WARNING: This article is crammed with unscientific observations, and has absolutely no data to back up the author’s opinions. Please take them for what they are…subjective.
The idea for this post started innocently enough. But as I jotted down notes I became a tad bit alarmed, because I realized that I was likely exposing my very narrow understanding of the fantasy genre’s fan base. See, a couple of months ago I held a giveaway of The Prince of Graves through Goodreads. The entry period was only a week, so I was pleased to see that 691 people had entered the random drawing. Now, if you’re not familiar with the Goodreads setup, I’ll just tell you that I could see the profile name and photo of the Goodreads members who entered the drawing. As the number of entrants to the contest increased, I would casually flip through some of the profiles. It was then that I realized that a fundamental assumption of mine seemed to be in error: it looked as though most of the entrants for my novella were women. This was stunning for me, so please bear with me as I explain why.
I grew up immersed in fantasy and science fiction worlds. I devoured the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, and read all six Dune novels written by Frank Herbert while I was in High School. I loved the Sprague De Camp Conan (for some reason I never read, until recently, any of the original Robert Howard stories). Add to the mix the classic Fantasy movies (Dragonslayer, the Conan franchise, Excalibur, etc), plus the all too obvious obsessions with Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons, and you get a pretty clear picture of me in Middle and High School: I was a nerd. And my personal experience as a well-established nerd was this: females who shared these interests, at least publically, were rare. I have a miserable dating record to prove it. Yes, there were tremendously talented female fantasy authors that I knew of – Ursula K. LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey, for instance – but that didn’t change my observation that the fans seemed to be mostly guys.
The point is this: my formative fantasy-obsessed years molded the belief that the fantasy genre was pretty much male dominated. But my recent (last couple of years) experience in the writing world has blown this perception out of the water. I have no data to back this up, but it seems that more women are writing and reading fantasy than I would have ever guessed. So my questions are simple: has this always been the case? And if not, when did the change occur that ushered so many women into the fantasy genre? And where were they when I was looking for a Prom date?
Seriously though, I wonder if there’s any hard data around this. To possibly get the juices flowing, I stumbled on these articles as I was researching “gender and the fantasy genre” (note: these three articles, written last year, are a little out of date and are specifically discussing HBO’s Game of Thrones series. The first, written by Ginia Bellafante for the New York Times, reviewed GOT. In it, Ms. Bellafante takes a jab at how male oriented the series is. The other two articles are in response to the review. None of these, I might add, have anything other than subjective observations):
A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms, Ginia Bellafante, April 14, 2011
Really, why would men ever want to watch “Game Of Thrones“? Annalee Newitz, 15 April, 2011
The Fantasy Genre and Gender: Who’s ‘Game of Thrones’ For? Ujala Sehgal, April 16, 2011
Now, a number of you may be picking up some misogynist vibes coming out now. Why does this matter? Well, for me as a writer, it really doesn’t. I’m not looking to do market analysis so that I can tailor my writings. I write my stories as I like them, and hope they find an audience. But I would like to understand the greater community out there.
I’m pretty sure that I haven’t started anything controversial with this post. I would love to hear from you readers and writers. What have been your observations, if any, about gender and the fantasy / science fiction genres? Don’t be afraid to rebuke me. I’m not trying to start a flame war here, so please keep things civil.
Thank you all for participating. If you would kindly forget anything I may have mentioned about how miserable my dating record was, I’d appreciate it.