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Like last year’s study, Coverage of Women in SF/F blogs (2012) has generated a range of reactions. Much has been reasoned, and we’re grateful to everyone who took the time to look closely at the data. However, some responses have been, well…interesting. Oh internet, you all know what 'interesting' means in the context of discussions about gender, right?

Luckily, because we’re bloggers, we have our own space where we can deconstruct that kind of response. And that’s what we propose to do below: each of us will be taking apart particular reactions and trying to explain just why we found them suspect by examining the language used or the critical ideas expressed about our data. Since the 101 derailing nature of these reactions made us angry, we’re just going to let that anger roar in places, while simultaneously producing a clear outline of just why we are angry and how several respondents to our study hope to misrepresent our findings.


text that says Renay's Section

Go read Winston Smith of the Philosoraptor deliberately misread what we wrote in Observations on Claims of Progressive Reading Choices. Go read him insult SF/F (this isn't serious literature). Go read him argue that the point of our article is to scold people and invade private reading decisions, instead of telling men and women who come into discussions of gender parity to argue about their gender blindness (i.e. derail) to cut that out because it's ignorant and ridiculous. Go read him and one of his male readers deliberately misname us — at least twice — while doing these things. Most of his essay and comments are nonsense, as we aren't out to convince men so blinded by privilege they're going to erect eight foot tall straw men to fight with. It's that last bit I mentioned — the part about our name — that interests me the most.

When we started LB, we talked about our name. Yes, you can refer to vaginas as lady business and that's part of it, because we've never shied away from the fact that we're cisgender women and refuse to be shamed, silenced or shut down because of our cisgender status. But our blog is all about the things we, as ladies, like too. It's about things we consider our purview as women and people. It's about feminism, intersectionality, education, nerdy data projects, cute girls and boys, space adventures, rape culture, adorable animals .gifs, spies and ninjas, nerdfighters, classical literature, diversity, and most of all, friendship. Those things are our business. We are in the business of ladies and people who like ladies and all the varied and wonderful and beautiful things ladies do, create, and say.

I find this attempt by a man to other us by un-naming us — deliberately using our name against us by referring to our project as "ladyparts" — very telling and transparent. I find this attempt by a man to use the mere idea of OH NOEZ, VAGINAS, to mock us, indicative of problems we've talked about before at length, and one I mentioned by name in my original essay; men will often fail to listen. Often times, will bypass listening and go directly to talking to assure themselves that their privileged worldview remains intact, at least in their personal bubble. When the rebuttal to an argument involves insulting someone's identity by purposefully misnaming them, it's no longer debate or discussion about an issue. When the rebuttal to an argument is personal it's no longer about an issue. Someone's name is a vital part of who they are. Take that away; you're not only dismissing the argument they're making, but the person themselves. It's dehumanizing, and in this case, extremely, mind-bogglingly sexist. Let's all have a slow clap for this guy. A+

Related, this year tone was a favorite of the people who were unhappy we had the audacity to point this gender disparity out. Check out complex_reduction's rebuttal on reddit, Emma Jane Davies response, and more commentary from reddit. The words these people chose are a frantic red flag of dismissal: rant, vitriolic, aggressive, defensive, arrogant, polemic, rant, verbal assault, moralizing, fanaticism. That's not talking about the issue I raised; it's talking about my tone. Seriously, fuck the tone argument and everyone who tries to use it against me as a person or us as a project. Talking about tone seeks to erode someone's confidence. In the case of Winston Smith, talking about tone while deliberately un-naming someone means I find those opinions about as intriguing as a steaming pile of shit, which is about what arguments and responses that use it are worth. If you can't talk about something other than my tone, sit the fuck down.

These are tactics that wear you down, because they can be so sneaky. This is why women (or anyone talking about a social issue) get so tired. It's Sexism 101, Derailing 101, over and over and over. It's having to stop and explain to people why a word choice has historical context, and to please not use it because it's marginalizing. It's having the same conversation on a loop for years. In the particular case of Winston Smith, Tone Specialist, it's like this dude thinks he's saying something new and interesting, which is really, really wrong. Not even what I said was new and interesting.

As my (male) partner said earlier today, if wanting to see people add a little diversity to their reading to include half the world is moral fanaticism, then I will gladly take up the torch of moral fanaticism. Sign me up the hell up.

text that says Jodie's Section

101 discussions never go away. Often we're just going to say whatever dude and walk away, because fuck that noise and the horse it rode in on, we have real work to do. But we are feeling feisty this month (translation - we are pretty pissed off tbh), we have some left over energy. So, in the interest of making sure that the reaction of a few people who didn't seem to read the first post doesn't derail the conversation for others, let's go over a couple things again:

1.) When we say our project really isn't about reading statistics, that it was about review statistics, we actually mean what we say. Yes, in order to review a book you have to read it, but you might read 100 books and only review 10. We are only interested in the books a blogger read and reviewed. If you just read a book you do not feature it on your blog. You do not boost its visibility, at least not in a way we can easily measure with data right now. Once more with feeling — our project is about the visibility of female SFF authors on SFF blogs.

2.) It feels like a lot of people have spent time trying to explain that because fewer female SF authors may be published than male SF authors, bloggers are obviously going to review fewer books by female authors. We're going to talk about the argument that the base rate of women and men getting published in SF controls what reviewers post about further, but for now let's talk about the fact that when calculating those rates, people routinely ignored that this project was about SFF authors, not SF authors. That second F stands for fantasy and what is the fantasy community full off? Oh that's right, ladies. Yes, people are trying to push a whole section of the SFF community, one which is often described as being dominated by women, out of this conversation in order to justify why SFF blogs sometimes don't review a lot of ladies. Classy. Are these people also ignoring the numbers from YA SFF, another area of publishing so full of ladies it routinely makes people edgy? More than likely.

I'd also like to respond to a couple of other arguments that came up in reactions to this post. 'Don’t feminists have anything more important to talk about?' is a common derailing argument and *bingo*, one we got hit with this year. This is an easy verbal rock to throw, because it plays into the culturally accepted idea that women's interests in pop culture are small and petty. Let me explain why the visibility of women on SFF blogs is important, maybe even as important as the fate of a man's favourite male-dominated sport team. First, the capitalist and commercial argument — a lack of gender equality has a negative impact on women’s careers and earning potential, which can have a negative impact on many other aspects of their lives. If enough gender inequality hits enough women, this impacts the wider female population in negative material ways too. Second, the human argument — gender equality in every field is important. Equality is the right thing to aim for. Simple as. If you disagree you are an ass.

Some people have also been quick to point out that while they agree that there are barriers for women who are trying to gain visibility in SFF, we are 'looking in the wrong places'. People bring out the base rate argument again and start talking about how publishing is the sole cause of any visibility crisis — bloggers are just responding to what the publishers put out there. We agree publishers could put out more SF books by women and that they could throw more marketing clout behind those women in order to increase the visibility of women in SF. But like we said, although we have seen evidence in past years that, at least in the UK, fewer female SF authors than male SF authors are being published, we strongly disagree that this part of anyone’s the baseline argument applies to our study. Last time, I promise, but that second F is included in our study, and its inclusion is important when it comes to creating a picture of publishing data that is relevant to our study.

We do however think that bloggers find something very attractive about this idea that they can only respond to what the publishers put out and that the lack of diversity in the books being put out is the only thing that hinders the visibility of women on SFF blogs. It’s the same reason publishers love to shove the blame back on to women for not 'stepping up' and submitting more work. Takes all the heat off them, doesn’t it? Nothing I can do guv, I’m just not being provided with the resources.

Oh, what a lazy argument that is. If you don’t feel like you have the resources and you care about gender equality, then maybe, just maybe, you want to do something about it? In the case of publishers, I would love to see them investigate why women aren’t submitting work and get involved in work arounds to help women feel more confident submitting. In the case of bloggers, well, plenty of people have explained what bloggers can do to help increase the diversity of publishing. Perhaps most importantly, they could just acknowledge that gender equality is important and keep trying to support it. Here at LB we may screw up along the way, but we are committed to making a damn effort both for women and for other disenfranchised groups. When we inevitably screw up, we get up, we try differently and harder. We do not plead a lack of resources.

I think we need to start realising is that the literary world is an eco-system, where each different part of the industry contributes to the promotion of diversity. If one link in the chain doesn't help out we are all lost. If someone reviews 100 book in a year and only 10 of those are by women, when there are 50 books available by women, that person is part of the reason why female authors aren't as visible as male authors on SFF blogs. That person may not care if they are part of the problem. They may not have realised there was a problem before. They may even think the problem is unimportant. That doesn't change the fact that the data shows their blog is part of a scene which does not represent women. Holding up your hands and saying 'Nothing to do with me.' is a terrible way to go through life, please just stop. And yes because we see literary culture as a carefully balanced eco-system we do believe that factors controlled by publishers, such as the gender rates in publishing and the amount of marketing effort publishers put into pushing books, impact bloggers selection. However, we also think that if those factors are creating a gender imbalance the onus is on bloggers to work around that, to act as this subverting sub-culture I so often see people claiming bloggers are part of. If a low number of SFF books written by female authors were published in 2012, maybe review SFF books by female authors that weren't written in 2012. It's genuinely not that hard.

If I’m honest, I think bloggers can become complacent. All that 'saviours of the publishing industry' rhetoric that rolls around the community can make us feel like we’re shaping the industry just by existing as bloggers. I see that idea replicated in the SF community which sometimes seems to feel like its a special snowflake of justice and tolerance because idk one time it said Ursula Le Guin was cool or something. Wake up call - we are not magically furthering equality just because we operate outside mainstream media structures. Work is required.

text that says Ana's Section

As Jodie was saying, publication ratios are completely irrelevant to any conversation about how we can achieve actual gender equality because the only way to break this cycle is to be proactive. Unless you're claiming that no more than 25% of SFF books by women actually exist out there, and that all those poor male reviewers would have to review the same book again and again to increase female representation — which is patently ridiculous considering that the ladies managed just fine — then we don't want to hear it. We can discuss whose responsibility is is to take the first few steps towards change until the cows come home, but the only way change is ever going to actually happen is if we all decide to do our bit right now. These cyclical, circular pass-the-blame discussions are the reason why we're still having this conversation in 2013. These very same arguments regularly crop up in discussions of gender parity in male-dominated industries: hiring managers will say that their 90% male/10% female workforce ratio actually reflects the applications they get — and if more women aren't applying because their industry has traditionally been unwelcoming to them, well, then that's no business of theirs. Sure, this application ratio may mean they're not actively discriminating against women applicants, but they're also not actively seeking them out. And if you really want to achieve equality, you have to stop putting the onus on the group of people who traditionally have had opportunities denied to them and do something about it yourself. If that means getting out there and seeking more female applicants, so be it. The same goes for SFF submissions: if you honestly believe publishers can shrug off all social responsibility and just sit around waiting for more women (or POC, or lgbtq authors) to come to them, then there's probably nothing we can say to one another. These things will not self-regulate, and the playing field will not magically become level if we just wait long enough. Again, if that were the case we wouldn't still be having this conversation in 2013.

One of the reactions that implied that the lack of baseline rates made our arguments invalid is also full of other misleading ideas that I'd like to deconstruct; namely Emma Davies' response, which is tellingly titled "Bad science". But before I begin, an aside about science: we're all fans of science here at LB; we care about methodological rigour; and we don't really align ourselves with post-modern critiques of the scientific method. However, we're also keenly aware that the discourse of science can be co-opted by people who want to put others down from a position of authority. It can be, and historically has been, used as a tool of intimidation and silencing in ways that disproportionately affect women and other marginalised groups. The work of people like Emily Martin, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Cordelia Fine or Cynthia Eagle Russett demonstrates this very clearly — and note that they all argue not against science, but for more and better science. I've done a lot of reading about gender essentialism over the years, so I've become competent at spotting a rhetorical strategy Cordelia Fine calls "the modern-day Galileo maneuver": people positioning themselves as brave harbingers of scientific truth who speak against their opponents' ideological blindness because they really must. A close look at their arguments will reveal that their allegiance to scientific rigour stops the moment it's convenient, but they frame themselves as authoritative and unbiased while everyone else is compromised by their feminist sympathies. More: according to them, speaking up at all requires a lot of courage because they know they'll be attacked by a powerful and culturally dominant feminist cabal. This is more or less what Davies has done. She also positioned herself as the only expert in this conversation by repeatedly stating that she objects "as a sociologist" (without having any information about any of our academic or professional backgrounds), and additionally created a bizarre artificial dichotomy between feminists (biased by ideology) and sociologists (level-headed and authoritative but prosecuted) that fits the pattern I described above.

Because we actually do care about methodological rigour, let's start by conceding two of Davies' points — yes, our study would be considerably stronger if we'd used a larger sample and if we'd conducted tests of statistical significance. The absence of the latter is a consequence of the former, and we'll readily admit that sample size is the project's greatest shortcoming. However, it's disingenuous at best to suggest that we have ever framed our project as the end-all and be-all study of visibility of female SFF authors on SFF blogs. In the original post, we readily acknowledge that we had limited time and resources, and this was the reason why we didn't use a larger sample. We also clearly invite anyone willing to get to the bottom of the complex questions our project raises to conduct more research, because replication and/or studies with larger samples are how we achieve more solid knowledge. If the size of our sample makes you doubt our results, then please do go ahead and conduct a data project of your own — nothing would please us more. But don't dismiss our whole angle as irrelevant before you've even tried with vague allusions to sekrit knowledge about what the "real" problem is.

In addition to the lack of a baseline ratio — which, as we've already explained, we believe to be irrelevant — Davies takes issue with the geographical distribution of our sample, on the grounds that "most of the blogs studied in this research are UK blogs, with a few US blogs mixed in", and that we "haven't even distinguished [the] results by country." There are two problems here: one is the odd belief that geographical distinctions determine what people are reading to such an extent in the age of NetGalley, Edelweiss, The Book Depository, and fast and efficient worldwide shipping in general; the other is the fact that Davies is quite simply making up this distribution. It only took us about twenty minutes of social media sleuthing to figure out that our sample contained eleven blogs from the USA, five from the UK, two from The Netherlands, two from Canada, and one each from Australia, South Africa, Norway and Romania (these numbers add up to 24 because we left the one blog with multiple contributors out of this quick survey). I have no overall population distribution data to compare these numbers to, but it doesn't strike me as absurd to suggest that they could very well mirror the actual geographic distribution of the English-speaking SFF blogosphere. Likewise, we needn't cross into wild conjecture territory to suggest that if a clear gendered pattern can be identified among bloggers from different parts of the world, then maybe, just maybe, gender precedes location as a predictor of the percentage of women a blogger will review. Obviously this isn't to say there are no differences whatsoever in the gender makeup of books reviewed by, say, UK and US bloggers — by all means, do conduct a study to figure out whether there are; more research is always a good thing. We did no country subdivisions of our own because our sample was small to begin with, and as any researchers worth their salt will know, tiny subgroups would make our results far less trustworthy. However, even if we didn't examine every possible additional variable, focusing on gender alone in this globalised age is not the laughable mistake Davies makes it out to be.

The most troubling element of Davies' post, though, is the normative element she introduces when making claims about the need for a baseline. According to Davies, "we have to bear in mind that we cannot expect men to read dark romance, as it's a subgenre specifically tailored to women." I'm sorry, what? This is akin to suggesting that "boys will be boys" and will run screaming from girl cooties, and since that's the way of the world we'd all better just accept it. We can indeed agree that a not negligible percentage of people will behave in rigidly gender-coded ways, because — surprise! — that's what the patriarchy does to people. Boys are taught to devalue anything even vaguely associated with femininity, and that's how they become men who "can't be expected" to read dark romance. But instead of making allowances for this when presenting our data, we are challenging it head on, because that's the whole point. There's a bias in what is considered appropriate reading material for men, and we're trying to draw attention to it. It's not unreasonable to expect men to read women writers, or subgenres coded as feminine, because the idea that reading interests are inherently and immutably gendered is a) ridiculous and b) part of what upholds the status quo. A man who reads dark romance will face social stigma, but he's not performing masculinity wrong, and furthermore it's by normalising this reading habit that the stigma will go away. And if you're even thinking of suggesting that men just don't enjoy dark romance because they're men and men don't do emotions and romance and stuff, please just don't — I'll simply not engage with yet another Gender Essentialism 101 discussion at this point.

Implicit to Davies' argument — and also to some of the reactions we got last year — is the idea that you can distinguish "real" SFF from "girly" subgenres like paranormal or "dark" romance, YA SFF, urban fantasy, etc, and that it's unfair to point out any inequalities in reviewing without separating the wheat from the chaff first. Well, screw that. Inequality will persist for as long as we pretend that it's okay to marginalise any literary niche where there's a majority (real or perceived) of women, and we have absolutely zero interest in doing that.

To return to something we addressed earlier, the fact that Davies titled a sloppy, careless response that's embarrassingly full of made up facts and figures "bad science" seems suspiciously like a case of appeal to authority, especially when paired with a reference further down to our study as "soft science" of the kind that would "make Karl Popper roll in his grave". Similarly, the following two paragraphs read like someone throwing as many science-y sounding allusions out there as possible in an attempt to sound authoritative:

That's the thing about sociological studies. Correlation is rarely causation. You can think you see one thing, but when you make an effort to dig down into the data, what you're actually seeing is something quite different.


Yes, very true — but if anyone could tell us where in our post we claim to have uncovered a causation, we'd be very grateful. We uncovered a correlation between gender of blogger and amount of SFF by women reviewed. Any claims beyond that are imaginary; therefore, bringing causation into the discussion is mind-bogglingly absurd. Unless, of course, you're repeating "correlation is not causation" not because it actually means anything in this context but because it sounds science-y and allows you to position yourself as authoritative.

Davies goes on to say,

So you're denying that people follow stereotypical gender choices when they choose reading material? At the same time as you're defending the hypothesis that they're discriminating in their reading choices based on the gender of the author? I don't think Occam's Razor supports this.


(First of all, yet another strawman alert: the above is not our hypothesis. Our hypothesis is, I repeat, that there's a correlation between the gender of the reviewer and the percentage of SFF by women they review.)

Ah, Occam's Razor. Occam's Razor is a handy logical tool that tells you that the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is generally the most likely to be correct. It's very useful, but it needs to be used cautiously because, in sociological phenomena in particular, sometimes things do have complex explanations. But of course, the point of Occam's Razor is not to discard complex explanations altogether but to "shift the burden of proof": "one should proceed to simpler theories until simplicity can be traded for greater explanatory power. The simplest available theory need not be most accurate". In other words, if you have a more complex theory that does a better job of explaining a phenomenon you observed then that's fine, but the onus is on you to prove that this is better than a simpler explanation. The funny thing about Davies' evocation of this methodological principle is that she is the one who is suggesting a more complex explanation: one with added variables like geographical publication ratios, subgenres, and gender stereotypical behaviour. If you read what we said above, you'll know that it's not the complexity of these hypotheses that makes us wary of them. But it's very interesting that Davies evokes Occam's Razor so absurdly and then acts as if the burden of proof is entirely on us. It's almost as though the whole point of name-dropping a dead medieval philosopher is not to make a relevant point, but merely to go, "Look! I sound more science-y than you!. And I'm sorry, but that's no way to conduct an intellectually honest discussion.




We anticipate that this post may prompt a new set of reactions indicating that we are resistant to critical examination and that we aren’t open to discussion or disagreement. In fact, we have enjoyed the constructive reactions to our post and we are perfectly open to discussions about how other factors may also affect the visibility of female authors in SFF spaces. We are only resistant to:

  • Responses which use common gendered, derailing, or sexist rhetoric;

  • Responses which assume biological determinism informs male reading behaviour;

  • Responses where people rename our blog in what they think is a derogatory manner;

  • Responses which talk about data, but don't offer any proof that this data is accurate or even that it exists anywhere other than in the writer's imagination - do not pull data out of thin air; please back it up.


Comment by Pauline M Ross - Interesting post. I've done some similar investigations into my own statistics. I don't receive any books or ebooks from publishers, but I've looked at the proportions of books I review, and it works out at around 35% female authors and 65% male (as best I can tell). However, this is roughly the same ratio of authors currently published in fantasy (again, as best I can tell - it's not easy to pin down exact numbers). I don't want to speculate on the reasons for that, but it's going to be hard to look for parity from reviewers until there's parity in publishing - Stick figure underneath holding a sign saying Citation Needed. Image credit - xkcd


We further feel that publicly examining claims about the inadequacy of our methodology is perfectly in the spirit of scientific interrogation. If anyone characterises this reaction as a feminist attack, that person is trying to throw sand in people’s eyes. If you think differently, Lady Business is probably not the blog for you.

Date: 2013-03-28 03:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com
What Jodie says here made me wake up. "Work is required." Okay. I am going to WisCon, which is a feminist SF convention in Wisconsin over the Memorial Day weekend because Joan Slonczewski, one of the guests of honor, asked me to go along with her. I am going to get to meet Jo Walton, the other guest of honor. And I've signed up to participate on panels and attend them. I'll be making mental notes about how to broaden my reading.

Date: 2013-03-28 03:32 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Please report back! I'd love to experience it vicariously.

Date: 2013-03-28 04:29 pm (UTC)
goodbyebird: Hark! a vagrant!: Annoyed writer-lady, "I'm writing a story about how you can go eat a dick." (Hark! a vag • there's a mystery for you)
From: [personal profile] goodbyebird
Hear hear.

we have to bear in mind that we cannot expect men to read dark romance, as it's a subgenre specifically tailored to women.

*headdesk x infinity*

Date: 2013-03-28 04:33 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Right? Sigh.

Date: 2013-03-28 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] feministtexicanreads.wordpress.com
"Wake up call - we are not magically furthering equality just because we operate outside mainstream media structures. Work is required." THIS. Great post!

Date: 2013-04-01 09:41 am (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Thanks for reading and letting us know you enjoyed it!

Date: 2013-03-29 03:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com
Haters to the left, yes and please.

Brilliant, thoughtful response. The two particular arguments that infuriate me are as follows:

1.) "Doesn't feminism have bigger fish to fry?" Why, then, how wonderful that I am not the end-all, be-all of feminism! Everything's important; everybody has the battles only they can fight. Y'all haven't dropped, say, equal pay to pick this up—you've merely added it to the issues that you fight for. I don't understand this argument at all.

2.) "Boys will be boys!" If we keep this attitude, then yes, we will never find a truly empowering kind of masculinity to pass down to our sons. Hiss.

It's late and the fumes from my henna tattoo are getting to me a bit, but I just want to say: brava.

Date: 2013-04-01 09:42 am (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
"Why, then, how wonderful that I am not the end-all, be-all of feminism!"

I'm totally going to start telling people this :P

Excellent posts.

Date: 2013-08-28 09:09 am (UTC)
antiloquax: battle of the planets (Default)
From: [personal profile] antiloquax
I found this blog after reading the "Sleeps with Monsters" interview with Kate Elliot.

It's great to read some well-argued points on this topic.
mark

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Renay is a long time member of slash fandom and nerdfighteria who stumbled into book blogging by accident and decided she liked arguing with herself at length and in capslock — it was all downhill from there. more? » about.me icon twitter icon pinboard icon tumblr icon

Ana is a reader who’s been blogging about books since early 2007. After several abandoned career paths, she decided to become a librarian and currently works for a large public library system. more? » twitter icon tumblr icon last.fm icon

By day Jodie is one of those evil marketers you're always hearing about. In fact she’s an evil British marketer and probably the inspiration for the next Bond villain. more? » tumblr icon last.fm icon

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