Friday, September 04, 2009

Rise of Women

There’s been a lot of discussion about women in the world of written sf (and especially the lack of books by women in the Hugo awards). Cheryl Morgan has written about this on several occasions, and on a comment on her blog Ipa asked about the rise of women in the Finnish sf competitions.

Out of curiosity, I compiled some data about the two main Finnish sf short story competitions (Portti and Nova), and the Atorox award. I have to say I was a bit surprised by the results.

Chart of award data distribution between men and women in Atorox, Portti and Nova
The Winners and top 3 placements by men and women for three major Finnish sf awards. “m” and “w” indicate the winner, “t3m” and “t3w” how many men and women were in the top 3.

The Atorox Award

Awarded annually to the best Finnish sf short story published the previous year. Popular award (voted by juries of sf societies, but pretty much anybody interested can vote). Awarded since 1983.

I had a gut feeling that the Atorox winners have been divided quite equally between men and women. And the data supports this: the prize has been won by a man 10 times and by a woman 14 times. (Two times a man/woman team has won, and once the winner was a pseudonym who hasn’t chosen to publicly reveal their identity, so I’ve marked them as “unknown”.) But looking at the distribution of these wins over time there is a clear trend towards women: during the last ten years, a man has won the Atorox only once, and that was ten years ago (the two team wins are also from the previous years, though).

Even more revealing is looking at the top 3, which I think tells a bit more about the general situation than just the winners. Overall, men have placed 44 times in the top three in the Atorox awards, and women 34 times (counting a team win and also a tie as ½ places). When looking at the first ten years of the award, only once were there more women in top three than men (and that one was Johanna Sinisalo finishing first, second and third with her short stories, so that tells more of her excellence than the abundance of women writing stories that year). The latest ten years show a different picture: only in 2000 there were more men than women in the top three, from 2001 to 2005 men and women were tied, and since 2006 there have been more women than men in the Atorox top 3.

Portti Competition

The Portti zine has organized a short story competition since 1986. I don't have full data available, so I’ve only looked at the winners. There too I see a trend: in the early years the competition was dominated by men, but lately women have been stronger (since 2003 four wins by a woman, only two by a man).

The Portti competition is juried, and the jury doesn’t know the name of the writer when reading the stories, so there shouldn’t be any bias based on name recognition in the results. If memory server, the jury stayed much the same in the early years, but went through some changes in the early 2000s—if one believes men and women write different types of stories, one could of course say the new jurors prefer stories written by women and this explains at least a part of the balance shift towards women winners.

Nova Competition

Another juried short story competition is Nova, organized by the FSFWA and TSFS. Nova is a much newer competition (it started in 2000) and is targeted at new writers. Many of the Nova winners have since had success in other competitions and awards as well, including this year’s Atorox winner Mari Saario and the 2007 winner Jenny Kangasvuo.

The Nova competition has been criticized in some circles (at least half-jokingly) as a “women’s competition” where you can only succeed by writing feminist, sentimental fantasy where women are the center of the story. I haven’t paid much attention to these opinions (which often seem to be complaints about, “they don’t like my stories even though they are great” in disguise), but looking at the Nova statistics, the competition has never been won by a man (once there was a tie for the winner), and only twice has the top three not had a majority of women.

At first this might be seen as supporting the conspiracy theory, but on the other hand, 1) the jury doesn’t know who the writers are when judging the texts, so there isn’t a knowing conspiracy to award women, 2) the jury has changed over the years many times so it isn’t the matter of the same people always awarding similar texts, and 3) the Nova competition isn’t alone in this trend, it is just more pronounced there.

Conclusions

I don’t think here is enough data here to draw any definite conclusions. For example, I don’t have any statistics about how many texts have been submitted to the competitions by men and by women, or what is the distribution of men and women of all published stories (eligible for Atorox). I’d like to know, though, and at least the latter would be possible to calculate, although it would take some effort. Also I don’t know the gender distribution of either the competition juries or the Atorox voters, so I can’t even venture a guess about if these are at all relevant. Another thing I haven’t looked at is whether the types of texts that win prizes have changed (between science fiction and fantasy, for example).

One thing is certain by looking at the numbers, though: at the moment, women are much more succesful than men as sf short story writers in Finland. Since 2001 a man hasn’t won the Atorox or Nova even once, and Portti only twice. In Atorox and Nova, there have been more men than women in top 3 only once. Why this is so might make an interesting discussion.

The data was compiled using the Nova web pages and Jussi Vainikainen’s excellent sf resources (Portti and Atorox).
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