Gender Imbalance in Literature

I read an interesting article on The Awl about the lack of female authors being represented in reviews in various publications. The author of the article has decided to no longer review books by men, and to focus on only those written by women.  I can understand why she would say that. It’s her choice, and I have no issue with it.

But it makes me look at what I’ve read and reviewed. I have an overwhelmingly male list of books. But why? It wasn’t a conscious decision. It wasn’t even an unconscious decision. When I look at the books I have, I see a lot of fantasy and science fiction, mostly written by men. But my selection process has nothing to do with gender. The very first thing I consider is the blurb on the back cover. Does it interest me? If so, I’ll probably buy it. However, if I see a book by an author I know and like, I will also buy it.

To be fair, if I’d started writing reviews earlier, I’d have far more books reviewed by female authors. I’ve just read them already. In fact, while I was in university, the books I read were mostly by female authors, one in particular. She was probably my first favourite author. Her series stands as one of my favourite all-time series, and she is probably one of my top two favourite authors. Her name is Anne McCaffrey. I fell in love with her Pern series, and although I haven’t read one of her books in quite some time, I will be going back to reread them. Reviews of her books will come. I’ll also mention J. K. Rowling as and Naomi Novik as authors I’ve read several books of. And I’m quite excited to read N. K. Jemisin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula K. Leguin, Octavia Butler, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C. J. Cherryh, Margaret Atwood (Canadian!), Jo Walton (another Canadian), Ann Leckie, Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Moon, Mercedes Lackey, Janny Wurts, and C. S. Friedman. The list goes on. That’s a lot of books to read. You can also tell my tastes in books by this list: fantasy and science fiction.

So, my list of already reviewed books is heavily male just by chance. However, I’m never going to choose books based on the author’s gender. That’s not important to me. I just want to read a good book.

What do you think? Is there an unfair imbalance? Do you choose books based on the author’s gender? And which female authors of fantasy and science fiction would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.


22 thoughts on “Gender Imbalance in Literature”

  1. I also read a lot of SF from a very young age. Back then and even now SF is a male dominated genre. If I was more into Chick-Lit, Women’s Fiction (it’s like literary but with a woman main character?), or Romance then it would be more female authors because it is a female dominated genre.

    I’ve always said and I think it goes for today especially if you see something that needs changing then you be the one to change it. That is what the book reviewer is doing making a conscience change. Just like if you want to see more of X type character in stories and you are a writer then you should write X type story instead of waiting for someone else to do it and complaining that X is underrepresented.

    1. I saw a lack of stories like the one I’m writing, so that’s part of the reason I’m writing it. I’m writing what I want to read.

      But I agree that different genres tend to be dominated by different genders. Fantasy seems to be pretty even, though.

    1. I agree that all authors should be equally reviewed. But the publications seem to heavily favour male authors. However, I think it has a lot to do with bestseller lists.

  2. It used to be said that bookstores always had a large white male writers section. \I do remember back in the 60s when a female writer acquaintance wanted to get her book published she used her initials and surname. She did get published by one of the big time publishers at that time. Don’t know if that is why J. K. Rowling used initials.

    1. J. K. Rowling published as Joanne Rowling in Britain, but subsequently became J.K. Rowling because her US publisher felt that boys would not read a book by a woman, even with a boy as the title character. It’s interesting that when she chose to write crime novels, she used a male pseudonym. I think there is still a sector of the reading public that chooses books, at least in part, by the gender of the author.

      1. That’s unfortunate. And I think most people know she’s a woman, anyway. And they don’t care. They’d probably even buy the crime novels if she used her actual name, because it’s a new book by J. K. Rowling!

        1. Of course, now everyone knows J. is for Joanne, but at the time of the first book’s publication in the US, she wasn’t well-known. It’s interesting about her crime novels because the first one was very well-received by critics, but not a best-seller until someone analyzed the writing style and determined she had written it. Then, it sold much better. She was disappointed because she had hoped to keep her identity secret for a longer time. She felt freer to experiment in a new genre without the weight of her real name thrown into the mix.

          1. I guess her writing style was just too obvious to people. I can’t really associate writing style to authors very well. While I’m reading a book, I don’t pay that much attention to it, unless it’s something that really stands out.

            1. It actually wasn’t that the style was obvious. It was discovered by an academic using a computer program that analyzes style, word choice and frequency, etc. None of the critics picked up on it from reading the book.

    2. It’s exactly why she uses her initials. She was told by the publisher that if she uses her first name, boys may not buy her books. Initials are gender neutral, so she should sell better. Of course, everyone knows she’s a woman and she’s sold extremely well.

  3. First: a disclaimer. I hardly every look at the names of authors unless I absolutely adore their books – or if I’m trying to find it in the library. I chose my books based on covers, cover pitches (blurbs), and the ‘Also recommended’ features on Amazon/Goodreads.

    I noticed last year that I have the opposite problem: I read a TON of female authors. Granted, most of my books last year were young adult fantasy or romances – I know romance tends to have more female authors, but I honestly don’t know how YA fantasy balances out. Maybe I just lucked out?

    I could go into a huge spiel and list a million female fantasy authors for you to try – but I’ll just tell ya to check out my Reading List 2016 on my site if you want a bunch of choices. Otherwise, I’d say my favorites were Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass) Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles – a sci-fi fantasy!) and Tamora Pierce (Trickster’s Duet).

    Oh, but there are so many more.

  4. As usual, I’m commenting from the poetry side of literature.

    There is a huge imbalance in publishing between male and female poets. Some of the big literary journals publish 80% male poets to 20% female. It is not that there aren’t plenty of fantastic women poets, but that many editors concentrate on presenting the more traditional male perspective and topics, shying away from women poets who tend to write in a more personal way.

    As a woman poet, I find that I relate more easily to the poetry of other women and seek out their work. That doesn’t mean that I don’t read male poets, but I will gravitate more often to women’s poems, chapbooks, and collections.

    To address the issue of women being published less frequently, a local woman poet has convened a women’s poetry workshop. We study women poets, generate new work, workshop the poems to help in the revision process, and have “publication parties” where we gather to submit our work. It’s been a great experience to have a group of women to support each other.

    1. Poetry definitely has a different feeling than prose. I think the difference in style is more pronounced. For novels, it’s not so apparent, though I do find that many novels written by women tend to focus a bit more on the emotional side of things from characters’ perspectives. But that’s not always the case.

      1. When I was in secondary school, we read a lot of Hemingway, which I didn’t enjoy. Part of the reason is that his women characters did not ring true. The characterization issue is an important one. True, it isn’t consistent, but the literary canon that is still taught is much heavier on male authors, making the male tendencies in writing seem more normative.

        1. I’ve never actually read Hemingway before. Authors from his time and earlier had such different thoughts about things like women and society. It’s kind of difficult to understand them.

  5. I find this topic of gender representation in authorship to be a harmful one to the fabric of society. On the surface it sounds like a genuinely noble endeavor, But, when you consider it as a reader you are given the suggestion to select stories not on the stories and plots, and characters but by the sexual organs, or by the skin color of the author and then making one feel guilty for liking the very sort of stories or authors one likes. It makes one feel neurotic and paranoid for being themselves.

    This is the stock in trade of CULT MIND CONTROL techniques.

    Why are we subjected to this pseudo-intellectualism.

    I woke up one day and realized I was unconsciously censoring my thoughts while being gripped with a neurotic sense that I was guilty of crimes against women, blacks, gays etc. In the same way that women are made to feel body shame through media memes, men are made to feel shame and guilt for stealing the intellectual spotlight from women and minorities through a political correctness meme.

    It also makes women feel inadequate for not contributing or not getting published, and the publishing industry is run by the publishing companies.

    This nonsense makes all reading a political act, not a source of solitary pleasure and insightful learning for anyone who can read.

    I like to read Jane Austen and George R.R. Martin. I want to retain the freedom to read what I want.

    1. The way I choose what to read, I just choose what I like or what I want. Male or female author, that doesn’t matter. Ethnic origin doesn’t matter, either. One thing I would like to do is read a book from each country. Cultural backgrounds can be interesting.

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