Did Women Dominate the 2011 SF/F Award Ballots?

By Nancy Jane Moore

Fandom Association of Central Texas logoAt ArmadilloCon last weekend I was on a panel entitled “The Ascendance of Female Writers in 2011: Why They Dominated Award Ballots.”

My initial response was to assume they were using the term “dominated” facetiously, though it is true that more women authors than men were nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards this year. (The Locus Awards were an entirely different story.) But I wasn’t sure how my fellow panelists, not to mention the audience, would feel about that.

I needn’t have worried. Everyone on the panel agreed that while it was nice to see more women authors getting recognized, there wasn’t much likelihood that women authors were going to take over the field anytime soon. And the comments and questions from the audience — which were intelligent and well-thought-out, as befits a good literary con like ArmadilloCon — showed they shared our skepticism.

Let’s get one fact out of the way first: In the case of the Hugos and Nebulas, women “dominated” one category: novels. This wasn’t a tipping point; there were 5 women and 1 man on the Nebula ballot and 4 women and 1 man up for the Hugo. And, indeed, a woman won: Connie Willis grabbed both awards for Blackout/All Clear, a two-book series. To tally the overall nominees: 19 women and 15 men were nominated for Nebulas and 10 women and 9 men for Hugos (I’m just including the individual writer awards — it’s too complicated to look at movies, anthologies, or the myriad editor and fan Hugos). Respectable numbers, but hardly dominance.

And the winners show an even balance: 3 women and 3 men won Nebulas; 2 women and 2 men won Hugos.

But it was an unusual year, as fellow-panelist Michelle Muenzler explained with her spreadsheets showing the distribution of awards over the last ten years. I don’t have her spreadsheets, but as I recall, she said that over the past 10 years, only 2004 showed a reasonable balance between male and female authors. Otherwise, the ballots were “dominated” by men. (Prior to 2000, the lack of balance is even more noticiable, as witnessed by the Broad Universe statistics.)

J. Kathleen Cheney, herself a Nebula nominee in the novella category, explained the selection methods behind the various awards. One point she made about the Nebulas: new writers admitted as associate members to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) can now recommend books for the Nebula ballot. Since that change happened, there are more small press magazines and anthologies nominated in the story categories and fewer stories from Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Analog. That has led to more new writers being included, and some of those writers are women.

So it’s possible that we will be seeing more changes, and more balance in the award lists.

I hadn’t looked at the World Fantasy Award nominees before the panel, but indeed, this year’s ballot is heavy on women writers. Looking again at the individual writer awards (novel, novella, short story, and collection), each ballot either has more women than men or an equal number of each. Those awards won’t be out until the end of October, so we’ll have to wait and see who wins.

However, while the Nebula, Hugo, and WFC awards had an excellent representation of women writers this year, the Locus awards seemed to be a throwback. Counting the writing awards (SF novel, fantasy novel, first novel, YA book, novella, short story, and collection), they had 25 men nominated and 15 women. Winners were 6 men to 2 women.

I hope — and I know I’m speaking for the rest of my fellow panelists — that the increased number of women authors on the ballots represents a trend. It would be great to look back on the years from 2011-2020 and find a roughly even balance of authors. It would also be nice to see more authors from different backgrounds. Going through the Nebula and Hugo ballots this year I found authors from several countries (not just the U.S. and U.K.) and several different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

I know some will condemn this interest in more diverse ballots as political correctness. As someone who remembers when it was perfectly acceptable to disparage women in any field, I tend to think even the excesses of political correctness are a big improvement. But there’s another reason to look for diversity in fiction beyond being fair to those who’ve been left out for years: New and different stories. Good stories.

To give examples: N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (on both the Nebula and Hugo ballot) and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (on the Nebula ballot) are both highly original stories that give readers new things to think about as well as allowing them to lose themselves in a fascinating fantasy world. As someone who is pretty bored with fantasy that echoes Europe of the Middle Ages, I am thrilled to read something that gives my imagination new scope.
Flashes of IlluminationFlashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.

My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.

Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, prc, and pdf.



Did Women Dominate the 2011 SF/F Award Ballots? — 5 Comments

  1. For the Nebula’s novel category, 2001 through 2004 have a very “competitive” feel to them when compared side by side (and compared to the somewhat non-competitive feel of the years following), with 2004 being very similar to this year’s results, gender-wise. I would like to say that the Nebula short story nominees (not the novellas or novelettes, alas) also have a very “competitive” feel to them throughout the ten-year block of my somewhat hurried spreadsheet.

    It was interesting that you mentioned a more varied ballot appearing for the Nebula short stories, a ballot favoring Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF less, as that was one of my major observations on the Hugo short story, novella, and novelette categories. In the years and categories dominated by Analog, Asimov’s, and F&SF, women did not do particularly well at all, which is a shame because these magazines publish some wonderful female writers. But women did not become competitive in the Hugo short, novella, and novelette categories really until 2010 and 2011 with the domination of other magazines for nomination sources.

    All this being said, my spreadsheet for the panel was hurried, and I still haven’t had a chance to go over it and doubly verify that I didn’t mis-identify any genders. But I think it did a good job of showing some general trends regarding nominations.

    As for winners, personally, I believe if the nominations become more gender-competitive, then the winners will do so also, which is why I focused only on nominations in my spreadsheet and not winners. You can’t win if you don’t get nominated!

    After the big NPR Reader’s Poll depression of doom, I became curious as to how my votes might have been reflected by the gender ratio of my bookshelf. I didn’t count all my books as some are on shelves that no longer reflect current reading tastes, but I did count my most current and favorite two shelves. The results were about 60% male authors and 40% female authors, which actually corresponded fairly well to my reader votes in the NPR poll where my vote ended up split fairly evenly across the two genders.

    Of course, this is just one personal experience and not a massive poll or study of any sort, but I would find it fascinating to know what others’ shelves show and how that reflects on their voting tendencies and how likely they are to actually vote.

    And now I am just babbling…and making a super long post on your article full of random musings. Oops. 🙂

  2. Interesting to note that the inclusion of new writers makes the output of the small presses more relevant or viable or important than that of the old stalwarts. At least in the minds of the those that voted. Interesting also that maybe women find it easier to get published in the small presses. That’s a sad thing when you think about it. The money isn’t there when you publish with the small presses so women are not paid as much as men for their creative outlet.

    Thanks for this interesting report Nancy and Michelle.

    And keep up the good work, ladies. The work that I was familiar with that got nominated this year was top notch and deserved recognition. I’m glad for those authors who were nominated.

  3. Michelle, I really appreciated the work you did for the panel. I noticed in looking things up for this blog post that the Broad Universe statistics don’t extend into the 2000s (the noughts?), so I think they might be interested in an article based on your numbers.

  4. Nancy, give me a bit to comb back through my numbers, expand on some areas, etc, and I’ll run something by you. Expect your eyes to be burned, though, as I’ve not written any articles before. 🙂

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