More directly, I need more women in my Science Fiction. I am not referring to fictional characters within the pages. No. I mean I would like to see more women writers in the genre. I have not been able to find a current statistical number, but there seems to be a glaring discrepancy in the numbers between the genders of writers. This is even more evident in regards to the books “I” have read over the years. Granted my selection process may be imperfect, but from personal experience, I found two glaringly flawed reasons that framed my own library of books at an early age.
First: the few fantasy books that I had read when I was younger were all written by women (at least I think they were women). They were really good so it’s not my fault that my narrow mind automatically stigmatized fantasy and magic to female writers. Second: It seemed like most of the hard science fiction I enjoyed was the product of men writers (again, I think they were men). It was as though women didn’t share the same interest as the men.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I was wrong on both accounts. But upon further examination, I soon realized the significance of how pseudonyms can come into play. Before I go and point my finger at those influential publishers for swaying the market through author gender control to sell books, I have three fingers pointing right back at me for confirming their logic (see previous paragraph of my naive views). It is a vicious circle. The market tells me gender makes a difference so I believe the gender bias, and in turn the market believes its own propaganda because of sales…which I was a part of. So are there women authors out there? Are they part of some writer protection program shielded by people in dark suits doling out secret identities so they can work their craft in peace?
There are other reasons for pen names. Sure, an author may simply prefer anonymity (I don’t want my Mom to know I wrote that naughty sex stuff). The need for separation from previous work might prevent confusion from an established fan base (reading a romance novelist’s attempt at Science Fiction may not go over well). Name uniqueness is a concern of writers who want to stand out (Smith, Jones, Brown…hey wait!). Even ethnicity or a difficult name pronunciation can sway a change. There is also that ego thing. Over the years, the “pulp” angle of Science Fiction and Fantasy has often influenced established writers to resort to pen names in order to maintain their serious literary street cred. However, all of these reasons happen regardless of sex. So where are all of the women Science Fiction writers?
Gender swapping pseudonyms are not limited to Science Fiction. Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot, Ann Rule went by Andy Stack, and Louisa May Alcott used the pen name A.M. Barnard. But in case you’re wondering, here are a few women genre writers you may be familiar with who published under masculine names:
Andre Norton (SF, F) was actually Alice Norton
James Tiptree Jr. (SF) was actually Alice Bradley Sheldon
Magnus Flyte (F) is actually two women: Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey
Murray Constantine (SF) was actually Katherine Burdekin
Paul Ash (SF) is actually Pauline Whitby
Rob Thurman (SF, F) is actually Robyn Thurman
Tarpé Mills (Comic Artist) was actually June Tarpé Mills
Vernon Lee (SF) was actually Violet Paget
Not all pseudonyms are meant to pretend the author is a man. Heck, some men have non gender specific names already. Terry Brooks and China Mieville could easily be interpreted as female and they seem to do okay. Some pen names are merely a masquerade, like wearing a disguise at the costume ball in order to leave your true identity up to the audience. Here are a few veiled examples using just initials:
A. R. Long (SF) was actually Amelia Reynolds Long
C.J Cherryh (SF, F) is actually Carolyn Janice Cherry
C.L. Moore (SF, F) was actually Catherine Lucille Moore
J.D. Robb (SF) is actually Nora Roberts (Eleanor Marie Robertson)
J. K. Rowling (F) is actually Joanne Rowling
K.J. Taylor (F) is actually Katie Taylor
L. Taylor Hansen (SF) was actually Lucille Taylor Hansen
Despite the motive, there is still a sense of deception that could come back to bite the author in the end. I don’t care what the author’s name is as long as the work is good, but some readers might be turned off if they feel misled or betrayed. Hopefully it’s a small percentage, but it could still happen.
One could argue that the most essential tool in a superhero’s utility belt is their secret identity. If a pair of plain glasses can turn Superman into Clark Kent, imagine what a drastic thing like a name change could do for a writer. I once did a web search and discovered there are quite a few people out there who share my name. But what stood out most is the large number accompanied with police mug shots. My screen looked like a who’s who of Mos Eisley’s retched hive of scum and villainy. Suddenly this pen name thing doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe I should swap out my “y” for an “i” and become Ricki. Or would using my initials R.L. be enough of a change to separate me from Tatooine’s worst?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all literary work spoke for itself and we didn’t have to do all of this sneaking around? Surely the shortage of women writers in Science Fiction can’t solely be blamed on the use of pseudonyms, but it does play a role in the struggle to find some of them. Pen names might explain some of the discrepancy, but in the end there is still a large void that needs to be filled. My library is in dire need of some good hard Science Fiction written by women. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.