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Author Topic: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)  (Read 13058 times)

Offline Jmack

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #15 on: December 05, 2014, 06:35:17 PM »
Maybe a little off-topic, but it occurs to me to that some form of the Bechdel test could be interesting.  You may remember it's a test for minimum treatment of women characters in a book, movie, etc.:

It has to have at least two women in it,
who talk to each other,
about something besides a man
(And they should have names)

Lord of the Rings fails this in every way conceivable, but that's a little like criticizing every book ever written before the 1960s.
Correct me, but Rothfuss fails as well, yes?
Random association: the October Daye series, written by a woman, passes with flying colors.  Surprised?
Ice and Fire, for all its problems with treatment of women, actually passes the test multiple times.

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Offline Gaie Sebold

Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #16 on: February 10, 2015, 11:04:18 PM »
Is there a contact where we can make recommendations for the database?
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #17 on: February 11, 2015, 05:52:34 AM »
One also can't overlook the dominance the large publishing houses still have in the market... good ol' JKR of child wizard fame isn't the world richest writer because her books are any good... it's because someone in marketing picked one up and said "Hey, we could make a film out of this... think of all the merchandising" so in that respect getting 'picked up' is still very a much a lottery and a case of who you know in the industry rather than what you know as a writer.

I'm not sure where you got the idea that this is how JKR got rich. When she was shopping the book, she was told repeatedly that the book was good but that there was no money to be made in children's books. I don't believe anyone saw potential movies at that point. But because her book captured the imaginations of children (and many adults), she built up a lot of success, which then led to the movies.

And I'm pretty sure Rowling knew no one in the publishing industry prior to getting the book published?

I'm also not sure where you get the idea that the books aren't any good. That might be your personal opinion, and while I'll admit that the prose isn't always great, Rowling is a master storyteller in those books.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2015, 12:39:06 AM »
One also can't overlook the dominance the large publishing houses still have in the market... good ol' JKR of child wizard fame isn't the world richest writer because her books are any good... it's because someone in marketing picked one up and said "Hey, we could make a film out of this... think of all the merchandising" so in that respect getting 'picked up' is still very a much a lottery and a case of who you know in the industry rather than what you know as a writer.

I'm not sure where you got the idea that this is how JKR got rich. When she was shopping the book, she was told repeatedly that the book was good but that there was no money to be made in children's books. I don't believe anyone saw potential movies at that point. But because her book captured the imaginations of children (and many adults), she built up a lot of success, which then led to the movies.

And I'm pretty sure Rowling knew no one in the publishing industry prior to getting the book published?

I'm also not sure where you get the idea that the books aren't any good. That might be your personal opinion, and while I'll admit that the prose isn't always great, Rowling is a master storyteller in those books.
Agreed Ryan. There were actually four books before a film was made. And the book releases were big events. The rights to film the books were first sold in 1999 and by that stage 2 of the books were out and doing good business. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire also won the Hugo for best novel in 2001, beating out, among others, A Storm of Swords.
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Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #19 on: March 14, 2015, 06:19:19 AM »


Lord of the Rings fails this in every way conceivable, but that's a little like criticizing every book ever written before the 1960s.
Correct me, but Rothfuss fails as well, yes?
Random association: the October Daye series, written by a woman, passes with flying colors.  Surprised?
Ice and Fire, for all its problems with treatment of women, actually passes the test multiple times.

Re the Bechdel test, it's likely that any book written in first person pov where the pov character is male will fail it, unless he's eavesdropping on or witnessing women's conversations that aren't about him or something (which might make an interesting story in of itself).

There are plenty of perfectly good reasons for a story failing the Bechdel test, of course. A tale set on a WWII submarine or an all-boys school will probably fail. And of course two women can be having a conversation about something so cliche ridden or banal that it does nothing to make them more interesting as characters (a friend commented that one woman telling another how perky her breasts are would be a pass, for instance).

But it's the sheer number of movies (and books too) that fail that is the issue, not that some do. If there were a similar number of movies and novels that failed a reverse Bechdel (not having even two named male characters who ever have a conversation about something that's not a woman), then it would be a nonissue (unless, maybe, we had complete segregation of movie or novel casts with none mixed). But that's the point. So often there's a single female character at most, and she never gets any screen time with another woman at all. Consider Princess Leia. Cool character, but she had no female friends or allies to talk to at all. Would it have killed them to have another of the characters be female? Heck, even a female villain might have been interesting.

What we really need to be asking ourselves is why we seem to think that the doings and concerns of women are less relatable to the human race as a whole than the doings and concerns of men, and why men (who sometimes even complain about how unfathomable and hard to read women are) aren't eagerly devouring books by and about women.

Also, what's with that thing where people think that evenly mixed casts are female-dominated? I'm guilty of this too, and I'm female. I often think a book or movie has a "ton" of women in it, but when I actually count them up, there are really quite a few more men. I suspect it's based on what we're used to seeing, not immutable biology, but there's a lot of resistance to stepping outside one's normal comfort zone.




Offline Jmack

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #20 on: March 14, 2015, 12:04:31 PM »
@Roxxsmom, I liked your post very much. And if I wrote a story with three main female characters and one male secondary, I'd be asked if I'm "making some kind of point."
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)

Offline K.B. Adams

Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2015, 07:32:25 PM »
Beatrix Potter and her Peter Rabbit -- my first fantasy fiction author love from when I was a very young child about 10,000 years ago. I guess I've always sensed fantasy fiction as something powered by a strong female force. Though I, too, don't want to play "women as always the victim," this thread does point out that the playing field is unbalanced. Thanks for posting this.

Offline JamesLatimer

Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #22 on: March 22, 2015, 12:09:51 PM »
So, possibly a little off-topic again but I've been really interested in this for a while, and decided (as usual) the way I like to deal with such interesting questions is to look for some sort of data.  I'm sure somebody has done it before (any links to the like would be welcome) but I decided to make a Great Big List of authors and then see where the differences lay. 
  • I used Goodreads for the data, which is has some problems (very skewed to recent books, and--apparently--YA).
  • I got the names from 1) lists on goodreads (the recommendation factor) 2) my own experience 3) other internet lists (including this one) and 4) a 2000-era Encyclopaedia of Fantasy that I have.  So the list is by no means complete!
  • Because I had to eliminate some things, I pared down the uber-list by removing writers with under 25k ratings, overwhelmingly YA/Sci-Fi/Romance/Other catalogues but, naturally, my own prejudice comes in.  (For example, I didn't want pure Vampire-Paranormal Romance style Urban Fantasy, but should if I kick out Charlaine Harris do I then exclude Jim Butcher?)
  • I also removed Tolkien because he was skewing everything (on balance, JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins were skewing everything back if I let YA in).
The result is (so far) a list of 73 men and 65 women theoretically representing "Major Traditional Fantasy" authors.  The interesting things to come out of it (to me) are:
  • The men have twice as many ratings as the women (an indication twice as popular).
  • The men are rated higher by a significant amount (overall avg: 4.09, men: 4.13, women 4.02)
  • The top 10 by rating has 1 woman in it, the top 25 has 7.  By number of ratings, the top ten has 3 woman and the top 25 has 9.
So, what's going on here?  I think this goes hand-in-hand with the anecdotal evidence about people overwhelmingly recommending men on 'what to read' or 'best of' lists.  Goodreads is a recommendation site, with data.  Clearly, the data support this perception that men write better fantasy.  (I AM NOT SAYING THEY DO.)  Even the women that DO come up in recommendations like Robin Hobb and Ursula LeGuin fall way down this list (29 and 52 respectively)--as do some men widely recommended--but even after the troubles with exposure there seems to be something working against women.

A lot of other things could be going on, obviously.  Looking at the names, there's a strong chance that a certain model or type of fantasy gets higher ratings, and that this model is male-dominated.  It's fairly clear that complex and potentially controversial stories suffer in the ratings, so perhaps women write more of these.  There's also a chance that dudes-reading-dudes are less critical as reviewers.  I'd love to know what people think, and perhaps look at some more stats and studies...

Interesting, the full list (including YA/paranormal/etc) is bossed by the women, though that is largely down to JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins--even Tolkien can't stand against them!

Anyway, I was going to blog on some of this but wanted to try it out here first.  Is there anything to be read from this or is it not helpful?

Offline Raptori

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #23 on: March 22, 2015, 12:32:30 PM »
So, possibly a little off-topic again but I've been really interested in this for a while, and decided (as usual) the way I like to deal with such interesting questions is to look for some sort of data.  I'm sure somebody has done it before (any links to the like would be welcome) but I decided to make a Great Big List of authors and then see where the differences lay. 
  • I used Goodreads for the data, which is has some problems (very skewed to recent books, and--apparently--YA).
  • I got the names from 1) lists on goodreads (the recommendation factor) 2) my own experience 3) other internet lists (including this one) and 4) a 2000-era Encyclopaedia of Fantasy that I have.  So the list is by no means complete!
  • Because I had to eliminate some things, I pared down the uber-list by removing writers with under 25k ratings, overwhelmingly YA/Sci-Fi/Romance/Other catalogues but, naturally, my own prejudice comes in.  (For example, I didn't want pure Vampire-Paranormal Romance style Urban Fantasy, but should if I kick out Charlaine Harris do I then exclude Jim Butcher?)
  • I also removed Tolkien because he was skewing everything (on balance, JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins were skewing everything back if I let YA in).
The result is (so far) a list of 73 men and 65 women theoretically representing "Major Traditional Fantasy" authors.  The interesting things to come out of it (to me) are:
  • The men have twice as many ratings as the women (an indication twice as popular).
  • The men are rated higher by a significant amount (overall avg: 4.09, men: 4.13, women 4.02)
  • The top 10 by rating has 1 woman in it, the top 25 has 7.  By number of ratings, the top ten has 3 woman and the top 25 has 9.
So, what's going on here?  I think this goes hand-in-hand with the anecdotal evidence about people overwhelmingly recommending men on 'what to read' or 'best of' lists.  Goodreads is a recommendation site, with data.  Clearly, the data support this perception that men write better fantasy.  (I AM NOT SAYING THEY DO.)  Even the women that DO come up in recommendations like Robin Hobb and Ursula LeGuin fall way down this list (29 and 52 respectively)--as do some men widely recommended--but even after the troubles with exposure there seems to be something working against women.

A lot of other things could be going on, obviously.  Looking at the names, there's a strong chance that a certain model or type of fantasy gets higher ratings, and that this model is male-dominated.  It's fairly clear that complex and potentially controversial stories suffer in the ratings, so perhaps women write more of these.  There's also a chance that dudes-reading-dudes are less critical as reviewers.  I'd love to know what people think, and perhaps look at some more stats and studies...

Interesting, the full list (including YA/paranormal/etc) is bossed by the women, though that is largely down to JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins--even Tolkien can't stand against them!

Anyway, I was going to blog on some of this but wanted to try it out here first.  Is there anything to be read from this or is it not helpful?
I think it's really interesting. I do wonder how much of it is just feedback loops - even though I couldn't care less about the gender of the author, I think most of the books I've read were written by men (even though my favourite author is Robin Hobb). Therefore, when I recommend books to people I'm stuck with a list that is male-dominated, and the cycle repeats itself.

The question is: where does that bias begin? Publishing houses (either in submission acceptance - which according to statistics isn't true - or in marketing budgets)? Subconscious prejudice? From what discussions I've read, a major part of the problem is that there are fewer women writing fantasy - and that's another thing that reinforces the feedback loop.
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Offline Jmack

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #24 on: March 22, 2015, 02:28:35 PM »
It would be interesting to see a list of the top 10 men and the top 10 women, separately and without data to compare.  How would we rate the combined list? This doesn't get to source of the issue, of course; but on an apples to apples basis (sort of), how would we score that out?
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You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)

Offline ladybritches

Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #25 on: March 22, 2015, 04:17:29 PM »
I think there's a simple explanation. Women read both male and female authors, but a large majority of men only read books written by men. So of course male authors have a much larger audience, and it has nothing to do with one group being better writers or putting  more books out or any of the things we'd like it to be about, it's just that fewer men are willing to read books written by women.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #26 on: March 22, 2015, 04:25:25 PM »
I think there's a simple explanation. Women read both male and female authors, but a large majority of men only read books written by men. So of course male authors have a much larger audience, and it has nothing to do with one group being better writers or putting  more books out or any of the things we'd like it to be about, it's just that fewer men are willing to read books written by women.
Pretty sure that's not true though. At least according to this infographic, it's pretty equal for the most popular books - both genders on average stick to their own gender 90% of the time. There's no reason to assume that the breakdown for less popular books would be disparate - I'd expect it to even out for both genders.
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Offline ladybritches

Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #27 on: March 22, 2015, 04:47:18 PM »
I think there's a simple explanation. Women read both male and female authors, but a large majority of men only read books written by men. So of course male authors have a much larger audience, and it has nothing to do with one group being better writers or putting  more books out or any of the things we'd like it to be about, it's just that fewer men are willing to read books written by women.
Pretty sure that's not true though. At least according to this infographic, it's pretty equal for the most popular books - both genders on average stick to their own gender 90% of the time. There's no reason to assume that the breakdown for less popular books would be disparate - I'd expect it to even out for both genders.

Maybe I'm reading the charts wrong, but I'm not understanding how this disproves my theory. It says 80% of a a female author's audience will be women, while 50% of a male author's readers are women. Half of a male author's audience is women. Right?  If we stick to our own gender 90% of the time, that's probably because a lot of women read romance. But male authors still gain half their readership from women, even if women read more women than men. Not so of female authors.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #28 on: March 22, 2015, 05:01:02 PM »
I think there's a simple explanation. Women read both male and female authors, but a large majority of men only read books written by men. So of course male authors have a much larger audience, and it has nothing to do with one group being better writers or putting  more books out or any of the things we'd like it to be about, it's just that fewer men are willing to read books written by women.
Pretty sure that's not true though. At least according to this infographic, it's pretty equal for the most popular books - both genders on average stick to their own gender 90% of the time. There's no reason to assume that the breakdown for less popular books would be disparate - I'd expect it to even out for both genders.

Maybe I'm reading the charts wrong, but I'm not understanding how this disproves my theory. It says 80% of a a female author's audience will be women, while 50% of a male author's readers are women. Half of a male author's audience is women. Right?  If we stick to our own gender 90% of the time, that's probably because a lot of women read romance. But male authors still gain half their readership from women, even if women read more women than men. Not so of female authors.
Yep there's a disparity from the author's point of view, but from the reader's perspective men are no less likely to pick up a book written by the opposite gender than women, which was the bit I was disagreeing with ("a large majority of men only read books written by men", which while true doesn't affect the issue because a large majority of women only read books written by women). Probably should have highlighted it.

The disparity from the author's perspective could well be because women are statistically more likely to read than men. According to those statistics, the disparity is not because women are more likely to read a book written by a man than the other way around.

One possible conclusion is that women in general simply like (reading and writing) fantasy less than men in general?
« Last Edit: March 22, 2015, 05:04:05 PM by Raptori »
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Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Women Write Fantasy (The Giant 'Women in Fantasy' Database)
« Reply #29 on: March 22, 2015, 05:22:43 PM »
I think it's really interesting. I do wonder how much of it is just feedback loops - even though I couldn't care less about the gender of the author, I think most of the books I've read were written by men (even though my favourite author is Robin Hobb). Therefore, when I recommend books to people I'm stuck with a list that is male-dominated, and the cycle repeats itself.

The question is: where does that bias begin? Publishing houses (either in submission acceptance - which according to statistics isn't true - or in marketing budgets)? Subconscious prejudice? From what discussions I've read, a major part of the problem is that there are fewer women writing fantasy - and that's another thing that reinforces the feedback loop.

You make a really good point. But there's no easy answer, much to my dismay. As you pointed out, we read primarily from our own gender. (Having a hard time finding that list on here but it's recent.) And as you might point to later, there are 10:1 males on this forum. This certain "traditional fantasy" blogosphere we work in is dominated primarily by males. As JL said, if we were to look at Fantasy as a whole, it would be dominated by women. Question is, why don't we show that? (And frankly JL, the second you stuck "My personal experience" in as a help, I tuned the statistics out. Least you didn't use Amazon! :P)

Because we care about either "Epic Male Fantasy" "Pulpy romps such as UF or S&S that don't have PR or YA in them" or "Progressive New Weird that focuses on gender and race, predominately pushed by women." (See big names like Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, NK Jemisin, or well, Saladin Ahmed, but when's the last time he put out a book? 3 years.)

Raptori also stated that there wasn't a bias in publishing house submissions, but in actuality, there is. Problem is, it's purported not by the gatekeepers but by the subs themselves. Little over a year old so apologies, but it is done by one of the Big Five. As that shows, there is a big skew in "Historical/Epic/High Fantasy" "Horror" and "Science Fiction" toward male submissions. UF and PR is actually split down the middle, but how many PR by men can we name off the top of our heads? As for YA, surprise surprise, it's dominated by women.

Still, not all fault lies here. As you said, there is a feedback loop bias. I'm not a fan of that blame however. I read what I want and recommend thusly. I happen to enjoy pulpy S&S or Epic Male Fantasy, then that's probably what I'll recommend. Go to a YA forum that's probably dominated by JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Sarah J Maas, Kristin Cashore, Cinda Williams Chima, and Eoin Colfer. Does that make them sexist? I see no outcry there. (Nor with Romance, but that's an entirely different conversation.  ;))

I keep telling people Fantasy as a whole isn't sexist. If you're going to include the Big F, you need to lump in ALL sub-genres. Now, is Epic/High/Pulpy Fantasy (the one that gets the most "recognition" around here) skewed toward males? Absolutely.

I also note this is only a piece to the puzzle of "Is there a Bias in Fantasy?" answer.
« Last Edit: March 22, 2015, 05:24:38 PM by Doctor Chill »
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