Author gender among Hugo nominees and winners

I'm still planning a post about author gender issues in general, but for now I just want to mention one particular thing.

Cheryl and Nicola Griffith suggest (due to statistics compiled by John-Henri) that (except for a couple of recent years) the percentage of female winners of Hugos for fiction has been steadily increasing for decades, except for a recent small dip.

Unfortunately, I think the statistics may be a little misleading.

First: of the 12 fiction Hugos won by women from 1991 through 2000, 6 of them were by Connie Willis, and 3 by Lois McMaster Bujold. I'm certainly not saying Willis's and Bujold's wins don't count; of course they count. But it's worth noting that at any given time, there have often been one or two female sf writers who get a lot more attention than any other female sf writers. (For example, there are a fair number of old Year's Best anthologies featuring ten stories by men and one by Le Guin, with no other female authors.)

Thus, the total number of women who've won is smaller than the percentages make it look. (On the other hand, male authors often win Hugos multiple times over a span of years as well; Haldeman and Resnick each won 3 during 1991-2000, for example. I haven't looked at the percentage of female vs male winning authors per decade.)

Second: I also think it's worth looking at the number of nominees on the ballot rather than just at the number of winners. (Though number of winners is certainly worth looking at too.)

In particular, as I noted in a comment on my abovelinked journal entry, in 1992 and 1993 there were ten fiction works per by women nominated for a Hugo each year. [Typo "per" corrected later in the day; sorry for any confusion.] For most of the rest of the '90s, the number each year was 6 to 7. Over the past ten years, it's been more like 3 to 4, with possibly-fluke local minima (of 1) in 1998 and 2007.

Sue Linville's graphs of stories by women in Asimov's and F&SF also peaked in the late '80s and early '90s.

So my conclusion tends to be that female authors got a lot of (well-deserved) attention in the late '80s and early '90s, but that that attention has (unfortunately) declined somewhat over the past 15 years.

Looked at from that angle, John-Henri's statistics seem to me to suggest that, except for an unusual peak in the '90s, the percentage of Hugos for fiction given to works by female authors has been fairly steady at roughly 25% since the 1970s.

The Nebula percentages do look more clear-cut, but I haven't looked at those numbers in detail.

. . . I should note that it's always dangerous to try to draw statistical conclusions from too-small sample sizes. Which is presumably why John-Henri aggregated by decade--but in the Hugo case, I think that aggregation obscures some important details.

8 Responses to “Author gender among Hugo nominees and winners”

  1. Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan

    I am by no means convinced about the numbers either. In particular I’d be very interested in seeing the number of awards achieved by women normalized against the number of women getting published. I also have a sneaking suspicion that current women writers are producing less of the type of book that wins Hugos. Why bog your career down writing SF when you can do much better writing YA or paranormal romance?

  2. nicola griffith

    Numbers are never the whole story; they’re signposts. Jed, thanks for being willing to go into detail (I’m impatient when it comes to details, it’s a failing).

    Cheryl definitely has a point about who is writing what and for whom. Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone did all that statistical work? (She said, looking around hopefully…)

  3. Jackie M.

    so another thing you’re not maybe saying is, the peak in percentage of women being published by Asimov’s and F&SF may actually explain the peak in female nominees during that same time period….?

  4. Joanne Merriam

    From some back-of-the-envelope stats I did last year for a writing forum I participate in: In the past 25 years, women have won the PEN/Faulkner Award 4 times (Sabina Murray 1, Ann Patchett 1, Gina Berriault 1, E. Annie Proulx 1) vs 21 for men (of 25). In the past 25 years, women have won the Pulitzer 9 times (Geraldine Brooks 1, Marilynne Robinson 1, Carol Shields 1, E. Annie Proulx 1, Jane Smiley 1, Anne Tyler 1, Toni Morrison 1, Alison Lurie 1, Alice Walker 1) vs 16 for men (of 25). (Interesting none of these women won more than once; several of the men did, which suggests something about career longevity.) 13/50 = 26%

    The same (questionable, for the reasons you mention) time period: In the past 25 years, women have won the Hugo (for novel; I’m ignoring the other categories) 11 times (Susannah Clarke 1, Lois McMaster Bujold 4, Connie Willis 2, J.K. Rowling 1, C. J. Cherryh 2, Joan D. Vinge 1) vs 15 for men (of 26 – one year there was a tie). In the past 25 years, women have won the Nebula (for novel) 11 times (Lois McMaster Bujold 2, Elizabeth Moon 1, Catherine Asaro 1, Octavia Butler 1, Vonda N. Mcintyre 1, Nicola Griffith 1, Connie Willis 1, Ursula K. Leguin 1, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough 1, Pat Murphy 1) vs 14 for men (of 25). 22/51 = 43%

    Which makes sf/f look better, but since Willis and Bujold account for a lot of those, while the literary awards were given to more different women (and also Philip Roth a bunch of times, iirc, which would skew the numbers toward the men).

  5. Jed

    Cheryl and Nicola: Thanks for the notes; good point about signposts, and good followup questions. I don’t have any useful data, but I’d be interested if others do. There’s some data on the Broad Universe bean-counting page, but that’s a few years out of date at this point. I imagine that if anyone would like to update it, BU would be happy to get new data.

    Jackie: Good question. Some thoughts:

    In 1993, there were ten fiction works by women on the Hugo ballot; of those, six appeared in Asimov’s and one in F&SF, and one in Alternate Presidents, and the other two were novels.

    I had miscounted 1992: there were twelve fiction works by women on that ballot, possibly the highest number ever. That’s four novels, seven stories from Asimov’s, and one from Amazing.

    (Note, btw, that this was during Gardner’s tenure as editor. Editor gender doesn’t necessarily correlate with author gender.)

    On a personal note: The period from, oh, about ’89 through about ’92 (give or take) was the first period when I subscribed to Asimov’s. There were usually multiple stories per issue that I loved. I have no idea whether that correlated with stories by women or not, but I thought the magazine was regularly extremely good. Toward the end of that period, Gardner’s tastes and mine began to diverge somewhat, though I was still finding stories I liked there regularly. I drifted away from paying much attention to sf during much of the ’90s. (And later came back to it, and to reading Asimov’s.) But my point is that it’s hard for me to make any useful guesses about what happened re female authors, because my gut feeling is that the field in general, and Asimov’s in particular, was going through a period of general excellence during those years. But rationally I know that I’m drawing subjective connections without evidence. So I hesitate to draw any causal connections between the two things you mentioned, other than to say that Asimov’s was, then as now, generally considered the premier magazine in the field, so if they were publishing more women, and the same percentage of their stories made the ballot as usual, then more women would appear on the ballot.

    One other thing worth noting: the Hugo ballot is determined by the tastes (and whims) of the Hugo nominators, not just by what gets published in a given year.

    This comment has gotten long. More next comment.

  6. Jed

    Joanne: Fascinating; thanks for the data.

    Minor nitpick: To count the last 25 years of Hugo novel winners, you should only go back to ’83, not ’81, so Cherryh’s ’82 win and Joan Vinge’s ’81 win shouldn’t be included, so the Hugo count is 9 (rather than 11) out of 26. But that doesn’t invalidate your point; 20/51 is still nearly 40%, which is still higher than the literary awards. Did you look at other literary awards, like the Nobel, the Man Booker, and so on?

    (…To pursue Cheryl’s line of discussion, we should also look at the Rita Awards, where I suspect nearly 100% of the winners are female.)

    Interesting that both the Hugos and the Nebulas had a small run of Novel wins by women in the late ’80s and early ’90s; I’m inclined to call both of those part of the same peak as the magazine peak, but I may well be conflating unrelated things.

    …I worry a little that for an award where there’s just one single winner, it’s hard to get enough data for statistics; I can imagine that in any given year, there might (for example) be five people worthy of the Pulitzer, but only one of them can get it. The fact that (as you described) over time it goes more often to men is certainly noteworthy, but I’m a little wary about the possibility of not having enough data. (Same, pretty much, with looking at only one category of the Hugos and Nebulas–although of course it could be argued that it doesn’t make sense to mix the novel category with the short-fiction categories, for all sorts of reasons.)

  7. Zed

    Some time around ’99 or 2000, I looked at gender parity in the previous 15 years of Hugos and Nebulas. The Nebs were very close to exactly even. Of the Hugo awards, if I recall correctly, about a third had been won by women. But, due to Willis’ and Bujold’s many awards, answering “what percentage of people who won Hugos during this period were women?” gave a much smaller number than “what percentage of Hugos were won by women?”

  8. Mike Glyer

    When a gender and awards discussion is lit off by statistics, like the proportion of male and female award winners, the people engaging with the statistics often do not seem engaged in the same discussion. Some see the statistics as evidence of reader/voter bias. Others use them as an entry to comment on economic inequalities in the workplace (i.e., the fiction market). Some find the sexuality of the writer more informative to the discussion. Some want to discuss either the sexual expression of the characters depicted in sf/fantasy, or at least, a writer’s freedom to describe it. I’m willing to read any and all of these discussions, but the shortcoming of focusing on literary statistics is the way it prevents a central issue from being framed.


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