I’ve been really pleased by the #DiversityinSFF conversation happening on Twitter. Today, the Guardian picked up the story with the headline, “It’s time for science fiction to face up to discrimination.” That’s great.
But then they followed up with this subheading, which they repeated in the article, “Why are most SF authors straight, white western men?”
Well… at least part of the problem is that this statement is false — or at least the part that says “men.*” SFWA president Steven Gould recently did a survey of SFWA members and the results came back that the gender split was close to 52% men, and 46% women, with a small percentage that did not identify either way. So, technically, yes. There are 6% more men than women writing SF, at least if you can judge by the number of members in the professional SFF writers organization.
Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on one source. Strange Horizons did a survey of titles published and found that the count was 53% men to 45% women in the US. Granted, the UK was more imbalanced at 63% men to 37% women but… Compare that to the number of non-male authors that the Guardian cited about this.
They quoted two women, yes, but confined their questions to people who comment on fiction. This is a valuable role, and Lauren Smith and Cheryl Morgan both had important things to say, so I was glad to see them there. But when you are asking why so few SF authors are not straight white men, this is part of your answer.
Because journalists ignore them. Because this article implies that it is a fact that there are few women SF authors. Because this article casts women into a supporting role. They did not talk to N.K. Jemisin, Nalo Hopkinson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Aliette de Bodard, Malinda Lo, Nnedi Okorafor or any of the other thousands of non-male authors.
Yes, it is up to the authors to write about characters who are not straight white men, but that does no good if the media pretends those authors don’t even exist.
*I noted that the authors they interviewed were all straight as well, but could not find a source about the percentages of SFF authors who don’t identify as straight, so placed my emphasis on the part that was provably false.
EDITED TO ADD: The author of the piece, David Barnett, contacted me via Twitter and said, “I take your point on this, and won’t offer excuses, but will learn from it.”
I very much appreciate that he was trying to shed light on the diversity problem. There are a lot of pieces to juggle and learning as we move forward is an important part of the journey.