I was reading through some discussion groups on Goodreads last week and saw a thread asking for favorite female fantasy/science fiction writers. There were many names there, but that got me thinking. The number of great female fantasy writers debuting lately keeps going up. We have a history of greats from earlier years like Ursula le Guin, Andre Norton, and Anne McCaffrey. But I still see reports of women writing under their initials in my genre so they can possibly be mistaken for men. Uh, J.K. Rowling anyone?
An author at my publisher told me her books sold better when she changed to her initials. And this was recently.
Then I looked at a different discussion thread. This one asked for people's top five epic fantasy authors. When asked about their "favorite" fantasy/science fiction writers, the lists are full of male writers. There might be one woman included on maybe half the lists. The names that come up over and over are Martin, Butcher, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Tolkien with a scattering of other males like Sullivan and Brooks. The occasional woman does make an individual's list but usually down at the bottom around number five.
This seems to be particular true in my subgenre of epic fantasy. Most of the recent successful women authors are more inclined to appear in lists of urban fantasy. Or else they write for young adult.
When will that change?
Are women writers not as good with writing fantasy or science fiction? Are we always seen as writing "fluffy" versions of fantasy or science fiction? Books that are all about feelings and love triangles. I can't believe the first and I don't think the second is true by a long shot.
Is it a matter of timing? This genre has been a man's game for so long that women are still trying to keep up. Maybe twenty years ago that could be true, but this argument doesn't hold water anymore. There have been plenty of women writers for plenty of years. So why can't we crack the top five lists?
It wasn't that long ago that hurtful gender comments came out, of all places, the SFWA. That's the organization for science fiction and fantasy writers of America meant to support writers. Some male writers there made disparaging comments about their female colleagues, making it feel more like the SFMWA (science fiction and fantasy male writers of America). If they still feel this way, does the reading public also?
Maybe the problem lies in publishers providing more support for their male authors. Do they get better marketing? Or are male authors just more able to attend major cons and make panels for fantasy and science fiction? More able to leave their families and travel?
Are men just better at speaking up and clawing their way forward? Maybe they are less afraid and feel more entitled to advertise their writing. I bet they don't feel embarrassed they are making a pest of themselves on social media.
Maybe male readers are afraid to try female written books and find them equally good. Or maybe most readers of SFF are still male. I find that unlikely. All the groups of SFF lovers seems equally split between men and women.
I don't really know the answer. I just feel the invisible discrimination in these top five lists. I'm not saying the male writers should be held back or the female writers should get special treatment. I'm just saying why isn't there parity? Why do males continue to dominate? When will female writers see equal success and head the top five lists?
I admit that as a fantasy writer I have a vested interest in seeing this glass ceiling go away. But I'd still feel this way if I didn't. Yet, I can't help wondering if I'd sell better if I used Michael instead of Michelle.
In the interest of plugging amazing female writers of epic fantasy, I want to mention Kristen Britain and her Green Writer series, Kate Elliott and her many series, including Jaran and Crown of Stars, and Rachel Aaron with her Legend of Eli Monpress series. There are many more, but those are three of my favorites. I want to plug a couple of just starting fantasy writing women in Vicki Weavil and Rena Rocford and Holly Jennings.
Tell me what you think. Do you sense the same problem and who are your favorite female authors? Does that quiet gender discrimination still exist? Do women have a glass ceiling in fantasy or is it my imagination?
And if you're male and reading this, do you read female authors? If not, give one a try, as an experiment if nothing else.