The Gender Divide – Does it exist in fantasy or is it our perception that it exists, that creates it?
I started last week answering interview questions from Marc at Fantasy Faction (see interview here). Marc introduces the interview with:
‘A few months ago I was in Waterstones and a book caught my attention… ‘The King’s Bastard’. There were thousands of books in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section of that particular shop, but this one was in the ‘featured’ section and for some reason just jumped out at me. The name ‘King’s Bastard’ perhaps appealed to my darker side, the picture on the front cover of a rugged man with multiple weapons – obviously to be used for brutal combat, the power of the word; King! To me as a male fantasy fan this book simply said ‘pick me up‘. I picked up the book and gave it a read, the blurb was equally dark and I could tell that this book would feature everything I’d been looking for… Now being an e-book reader, I got home, jumped online and added the title to my ‘wish list’… It was only at this point that I noticed the name of the author; ‘Rowena Cory Daniells’. I did a double take at this point – Now, without injecting any sexism into this post (at least intentionally) I had presumed the book was written by a male.’
Please note, I’m not being critical of Marc, I’m taking about perception. It was my perception that most fantasy writers were female because in Australia, it is a bit of a girl’s club. Marc’s sixth question was:
‘Please excuse me for saying this – but after a recent topic in our forum entitled ‘Female Fantasy Authors’ we concluded there are very few of you out there. Even more so – there are less who write darker fantasy. Why do you think this is?’
This reminded me of a conversation I’d had a World SF Con in Melbourne in August of 2010 with Kate Elliot. Kate has since gone on to comment on my ‘Why I’m featuring Female Fantasy Authors’ post. She said:
‘My feeling is that there is a gatekeeper issue that creates a sense of invisibility(of female fantasy authors)and of the sense that the female writers are secondary or irrelevant to the greater discussion. There are a ton of epic/heroic/fantasy review discussion blogs out there, and I think they’re fabulous, but they heavily skew male.’
Tansy Rayner Roberts brings up the point that: ‘The Nebula novel shortlist was just released and it features five female-authored novels (four of them fantasy) and one male-authored.’
So there are great books by female fantasy authors but are they being discussed on the blogs? Lindsey from the US said: ‘most of the female fantasy writers I encounter are in other countries, mostly in Australia. I’d say that reflects in the readership, too.’ Remember it is all about perception. If female fantasy writers aren’t being talked about, then the readers won’t be aware of their books.
And Erica Hayes suggested that ‘in the US, there is a huge romance market, which includes a large slice of paranormal, urban fantasy, fantasy and sci-fi romance. The majority of ‘romance’ authors are female. So perhaps many female fantasy authors in the US are being published as ‘romance’, and are putting a higher romance content in their books — just because it’s a larger market and they have a greater likelihood of making a living.’ Since romance is one of the few genres where a mid list author can make a living, this is a valid point. There seems to be a perception that we authors should be grateful just to be published and be willing to work a second job to support our families. But that is a topic for another post.
Glenda Larke says: ‘Re the gender divide, one part me really HATES saying this, but the advice I’d give to a woman starting out is: use a gender neutral pseudonym. Later on – when you have an established career – that’s the time to tell everyone you are a woman.’
When my first trilogy was published I chose to use Cory Daniells, because it was a non-gender specific name. If I’d continued to do this, Marc would not have been at all surprised by the author of the King Rolen’s Trilogy. He would have read the trilogy believing it to be written by a man. Would this have changed his perception of the book? Will Marc read it now with the subtext, this book was written by a woman, in his mind? Will he think, Gee, she really writes good fight scenes for a woman – rather than – Great fight scene! (Here’s hoping he likes the fight scenes. LOL).
Which brings me back to the original question. Is there a gender divide in the fantasy genre, or is the perception that there is a gender divide, the problem?