Women on the Hugo ballot

[Note added in 2019: For a more up-to-date view of this data, see my Hugo stats: author gender, fiction categories page.]

As has been widely noted, on this year's Hugo ballot there's only one work by a woman among the twenty works nominated in the four fiction categories.

I agree that this situation is very unfortunate. The number of works by women in the fiction categories has never been great, but this year it's unusually low.

Here's a list covering the past ten years, in case anyone's interested. I'm looking only at fiction here; ignoring all the other categories.

(Edited later to add a percent-by-women column and a total in the last row.)

Year By
Total % by
1998 1 21 5%
1999 6 23 26%
2000 5 21 24%
2001 5 21 24%
2002 4 21 19%
2003 3 21 14%
2004 4 21 19%
2005 3 20 15%
2006 3 20 15%
2007 1 20 5%
Total: 35 209 17%

It's late and I'm sleepy, so my counts may not be entirely accurate; please let me know if I made any mistakes.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, the easiest way to try to improve things in future years is to nominate more works by women.

But there are other approaches that might help too. For example:

  • Recommend more works by women, in places like the hugo_recommend LJ community.
  • If you're an editor, publish more works by women.
  • If you're a female writer, write and submit more.
  • Help get more girls interested in reading and writing science fiction and fantasy, and/or in math and science.
  • Join Broad Universe.

While I'm on the topic: the other day, I happened across my mention from a while back of the "regender" tool, which lets you view a web page with most of the gendered words (including names and pronouns) changed. But it didn't occur to me to take the next step, and regender this year's Hugo ballot; that was genius Sharyn November's idea. (Thanks to Gwenda, Meghan, Ben, et alia for passing the idea along.)

Some sample lines from that press release:

"The Helen Awards are science fiction's highest honor for professional and fan work."

"The 2007 Helen Awards nominations include finalists in 14 categories, plus the Joyce W. Campbell Award (not a Helen)."

Sadly, regender fails to change the title "A Billion Eves" to "A Billion Adams," and there are several names it doesn't have equivalents for, including "Geoff." But I'm pleased to see such distinguished authors and editors and artists as Samantha R. Delany, Nellie Gaiman, Joyce Scalzi, Patricia Nielsen Hayden, Goldie Van Gelder, Dawn Langford, Frances Wu, and Samuel Monette on the Helens ballot. Also that fine semiprozine Lord Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, edited by Gail Grant and Kenneth Link.

And, of course, you can actually read Betty Rosenbaum's Helen-nominated story. At some point, presumably, all or most of the Hugo-nominated short fiction will appear in free online versions; at that time, I'm hoping to put together the equivalent list for the Helens.

I honestly don't think Betty's story works as well as Ben's (even if regender were to recognize the name "Matthias" as male and change it), but I do agree with Ben that the changes reveal some fascinating things about the way gender works in the story, and/or about the real-world gender assumptions that we take into the story with us.

Um, if you haven't read Ben's original story, I do recommend reading that before reading Betty's.

. . . Okay, a couple of the novellas are already online due to having previously been nominated for the Nebula, so I may as well regender them while I'm here: "The Walls of the Universe," by Paula Melko, and "Inclination," by Wilma Shunn. As with Ben's story, I recommend reading the originals of these ("The Walls of the Universe," "Inclination") before the regendered versions; both of the originals are worth reading.

18 Responses to “Women on the Hugo ballot”

  1. Benjamin Rosenbaum

    I kind of like that Betty uses “Matthias” rather than a female name; he is after all neuter. 🙂

  2. Jed

    True that he’s neuter, but the effect for me (given the context of regender) is that it feels to me like a mistranslation rather than an intentional effect. But yeah, if you’d written the story that way originally I’d probably find it more palatable.

    …Addendum to the posting: possibly my favorite name change on the Hugo ballot is “Jill Baen.”

  3. Ted

    I was actually looking at the stats a while back, and found that there were a couple of good years for the Hugos in terms of gender parity: in 1992, 12 out of 23 nominated works were by women, and in 1993, 10 out of 20 were. The Nebulas were similarly good then: 10 out of 25 in 1992, and 13 out of 25 in 1993.

  4. Jed

    Another thought about the Hugo ballot gender issue: it occurs to me that the average number of fiction works by women on the ballot over the past ten years has been 3 to 4. So it’s entirely possible, especially given that there are only about 20 works of fiction on the ballot in any given year, that this year’s ballot and the 1998 ballot were simply flukes.

    I’d still like to see the average be higher than 3 or 4, of course. But in the context of those other years, dropping to 1 for a single year may not be statistically significant. If it’s only 1 again next year, that’ll be more worrisome to me.

    …However, on yet another hand, here’s something fascinating: the number of fiction works by women on the ballot from 1994 through 1997 was 6 to 7 each year. (Though in one of those years, three of those stories were by Le Guin, so the total number of women represented during those years wasn’t quite as high as it sounds.) In 1992 and 1993, the number was 10. So except for 1998, all through ’90s the numbers were much higher than they’ve been this decade. The average from 1991 through 2000 was just over 6 fiction works by women per ballot; the average from 2001 through 2007 has been under 4.

    …I thought the number of women nominated for the Campbell had been going steadily up, but it turns out that’s not true. The average in the ’90s was 3 per year (and there was a nongendered person on the ballot two of those years as well), while the average in the ’00s so far is just over 2 per year. Given that there are only 5 (or sometimes 6) people on the Campbell ballot in a given year, I don’t want to read too much into that, but there was a period in the early ’90s when female authors regularly made up over half of the Campbell and Hugo-fiction ballots. I wonder if there’s a real change here, or if it’s just statistical noise. What was going on around ’92 to ’94 that might account for some of the difference between then and now?

  5. Jed

    Oops, I was working on my comment when Ted posted, so I didn’t see his comment ’til after I posted mine; sorry for the repetition. And yes, Ted’s right, it was 12 in ’92, not the 10 that I said–I neglected to count the short story category in my earlier count.

  6. Tom Galloway

    If you’re an editor, publish more works by women.

    Um, Jed…you’re an editor. So, out of curiosity, how do you plan to up the number of works by women that SH publishes? Give preference to women’s stories over men’s? Lower the editorial bar for stories by women from wherever you currently have it set? Change how you read/prefer stories by emphasizing more whatever characteristics stories by women have more of than stories by men have, whatever those may be, in your editorial judgment?

    Seriously, I’m not trying to troll here, but both the “publish more works by women” and “nominate more works by women” seem pretty dogmatic in terms of either setting up a gender quota system or a different standards by gender system, rather than trying to figure out the causes of the low nominations and, if warranted, fixing those. It’s similar to how I think college affirmative action policies of letting in applicants with significantly lower test/grade/knowledge scores than other students is the wrong thing to do; the right thing to do is to fix the primary and secondary schools so that these kids will be competing on an equivalent basis.

  7. Jed

    Hi, Tom — I should have provided more context; my comments were part of a long ongoing discussion about gender bias and female authors, but anyone who didn’t see my earlier discussions wouldn’t have had any way to know that–sorry about that. See in particular the “Pushing our editorial boundaries” section of that earlier post.

    As it happens, SH publishes quite a lot more stories by women than by men, so I don’t think we’re going to try to publish more stories by women anytime soon. But in the rest of the field, the percentage of stories by women is significantly lower. I would point to the relevant Sue Linville article, but it seems to not currently be at its usual location; not sure what’s up with that.

    Note, btw, that there’s one magazine (I think it’s the semiprozine Tales of the Unanticipated) that has an explicit editorial policy of keeping a balance in contributor gender; I’ve heard the editor say, iIrc, that they receive more good fiction than they can publish, so one of their criteria for choosing the stories they actually publish (from among the ones they’d be happy publishing) is author gender. That’s not an approach I’d be comfortable taking, but I think it’s one valid approach (among many).

    Also note that I’m advocating a multi-pronged approach. With affirmative action, I agree that fixing the primary and secondary schools (especially in low-income areas) is key, but I don’t think we should refuse to consider corrective action at higher levels until such time as the lower-level problem is fixed; I think we should work on multiple levels at once. Similarly, I feel that working on the author-gender issue on multiple levels at once is important.

    But no, I’m not advocating a quota system for female authors, or lowering standards. As you can see by the fiction that SH decides to publish, I don’t feel that it’s necessary to lower one’s editorial standards in order to publish stories by women. See the abovelinked entry for more details of my views on this. (For example, in my view the issue has more to do with editorial tastes than editorial standards of quality.)

    And sorry again not to have provided the context in the first place; I intended this post to be accessible even if people I don’t know happen across it, but for that to work I really ought to have linked to my earlier entry.

  8. Nicholas

    There’s one crumb of comfort: while you have only 35 women nominees out of 209 in the last year (16.7%) they won 9 out of 40 awards (22.5%); so 25.7% of stories by women which were nominated won, as opposed to 17.8% of stories by men. The bias in the system seems to creep in at nomination stage, not voting.

  9. Mike Glyer

    Apples and oranges, but it’s interesting to see the trend in women being recognized as Worldcon guest of honor. Two out of the last three worldcons (including Denver in 2008) have chosen a woman author as GoH.

    This contrasts with:

    (1) the first 25 years of worldcon history which featured just two woman GoHs, well-known pros who also were married to their co-GoH;

    (2) the next 12 years (1975-1986), where three women were honored, including the first to solo as GoH, Ursula K.LeGuin in 1975 (the other two GoHs were C.L. Moore, and Kate Wilhelm together with Damon Knight); and

    (3) 1987 to date, which have featured Alicia Austin (artist), Anne McCaffrey, Elsie Wollheim, C.J. Cherryh, Jane Yolen, Connie Willis and Lois McMaster Bujold as GoHs.

  10. Mel

    It’s similar to how I think college affirmative action policies of letting in applicants with significantly lower test/grade/knowledge scores than other students is the wrong thing to do; the right thing to do is to fix the primary and secondary schools so that these kids will be competing on an equivalent basis.

    That’s assuming that women don’t get published as much because their work is inferior to that of male F/SF authors. That may not be the case and there’s precious little evidence for it (not to mention that it’s an illogical assumption, given that women writers dominate other genres just fine).

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that many women prefer the work of women writers and many men prefer the reverse. So the solution to that would be (a) more women editors and/or (b) male editors making more of an effort to consider what their readers (and women buy a lot of books) would enjoy, not just what they themselves would enjoy.

    Women in publishing and academic affirmative action are apples and oranges, IMO.

  11. Kell Brown

    Do you have stats on the number of female vs. male author who produced work in each of those years.

    If a ratio of the population can be established then the number of nominees can be, at least by a quantitative measure, assessed as fair or not.

  12. Liz Henry

    Here’s an extra suggestion for readers of your blog, Jed: Whether you’re male or female, make a conscious effort to read books written by women. Balance it out a little and see what you find that you might not have expected.

  13. ellen_kushner

    Interesting statistics. And we can up the ante by asking how many of them are in fact the same woman nominated over and over year after years? I have observed over the years that certain female sf writers become what I call “honorary boys” – the guyzeitgeist seems to pick one every decade to treat as a serious SF writer. Just one, god bless her, and it’s always a good one, but it’s sad to see so many others neglected.

  14. Jed

    Mel: I don’t actually see much evidence that female editors tend to prefer stories by female authors. See the “Creating Tools” section of my long entry from August. Most of the female prozine editors of the last 15+ years have bought approximately the same percentages of stories by women as the male prozine editors. And as I noted in that entry, I don’t feel that it’s a good idea for an editor to buy something that they don’t like, just because they think their audience will like it; it’s awfully hard to judge the quality of something that you don’t like, by and large.

    Kell: I’m not sure what you mean by “female vs. male author[s] who produced work,” but I’m going to assume you mean “whose work was published in professional venues.” The percentages are different for novels vs. short fiction, but I can assure you that in both of those categories, more than 5%-20% of the science fiction and fantasy that’s been professionally published in the past five years has been by women. For novels, see the Broad Universe stats page; for short fiction, see the Sue Linville article (but that’s currently offline). The Hugos (at least in the past five years) are absolutely not proportionately representative of what’s being published, in terms of author gender. (Of course, the numbers also vary by venue, and Hugo nominators are more likely to nominate works from some publications than from others….)

    Liz: Good idea!

    Ellen: I thought that was true too, but someone pointed out to me that there are also a lot of men who get nominated over and over again as well.

    In particular, Michael Swanwick has had 14 nominations in the last ten years (including one year when three of his stories were competing with each other in the same category!); Mike Resnick’s had 11 noms; Michael Burstein and Charles Stross, 9 each; Robert Sawyer, 8; Robert Charles Wilson and Jim Kelly, 6 each. That is, out of the 174 nominations of works by men from 1998-2007, 63 of them went to those 7 men, so 10% of the male nominees got 36% of the nominations that went to men. (All the other men got 5 or fewer.)

    In that same period, Connie Willis had 5 noms, and Lois McMaster Bujold had 4, so 10% of the female nominees got 26% of the nominations that went to women. (All the other women got 3 or fewer.)

    So nominations are concentrated more, percentagewise, in the hands of a few men than in the hands of a few women.

    To put it another way, if you count the total number of women nominated (19) and the total number of men nominated (71.5, counting a co-author as .5) in the past ten years, then 21% of the nominees have been women; whereas only 17% of the works have been by women. So on average, in the past ten years, the effect of repeat nominations has been stronger for men than for women.

    To put it yet another way, 19 women have written 35 Hugo-nominated works in the past ten years, while 71.5 men have written 174 Hugo-nominated works. That’s an average of 1.8 works per woman, and 2.4 works per man.

    I didn’t do a full analysis of the preceding ten years (1988-1997), but I did glance over the ballots. Willis (12 noms), Bujold (6), Kress (8), and Le Guin (8) were more strongly represented in nominations in those years than any woman has been in the past ten (1998-2007); but even in the 1988-1997 period, there were a fair number of other women on the ballots, not just those four.

  15. Mike Glyer

    Jed: I should have waited a day and you’d have done it all. Last night I worked up a spreadsheet to answer for myself some of these questions about how many Hugo nominees are women, and how they are distributed.

    My ability to add to the discussion is handicapped in two ways — (1) I haven’t read anything remotely resembling all sf and fantasy published over the years, to have an opinion whether Hugo-worthy fiction by women was left off the final ballot, and even if I had (2) because I am male, unless I happened to observe there was an injustice, nobody would know if my subjective opinion deserved any credibility. Even though it would not be an objective study, I would be interested to read the views of somebody who would have the necessary credibility to write an analysis of other deserving works by women writers that should have made the Hugo shortlist.

    As a corollary to the subject of frequently-nominated women (which you also address): When I look back and see that Harlan Ellison and Larry Niven each picked up 13 nominations in about the same 10-year period ending in 1976, and inspect what stories they were nominated for, I’m convinced that they were genuinely excellent and their popularity with voters was to no small degree due to that. So when I see that one-half of all Hugo-nominated fiction by women since 1993 was authored by only five people — Bujold, Kress, LeGuin, McHugh, Willis — why should I be more skeptical of them than Ellison and Niven?

  16. Jed

    Thanks for the comments, Mike. (And thanks for your comments in my other entry lately; I’ll try and respond there soon.) A couple responses:

    1. I’m not sure whether you intended this or not, but I sort of get the impression (by putting together various pieces of things that you said) that you don’t often encounter works by women that you consider Hugo-worthy but that don’t make it onto the ballot. Is that true? Fwiw, I think most people who are unhappy about the paucity of works by women on the ballot aren’t just saying “As a matter of gender politics, I feel more women should be on the ballot regardless of the quality of their work”; I think most of them/us are implicitly saying “I’ve read a lot of work by women that I think is at least as strong as what I’ve read by men, so I’d like to see my tastes reflected on the ballot.”

    But I should probably stick to responding to what you actually wrote. I don’t think one needs to have read all the sf published in a given year to have an opinion about what should and shouldn’t be on the Hugo ballot. There is plenty of good sf written by women published every year; a lot of it appears in the same magazines and anthologies and bookstores as the good sf written by men. So I think as long as you (generic you, not Mike in particular) aren’t actively avoiding work by women, you’re probably seeing as representative a sample of sf by women that you might like as of sf by men that you might like. (There’s a lot packed into that sentence, and all of the qualifiers are intentional; if it’s not clear what I mean by all that, lemme know and I’ll try to elaborate.)

    Whether a given book or story, regardless of author, is “Hugo-worthy” is a matter of personal taste; it seems clear that most of the people who’ve been nominating for the Hugos in recent years have not found most of the works by women that they’ve read to be as Hugo-worthy as works by men that they’ve read.

    2. I hadn’t realized that half of all Hugo-nominated fiction by women since 1993 was by those five; thanks for mentioning that. I’m fascinated by how the view changes depending on what range of years one looks at. (…In case it’s not clear, I really mean that; not being sarcastic.) I’ve now got all the relevant data (from Locus’s awards site), and I’m hoping to put it into a database so I can run queries on it more easily. Sounds like your spreadsheet does basically the same thing; would you be willing to post the spreadsheet publicly somewhere for other people to play with?

  17. Mike Glyer

    I may have given the impression I did because we were talking about a particular subset of authors — the whole truth is I am unlikely to have read anybody’s story before it’s been nominated for a Hugo (or collected in a year’s best, etc.). Voting season is when I catch up. As recently as, oh, the 1970s I had time to read all the sf I wanted, to write lots of reviews for fanzines and have lively and lengthy discussions by mail with fans who did the same. Now I’m on the opposite end of the bell-shaped curve and depend on others to blaze a trail through magazines and bookstores for me to follow. (I used to read Cheryl’s Emerald City with real gratitude for her work in that regard.)

    Like so many others, I feel it’s statistically improbable that there was only one award-worthy story by a woman, whether you look at (1) the proportion of sf/fantasy produced by women, (2) that fiction by women comprised 25% of the Locus Recommended Reading:2006 list, or (3) that two of the most-frequently-nominated women writers, LeGuin and Kress, had works that made the 2006 Locus list but not the Hugo ballot. Since I’m always curious why people think a piece of fiction is good, if anyone wanted to advocate for stories that were overlooked by the Hugos in the past, or should be voted in next year, I’d think that was interesting in its own right. And I agree, nobody’s asking for women to receive a pro-rata share of nominations based on the number of stories they have published in a year.

    I’m interested in reading good stuff, and will nominate what I think is really good. Nobody should feel disqualified from nominating what they believe is excellent work simply because they haven’t read the whole universe, because hardly anyone has the time and money to read more than part of it. Obviously a lone vote won’t force an outlying work onto the final ballot, while a deserving story might benefit if the people who notice it take action.

    I phrased my idea about looking-back in encyclopedic terms because I was thinking about how I personally would approach the matter, and that’s how I think about such projects, in ambitious time-eating dimensions. There are many other valid ways to explore the question. But this is the kind of thing fans do. In the days before Retro-Hugos a friend of mine went through all sf written from 1926-1952 and wrote a year-by-year justification for the stories he would have awarded Hugos had they been given in those days. Or there is the time I spent all morning combing the table of contents for every Astounding/Analog from the past 10 years to find out what percentage of the stories were written by Mack Reynolds and Christopher Anvil (I think it was 15%).

  18. Tom Galloway

    Mel, I probably didn’t use the best analogy re: academic admissions affirmative action in the general sense, but I was replying specifically to Jed’s comment about “publish and nominate more works by women” (to blend them together) which didn’t go into the detail his reply did about what he meant by that. Sans that detail, it did possibly read similar to special treatment sans qualifications, and doing a superficial quick fix rather than figuring out and addressing whatever the underlying real issues and causes are.


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