For the past few weeks there's been plenty of talk around the blogosphere about the coverage, particularly in reviews, female authors get in SF/F. This was in part due to this study posted on lady business website. I think it's interesting, but as with stats and sampling, if not handled with care they can lead to "dangerous" conclusions. And I think there are plenty of those conclusions going around (not necessarily by those who made the study, but all sorts of commenters not limited to those on the site). The one I'm going to pick on is the idea that male reviewers don't review female authors. Not really because I disagree with that notion, but because the studies being made don't really care to differentiate about the subgenres and gender dominance in those subgenres, in particular how they skew the stats in ways that can easily mislead and/or deceive.
More importantly, people see the data, see the results and they seem to be more interested in drawing these "dangerous" conclusions from them than stepping back and asking the most important question of all, "why?" Why is this data presenting itself as it is? The most common answer is "oh, girl cooties", which I think is just over-simplistic and misleading.
My theory is, though I think someone with a science background might say that it's actually a hypothesis, that even though there will be tendencies towards reviewing same sex authors, the variable that most impacts what is being reviewed is the subgenre the blog focuses on. Now, why that is, I don't know. That's a question and problem for someone else to figure out. Is it a problem of what and how authors are writing? Is it a problem of what publishers are picking up? Is it a problem of what review copies are being sent and to whom? A marketing problem? Or is there a real problem of gender bias in the SF/F review community? I don't know.
One of the things that the study on lady business was interested in was finding out if it's true that women are more diverse in their reading and reviewing habits. The study does illustrate that, and I can agree with that notion. For good or bad, the study is an eye opener for some to self examine their habits and it does bring focus to the issue and gets people talking.
The reason these stats have shown such a divide on male to female reviews is that many of the blogs studied from female reviewers have a lot of urban fantasy reviews and also reviews from YA categories. As I understand it, these are dominated by female authors. I take a look at a review site like All Things Urban Fantasy and the studied Janicu's Book Blog on lady business and all I see is the same divide found in genres like epic fantasy and science fiction, only the inverse. But somehow, this divide is considered by many as acceptable; it balances the scale so to speak. When in reality, it's doing nothing of the sort. The male reviewers, though, as depicted, don't venture into these areas as often which is a problem in itself, but does nothing to rectify the idea that female authors aren't being as reviewed in epic fantasy and science fiction genres. These stats while illustrating the diversity of female reviewers, it says nothing of how much they're contributing in non-UF subgenres.
For example, there are very few female bloggers I currently follow that really focus on subgenres outside of urban fantasy, two of them being Bookworm Blues and Little Red Reviewer who I think are great; if people can point me towards more of them I'd appreciate it. I take a look at their review index, and on the eye test, it's quite apparent that they review more male authors than female authors. As a quick confirmation I asked Bookworm Blues' blogger about this, and she told me that she was certain she reviews more males than females. Now that doesn't jibe with what was found in the lady business research and what it says about female reviewers' habits. Then I take a look at what's been reviewed on our blog, a blog that has a tendency to review urban fantasy, and what I find doesn't jibe with what is found in the lady business study either. We're two male reviewers and 58% of our reviews contain a female author component (some are co-authored) if I'm counting right.
So maybe males and females aren't as distinct in what sexes they review, but the difference lies in the diversity of genres/subgenres they review. Or are we the exception?
Which brings me to my initial intent of this post: K.J. Parker. Sorry for the detour, I honestly had no intention of writing any of the above, at least in that exhaustive manner. But, the show must go on. Over the past week or two, I've been discussing K.J. Parker quite a bit, mainly on how I'm missing out since I haven't read any of his/her books. So after everyone made me feel like a complete turd for not reading any of Parker's books, we got to asking if anyone really knew what his/her sex is. You see, K.J. Parker is a fantasy author who is widely believed to be female, but for some time now rumors of Parker actually being male have surfaced. Few know, and they're not telling.
And that got me to thinking, what does K.J. Parker mean to the state of the SF/F community, particularly in regards to the idea that men don't review female authors? But keep in mind that Parker is not the only gender neutral author around.
As a matter of laziness, I took to the same blogs that lady business studied to see how widely Parker was reviewed. Keeping in mind that I excluded two sites, one because it was difficult to search through, and another because the sex of the reviewers are unknown, I researched 19 of them. From those 19, male review blogs accounted for 11 of them, 6 of them were for females, and 2 of them were mixed. On 19 blogs, K.J. Parker was found to be reviewed 26 times, and 16 of them were from male review blogs, while 3 reviews were from female blogs. There are still 7 reviews unaccounted for, which I'll add to the males since they were reviewed by a male reviewer. So of 26 reviews, 23 were done by male reviewers on 9 blogs out of 12 (remember I added one). Comparing it to females, they got 3 reviews in 2 blogs out of 6.
I don't know, but I find that quite curious. Am I onto something? Maybe what we need is more female bloggers reviewing female authors outside of urban fantasy? How many of these blogs have reviewed some of the recent female debut authors from Night Shade Books, various of whom have been reviewed and enjoyed by male reviewers, for example?
Also I ask, why has K.J. Parker been so successful with male reviewers? Is it something about how he/she writes? Is is the mystery of his/her sex? But remember, K.J. Parker to this point has been believed to be female. But whatever he/she is doing, it's resonating very well in the SF/F community.
Some final thoughts. There's certainly gender inequality all around, but let's not limit it to how women are having a tough time in epic fantasy and science fiction, I see plenty of men struggling to find an audience in urban fantasy, too. Maybe what we need is more men reading and reviewing urban fantasy, as well as more women reading and reviewing epic fantasy and science-fiction (regardless of the sex of the author)? I don't think the burden has to be entirely in a shift of habit from what current bloggers are doing in the respective subgenre they're reviewing.
If reviewers, both male and female do their part, so to speak, and there still exists a divide on epic fantasy and science fiction reviews, then I think the only recourse is for changes to be made outside of blog reviewers. I don't think that forcing, well exhorting for that matter, bloggers to review more females for the sake of reviewing them is the way to go, I think it should come naturally and organically, but maybe that's just me being idealistic. But I'm of the idea that if more female reviewers are interested in fantasy and science fiction, outside of UF, and more male bloggers get interested in UF it might cause a chain reaction on what books are picked up by publishers and how books are sent to be reviewed.
And last question, if K.J. Parker were revealed to be a male writer, what does that say about SF/F reviewers, and does it mean anything at all?