SF/F, female writers, and that dang submission thing

The other day at Novacon in England, one of the editors from Interzone was told that their magazine wasn't "feminine friendly" enough (just FYI, that's the editor's choice of words, not mine). Evidently about 30% of stories submitted to Interzone are from women writers, which results in about 30% of stories published in the magazine being by women authors. However, this editor was evidently told that Interzone should receive about 52% of submissions from women.

First off, I question someone complaining because 52% of stories submitted to and published in Interzone aren't by women. The goal isn't to have a numbers-driven statistical parity between the sexes; the goal to make sure that all authors have their stories considered equally and that there is no discrimination by sex, religious affiliation, ethnicity and race, and so on. If 30% of submissions are from women and 30% or more of the stories the magazine publishes are by female authors, then the problem is with how many women are submitting SF/F, not with Interzone being hostile to female writers. This view appears to be born out by the fact that there are more women writing SF/F than are indicated by the number who submit their stories.

This issue has been discussed for a number of years and numerous efforts have been made to address the fact that fewer women submit science fiction short stories than men (such as the attempt by female writers to occasionally "submission bomb" certain SF magazines). For an examination of the issue, check out "SF and Fantasy in the New Millennium: Women Publishing Short Fiction" and an update to the article, both by Susan U. Linville and published in Strange Horizons. According to first article, "only 26% of the stories published in the Big Four print magazines in 2001 were written by women (Analog 13%, Asimov's 28%, F&SF 19%, and Realms of Fantasy 33%)" Linville's 2007 update then shows how the situation hasn't changed much in six years, with Analog now hitting 14%, Asimov's 25%, F&SF 20%, and Realms of Fantasy 48%.

In addition, the 2007 update states that "submissions by women varied greatly between magazines. Analog had the lowest submission rate, 18% of 239 submissions by women (men 72%, unknown 10%). F&SF, with 25% of 381 submissions by women (men 70%, unknown 5%), and Asimov's, with 27% of 200 submission by women (men 66%, unknown 7%), showed intermediate submission rates. Realms of Fantasy had the highest rate with 40% of 262 submissions from women (men 53%, unknown 7%)."

As Linville declares in her 2007 update, "It seems clear that overt editorial bias is not to blame for women's low representation in short fiction. Instead, lack of participation by women remains the clear villain." I agree with Linville's accessment and wonder why Interzone was singled out at that convention when it is obviously doing better than all but one of the "Big Four" SF/F magazines?

So what is the solution? I'm not sure. Two of the big four magazines have female editors at their helms (Sheila Williams at Asimov's and Shawna McCarthy at RoF). In addition, Strange Horizons now publishes a greater proportion of women's stories than they receive--in 2006, women accounted for 33% of submissions to Strange Horizons but 67% of published stories--which is the prerogative of that magazine's editors but seems  to me like merely bending over in the opposite direction rather than actually fixing the problem of why female writers don't submit as often as they could. As Linville write, "This type of encouragement from editors and writer's workshops may help, but in the end, it is the women themselves who must take the initiative."