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.