Bastard at Bastard Books wrote a very interesting article about a study concerning the coverage of women authors by the SFF reviewers, an analysis by statistics posted on ladybusiness Dreamwidth. The principal topic of his post was an exploration of the question of K.J. Parker's gender and, in an introductory explanation, he shared his thoughts on the subject and the way the stats were handled, his perceptions. Many of the comments posted by the readers and bloggers resulted in a compelling read.
His conclusion about K.J. Parker's shrouded sex identity is more complex than simply stating that he/she is actually a male or a female. What he brings to the table is some correlations deduced by further exploring the particular case of the author in conjunction with the study by ladybusiness. I'm not here to comment on his post aside from recommending you to take the time to read it.
However, I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject myself. More so since the exploration of Parker's gender and the fact that it's not the only case of pen name created voluntarily to be gender unspecific gave me the motive to further develop on the topic and do some introspection.
First of all, let me clear up my current situation. I have read several times that women in Fantasy are usually (but not always justly) associated with Urban Fantasy and YA books which are often targeted toward a younger audience or a more feminine one. In my specific case, judging by my reading pedigree, I tend to somewhat prove the point unintentionally. When I was a teenager, I read many books by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne Rice or Anne McCaffrey, all of whom I have since deserted. And then, when I look at my reviews and the authors I chose to read in the past few years, aside from N.K. Jemisin and Robin Hobb, I can't say that I can find many female authors that caught my eye. Am I wandering?
Still, as I mentioned, this is in no way intentional. I think that it happened through a combination of circumstances, the most obvious one coming to mind being the really strong presence of male authors in Epic Fantasy, especially the popular ones. In that regard, I reciprocate with one of Bastard's statement.
If you follow the blog regularly, you know that I'm mostly into that specific niche of the broader genre. Hopefully, taking a look at the list of authors categorized into Epic Fantasy, I find big names like Jacqueline Carey, Trudi Canavan, Kate Elliot, Jennifer Fallon, N.K. Jemisin, Robin Hobb, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon, Melanie Rawn or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I know there are many names missing from that list but even if the male authors are much more numerous, the female authors are not outnumbered in a frightening proportion. Although, simply by enumerating that list, I think I ought to take care to read a bit more from women authors. At least, the next audiobook I will pick up is The Song of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper.
But then, my point here is not to judge whether I should read from more female authors (I don't feel ashamed but it will still be something to consider) but why is the situation as it is. So, I also started analyzing some of the numbers supporting the ladybusiness study but as Bastard mentioned, they have to be moderated a bit or explored in different lights or distinct genre. I didn't find more answers there. There was an article on the subject last year posted on The Guardian and they concluded that it's mainly because of the fanbase. I'm not so certain about that point, it seems to me that there is a considerable crowd of female readers/reviewers roaming the web. Maybe that's slowly growing or they still don't have a strong enough voice in the 'business'.
Let's bet back to some authors dubious identity. In relation with that, one thing came to my mind when I read about Bastard's topic. I remember reading that Robin Hobb specifically chose the first name Robin as her pen name for Fantasy because it is gender neutral. The same can be said for J.K. Rowling whose first Potter book was published with the name Joanne Rowling but was switched to J.K. in fear that the young boy's audience would avoid the book because it was written by a woman. Some more examples? C.S Friedman? J.V. Jones? io9 also posted on this matter.
I know that names 'a la' J.R.R are popular, even for men, but for so many female Fantasy authors to pick up pen names that are not gender specific, there ought to be some problem. We, the readers, created that situation trough the years and since Tolkien himself, the majority of Epic Fantasy authors were men. We got used to it. Moreover, when you look at the protagonists filling the books of both female and male authors, I'm pretty sure that a significant majority of male will be present. Are we, the Epic Fantasy readers, sexists to a certain degree? I hope not and I tend to think that it's not the case.
In conclusion, I don't think that it's the fault of a specific element but I think that all this talk shed some light on the fact that women coverage in Epic Fantasy is indeed slightly insufficient. The future will probably set things right or I should say balance things out and it's already doing so.
What do you think? Should the SFF (or explicitly Epic Fantasy) reviewer crowd read/review more female authors? Is all that coverage thing really a concern?