I'm hesitant to wade into this discussion for many reasons. I've already mentioned my own ambivalence about gender. However, since the Masterclass I've been thinking deeply about my approach to reviewing. Thus for honesty's sake I feel the need to address this facet as well. I consider myself a feminist in that I feel it is imperative for women to be able to pursue their individual destinies without feeling constrained by other's expectations. That ideal isn't possible to fully achieve; even WASP men have to deal with societal constraints. ("Son, why ain't yew out there playin' football?") However, women have more constraints to shake off than men do, and that's important to remember.
So in general I agree with those who think that women are not currently being given a fair shake and could use some help. Here I have to put out my own mea culpa. Since I started reviewing on Spiral Galaxy, Lo these 2 years ago, if you count up my reviews of novels, single-author non-fiction books, and single-author collections, my stats are: 134 books by men, 34 by women. That's 80% male (.797619), 20% female. Ouch. I have to admit that I am part of the problem.
So what's my excuse? I've got a bunch:
- I've been reading lots of moldy-oldy sf, stuff from before 1940. The gender balance on that stuff is atrocious. (Those books start to make up the "Canon" of early sf. Who decides what's in the Canon...? Probably folks who look more like James Gunn and less like Farah Mendlesohn. That's a discussion for another day.)
- For years when I was growing up to be a physicist/engineer, I rejected anything that questioned my machismo. I refused to take Home Economics or typing. I refused to learn to make coffee. I wore combat boots and took fencing. I never wanted to be shunted into secretarial work (sometimes that was a clear and present danger). I read Greg Bear and avoided Octavia Butler, just based on the names on the cover. I actively avoided female authors. Given how much of our tastes get set in high school (I still find combat boots comfy, even if I know better than to wear them to work—for work I wear hiking boots instead) I probably still subconsciously choose male authors over female ones, even if I really enjoy Elizabeth Moon and C. S. Friedman now.
- I am a physicist/engineer. I prefer science fiction to fantasy and eschew romance titles altogether. Thus I end up reading more male authors than female ones.
- I've still got issues with machismo. Strong emotions make me uncomfortable. Romance plots, unless they happen naturally in the background, turn me off. Again, stereotypically, I'm going to be leaning towards male authors here.
For one, I'm still working through the old stuff. Like it or not, the vast majority of pre-1940s sf was written by men.
The more important reason is that it's not the fight that I choose. I've realized that what I want most from SF is the ability to think about the world differently than before, to get new perspectives. Just reading something by a woman does not automatically give me a new perspective—despite my waffling, I am one. What I want to focus on is getting my hands on more speculative fiction written by non-WASPs, non-English speakers, and non-Westerners. Ultimately I'm more likely to get new ideas from someone from Japan, like Haruki Murakami, or any black author, either Octavia Butler or Stephen Barnes, than from Catherine Asaro. Reading something by a person from South America, like Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer (translated by Ursula K. LeGuin) (which I've now ordered) or even about South America, like Brasyl by Ian McDonald from Northern Ireland, is more likely to stretch my mind than reading Lois McMaster Bujold. I haven't been going out of my way to get ARCs for books like these, but now I will. I hope that I'll review more women in the process. When the criteria is new perspectives, authors like Kelly Link, M. Rickert, and Theodora Goss will float to the top. Just because someone is a WASP like me, male or female, doesn't mean that they won't have the next bleeding-edge speculation or totally different world-view. But living on a different continent, male or female, drastically raises the chances.
I'm going to give my new reviewing philosophy a solid year, then I'll run the statistics again, by gender and nationality, and we'll see what's changed.