March 19, 2014

Had a bit of a rough day yesterday — the wind woke me up, I didn’t get enough sleep, the weather change made me super cranky, and I kind of muddled through it all.  So it felt really great to sit on the sofa with a big knitting project I’ve started and watch some TV last night:  Face Off and the Marvel Assembling the Avengers making-of special (with gigantic spoilers for the new Captain America movie!) were both on.

And I pondered a bit.  This is going to be a rough post on a serious topic, and I apologize for that.  It really needs some analysis, and I’m just going to throw it out there instead of doing that analysis.

Face Off:  For the second week in a row, a man and woman were up for elimination, and the woman was eliminated.  All the remaining contestants are men.  It got me wondering about percentages over all:  Over the six season, when a man and a woman are up for elimination, how often does the woman get eliminated, and is the percentage higher?  Because I gotta say, it feels like it’s usually the woman who gets the boot and the show does indeed have a gender bias.  On the other hand, I may just be paranoid.  What I need to do is go through the recaps and actually crunch the numbers.  In five seasons the show has had two women winners (Yay, Laura!), which is great from a gender parity perspective.  But now we bump that to two women in six seasons…  Like I said, I need to crunch some numbers on the show overall before I make any declarations.

Then we get to the Marvel special, which had a bunch of great interviews and confirmed my thinking that these guys really know what they’re doing. (That thing about how a superhero movie can also be a political thriller or a techno thriller or a space opera or some other story besides just a superhero story?  Yes!!!  That’s what I’m talking about!)  But putting aside the actor and actress interviews, just taking all the creators, writers, directors, comics pros — I think there was exactly one woman, Maurissa  Tancharoen, co-creator on Agents of SHIELD, who was on screen with her co-collaborator Jed Whedon.

Now, I love both these projects, and I’m pretty sure that none of the people behind these projects are sexist or would ever come out and say that women aren’t capable of doing big serious creative work.  But what all this reveals to me are the systemic biases.  And it just makes me sad, speaking as a woman in a creative industry — how discouraging, to look at fields that are so male dominated and think that the odds are stacked against women from the get-go.

A personal example:  At this point in my career there aren’t too many short fiction markets or editors I haven’t placed stories with.  But one market I’ve never sold to is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, one of the more prestigious magazines in the field.  I pretty much don’t even send them stories anymore, because why would I when there are a half a dozen great markets that love my work?  Then this came out:  a group of folks crunched the numbers and found that only 14% of F&SF’s content in 2013 was written by women. (Scroll down to see Sean Wallace’s tweet with the numbers.  Contrast that 14% with Lightspeed’s 43%.)  I saw that and thought:  Oh, it’s not just me.  It’s not just my writing.  There’s a systemic bias that I would have to overcome to get accepted by that market.

It actually made me feel better.  But that also means I’m even less inclined to send that market stories than I was before.  I imagine a lot of women writers feel the same way, which means F&SF simply isn’t getting a lot of stories by women, which reinforces the pattern of not printing stories by women…  You see how this works?

Systemic bias is easy to ignore.  But it’s also something that once you see, it’s really hard to unsee.


17 Responses to “musing”

  1. Calico Says:

    Thank you for posting this… really thought-provoking. I will say, however, that I hope you change your mind and start submitting to F&SF more often, because like you said: if women get fed up and DON’T submit, how is F&SF going to publish more of their work, especially if all the stuff they do published comes from the usual crowd of dudes? That was one of the main reasons I canceled my subscription to the mag a few years ago: I was tired of seeing the same types of stories from the same, boring guy authors, stories I never liked, which basically meant I didn’t like the magazine (save for those few diamonds in the rough…. I’m still grateful for F&SF giving me my introduction to Paolo Bacigalupi…. I will never forget how I felt reading him for the first time).

    So yes, please re-consider your stance on not submitting. Because if authors like you can’t crack it, how can unknown female authors like myself ever hope to have a shot?

  2. carriev Says:

    Thanks… It’s a really hard thing I’ve been grappling with. The editor of F&SF has been encouraging and notices when I do send stories… But at this point, I’m not sending out many stories at all that aren’t already promised to an anthology or what not. I send out maybe a couple of “on spec” stories a year anymore. And there really is a visceral emotional response — that lizard brain has had so much positive reinforcement from other places and doesn’t really want to mess with the rejection if it doesn’t have to.

    Still pondering.

  3. John Y. Says:

    Great post! I understand where your coming from. There is still a lot of members of the ‘He-man woman haters club’ out there and its sad to think it still take place in this day and age – but it does! I do agree with Calico that you shouldn’t give up (I totally understand the rejection thing), keep trucking so that number increases and the gap closes.
    I work as a Nurse -predominantly a female field- so I get ‘in reverse’ what your saying here. I like what your writing, even if F&SF is a bit to far sided to realize how awesome it really is.

  4. Calico Says:

    Carrie, it makes sense that most of your stuff is essentially commissioned, so I get that. But I do hope you keep trying F&SF, for all the reasons I mentioned above, and also, I think that’s the one major market an Odyssey graduate hasn’t cracked yet (though I could be wrong).

    The pain of rejection is tough, no doubt, but if you know other places will want to snap the work up, there’s no harm in trying the one market you haven’t cracked first, right? So if that rejection does happen, you can send it where it’s more of a sure-fire thing?

  5. Jazzlet Says:

    Last night I watched Mary Beard giving a lecture called ‘Oh Do Shut Up Dear!’ on BBC 4, about how Western culture has a history going back to the Greeks and Romans of excluding women from having a public voice. It was quite fascinating (she’s a Cambridge archeaology professor if you haven’t come across her) and seemed to me to be a plausible explanation for this problem in so many spheres. I don’t know if you could find it on-line anywhere or whether it would interest you, but I found it thought provoking.

  6. Curtis Says:

    Some hard numbers on the face off aspect of this:
    39% of the contestants are women (33 of 85). If victories/losses were totally random given this entrant ratio i’d expect women to win 40% of the seasons, etc. Sample sizes are also small that the expected variability on season wins is immense. Women winning 2 of 6 seasons would be indistinguishable from 3 of 6.
    But victories aren’t random. This is a test of skill and the women contestants are on average 5 years younger than their male counterparts (28 vs 33). To me, this is in the range where experience can count for a lot (say the difference between 5 and 10 years of professional experience).
    At first order, as someone who doesn’t watch the show, i don’t see a basis for claiming the judges are sexist

  7. Doruk Says:

    This is all so funny to me because while I consume large quantities of sci-fi and fantasy, with a few exceptions I gravitate towards female authors. I do notice though that there seem to be more of them in fantasy than in sci-fi.

  8. Doruk Says:

    Something to add on the age aspect, though: when I go to the yearly meeting of the society for neuroscience, I do see a LOT of women (possibly more women than men) in the age ranges of undergraduate college and graduate school, but by the time you get to professors, the balance swings the other way. So, it seems like more women start the career track but experience high rates of attrition. I have talked to a friend of mine about it, and she says that hiring of female scientists is highly discouraged at higher levels, even by female scientists who are doing the hiring. Very odd, but clearly not limited to the ‘creative’ field.

  9. Carriev Says:

    Curtis: no, I don’t think the show is sexist. I’m trying to posit a difference between outright sexism and systemic bias.

    With Face Off, another statistic I’d want to dig up is what percentage of finalists overall have been women and see if it matches that 39%. If I’m not mistaken, in 6 seasons, we’ll have had 4-5 of 18 finalists being women (I’m just being lazy not looking it up right now…). With two of those slots being the same woman, Laura, who was a finalist third and then won the fifth season, so I’m not sure how to count her. 5/18 is 28%.

    So no, I don’t think there’s sexism but there may be a touch of systemic bias. I’m really glad they’ve kept Ve Neill as a judge the whole show — she’s such a role model.

  10. Carriev Says:

    (An example of systemic bias would be — does the competition format of the show disadvantage the women contestants at all? This is the kind of thing that needs much more analysis than I’ve done, but it’s interesting to think about.)

  11. Griggk the goblin Says:

    A simpler test would be to isolate the number of times where the bottom two were male and female, then check the statistics on who got sent home. If that scenario has happened 10 times, and the male has been sent home on five occasions, then there would be no evidence of systemic bias.

    Twice in two weeks is too small a sample to draw conclusions from. As the old saying goes, once is an incident, twice is a coincident, but three times is a pattern.

  12. carriev Says:

    ^^^ That’s the actual statistic I want to run. It would require going through every single episode recap, looking at bottom looks, and who got sent home every week. Today is not the day I have time to do that, alas.

    Another way systemic bias would show itself — as Curtis said, if the average age of women contestants is younger, this may be another field with a high attrition of experienced women, as Doruk mentioned in the sciences.

  13. Curtis Says:

    Your sample size is too small to be meaningful, if i were to flip a coin 10 times there’s only a 25% chance of ending up at exactly 5 successes. there’s a 21% chance of ending up at 4 successes and a 10% chance of 3 successes.

    Okay, some more numbers, none of which seem particularly skewed to me. Again, the sample size is tiny so for ‘random event’ purposes the uncertainty is swamping the ability to say anything meaningful. And these aren’t random events.
    There were 37 cases in ~67 episodes where both men and women ended up in the bottom (elimination vulnerable) tier. in those cases a woman was eliminated 21 times (57%). That is within 2 eliminations of 50/50 and my first guess on uncertainty for that is +/-4, meaning the deviation isn’t large enough to say anything.
    in 67 or so episodes a woman ‘won’ for the week 22 times, or 33% of the time. again, uncertainty is on the order of 4, and again, the uncertainty bracket encompases the 40% number i’d vaguely expect based on participation.

  14. Griggk the goblin Says:

    Curtis, I know the sample size is too small to be meaningful…it was simply used to illustrate the point.

  15. Vicki Says:

    I appriciate the numbers and the need to prove before saying as fact that a show is biased wheter intentional or systemic. Checking and proving, it is the right thing and is needed. I hope that when time is taken to check the numbers that it proves to not be the case of bias in any form. I hope this because of all the “reality” shows, this one is by far the most “real” and the least back-stabbing of anything out there and because I am always greatly disappointed unto heart sickness when I discover that gender bias is fact still in any aspect of this “Great Society” we hope for in America.
    All that aside, I have watched this show from the start…loved it but noticed the same thing Carrie. Espcially this week’s episode when the male contestant’s remarks from the judges seemed to be more disparaging from the judges than the female’s were yet the female contestant goes home. Again. What numbers may prove as to the actual truth does not compare to what perception is seeming to tell us. And perception has a great impact. (on me at least)
    Thanks for this post and thank you everyone who has commented so far…both have been very insightful and more than a little validating to what I was noticing. (validating in that sometimes I wonder if I am the only one with such thoughts…right or wrong)

  16. Curtis Says:

    Sorry, overreacted there a bit. One of my pet peeves is people misusing small data samples.. or ignoring large, robust data sets because it disagrees with their preconceived notions…

  17. carriev Says:

    Thanks for the numbers crunching, Curtis.

    Vicki — I also love Face Off because they focus so much on the creativity and offer great advice for any creative field. (Know your concept! Skill is important! Precision is important!)

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