Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Inherent Sexism in Literary Awards (After Nicola Griffith's 'Blog Post)

So I saw an article on Twitter about the deep-rooted sexism in literary awards. The observation in it is that most literary awards go to books written by or about men.

Following the link back to Nicola Griffith's original 'blog post that inspired it, though, gives a slightly different picture. Her contention is that books about women don't win awards.

I think I can narrow that down even further.

Taking Nicola's data and putting it into a spreadsheet (download here) enables some more pie-charts to be drawn. Since the discussion is about literary awards I removed the two genre fiction awards (the Hugo and the Newberry) and I also removed the uncertain winner. I got a pie-chart very similar to hers:-

After that, I thought it would be interesting to break it out into male and female authors. First books written by women:-

That looks reasonably well-balanced, right? Then look at books written by men:-

It's an altogether different picture. There is clearly some sort of bias going on here, which may well be sexist. But, as a male writer, this is the chart that interests me most. Why is it that books by men about women are not winning awards?

The first reaction is probably that men don't write books about women. However, I do. I am not exactly sure how Nicola Griffith defines her categories, but my "Fall of the Sea People" has a female protagonist and a genderless antagonist and my next book, "Europa's Crossing", has mostly women characters. Certainly they fit into the "both" category, which wins 9% of the awards won by men. I think it could be argued that they fit into that "about women" category, that doesn't win awards for men at all.

On the other hand, I don't write literary fiction. My next book delves into themes of feminism, gender and gender expression, queer and polyamorous relationships. It contains characters who are from several groups that could be called minorities today, and some of them are still minorities in the future the book offers. For me, a white heterosexual cisgendered male, it is a risk. I've mitigated that risk somewhat by getting some beta-readers and I have tried to listen to the feedback they have given. But I am still risking my reputation by publishing such a thing.

I write genre fiction anyway, so I'm not about to win literary awards. And, looking at the data for the Hugos, it looks like awards in F&SF are won by a much wider range of titles. Nevertheless, I do wonder if literary fiction has a more demanding audience, who would be suspicious of a man writing about women. Or, even if the audience is not as demanding as that, the fear exists in the minds of male writers in the literary genre.

What do you think?