Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gender and Awards

I understand (second-hand, since I don't surf much) that there is some concern out there in InterNet Land that the Hugo ballot features only four women nominees this year (last year there was only one). As it happens, gender distribution of SF writers is something I keep track of. Here are the figures from the 2007 SFWA Directory:

Male names: 58%
Female Names: 35%
Other: 7% (These people are unknown to me personally and are using initials, have unisex names like "Pat" or "Terry," or have non-English names which I don't know the usual gender for).

Now, the awards record. From 1977-2007, there were:

Female Hugo winners: 35
Male Hugo winners: 93

Female Nebula winners: 57
Male Nebula winners: 70

So women are under-represented for Hugos and over-represented for Nebulas. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Do any of you?


Elver said...

Hugo is a male name. Nebula is more neutral.

Could be because of that.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Well, as Old Man Heinlein might have said, "Let's look at the numbers.":

What proportion of Hugo voters are guys? I suspect the =vast= majority. And they might tend to vote for "guy" stories.

What's the ratio of male/female members of SFWA? Maybe still heavily freighted for the XY component, but the =men= of SFWA cast their ballots differently than the fans. More towards, "I had never looked at it that way..."

My guess, anyway.

Mike Flynn said...

Given the proportion of known female names and assuming that Hugos and Nebulae are given out at random - that is, that the 128 Hugos and 127 Nebulae constitute a random sample from the population of authors - there is a 2% probability of finding so few women Hugo winners and a 10% probability of finding so many women Nebula winners. That is, using the conventional 5% risk level as the cut-off point, women writers are under-represented in the Hugos, but are not significantly over-represented in the Nebulae.

However, the same line of argument would find that Connie Willis is significantly over-represented among winners.

Some thoughts:

1. Winners do not constitute a random sample. (Voters do not select blindly)

2. Winners are not selected from the population of writers, but from the population of stories; so one must take account of how prolific men and women are as writers. How many stories during 1977-2007 were written by women?

3. The proportion of women writers during the whole of 1977-2007 may not have been the same as it was in 2007 alone. That is, there may have been significantly fewer women writers a decade ago as compared to today.

4. Readers (Hugo) and writers (Nebulae) may vote based on different criteria.

5. If there is a quality X favored by voters and X is accidentally annexed to the writer's sex, the disparity in sex is really a disparity in X. If, for example, Hugo favor "hard SF" over "high fantasy," and women write fewer hard SF stories women will win fewer Hugos. If Nebula voters favor "friends of friends," and women are more widely networked, they will win more Nebulae. (I'm not saying these are true; they are illustrative only.)

5. Practice makes perfect. If winners really represent superior stories (which should not be assumed), some account should be taken of experience in the practice of stories, e.g., number of stories written over the years.

Daniel said...

Just my own two cents here...

bluesman miike Lindner made a point that I think is interesting. If the majority of voters are males, it would make sense that they would vote for male-written stories because males tend to know better (even if only subconsciously) what males want to read.

From a slightly different and more personal point of view, if someone were to tell me that the majority of the award voters were males, it would be easy for me to accept that only because, of all my acquaintances, far more males enjoy SF than females.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Mike Flynn and Daniel offer excellent insight, and I thank them.

Two other possibilities (doubtless there are many more)--

1) Women show gender solidarity in the Nebula voting.

2) The gals, as judged by their peers, simply write better stories than the guys do! (rueful smilie)

Joe Sherry said...

My thought regarding the Nebulas is that because it is voted on by the SFWA members rather than strictly Worldcon members, there may be

a) a larger number of women voting for the Nebulas

b) a more widely read nominating and voting group, which then recognizes the women writers.

Bluesman pretty much summed up what I was thinking, though. More male Hugo voters, and different voting male Nebula voters with a greater percentage of female voters.

Nancy Kress said...

The assumption here is that women readers will vote for women writers and male readers for male writers. I don;t think that's necessarily so.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, you asked for an explanation. All I did was offer a few possibilities. That's all.