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Black Static


Women in Horror Anthologies

26th Oct, 2010

Author: Peter Tennant

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As well as featuring anthologies, Black Static #19 was the first issue in a long while to not include fiction from at least one female author (for the statistically minded, excluding the Campaign for Real Fear stories, we have published 110 stories over 19 issues, of which 28 have been by women, so 25%).

I thought it might be instructive to look at how women writers are represented in the current crop of anthologies, using the thirteen anthologies I reviewed in #19, Lovecraft Unbound from #18, and three others that are waiting in the TBR pile (Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas, End of the Line edited by Jonathan Oliver and More Stories from The Twilight Zone edited by Carol Serling).

Of course, this is too sparse a sampling to draw any hard and fast conclusions, and we have no figures to put the results into context (e.g. how many women are writing horror fiction, and how many of those that do are submitting regularly), but it does suggest various trends.

Between them the seventeen anthologies under consideration contained 348 stories of which 96½ were written by women (a half because one story was co-authored by a male), so the average works out at 28%. Zombie Apocalypse was something of an anomaly, and has probably distorted the figures in ways which it would need a qualified statistician to calculate. Of the 19 contributors to that volume, 6 were women, but not every writer contributed equally, and of 37 sections 19 were written by females, but 12 of these were narrative bridges supplied by Mandy Slater, while Sarah Pinborough's contribution was split into three parts. For ease I've gone with the author figures, rather than the contribution split, so if anyone wants to dismiss the results you have a ready made 'get out of gaol free' card to hand.

There may also be another slight distortion in that, lacking information either way I've assumed Alex Langley, who has a story in The Sixth Black Book of Horror, is male.

Here's how it breaks down by volume:-

The Bitten Word                      10 out of 17                59%

Haunted Legends                    11 out of 20                 55%

Evolve                                     13 out of 24                 54%

The Twilight Zone                   7 out of 19                  37%

Lovecraft Unbound                  7 out of 20                  35%

Best Horror of the Year 2         5½ out of 17               32%

Zombie Apocalypse                 6 out of 19                   32%

Never Again                            7 out of 23                   30%

Stories                                     7 out of 27                   26%

Darkness                                 6 out of 25                   24%

Zombie                                    3 out of 19                   16%

End of the Line                       3 out of19                     16%

The Best of Best New Horror  3 out of 20                   15%

Null Immortalis                       3 out of 26                   12%

Best New Horror #21              2 out of 19                   11%

Where the Heart Is                  2 out of 19                    11%

The Black Book of Horror      1 out of 15                       7%

Not surprisingly, five of the six titles with the most female contributors had female editors (or co-editor for Haunted Legends), and the one exception, The Bitten Word edited by Ian Whates, was a vampire anthology, a subgenre in which women are often strongly represented. In fact two of the three titles with more than half female complement were vampire themed.

While The Bitten Word takes top place for the UK, disappointingly six of the seven titles in which women are least represented are British.

Here's how it breaks down by country:-

Canada          13 stories out of 24                   54%

US                   46.5 stories out of 147              32%

UK                  37 stories out of 177                 21%

Canada only takes into account one anthology, Evolve edited by Nancy Kilpatrick. From memory, of the other Canadian anthologies I've read recently, Tesseracts, which Kilpatrick co-edited with David Morrell, had a similar gender divide, while the two Sherlock Holmes themed anthologies edited by Charles Prepolec and J. R. Campbell had ToCs that showed a strong male bias.

Casting the net wider for a moment, when I reviewed Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror: The Year's Best Short Stories Volume 3 edited by Angela Challis, 5 of the 15 stories were by women. The Festive Fear anthology from Tasmaniac Publications was open only to Australian writers and had a 50/50 gender split, but for Festive Fear 2 editor Steve Clark went global and the number of female contributors dipped to 2 out of 15.

The disparity between the UK and the US can't be argued, at least on this sampling, with US anthologies having an average of 6.64 stories from women, as opposed to 4.11 in the UK (NB: I've counted Stories as a US anthology - while Neil Gaiman is British, he's now based in the US, co-editor Al Sarrantonio is American and the book appeared Stateside first).

Here's how it breaks down by gender of the editor:-

Male & Female co-editors        18 out of 43                 42%

Female editor(s)                         38½ out of 105            37%

Male editor(s)                             40 out of 200               20%

And here's how it breaks down split between reprint anthologies (the various Best of and retrospective volumes, plus Never Again which was half reprint) and original fiction:-

Original                                     77 out of 256               30%

Reprints                                    19.5 out of 92              21%

The conclusion here seems to be that the number of women represented in Best of anthologies is below what you'd expect statistically given the number of women placing work in anthologies, though of course this doesn't take into account other market outlets (e.g. magazines, collections). Some of this could be down to historical factors (both Best of the Best and Darkness cover twenty year periods, while Never Again has a number of stories that are at least ten years old), but even when you only take into account the two 2009 Best of volumes the figure remains at 21% (7½ out of 36). It is only one year though.

The original fiction element can be further split between those anthologies which were by invitation and those open to submissions from all comers, though this is a not especially reliable division (e.g. near as I can tell Evolve was open, but only to Canadians, and I'm not at all sure about some of the other anthologies). For those anthologies where I know what method of selection was employed, the breakdown is:-

Open to all                                 27 out of 70                 39%

By invitation                              29 out of 87                 33%

When considering submissions for the Campaign for Real Fear, Christopher Fowler and Maura McHugh read blind. While only 31% of their submissions came from female writers, that translated into 65% of the stories chosen for publication. Des Lewis also read blind for Null Immortalis, but of the stories that made the cut only 3 out of 26 were by women (12%). One may conjecture from this, and some of the other figures presented here, that there is at least an unconscious bias on the part of editors towards the work of writers who share the same gender, that it is easier for a reader, whether an editor or not, to identify with same sex protagonists. This might seem blindingly obvious, though I would argue that reading in general, and reading horror in particular, is often about trying to get inside the heads of and understand people (and vampires, werewolves, serial killers etc) who are not like us, the thrill of 'the other'.

The Campaign for Real Fear wasn't just about women writers but also had within its remit the broadening of the horror genre's ethnicity, to underline that horror is not just the preserve of white males. That lack of diversity was demonstrated for me by the anthology Never Again which had an anti-racist focus but didn't include a single writer of colour in its ToC. I don't criticise the editors for that, as I can't think of a single writer of colour within the UK horror scene either, at least not without drawing on those from the literary end of the spectrum (e.g. Helen Oyeyemi) and who possibly wouldn't wish to be regarded as horror writers. As far as the UK goes, women writers of horror might be thin on the ground, but those of colour appear to be missing entirely.



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