18.7.07

Still with the unfinished business.

How easy/difficult is it to detect if a certain piece of literature is written by a man or woman, assuming that it's on a general, non-gender topic, and the identity of the writer is unknown?

There must be some research on this, and some sociologist must surely have written up a thesis on this (maybe the WP has some knowledge). But since one is too lazy to search for this, nor does one have access to all the world's libraries, we shall resort to old-fashioned theorising (which is always fun to do, and an excuse not to do the mundane, real-life deeds that demand doing).

Is it possible, if the writer is careful about not making such references, that readers could still identify the writer's gender? Will a bias always creep in, regardless of how careful the writer is? And when you read a piece without knowing who has written it - say a film/book review - can you confidently determine whether it was written by a man or a woman?

Thinking of which, when you (that means you, dear reader) do read an unnamed article, do you automatically make a judgment about the author's gender? Do you tend to go over the article, looking for minute clues, make a decision, then re-read the article, and place what it was written in the context of the gender you have decided in favour of? One has realised one tends to do this on occasion, and the decision-making causes a bias which the first reading did not evoke. Doesn't that say a lot about our social conditioning.

Do tell.

PS. Now one could make this interesting by asking one's readers to make a guess about one's own identity, since obviously people are going to say "A-ha, we see you've been experimenting with this tactic yourself huh?" (and if people don't say that, then obviously one is more subtle than one expected (but not anymore obviously, because one has Brought It To Your Attention (unless, you ignore it like the SEP that ol' Douglas spoke about (hey Flaffy, three brackets inside each other, and this makes it four - how cool is that huh?)))), but one won't, because is not yet ready to Reveal All, or indeed, Reveal Anything. One is being petty and childish - indulgence is asked for.

18 comments:

The Cloudcutter said...

I do think you're a woman...why?
Cos you haven't tried to hit on me yet! Ok make that a straight woman...LOL
Seriously tho, I can sometimes tell the gender. It's just an intuition I guess and I could be wrong most of the time. One way or the other I really don't care as long as the writing appeals to me.

Brown Magic said...

http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php

according to this theory, there are masculine and feminine words and depending on your tendency to use one set more, it can be determined whether writer of a passage is male or female.

Apparently, I am a man. I will go adjust myself in public now.

??! said...

zat is interesting, but quite wrong. every single time.
people have still not answered the question.

The Cloudcutter said...

Sorry about that... but then people don't always do what you expect them to, do they?

??! said...

zis is also true.

Anonymous said...

I never leave comments on blogs but as you figured from the last time I left a comment that I am a fan. Can you guess if I am male or female? I promise if you get it right, I will admit it. Depending on what you think I am sure I will be able to tell. BTW, I think I already know what your gender is. It is opposite of mine :-)

Anonymous said...

o..also just tried out this gender genie thing, it is quite accurate, well most of the time. (clearly I have no life)

??! said...

anon:
now that is a lovely example of mid-f***ery. by suggesting that you would be able to tell one's gender, if one correctly guesses yours, you very nicely are tempting one into Revelations.
and then you slip in the "mine is opposite to yours". Which means if one says you are a woman, then one is latently indicating that one is male, and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha no no mind f***ery as you call it is just plain good old teasing.I wish for my sake you are of the opposite sex, gosh I sound like I am flirting!

??! said...

I sound like I am flirting
you are too. and very publicly.

Revealed said...

I also thought you were of the XX legacy.

I think we all subconsciously type gender when we read stuff. I theorized about this long and hard before reaching no conclusion.

Revealed said...

Oh and 5 coolness points!

PS: My corollary theory is that if you didnt know falstaff was male and you didnt read his ranting posts you'd put him down as female.

??! said...

Flaffy:
now that you mention it....how dismayed/mock-offended would you think he'd be if we told him that?

Anonymous said...

"The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: unknown! "
The Gender Genie created a third genotype! or am plain unclassifiable :(
i swear i didnt read this post when commented on the foodie one, we wud Never go beyond alll that foooddddd!
(n no am not the anon that flirts with u in public.Sigh wotever uer 'gender' (mine being unknown, i relate)

The Bride said...

In the 70s some friend critics came up with the concept of ecriture feminine - you can google it. The basic idea is that there is a writing style that is essentially feminine. I thought that was pretty cool until they seemed to concretize it into a certain kind of style and go on to say sometimes men can use it (thier example is James Joyce).

I think that's a bit of an oversimplification. I think blogging is a good example of how difficult it really tell the gender of the writer (I assumed you're female!).

We also have to make a distinction between male/female and masculine/feminine. Could be possible to be male/feminine and female/masculine in one's writing. Identity is not as restrictive as it used to be these days.

The Bride said...

oops french critics not friend critics

Tabula Rasa said...

do you automatically make a judgment about the author's gender?

doesn't everyone? persuasion depends on both message as well as source characteristics -- and everyone makes inferences about missing or ambiguous information.

??! said...

Yet another anon:
Interesting. Do you have alien genes?

the bride:
Interesting theory. And agree with the oversimplification bit.

TR:
thought as much.