In which I pretend to be a statistician

Since there’s recently been another round of discussion about gender balance (or imbalance) in SF/F, I thought it might be a nice time to collate a bit of data I’ve been wondering about for a while.

Generally people tend to perceive a particular group as being gender-balanced when it’s about 25% female, and if you get up to 40%, they think it’s dominated by women. So it’s useful to ask myself: if my instinct is that a short story market — in this case, Beneath Ceaseless Skies — publishes a lot of women, am I right?

This data covers all seventy-three issues of BCS, from the start of the magazine. Each issue includes two stories, but there are seven stories that were long enough to be split over two issues, and two anniversary issues with four stories each, so the total number of stories is 143. Two stories were co-written by a pair of authors; of those four people, one also published a story on her own. The total number of authors is 102.

Because there are only two co-authored stories — one written by a pair of women; the other by a man and a woman — I’m going to simplify my math by disregarding those two. That brings our stories down to 141, and our authors down to 99 (since one of the women also wrote a story on her own). With those aside, and drawing gender conclusions based on the pronouns used in the authors’ biographies on their stories, the breakdown is:

Female authors: 56 (57%)
Male authors: 42 (42%)
Unknown: 1 (1%)

So right off the cuff, it turns out that BCS publishes more women than men — about a third more. But we can look at it another way: how many of those 141 stories were written by women?

Female-authored stories: 83 (59%)
Male-authored stories: 57 (40%)
Unknown: 1 (<1%)

Pretty close to the numbers above, but skewing slightly more female. Now let’s tackle the fact that some people have multiple stories and ask: what’s the average number of stories each gender publishes in the magazine?

Number of stories per female author: 1.48
Number of stories per male author: 1.36
Number of stories per author of unknown gender: 1

Or, from yet another angle:

Number of women multiply published: 14 (25% of all female authors)
Number of men multiply published: 10 (24% of all male authors)

So, men and women have about equal chances of being multiply-published in BCS.

Now, the interesting question to ask is what the gender balance is for submissions. Does that roughly map to what we see in the magazine, or does that stage of filtering favor one gender over the other? I don’t know, of course. Somebody with access to the BCS slushpile would have to answer that for me. We know that the magazine favors fantasy stories that focus on worldbuilding and character, rather than, say, hard science fiction; given the norms of gender socialization, that may mean that women are more inclined to write the kinds of stories that BCS is looking for, which could affect both who submits there, and whose stories are more likely to be picked up.

So what’s the takeaway from this? Well, to begin with, my perception turned out to be roughly accurate. I wasn’t smart enough to write down a guess at what the percentages would be before I did all the counting, so I can’t say how close I would have been — whether I would have pegged it as more than it was, or less. But BCS definitely skews female, though not overwhelmingly.

If that sounds good to you, then read it, support it, talk about it to your friends. You know me; my sweet spot for fantasy is pretty squarely where BCS has positioned itself. As far as I’m concerned, this is just another reason to give them a thumbs-up.

0 Responses to “In which I pretend to be a statistician”

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  2. Marie Brennan

    Yes, they’ve had those for a while. Quite a good move, I think, making the issues more downloadable, rather than something you have to read off the site itself.

  3. Anonymous

    I hadn’t particularly noticed the gender balance either way, but it is telling that one of the more highly-regarded newer fantasy magazines is now publishing majority women.

    I feel like I should like Beneath Ceaseless Skies more than I do, however. The sort of stories that they describe on their submission guidelines is exactly the sort of thing I often like, but in practice a relatively high proportion of their stories don’t connect with me for some reason. It’s not that their badly written or anything, they just… don’t work for me. Still, the ones that I DO like are really great.

    • Marie Brennan

      I don’t connect with everything there, but then, I don’t connect with everything anywhere. What they publish is, however, almost always My Type of Thing, even when the execution doesn’t work for me.

  4. alecaustin

    I noticed this as well when the gender statistics posts first began cropping up in my feed a month or two back, though I didn’t run all of the numbers. It’s nice to have (at least) one market that bucks that particular pernicious trend.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yep. And you know, I was looking at the numbers and thinking, “if it was down at 40-ish percent women instead, I’d probably view that as more imbalanced than I do when it’s men instead.” But since so little in this field skews that way, the number doesn’t really bother me.

  5. Marie Brennan

    I think a lot of us do, because they’re so ubiquitous.

  6. kurayami_hime

    Could you point me towards the gender balanced statistics (25% being perceived as “equal”)? And possibly statistics on the gender balance in publishing (overall/by genre/whatever)?

    • Marie Brennan

      Urk. Um, for the latter, I can give you SF/F statistics. I don’t have anything for publishing as a whole. As for the former . . . I don’t remember where I read that, unfortunately, though I know it was in a serious analysis of gender, where I felt I could trust the data.

      • kurayami_hime

        Danke! Before I go poking around, know anything on stats for fandoms? I feel like fanfic skews heavily female, but I have no idea if I read that somewhere or made it up out of whole cloth.

        • Marie Brennan

          The fanfic community definitely skews female. This might lead you to citeable sources on the topic.

          • kurayami_hime

            Double danke! I’m pretty sure I have that site bookmarked (though I obviously haven’t started poking around).

            I wonder if there are any credible sources on the great Gundam Wing fanfic divide over 3×4 and 4×3 pairings? No, you don’t need to answer that one (unless you know).

            Note to brain: I appreciate you finally getting on board with this whole research thing, but you’re supposed to be critically evaluating the European Court of Justice right now. Also “the ECJ, despite seeming like a bunch of sugar-hyped six-year olds making up law in broad, overreaching wtf rulings, is actually a bright point of leadership and decision-making in the otherwise murky cat-herding miasma of the rest of EU institutions” needs to be put into grown-up talk (even if it is descriptively accurate as is).

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