The Decade That Women Won

By Cheryl Morgan.

When the history of science fiction fandom in the 2010s is written, the key event to be discussed will doubtless be the Puppy War. That a group of right-wing fans should attempt to take over the Hugo Awards is perhaps not surprising. The 2010s are, after all, the decade in which it was conclusively proved that democratic systems are vulnerable to attack by malicious actors. That the attack failed is perhaps a testament to the strength of community sentiment within the SF&F community. But what is really surprising is what happened afterwards.

For the last three years of the decade, every single written fiction-related award in the Hugos was won by a woman.

Screenshot 2020-01-12 at 14.21.19
Hugo Winners

With any such exercise it is necessary to explain the methodology. My data comes from the Science Fiction Awards Database, maintained by Mark R Kelly for the Locus Foundation. The chart shows the percentage of awards won because the number of awards changes from year to year. The Hugo Award categories I have included are for Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Series and Graphic Story. In addition I have included the Astounding and Lodestar Awards. Although they are not Hugos, they are voted on by the same people through the same process and can therefore be assumed to be influenced by similar fan sentiment. With Graphic Story I have looked only at the person(s) credited as writers. Where more than one is credited I have recorded fractional data: so when Phil & Kaja Foglio won they got 0.5 wins each.

Dealing with gender is a little more complex because not everyone is public about their identities and there are no firm rules governing trans identities. I have counted people as non-binary if they show non-binary pronouns as an option in their Twitter bio. Binary-identified trans people have been included as men or women accordingly.

At the beginning of the decade most years showed a predominance of male winners, which has been the norm since the Hugos started. The main Puppy year is easily identified at 2015 because the total winners do not add up to 100% thanks to the use of No Award to prevent Puppy wins. And then, within a couple of years, women take over.

Men are still in with a chance. A look at the finalists data shows that they are there. It also shows the presence of non-binary finalists for the first time in the post-Puppy world.

Screenshot 2020-01-12 at 14.17.02
Hugo Finalists

However, we can also see that from 2017 onwards the majority of finalists are women. This is different from the early years when the numbers are roughly equal, or men dominate. 

In addition to the non-binary finalists listed there are a significant number of binary-identified trans people who have been finalists in the 2017-19 period. Charlie Jane Anders remains the only openly trans/non-binary person to have won a fiction Hugo (all of mine being for editing or fan writing). In the 2017-19 period trans and non-binary people made up 10%, 13% and 10% respectively of the finalists, which is well above the usual estimates for the number of such people in the general population.

The reasons why there has been this dramatic change in gender balance in the Hugos are impossible to discern without other data. Has the gender balance of the voters changed? Have publishers changed the gender balance of their output? Have more men suddenly started reading books by women? We can’t possibly say based on this data alone.

However, it is very clear that there has been a dramatic change. Back in the 1960s, only one fiction Hugo was won by a woman. That was “Weyr Search” by Anne McCaffrey in 1968, and she shared the Novella category with Philip Jose Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Wage”.

So next time that someone tells you that science fiction is only for boys, show them these charts, because that very clearly isn’t true anymore.

Based in Bristol, Cheryl Morgan is a critic, author, editor, and publisher, and a winner of several Hugo Awards herself. Among the many splendid things Cheryl does are the fanzine Salon Futura and the SFF press Wizard’s Tower Press. She’s on Twitter as @cherylmorgan.

5 thoughts on “The Decade That Women Won

  1. One thing that troubled me in the last (2019) WorldCon is that a lot of the panelists were talking about needing to choose the media you consume by the gender/race of the author (obviously non-caucasian non-binary is preferred, binary female-identifying if you must). I never thought that should be part of my consideration when I browse the (single and sometimes only half) sci-fi/fantasy rack in my local book store.

    But my question, which – when I initially found this article in my feed – I expected this article to address is: Is this trend good?

    Are we happy that women won? From my perspective – its nice, I guess? Female authors should get the recognition they deserve and, well, maybe “payback is a bitch” a bit?

    But would we (not the “royal we” – the community we) want this trend to continue? I have, for many years, considered myself a feminist (as much as non-binary cis-gendered male can be, I guess), but I think that excluding man is just as bad as excluding woman and maybe we (again, the community) can come to some kind of middle ground? Can man as well as woman and non-binary folk both share these commons?

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