One of the first things we wanted to know—once we got the Best of the Decade Reader’s Poll data into something resembling coherence—was how the titles split up among gender lines. Not only in an overall sense, but also in regards to the titles that garnered the most votes.
The conversation on gender issues in science fiction and fantasy is always ongoing. (Tor.com itself usually doesn’t go a week without bringing it up in some form.) But can a correlation be found between the visibility of that discussion and the number of SFF titles and authors published in the last decade?
Note: For the total author counts, Individual humans were counted individually. However when counting “votes per author” and deciding the authorship of books written by more than one person, each individual counts as .5, and the whole team is a single author.
This number surprised us. Fantasy and science fiction are still considered somewhat male-dominated genres, so while the male/female split in our popular vote doesn’t equal 50/50, it seems a lot closer than one might expect from anecdotal experience.
We don’t have data for pre-millennium decades, so it would be interesting to see if this number is a true shift upwards.
Let’s take a look at how gender splits amongst the most popular titles:
Download a PDF of the two above charts here.
Focusing on the top 50 titles produced a more expected split between male and female authors, with female authors making up a little less than a fourth of the most popular books.
Once we saw this data, we got curious about how many titles in the top 50 had female protagonists, and whether this data correlated in any way with the percentage of female authors. The quick answer? Not really. But the data was fun to look at all the same.
Download a PDF of the above chart here.
As you can see, nearly half of the top 50 titles feature a female protagonist. And of the 22 that we’re counting, only 5 were written by female authors.
When defining a female protagonist in a book, we focused on a couple of things. The first being whether one of the main characters was female, and whether that female protagonist character has her own agency within the story. The second was whether we get the character’s viewpoint in a sizable portion of the book. i.e. are we inside her head? Are we privy to her thoughts on a regular basis?
When we couldn’t come to a consensus about a particular character, we opted towards no. (The Harry Potter series is a tough argument in this regard. While Hermione is obviously one of the main characters, Harry himself is the clear protagonist of the series and the narrative in every book tends to center around his perspective.) We anticipate some of you may disagree with our definition and/or choices, since this category is more subjective than most of the others.
This chart is the most malleable of the entire data set, though, and we’re interested to hear our commenters make any cases to the contrary of the above chart!