It is articles like this one that remind me why the majority of my SF/F reading is books written by women: i.e., because that will give me a much stronger chance of a story in which there are in fact multiple female characters.
Because the author of this article (herself an author) has it exactly right: lack of female characters in a story is always a choice. There are occasionally times when it’s the correct choice–I’ll cite Master and Commander here as an exclusively male story, and given that the movie’s set almost entirely at sea and that the protagonists are all members of the crew of a British naval ship, it’s contextually reasonable to expect a lack of women in the plot.
By contrast, I’ll also cite Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which as you all know is a thing that’s near and dear to my heart. Yet even on Voyage, set predominantly on board a submarine that used to be part of the Navy and with an all-male crew, they managed to have quite a few episodes featuring notable female guest characters. Sometimes they were scientists. Sometimes they were women working with Admiral Nelson’s organization in support capacities for whenever they went on land. Sometimes they were spies. Sometimes they were civilians caught up in the intrigue of the plot du jour. In general, the writers of the show did manage to find ways to work women into the stories, and in many cases, the episodes where they did so are my favorites.
Rhiannon Thomas calls out Tolkien as well, again something that’s near and dear to my heart. As I’ve written before, Tolkien’s female characters are pretty thin on the ground, with only a few notable exceptions.
Because yes: it’s a conscious choice on the part of a writer as to how many women you’re going to include in the story. In the case of epic/high fantasy, it can be done. I’ve got multiple women in positions of power (magical, political, religious, and social) all over the Rebels of Adalonia books. Likewise with Faerie Blood and the forthcoming Bone Walker. It all depends on what kind of story the writer chooses to tell.
And certainly, speaking as a consumer of content as well as a producer, stories that take the time to include women are the stories I’m going to want to watch and read.