Confession: I Am A Sexist Reader

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It wasn’t until college that I began to see articles bemoaning a lack of female authors in fantasy and science fiction.

My reaction: . . . Really?

This was around the same time I had begun to realize I gravitated towards female authors and female main characters. To this day, I have never found myself with a dearth of authors and stories to read. When I think back on the authors I read as a child, the names I remember are primarily women.

I discovered Tamora Pierce by the time I was seven and have read the Song of the Lioness quartet at least once a year since. Within a year or two of that, I was reading Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia Wrede, and Robin McKinley. In middle school, I discovered Kristen Britain’s Green Rider and Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed. Rhiannon Lassiter’s Hex series introduced me to cyber punk.

I was late to the Harry Potter bandwagon, mostly because I wasn’t interested in reading about a boy.

Then came Jane Lindskold, Anne Bishop, Octavia Butler . . . I’ll spare you an even longer list.

But if you asked me to name a male author I read with equal avidity, I would come up with far fewer. Lloyd Alexander. Garth Nix. R. A. Salvatore. Until my junior year of college, I didn’t even read Neil Gaiman.

So the idea that male far outnumbered female authors seemed absurd. And if that was true at the time, ten years has (mostly) changed that.

Over the last few months, I keep stumbling across articles that give ratios of male to female authors currently publishing, and the numbers tend to be fairly balanced. The problem for female authors is that their books toward fewer reviews, which means less visibility, fewer sales, and fewer opportunities to promote their work.

There are so many amazing female authors out there, but it’s easy not to see them. I hope that within another ten years, this will change for the better.

Just some food for thought.

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  1. I also lean towards reading female authors. I remember I was once purchasing a book my father asked about it. “Oh, a woman writer.” With that, he dismissed it in its entirety.

    I think there are basic gendered assumptions in the contents of a book whether written by a male or a female. And I, too, am party to these assumptions because I feel women will deliver more of what I want in a novel. Namely, female characters I can root for, not just the one sexy competent one who makes an occasional appearance and one in insipid tagalong who dies.

    And I know that male writers do not only serve up those static characters. There are amazing male writers in the world who are aware of the need for female characters to come in more than one fantasy shape and size. Among them, Jim C Hines, Jim Butcher.

    But I find myself cautious, wondering if I am investing myself in a world where I am only going to see a passing glance of a woman and a story told exclusively about men. Sometimes, it takes many pages before you find out and the rest of the book you are desperate for a female, any serving girl will do, and then it just doesn’t happen and you’re left completely distracted from the story because you’re lost in the non-representation.

    I probably should have written my own reply post, huh?

    1. Comment conversations are fun, too! 🙂

      The male authors I read are absolutely brilliant. Some of the most beautiful, most hauntingly stay-with-me-for-years books are written by men. But that is because I tend to put it down if it is anything less.

      With so many books to read and far too few lifetimes to read them in, I don’t have time for the ones that aren’t brilliant. Those by female authors have a greater likelihood of telling stories I identify with, so I am much more willing to risk my time reading them.

      I go for the books that sound fun and exciting, with an interesting premise and tricky conflict. Male or female author is only a choice I make if I have to decide between two books that are equal in every other respect. But if someone handed me a stack of book blurbs without any author names — make sure half the options are by men and half by women, and tell me I can only choose half the books to read — I’d bet at least 75% of my chosen-by-blurb books would be by women.

        1. Hm. Hadn’t thought that far. My bias would influence it, for sure, but I’d like to think that I go by strength of the story in the blurb. But there’s no fair way to take gender out of the character names/descriptions, because gender is one lens through which the characters experience their worlds that can’t be turned off.

          Fun fact: I choose to write under initials purely due to awareness of my own biases. Not so much of gender, but more because I have an odd tendency to avoid anything written by a Melissa.

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