No one wants a pity Hugo

During the WSFS Business Meeting at Anticipation, blogger yonmei floated a proposal intended to get more women on the Hugo ballot. Yonmei’s plan, which has been called the “Joanna Russ Amendment” stated that, in the event of an all-male final ballot, the next highest woman would be moved up into the slate of nominees.*

The amendment didn’t pass — a good thing because it would have created more issues than it would have solved. Yes, there would have been more women on the final ballot but for reasons that had little to do with who voted for their work. The institutionalization of the concept that women can only succeed if the rules are changed would have been a nasty, backhanded message to send.
Still, women** have a way of not turning up in numbers larger than two on the final ballot for best novel. This has little to do with the quality of their work and everything to do with the demographics of the group voting on the award. The more effective way to solve the problem isn’t a change in the voting rules. The solution is to get more women involved with fandom so that they are invested in voting for the award.
That’s a much harder problem — and one that I don’t know that there’s an easy solution for. Women read SF/F, of course, and they write it.*** So why don’t they get involved with fandom, which doesn’t always mean going to a World Con, since you can participate without ever leaving your living room? And what can be done to increase the numbers of women who want to be involved?
———————————————
* The opposite would be true, too — if the ballot was all-female, the next male in line would be anointed.
** and people of color, etc., but that is another argument.
*** The whole “is there a barrier to women getting published in the genre” is, you guessed it, another argument.

14 thoughts on “No one wants a pity Hugo

  • September 3, 2009 at 8:14 am
    Permalink

    Way to choose your own sterotype. You seem to think that only women fans vote for women writers.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2009 at 8:14 am
    Permalink

    The solution is to get more women involved with fandom so that they are invested in voting for the award.

    You seem to be taking it as read that women will vote for women. More interestingly, you seem to be assuming that men won't, or that they don't read women to begin with. There are certainly plenty of studies that show that women's reading habits tend to encompass both genders whereas men read mostly men, and if you're right that women are underrepresented among Hugo voters (in my one and only Worldcon experience this year I felt that the membership approached gender parity, but a) that may be a mistaken impression and b) Hugo voters are only a small percentage of Worldcon attendees) then maybe men don't tend to vote for them. But in that case, doesn't another course of action suggest itself? Shouldn't we expect, if not demand, that male Hugo voters expand their horizons, and criticize them – as we've been doing for several years – when they fail to do so?

    Reply
  • September 3, 2009 at 10:22 am
    Permalink

    Shouldn't we expect, if not demand, that male Hugo voters expand their horizons, and criticize them – as we've been doing for several years – when they fail to do so?

    We should certainly do this. As you say though, it has been several years and suspect Martini's suggestion is more likely to actually affect change.

    I think it is very likely that more women taking part would mean more women on the shortlists. It is less that all women will vote only for women but I do share the assumption that a lot of male Hugo voters just don't read books by women. I think increased presence on the shortlist would change this more quickly than just advocacy alone.

    It strikes me as a parallel to the ambition to get work that is actually good on the ballot. Advocacy is one way but people just keep on voting for the same old, same old. Getting nominators who are actually interested in good fiction is more likely to be successful.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2009 at 6:55 pm
    Permalink

    "The amendment didn't pass"

    Actually, it didn't make it past being proposed, and an immediate massive Objection To Consideration at the Preliminary Business Meeting.

    I wasn't there, but I was lunatic enough, in a fit of insane nostalgia, to watch the video of the whole meeting. See here. You can just skip ahead to the relevant few moments towards the end (I'm not going to find the exact timestamp for you, sorry), if anyone is deeply fascinated enough to watch, which I doubt just about anybody is.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2009 at 6:55 pm
    Permalink

    What's to prevent a man from writing under a woman's name, and claiming a spot on the ballot that way? Has everybody on the committee in charge of voting met every writer nominated?

    Reply
  • September 3, 2009 at 6:55 pm
    Permalink

    "The amendment didn't pass"

    Actually, it didn't make it past being proposed, and an immediate massive Objection To Consideration at the Preliminary Business Meeting.

    I wasn't there, but I was lunatic enough, in a fit of insane nostalgia, to watch the video of the whole meeting.

    Viewable via link here: http://www.conreporter.com/?p=1044

    (I tried embedding the link, but my comment wouldn't post.)

    You can just skip ahead to the relevant few moments towards the end (I'm not going to find the exact timestamp for you, sorry), if anyone is deeply fascinated enough to watch, which I doubt just about anybody is.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2009 at 11:58 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for correcting me on the "amendment didn't pass" statement. I got a little confused on where it got derailed. My fault entirely.

    No, I don't think that women will only vote for women writers. I simply think that they are more likely to, as Martin and Abigail pointed out. And that alone could be a big help.

    There is no easy solution, of course. Maybe time is the only answer.

    Reply
  • September 4, 2009 at 4:55 am
    Permalink

    It's easier for me to go looking up the time-stamps because I have the original files on my computer: The resolution in question first comes before the Preliminary Business Meeting at about 1h 43m. The reason the Chair (me) immediately called an Objection to Consideration on it was because half a dozen members were leaping to their feet to make the OTC and the Chair simply assumed the motion.

    For the benefit of those not conversant with meeting procedure, an Objection to Consideration may be raised by any member (second required) on items of original new business like constitutional amendments or resolutions immediately after the motions have been introduced but before they are debated. If two-thirds of the members vote against consideration, it is killed without debate, as a parliamentary 16-ton weight lands on it. As used in WSFS, it's intended to kill motions that have no hope of passing and that a supermajority consider a waste of the assembly's time — an agenda-clearing motion of sorts.

    Reply
  • September 5, 2009 at 11:44 am
    Permalink

    If Pity Hugo were a new separate award category, someone would almost certainly want one.

    Reply
  • September 6, 2009 at 7:44 pm
    Permalink

    I ran for caucus election to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in support of California Governor Jerry Brown, for whose Presidential campaign I had written some white papers and speeches (including on the need to learn how to deflect asteroids from Earth collision). A attractive Islamic gentleman who brought a huge extended family and group of friends got the most votes, and was made a delegate. Good. A nice woman that I knew got the most votes of any woman, and was made a delegate. Fine. Another man got the 2nd most votes of any man, and was made a delegate. Okay. Then I received the 3rd most votes of any man, and was not made a delegate, because the rules specific alternation by gender, and the next ranking woman (with fewer than half my vote count) became the last delegate. Gender parity was maintained by procedure. Jerry Brown fell just short of 10% of delegates at the Convention anyway, and thus was procedurally barred from affecting the Plank of the platform. I re-retired from politics. Do we really want the Hugo Awards to be as ideologically correct as that Democratic party caucus? My mother, by the way, was a hard-core Feminist in the early and mid 1950s when that was a radical position, and she introduced me in person to a previous generation, including old suffragettes. Imperfect though Hugo and Nebula voting may be, I doubt that Social Engineering of them, however well intentioned, would improve the results. I could, of course, be wrong.

    Reply
  • September 7, 2009 at 9:01 pm
    Permalink

    I've been elected as a delegate at various levels of the Democratic Party in various years, (alternate to the Colorado State Convention being as high as I went, in 2008, after representing my district at both the County Assembly and County Convention, and being elected precinct captain) in two different states (Colorado and Washington State), and I have to point out, with the greatest of respect for Jonathan Vos Post, that the relationship between being a delegate at a political party convention, and winning a popularity contest of aesthetic taste, is approximately nil, beyond that both involve counting votes.

    One directly involves real politics and real issues affecting people's lives, and ultimately our laws. Although, to be sure, party platforms are pretty well ignored other than as talking points, in any case.

    The other directly affects only the winners and losers of the award, and people who enjoy a nice argument.

    Reply
  • September 7, 2009 at 9:01 pm
    Permalink

    In the commentary to Yonmei's post on the feminist blog, Paul Chafe did an amazing bit of statistical analysis (scroll down to August 29, 2009) based on Amazon.com data. Looking at the SF titles (ie, not including fantasy novels), the Amazon top 100 list splits out by gender:

    Male 68 76%
    Female 21 24%

    Looking at SF&F titles (that is, including *both* SF and fantasy novels)

    Male 38 43%
    Female 50 57%

    (He leaves ambiguous names out of this count; it's notable that this makes no difference in SF, but accounts for 12% of the SF&F list. Possibly a relic of the fact that Tolkien published under initials, so it's more acceptable in Fantasy?) However, he notes that vampire/horror fiction writers accounts for 38 of the 50 female entries on this list, or 76%, most of them with multiple entries. (Most of that is vampire, not horror. Horror is a minor market share today, but vampire fiction is huge.)

    I will reason that worldcon members aren't going to nominate vampire and horror fiction. Sorry, but they're not. So if you drop those 38 from the female writer statistics:

    SF&F titles including Fantasy excluding vampires & Horror:
    Male 38 76%
    Female 12 24%

    My quick analysis, then, is that the largest single contributor to the gender skew in Hugo nominations is the fact that female writers don't write as much in the field, excluding vampire fiction.

    The bias isn't in the voting. It's in the books being voted for.

    Reply
  • September 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm
    Permalink

    Gary Farber makes a good point. But, speaking as someone who was elected to two Town Councils in two different states (Massacusetts and California) who has never gotten beyond being on the Preliminary Nebula Ballot (with more written recommendation than anyone else got that year), the issue I attempt to address is whether the Hugo (or Nebula or Emmy or Tony) is IN FACT: (1) a popularity contest (with logrolling, backscratching, other quid pro quo), or (2) a somewhat objective measure of literary/artistic merit. I mention the Tony because of the wonderful summary (New York Times?) by a voter: "First, if you're on the ballot, of course you vote for yourself. Second, you vote against your enemies. Third, you vote for your friends. Finally, if you have any votes left, you vote your conscience.

    Reply
  • September 11, 2009 at 9:06 pm
    Permalink

    Geoffrey A. Landis: My quick analysis, then, is that the largest single contributor to the gender skew in Hugo nominations is the fact that female writers don't write as much in the field, excluding vampire fiction.

    The bias isn't in the voting. It's in the books being voted for.

    I think your analysis is undermined by an assumption that underlies Paul Chafe's statistics (and that he specifically calls out as questionable): that what sells on Amazon is an accurate snapshot of what has been published in a given year. It seems obvious to me that this isn't the case.

    What we really need for this kind of analysis is an accurate list of what has been published, preferably with demographic data for the authors. Doesn't Locus itself compile publishing data like this?

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Robert Nowall Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *