Ersatz Culture’s Gender Graphs

Ersatz Culture has been systematically graphing all the awards (well, lots of them but maybe not all of them) in terms of gender and very systematically.

There are a host of different patterns in those graphs – note these are my observations not those of Ersatz Culture. Some awards are more volatile than others and, of course, some awards are very recent. Overall, there has been the shifted already noted from:

  1. Mainly men
  2. More men than women but many women
  3. Mainly women

The nearest graph to one that splits neatly into these phases is the Nebula Award for Short Story but as with any narrative overlaid on data, take it as the speculation it is.

There are few examples of an award bouncing around a 50/50 split. The Arthur C Clarke award though seems to have less of a trend and more of a noisy wobble around a 70/30ish split.

Young Adult awards have been more favourable to women. Fantasy awards have tended to be more favourable to women also. Any shift in a generic award towards YA or fantasy therefore might also lead to a shift towards women.

New writer awards (the former-Campbell Award, Locus Best First Novel) have often had a better split (not always a good split) than other awards in the same year. That is interesting as they might be a leading indicator of future award demographics in these awards.

11 responses to “Ersatz Culture’s Gender Graphs”

  1. Re.

    > well, lots of them but maybe not all of them

    if there are any requests, let me know, with the sole proviso being that it has to be something that’s already in ISFDB, and that any award that has lots of non-Anglophone nominees is likely to produce poorer output, due to (a) non English language writers being less likely to have pages, thus falling back to using given name for gender determination, and (b) that given name-based determination performing much worse, because I’m currently only using an English language list of given names.

    I did also wonder whether gendered given names is perhaps just an Anglophone thing, and that method would be a dead loss for other languages/cultures – I was certainly aware of such cases in Japanese, which is the only other language I’ve got a moderately good knowledge of names in. Doing some Googling just now, based on the category counts in the page below, it seems that those two languages plus Korean might have the highest numbers of unisex names, although this feels very much like something where could well have poor coverage in many areas.

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    • One of the ways in which I find Korean names a bit confusing (barring the obvious almost everyone having one of only a handful of surnames) is that siblings will, with alarming frequency, have the same first syllable in their given name. According to my ex this is a fairly normal thing to do in Korea (she was Korean so she would know.)

      Then the outliers who don’t fit the normal one-syllable surname with a two-syllable given name pattern, like Han Kang (author of The Vegetarian) and Sa Sol (a pro climber). I think I’ve given them both in the Korean style (surname first) but I could be very wrong; I can never remember.

      It never really occurred to me that they have a lot of unisex names even while I was living there.


      • I should add, she still *is* Korean and I’m doing that annoying thing where I talk about her as though she died, which I hate when other people do it. We’re even still friends so literally no need for me to do that.

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    • There are also names that are female in one country and male in another country. For example Kari and Gerd are both female names in Norwegian, but Kari is a male name in Finland and Gerd is a male name in Germany.

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      • I have a cousin named Kari whose father was named Gert (which is the swedish spelling of male Gerd).


    • > if there are any requests, let me know

      Not a request for more data, but I do find it difficult to tell from the key which shade of each colour indicates “from wikipedia”/”from twitter bio”/”inferred from human names”. I assume that the darkest shade in all instances indicates “from wikipedia”, but especially when there are only two shades of blue/green shown, it is by no means clear whether the lighter shade is “from twitter” or “from name” without looking at the raw data.

      So for instance, for the Campbell/Astounding award, there are three shades of green in the data for 2018, and I assume they read top-to-bottom the same as the key does. But there are only two shades of blue, which clicking through to the raw data tells me come from wikipedia and name-analysis, but I cannot tell that from the key.

      (I also can’t work out whether the colour of the lines which delineate the various blocks have any meaning?)


      • Short answer: You are absolutely right, but the Google Sheets API makes this difficult/impossible to fix.

        Long answer:

        So, as (vaguely) covered in the about page, all the charts are generated programmatically via the Google Sheets API. When doing this, you can define the colours for each data series – unfortunately, as far as Google Sheets is concerned, these are the colours for the data lines (the stuff you mention in your final paragraph), which is why the colours in the key don’t match the filled areas.

        Instead, those filled areas are rendered with 30% opacity of whatever the line colour for the series is. This can be easily changed to be 100% opacity manually in the Sheets web application, but this doesn’t appear to be possible – or at least, documented – for the web API. This isn’t to say that an alternative palette might render better when those colours are 30% opaque – I’ll have a play around to see if I can come up with something better later today.

        Similarly, I also tried to turn off those lines – by setting them to zero thickness – but this is something that is disallowed in the API for this type of stepped area chart. (But IIRC it is possible to change that setting for other chart types, which gives me an idea for a possible roundabout way of fixing this…)

        In retrospect, given my experience with having to use other Google APIs in the past, I probably should have foreseen these pain points and chosen to use a different charting library/API – there’s not really a shortage of those sort of things out there.


    • Where do we submit corrections? You’re missing at least one nonbinary person in the Nebula finalists; one of the 1996 finalists was Raphael Carter, who is nonbinary.

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  2. Yeah, the Clarke is mainly a “hard” SF award and a lot of men fans cling very tightly to the idea that women can’t write really good and/or important science fiction and so don’t read them or judge them more harshly than men’s works. Men authors in childrens/YA have always been highly feted and more promoted (see John Green,) but women being educators and fantasy being the biggest category in childrens/YA, they’ve had more fertile publication opportunities there earlier than in adult SFFH. That’s been established since the 1970s, so that’s one area where there is still some sexism discrimination but it’s a considerably better field. In horror, there’s still a high rate of discrimination of women, especially women of color. However, they’ve been working on it, including privileged authors like Brian Keene who essentially boycotted the Stoker to get HWA to be more inclusive and supportive of white women and POC authors.

    In fantasy, women faced barriers to publication, then marketing and awards. But remember, fantasy didn’t have a dedicated category market separate from SF until the 1960’s (and even then it was very blended until late into the 1990’s.) Many SF fans had a contemptuous view of fantasy as an intruder in the SF field, seeing it as weaker “genre” under the SF speculative umbrella and juvenile/fairy tale like, and thus had more willingness to let women experiment in it than in SF. That and the feminist SF movement blending into the fantasy field in the 1970’s led to less discrimination toward women on publication, or at least towards white women. Over time, they’ve made progress on marketing — especially in the 1990’s — and then awards.

    Having in the last decade not just bestsellers but phenom sellers be women writing SFFH has a very strong ripple effect. J.K. Rowling and Meyer may have been in childrens/YA but the rapid expansion and interest of adult readers in their wake as some of the biggest phenom sellers meant you had a lot of horror and fantasy readers willing to try more women authors and checking them out. (And because Rowling wrote about a boy, she could not be dismissed in her biggest phenom seller ever role as part of some romance wave.) Hunger Games was almost a phenom seller, which also helped in science fiction. That the cluster of contemporary fantasy bestsellers in the oughts expansion had several women, even though not phenoms, also helped. Ancillary Justice and other big hits helped. Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale adapted to a hit t.v. series helped.

    Every big seller written by a woman puts the lie to the sexist myths that women SFFH writers aren’t popular, men don’t read them, men are the key audience to be wooed only with sexist approaches, etc., and that means more readers check out women writers and also don’t judge them as dismissively against men as they used to in days of higher social sexism. And those sales and new readers affect word of mouth buzz and thus awards, whether they are “commercial” genre awards or “lit” awards that often include SFF works.

    The trend again of having women have a higher ratio for some awards is relatively recent, of the last few years, and it is again not a condemnation of men writers but the women writers simply catching up in getting attention, more marketing attention and reviews and being less dismissed and overlooked in the field. It is the by-product of a decrease in discrimination, including a smaller decrease for women of color writers. It is part of the readership and authors themselves moving away from the social sexist myth that women writers supposedly mainly write about romance and trifling matters rather than material that “deserves” awards. (Not that romance is actually trifling or something that men writers don’t obsess over in their work; it’s just that romance is used as a cudgel to dismiss and overlook women writers as having girl cooties.)

    The ratio will balance out further along. What we’re going to be seeing next is another group that has been frequently overlooked and blocked in awards doing much better rates — men of color writers. It’s already happening. And after that or possibly in conjunction with it — women of color writers. N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor’s bestsellerdom, along with Jemisin’s historic Hugo run and Okorafor’s t.v. adaptation helps with that. And that’s because more readers, including younger readers, are hearing that these writers exist, hearing word of mouth that they are worth taking a look at and are judging them in a more liberal society that doesn’t as automatically view them as lesser quality off the bat. Supposed bastions of masculinity that we still have — horror and SF — will slowly see a rise in women authors doing those genres and getting awards too.

    For a lot of white men authors, this loss of a discriminatory advantage is seen as a devastating loss and a threat. For white authors in general, writers of color doing well and fans of color being critical of white authors’ bad stereotype habits is seen as a loss and a threat. After all, being the superior default, they don’t have that “outsiders” allure — an allure society systemically created by treating those folk as inferior outsiders. A straight white guy is not an underdog in our society. So they claim they are now, from the hordes of invading inferiors who are now getting celebrated — and winning awards which surely they can’t be doing legitimately because it didn’t happen before (when they were often blocked by discrimination and discriminatory attitudes.) Every advance women authors have made in SFFH or fiction in general and every time we celebrate it, it’s always dismissed as a stunt and condemned as a threat because it affects the skewed status quo hierarchy of society.

    In an equal society, women winning somewhat more awards a few years in a row should mean statistically not much. But because women were held back, them getting over those previous obstacles is visually odd to those used to seeing the discriminatory rigged results and seen as women possibly “replacing” men authors. All of these concerns and data gathering we’re seeing now since women got some noticeable wins also came up in the 1970’s when feminist equality efforts were high and women writers were getting some attention, such as feminist SF and Afrofuturism, including more publication and somewhat more awards. There was a lot of talk then, even though women still faced a lot of discrimination and sexual harassment in the field, that women were going to take over, shut the men out and that men fans would leave the SFF field in disgust, leaving it to inferior women readers and their inferior writing and girl cooties romance nonsense. For much of the 1990’s and 2000’s, when more women were making strides in fantasy fiction, the same complaints about women writers and claim of overly favorable treatment for them were raised in the terms of them doing well in fantasy and so the whole of fandom would turn to romantic fantasy and science fiction would die, etc.

    This is not a new discussion. We’ll have this discussion every time women writers and fans get closer to equality and become more visible and successful from it. A few years ago, the media was full of stories about how women were “recent” fans to SFFH, both written and tv/film/anime, and to conventions and cosplay and only now having an impact on the field thereby. This is an utterly ludicrous claim for women fans, writers and creators over the last seventy years, and yet to the media, it made perfect sense to go along with the sexist myth of the genres’ history instead of actual facts. Women had to be new invaders of a popular bandwagon, not simply more vocal and more visible as fans and creators thanks to increased equality, because women were proclaimed the outsiders. Block them from participating and pretend it’s because they don’t want to and wave away any who still attempt it as barely there, and you have a convenient narrative that ignores what they’ve actually faced and done. Fake geek girls and claims about women cosplayers — sexist myth. And just today, there was a twitter conversation when an author got told by a fan that women didn’t write hardly any SF until the year 2000. For men fans who believe sexist myths that were used against women for so long, the sexist myth that we’re invaders taking over still seems relevant.

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