I’m counting pronouns

I woke up late because I was working late on things from the mundane physical world, which means ploughing through spreadsheets and making columns think they are rows and rows think they are columns. This meant this morning I had less time for my entertainment, which means ploughing through spreadsheets and making columns think they are rows and rows think they are columns. Specifically, I wanted to wrangle the IGNYTE award finalists into a spreadsheet with a similar format to the one I’m using to collate Dragon Award finalists.

One bonus for the IGNYTE awards is the finalist list typically includes publisher where it is relevant. So that’s good. A downside (purely from a tabulating things perspective) is some of the names attached to a single finalist are as many as 20+ but that is a good challenge. Often things that look convenient from a data perspective (‘a book’ has ‘an author’) reveal assumptions about our world. Writing a list of stuff is something imbued with socio-political perspectives that can literally trip you up[1]. Counting people means categorising people and categorising people is not a simple thing.

A key issue is counting gender. There are good reasons for tabulating gender because it is an almost universal issue of social disparity across the world. We can see a lot about social change and inequality by looking first at gender and we have roughly two major categories of people (male, female) plus some proportionally smaller ones[2]. But gender is also complex and I’m not sure about the best way of counting it. Also, even though I primarily present gender stats in aggregate, I still am going through lists of authors and sticking them in a gender box.

Looking at the ‘how’ of the classifications I decided to modify the way I was tabulating gender. What I did with the Dragons was check Wikipedia entries or other sources of author bios and looking for indications of gender…but really what I was doing was checking pronoun usage. So, if what I was actually doing was counting pronoun usage then a smarter move was to tabulate PRONOUNS rather than gender i.e. instead of ‘other/non-binary’, ‘male’, ‘female’, use the categories of ‘they/other’, ‘he’, ‘she’. That way the presentation of the data matches what I was actually doing.

I don’t know if that’s the best approach but it has another benefit to a different question about the gender of authors. In note [1] below, the issue of James S A Corey was pertinent – two people who author books under a single name. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck are both men but what gender is James S A Corey? It’s not just an abstruse philosophical question because if we are thinking about how sexism plays out in awards or book purchases etc the presentation of gender is relevant. “Robert Galbraith” is a pseudonym used by author J.K.Rowling and at least initially it was a secret that Galbraith was Rowling, which presents an interesting question when classifying books by the gender of their author.

Historically this has a further layer. Many women have used male pseudonyms (or made their gender less obvious by using initials) as a way to avoid sexism in book purchasing etc. However, some authors in the past who used pseudonyms of a different gender to their ‘everyday’ names did so for other reasons i.e. as a means for exploring their own gender. Nor are those mutually exclusive motivations. Authors regarded socially as female may have chosen male pseudonyms both to avoid sexism and to express their own understanding of their gender, nor is it going to be entirely clear which.

There’s a sort of moral to this story which is the unsurprising conclusion that gender is complex. The specifics in this case is that classifying authors by gender is complex REGARDLESS of your views on gender. You could have quite regressive views on gender (e.g. J.K.Rowling) but that doesn’t change that there are cases of authors were gender can be hard to classify (e.g. Robert Galbraith).


[1]e.g. back in 2019 some people scoffed that I’d made an error saying 10 men had won Dragon Awards in the two headline categories because four years and two categories comes to 8, so how could it be 10 etc. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/a-bit-more-on-dragons-and-probabilities-etc/

[2] A reminded that ‘proportionally small’ can add up to a lot of actual people https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/07/05/i-love-manchester-but-i-must-destroy-it/

38 thoughts on “I’m counting pronouns

  1. Another interesting edge case is Tiptree, who clearly valued privacy very highly, and whose works furthermore foregrounded gender in a way that most ambiguously pronounable writers don’t. It wasn’t simply expediency as it was for JK Rowling or CL Moore.

    (And as far as that goes, what the hell kind of name is “Raccoona”? Per Google, no human being, ever. This many years later, I don’t Recall what pronouns (if any) were used for the author of “The Screwfly Solution” in 1977, but it read to me as an unambiguously female name at the time.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tiptree demonstrates that ‘author gender’ depends on what kind of hypothesis you want to test with your data.
      For example is the question “How willing were editors in this time period to publish women authors?” then Tiptree should be counted as a man or maybe not included in the data at all.
      However change the focus of the question and the classification needs to shift.

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  2. I’ll admit I try to keep track of gender and race of authors in my books read spreadsheet, so as to see how well I do at my efforts to not read too many white cis male perspectives*. Like you said, I try to go onto authors’ own bio pages and look in the about the author sections for pronouns, but something it’s just not there (in which case I assume White/Cis/Male for the missing category, because it encourages me to seek out more works which I know aren’t). It’s not an easy box to handle no matter what, and honestly it shouldn’t be since some of that is private for obvious reasons, even if we want the info for good intentions.

    *Avoiding male perspectives I’ve been really successful at. Trying to hit a higher percentage of non-white has been trickier, with me still sitting around 66% white authors*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One way I’ve found to increase my reading of non-white authors is simply to seek out translations from outside the western world. Fortunately for me I’m already interested in East Asia in general, so I tend to gravitate towards, eg, Korea, Japan, China. For some interesting Korean work I’d recommend the SFF anthology Readymade Bodhisattva, or having a look at Tilted Axis Press’s offerings from Korea (I’ve read & enjoyed all of their Korean translations); they also publish translations of other languages that I’m less interested in, but you may find more up your alley. Pushkin Press also has a small series of novella-length Japanese fiction by a variety of authors – my absolute favourite of which is Hiromi Kawakami’s weird “Record of a Night Too Brief”.

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      1. (I’m aware you didn’t really need my thoughts on this but I try not to pass up too many chances to recommend Korean fiction at people)

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  3. Having spent a fair amount of time at a con with both halves (separately and together) of James SA Corey I can confirm that Jimmy is expressly cishet male. That’s how they think of him — one of the old-school macho hard-drinking space opera guys like Pournelle.

    And yes, they refer to him as “Jimmy”.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Well, and even pronouns is tricky. I’m right about where I could use ‘they’ or any other number of ersatz pronouns, but I’m so used to ‘she/her’ that I’ve given in to inertia. (Well, and add the fact that there’s fundy relatives I’d rather not come out to…)

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  5. It depends on what your purpose is. If you’re looking for evidence of discrimination, then you need to know what gender the editors thought the person was.

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  6. You are confusing sex with gender. Females can’t identify out of their sex based oppression (maybe only in the dev world, IF they cut out their breasts and grow a beard). They can’t identify out of being the target of rapists, traffickers, FGM etc. Even in the dev world, identifying as non binary won’t lower your risk of rape or get you a bigger salary when you are female. If we conflate sex with gender we can’t acknowledge or fight back against sexism.

    Gender is regressive sexist stereotypes associated with sex, it has no bearing on sex and it shouldn’t affect in this modern day how one sex behaves, dresses and so on. By conflating sex and gender you assume the legitimacy of gender, of this association, of much misogyny and toxic masculinity.

    “ gender is .. universal issue of social disparity across the world.” No, it is not gender, many cultures do gender differently than this western world, it is sex, specifically the female sex bares the brunt of the social disparity, no matter the cultural/behavioural/etc customs.

    Basing your identity on a gender is fine, if this fits your personality, but many of us don’t have a gender or any allegiance to one set of stereotypes or the other. And we understand what feminism has fought for so long, that gender is a way to keep the patriarchy in control. With notions of “Feminine”, “masculine”.

    If I’m not feeling or behaving or dressing feminine enough, am I not a woman? I wish it was so. That I could identify out of it and men would stop to ask my identity before harrasing me on the street… funny how these men along with rapists, traffickers and so on, definitely know my sex and couldn’t care less about my identity.

    Same for men, not feeling masculine enough? = not real men?

    I went on a tangent here but hope you can see the many dangers of conflating sex and gender and thinking gender, that has changed so much in the 1000s of years since patriarchy has been in place, is the issue when sex and sex based oppression has been the constant all along.

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    1. Do you think more than 5% of the population buys into this definition of gender? I don’t. I think the overwhelming majority of people treat sex and gender as synonyms. As you’ve defined it, animals wouldn’t have gender–only sex–but I think very few people would agree with that.

      I understand that there has been a lengthy effort to try to change what gender means. I just don’t think that effort has been very successful, outside of a small group of people.

      I should add that, as a gay man, I’m intensely suspicious of anything that seems to be supporting the far-right lies that a) gay men aren’t real men and b) being gay or trans is a choice. I have never heard a satisfactory answer on this point from the people trying to push the new definition.

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      1. The comment seems to be very knee-jerk as well. The whole point I was making was about the data that is actually directly available — which is gender both in a general sense and in it’s (different) specific grammatical sense (I’m literally looking at parts of speech). I’m also looking at quasi-fictional people (e.g. James S Corey) who really, really don’t have an actual biological sex, chromosomes, genitals, hormones – even if his creators do.

        I’m confident that I’m not the one getting confused for once — despite my on-going efforts to confuse myself.

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      2. Good point. However, they aren’t obliged to, just as they don’t have to an eye colour [assuming they are a regular human character, it is implied that they have an eye colour but it isn’t determined and may even be variable e.g. cinema James Bond had brown eyes {Connery, Lazenby} and then blue eyes {Moore etc} ]

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  7. @Chris —

    “But then how come detransitioners exist?”

    Because gender identity can be a confusing thing — sexuality is not always a simple issue.

    A rough analogy: I am left-handed. I may choose to use either my right hand or my left hand, but my brain is still wired for left-handedness. Similarly: a trans person may be confused about their gender identity, or they may choose to live as a cis person, but that won’t change the wiring in their brains.

    “Never heard of a former gay/ now straight person or vice versa.”

    Then you haven’t been paying much attention. Heck, there’s a whole industry built up around “ex-gay” claims. Gay people may very well choose to live as straight people — but, of course, that doesn’t mean they actually *become* straight. Just as with trans people who may choose to live as cis.

    “There’s also an increase of 1000s (yes thousand) percent of kids transitioning”

    Which shouldn’t come as any surprise. Just as many more gay people are coming out of the closet now that there is less stigma surrounding their orientation, we shouldn’t be surprised to see more trans people coming out of their own closets.

    “and also many examples of kids transitioning in groups, with their friends, at the same time.”

    Evidence? Ya got any?

    “While many people confuse sex and gender, it is not something that brings good outcomes. While you can find (by introspection etc) your gender, let’s say, you can’t change sex, much as you’d have wanted or felt like the other sex, you can only change sexual characteristics.”

    I stay away from arguments about gender vs. sex, because so many people mean so many different things by those terms. But I get very uneasy when people start making claims like “you can’t change sex”. That statement assumes that there is some immutable and fundamental defining characteristic of a person’s sex — but there isn’t.

    You think chromosomes define sex? I can show you people with XY chromosomes who have been raised as women their entire lives (look up complete androgen insensitivity).

    You think external genitalia define sex? I can show you people who externally look male but have XX chromosomes.

    And so on. There are exceptions to every characteristic that you may think defines a person’s sex.

    “see recently World Rugby that after a lengthy analysis and talks with scientists, doctors, trans people, and even lawyers has reached the conclusion that males in female rugby present a danger to females safety, this also when taking into account trans women lower testosterone.”

    This is not a matter of sex or gender — it’s a matter of testosterone. And yes, I agree that athletics of all sorts have to make some hard decisions about permissable testosterone levels in their athletes. I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer to that — but testosterone levels can be limited without banning the **person** from the sport.

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    1. I unapproved the comment you are replying to as it was just a gish gallop that had zero engagement with any of the points already made to them or in the post itself. [Your reply is fine though]

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  8. [Edited for brevity – CF]

    And btw before you accuse me of being right Christian I’m a labour, left UK, and agnostic.
    I don’t expect this comment to be approved, otherwise how you’d continue to claim conflating sex and gender is no big deal?

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    1. Sorry for the double post — I can’t go back and edit my previous one —

      Chris, since I’m subscribed to Cam’s blogs I received your original (non-edited) posts in email, and I noticed that nowhere in any of them did you provide any actual evidence to support any of your claims.

      Gee, I wonder why?

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Ugh, TERFs.

    Trans Women are Women. Trans Men are Men.

    Feminism must be Intersectional — or else it’s not Feminism, it’s just Bullshit.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lol so are you too afraid to show my arguments so you do what men do when they don’t like what women say and delete all arguments? For “brevity” ofc.

    When men who harass and rape women and pay them less are as confused about sex as PC men, then I’ll believe sex is this undefinable complex thing, how’s that for brevity?

    No matter you deleting my comments that show how conflating sex and gender hurts women, we women won’t stop speaking and the tide is turning in UK, this misogyny coming from the left is not allowed to stand. Delete to your heart content…

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    1. Chris: we women

      You don’t speak for all women. You don’t even speak for most women. You speak for a hateful subset of women who mistakenly believe that it’s okay — and necessary — to diminish the rights of others in order to get what they want.

      It’s not, it isn’t, and it won’t. By contributing to the oppression of other marginalized people, you foolishly contribute to your own marginalization. And I won’t let this sort of bullshit go unchallenged.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. @Chris —

      “No matter you deleting my comments that show how conflating sex and gender hurts women, we women won’t stop speaking”

      Ummm, hello? Both JJ and I are women — and we both vehemently disagree with you. And WE women won’t stop speaking either.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I guess the problem I have with your arguments is that we can’t not conflate sex and gender because they’re so intertwined in western society. As someone who’s been misgendered because I have long hair and am on the shorter, more slender side for a man, I can honestly say that yes, everyone is just as confused about these things.

      I’d also say that many of the commenters here are far more painfully aware of the distinction between, and conflation of, sex and gender than you will ever be.

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  11. I — a cishet woman — wanted to say [citation needed) for everything Chris posted.

    It’s a shame British feminism has such a giant TERF contingent.

    By the way, my closest transmale friend (there are others) hasn’t been treated as lesser or groped or any of those things that happen all the time since he grew a beard. Even though his hair’s the same and his clothes.

    I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Contrarius in person but I can testify that JJ is indeed a woman. (And conventionally attractive enough that my husband still remembers her after one brief meeting 2 years ago)

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      1. He normally doesn’t remember anyone for longer than about a month (absent-minded professor) but he took a picture of us. And he liked your hair.

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  12. @Lurkertype —

    “I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Contrarius in person but I can testify that JJ is indeed a woman.”

    Speaking of “indefinable complex thing”, as Chris put it, and which KasaObake referred to: I have been addressed as “sir” by strangers on multiple occasions, because I am six feet tall and strongly built (I don’t mean just overweight — “strongly built” as in, when I sent my DNA to a coupla genealogy companies, I found out I had the genetics for “elite strength athlete” muscles). And even when I am recognized as female, strangers typically assume that I am in a position of authority before they even speak to me (for instance, I frequently get mistaken for store managers and such when I go shopping). All this despite the fact that biologically I have the entire set of chromosomes and reproductive organs that are typically considered female, and despite the additional fact that I’m straight. I simply have a size, stance, and attitude that tend to code as male.

    So, yes, sex and/or gender, whichever term one prefers, are much more complex than the simple binary that some folks like to imagine. It’s a suite of characteristics that usually covary, but not always, and that may manifest to more or less stereotypical degrees from person to person.

    And btw — I am flummoxed at the way folks like Chris try to use the fact of violence against cis women as some sort of argument against trans people. I mean, is Chris somehow not aware of the incredibly high violence rate suffered by trans women??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I was young and thin and had short hair (I am none of those now), I was often mistaken for a teen/young man. I had not much chest or hip development, a fairly deep voice, and a largeish nose.

      Particularly in the winter when everyone’s in globs of unisex layers. I spent most of my childhood winters looking like Kenny from South Park. Just a pair of glasses sticking out of a parka.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “I mean, is Chris somehow not aware of the incredibly high violence rate suffered by trans women??”

      Pretty certain that Chris approves of it.

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