Hugo Awards: Shaped that way for a reason

“If in the written fiction categories, no selected nominee has a female author or co-author, the highest nominee with a female author or co-author shall also be listed.”

This is a proposed amendment to the Hugo Awards introduced at a Worldcon business meeting earlier this month.  The amendment was immediately nuked from orbit.  (It was the only way to be sure.)

Today I came across a post by Yonmei, talking about why she proposed the amendment.  Two of the points she makes:

“Books by women are less likely to be reviewed by than books by men (this applies even to Locus – in fact, it was Locus that was offered as a specific example at the Broad Universe panel on Sunday morning at the Worldcon.) …  So a book by a woman is less likely to become known because of a good review.”

“In the overall pool of readers, there is still a bias by men against buying ‘women’s books’”

She also points out that every year from 2000 through today, one or more of the Hugo award categories has ended up with an all-male shortlist.  Never in this time period has there been an all-female shortlist.

This leads to two questions:

1.  Is this actually a problem?

2.  If so, how do we fix it?

Regarding #1, I’m reminded of the all-male Manthology, and I can already hear the same arguments being prepared.  Yes, it’s statistically possible to get an all-male (or an all-female) list at random.  I believe the fact that it keeps happening so consistently, and so one-sidedly, is a problem.

#2 is harder.  Yonmei’s amendment would have guaranteed no more all-male shortlists.  However, I’ve read several female authors already protesting that they wouldn’t want to be on the shortlist simply because of their second X chromosome.  (On the other hand, how many male authors make the shortlist thanks to that Y chromosome?  Not that their stories weren’t good, but would they have made the final cut in a truly gender-blind situation, or would they have been the runner-up while a female author took their spot?)

Changing the Hugo rules has the advantage of being quick.  If that rule had passed, 2009 2010* would be the last year to have an all-male shortlist.  But as I look at this, I don’t necessarily see a problem with the Hugo rules; I see a problem with the genre as a whole, with readers and editors and reviewers and so on.

I do believe things are moving forward, but it feels like a slow change, requiring an awful lot of work and discussion and awareness.  And sometimes we do have to change the law first so the culture can follow.  (Desegregation being the first example to come to mind.)

I don’t have an answer, except to keep pointing this stuff out when it happens.  Keep challenging the assumption that it’s normal to have male-dominated award ballots, anthologies, and so on.  Keep ridiculing the fact that so many projects purporting to represent The Best of our genre are still dominated by the White Boys Club, because The Best of our genre is so much better than that.

For myself, keep expanding my own reading.  I grew up reading white male authors, and those habits are still present, which means I need to make a deliberate effort to break them.  (This list on the Tor.com site is a good start.)

As always, I’m very much interested in hearing what the rest of you think.


*Thanks to Steven Silver for the rules clarification.