknowledgement.

  14.  Great reply! I don't plan on going too far out of my way to find books written by female authors, but this has definitely made me more aware of it, so I think that now when I'm given the choice between two equally exciting and interesting novels, I'll probably take the one written by the woman, just to try and broaden my reading. All of this has made me realize that I read far too few female writers and need to give more of them a try.

  15. Great post. Glad you bit the bullet. :)

  16. I'm the 1%, my blog has reviewed 65% female authors. What is wrong with me?

  17. Each year I try to pick up and read the Hugo finalists so I can decide for myself which novel I'd vote for and why.   Most years, the book I would vote for the Hugo ends up not winning.  A lot of the time, I find myself sharply disagreeing with the eventual winner, feeling like it ends up being more of a popularity contest than actually really rewarding what is the best novel of the year.

    For example, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norville a few years ago.  I tried to plow through it but found it tedious and unremarkable.  So I was stunned at how many people on-line read and loved it.  Or said they did.  My secret theory is that a few people liked it and they were influential enough to convince others they should like it.  Hence, it wins.  Or maybe there were two other novels that split the vote and it won.  Again, I can't be sure.  I'd love to see those figures.

    As for the gender issue...I don't necessarily seek out an author based on gender. I seek them out based on what interests me and whether I enjoy their work.   I've read bad novels by men and women and good novels by men and women.  One of my favorite space operas is the Miles series by Lois McMaster Bujold.   

  18. Very interesting post! I'm glad you bit the bullet and decided to share.

  19. Incidentally, Google has decided I need a male profile icon.  Oh the irony.

  20. If you're looking for a good fantasy read by a female author, you should try Carol Berg. LOVE her Rai-Kirah series. As for the point of the post, well, it's depressingly representative of life in general. The scary part is that some people LIKE it that way and would keep it so.