Peter asked Best New Horror editor Stephen Jones about this issue in an interview for the most recent Black Static, and coincidentally I asked Catastrophia editor Allen Ashley about it too, in an interview for the last issue of Dark Horizons, and both gave pretty much the same reply: I choose stories by quality, I don't have a quota system, etc.
This stuff is on my mind at the moment: there are no female contributors to the next issue of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction. And both books by women reviewed in this issue get a bit of a pasting.
I'm a bit unhappy about how that looks, but I do think our ratio of acceptances of stories by women is pretty much in proportion with our ratio of submissions by women.
When larger magazines make that point, the answer is usually that they should reach out to female writers and encourage them to submit, but that's not really an option for a non-paying zine like ours.
On the website of Mslexia there's a thought-provoking article on women in writing, one which I think anyone working in the field should at least read: Three Cures for Mslexia.
One thing in particular caught my eye, in the context of discussing lower submission rates from women:
"The only exception we found was for writing competitions, where for some reason women seemed less inhibited: perhaps because competitions seem more of a lottery, and so less personally threatening; perhaps because it’s easier for them to find the time to complete a single poem or short story for a competition."My experience with the BFS bears out the idea that women submit in greater proportions to short story competitions. 43% of the entries to the BFS short story competition this year were from women, while only 15% of submissions to Dark Horizons in the same period were.
(The competition and the magazine were both open to all fantastical genres. The same person was in charge of both, and both received roughly 150 submissions in that period.)
I don't want to go very far in speculating why the difference is so huge, but I think the perception that a competition is fairer must be a factor. The short story competition rules get disseminated further, through competition magazines and websites, so that might be another. Is losing en masse more appealing than being personally rejected? Does the prize make a difference? Are men just more willing to give their work away to non-paying markets?
Trying to answer some of those questions could very quickly lead the unwary onto dodgy ground. But it does seem to me that from examining the differences in submission rates, and the reasons for those differences, a way might be found to encourage more submissions from women, and hence publish more stories by women – which would be brilliant.