Stats: Gender in reviews

Warpcore SF has posted some really interesting stats regarding the balance of gender in the protagonists of the books she reviews. They suggest a persistent dominance of male protagonists in her reading, despite her own awareness of the problem. This is a thing I have long been conscious of myself. As a teenager I ate up books with strong female protagonists, but as adult it at least feels like I read many more books with male protagonists. I have also noticed in my own writing a switch from writing books largely concerned with strong female protagonists to books concerning men in general. Even since I became aware of this facet of my writing.

I thought at first this was because I’ve had something of a late adolescence – oh, I developed on queue (early even), but I was so sexually repressed that I didn’t start unlocking my own desires until after I took part in the Vagina Monologues, age 20. Ironically, this was just after the end of my last relationship. Let’s just say I’ve been… frustrated. So, big whoop, I’ve had sexy gentlemen on my mind. Heterosexual men frequently have sexy ladies on their minds (or so the Internet tells me), but when they write them into their stories, they become the love interest, not the main character (most of the time – not always). Moreover, I certainly still thought of sexy gentlemen a fair bit as a teenager, but they were, again, the love interests of my driven female characters.

What changed?

Well, here’s my theory: like begets like. I read a lot of Anne McCaffrey as a young teen. A lot. I also read Tamoira Pierce and other female writers who tended to put their female characters centre stage. I was inspired by them and I felt confident in myself as a woman and wanted to write about other women who felt confident in themselves. Women taking centre stage (in fiction, at least) just seemed normal. But as I grew older I read more books written by men and with male protagonists, and even the books I read that were written by women tended to have male protagonists. Unconsciously, my idea of what the norm for protagonists is shifted, and when I got ideas for writing, the view-point character (even though it was frequently a viewpoint I identified with) became, more often than not, male.

This is why I want to emphasise that when I’m highlighting a lack of female characters in a book, film, TV show, comic, or whatever, I am rarely in the business of directly blaming the author and creatives behind the art. Because I do it too. Rather, what I’m trying to do is to highlight the disparity and remind all of us – myself included – that this is not what the world looks like, but the more we see it presented as the norm, the more we will unconsciously expect it to be the norm in our real world interactions, as well as in our fiction. Moreover, reading lots of books with male protags did not make me not want to read books with female protags – I still really like it when I do, and I still get frustrated when there’s a disconcertingly high ratio of men to women in my fiction – it’s just that like begets like, and we need to make that association conscious in order to combat it.

So, anyway, I found Warpcore SF’s figures interesting, and she invited other bloggers to add their own. So, here are mine. I’ve used roughly her system for logging female, male, and neutral main characters, using neutral for multi-character viewpoints or transgender main characters. However, I don’t just review books on this blog, so I thought it would be interesting to separate out the figures for the different types of things I review. Note, also, that I have counted things like Doctor Who, Torchwood, and A Dance with Dragons, where I have reviewed the same over-arching item multiple times (i.e. different chapters or episodes), as one item.

Total figures for all reviews:
Female: 24%
Male: 45%
Neutral: 31%

So, wow, the overall total is quite dramatically male-dominated, but take a look what happens when I split it up into 2010-2011 and 2011-2012:

Female: 23% (9)
Male: 50% (20)
Neutral: 27% (11)

Female: 27% (3)
Male: 27% (3)
Neutral: 45% (5)

So, wow, that’s quite a swing from really very male-dominant to pretty much equal, with a strong preference for gender neutral. Of course, this year isn’t done yet, and you can see from the figures that I’ve only reviewed about a quarter of what I reviewed last year so far, but still, it feels suggestive that the greater consciousness of what I was reading and reviewing that built over the course of the last year has had some kind of effect.

Now for the details:

Books, 2010-2011
Female: 21% (3)
Male: 57% (8)
Neutral: 21% (3)

Books 2011-2012
Female: 0% (0)
Male: 33% (1)
Neutral: 66% (2)

Bum, looks like I’m actually backsliding, here, although it also perhaps just emphasises that the statistical sample for 2011-2012 is just too small.

Film/TV 2010-2011
Female: 6% (1)
Male: 47% (8)
Neutral: 47% (8)

Film/TV 2011-2012
Female: 40% (2)
Male: 20% (1)
Neutral: 40% (2)

On the other hand, I’ve already doubled the number of reviews I’ve given to Film & TV shows that had a female lead, and considering that this was the biggest category for reviews last year, I think that’s striking.

Comics 2010-2011
Female: 0% (0)
Male: 100% (2)
Neutral: 0% (0)

Comics 2011-2012
Female: 50% (1)
Male: 0% (0)
Neutral: 50% (1)

OK, small figures, again, but I think that this actually does reflect a shift in my reading habits, and in the publicity of comics with female creators and higher numbers of female characters.

I have only reviewed two podcasts on this blog, both were last year, one was a work of fiction with a male protagonist, the other was non-fiction but given by a man. I have counted both in the overall total for boys.

Blogs 2010-2011
Female: 100% (5)
Male: 0% (0)
Neutral: 0% (0)

Again, no blogs reviewed so far this year, but I did find it striking that all the blogs I reviewed last year were written by women and/or focused on women as a subject. I hadn’t realised it was this extensive, but I really do read a lot more blogs written by women. Whilst not all of the blogs I reviewed were overtly feminist, those written by women were from people whose point of view on gender closely aligns to my own, and the one run by a guy is Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor, which kind of says on the tin that it’s not going to give me any nasty surprises. And I genuinely think that’s the reason why. It’s not that I only read feminist blogs – I don’t. Nor do I think that women are more likely to write about things that interest me – I’m a geek, there are lots of geek blogs written by men. It’s that I only tend to regularly read blogs by people who are unlikely to make weird assumptions about gender difference, and specifically what women are like. Again, it’s not that all men or all male bloggers make weird assumptions about gender differences and what women are like; I think it is an unconscious bias on my part that stems from having been bitten quite a lot in the past, that and the fact that female bloggers more often flag up things they don’t like regarding the depiction of women in TV/film/books/comics, making it more likely that I will quickly see something in scanning a blog that reassures me that we’re on the same page. Also, it’s not just about the blogs I read, it’s about the blogs I review and recommend. Blogs that have a tendency to be concerned with redressing the balance of female-to-male presence in genre are more likely to be aligned to the interests of this blog – both mine, and what I assume to be my readers.

I just hadn’t realised that I had become so dramatically female-focused in this area. Mind you, I also hadn’t realised I’d reviewed so many blogs.

Lastly, because the non-Film/TV/book categories were all so small and bitty, I grouped them together as ‘others’ for comparison:

Other 2010-2011
Female: 55% (5)
Male: 45% (4)
Neutral: 0% (0)

Other 2011-2012
Female: 33% (1)
Male: 33% (1)
Neutral: 33% (1)

I find it interesting that there seems to be a pretty even split in the ‘other’ category, which by and large concerns things I go out and find on the web, either by following links, or on recommendation/word of mouth. It suggests (in as much as it suggests anything) a great equality in more ‘indie’ stuff than in the mainstream media; although, again, this is self-selecting based on the people I choose to follow on Twitter/tumblr, the sort of comics/blogs I already read, and so forth. There is, after all, a whole wealth of extreme right-wing indie stuff out there on the web that I would never be recommended, would never seek out, and would be very unlikely to review if I did encounter it.

In general, I’d say there’s a trend in my reading towards more equality, with some odd blips on both sides.

I should stress that I am under no illusions of the statistical significance of this data beyond a record of my own reading habits, but if it can form a part of a greater picture gathered from multiple blogs it might say… something. Similarly, my analyses are subjective, intended to colour in the reasons that seem to me to be behind the figures, rather than anything more substantial. I intend to continue to keep track of this, now, that I might be able to produce more useful data in future.