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Author Topic: This female/male writing thing...
mikemunsil
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...got me interested and I did some reading on the internet. Apparently there are as many theories about differences in male/female writing as there are writers.

I propose an experiment. Let's get 10 males and 10 females to each agree to write a short piece and then post them all anonymously. Once all the posts are in we'll vote to see if we as a group can detect gender based upon writing.

I bet that we can't tell the difference, but I also bet that it will be difficult to come up with an exercise topic that isn't of itself gender biased.

Comments? Ideas?


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franc li
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I'm your huckleberry.
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Kolona
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I think you might be right about the topic possibly influencing the results, although gender bias isn't across-the-board gender specific. I know an agent and an editor, both male, who have written romance novels (under female names, I believe). Catherine Asaro writes hard SF.

Wasn't there an internet test awhile back that we were playing with? You submitted a paragraph and some program determined if you were male or female. Wasn't very accurate, as I remember.


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Jeraliey
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I dunno....I've been told that I have a distinctly female writing voice.
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TaShaJaRo
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I have no idea if I have a gender based "voice" but I'd be willing to find out. I think it would be fascinating either way.
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SteeleGregory
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No thanks. I already know the results of the experiment. I can't tell the difference between male and female writing samples. I can't tell who's male or female on this message board if they use an obscure enough username. By default, if I don't know, I assume male. Probably because I'm reading it from my own perspective. If there's a stereotypical subject matter (football, cosmetics) I assume the sex that goes with the stereotype.

Ultimately, I don't see any real difference.

I have one exception though. I haven't been able to bring myself to read anything by Mercedes Lackey. Not because she's a woman, but because the idea of being enslaved to a luxury car is so terrifying.


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TaShaJaRo
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Posted in the wrong place - sorry. I meant for this to go in the thread that spawned this one. I'm moving it.

[This message has been edited by TaShaJaRo (edited March 04, 2005).]


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RFLong
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Yup - I'd be very interested in partaking.

R


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Keeley
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I'd participate just because some people on bb's have mistaken me for a guy and one self-proclaimed woman even started flirting with me.

I say that instead of having a specific topic, why not let the participants choose their own? According to Vox Day, the man who got these ideas going in our heads, that should show as much gender bias as the writing style itself.

Quick story on gender confusion:

On a political board I used to visit, there was a woman who had a very feminine screen name, and flirted quite a bit with the guys on the board when she wasn't giving out her opinion on current events. One of the guys actually went out to meet her and discovered she was a he.

The worst thing about it was that it was a conservative board. She got banned and flamed and everything else those guys could do in virtual reality.

The moral of the story? Don't flirt on bb's if you can possibly help it.


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franc li
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I don't know why Keeley, but if I had to guess I'd think you were male just based on your name. I don't know how often that would seem the case for me as well.

So a way to defeat the bias in subject would be to have two subjects, one from a girl and one from a boy.

I've never even read any hard SF so I don't know why I would write some. I have started a couple of SF stories that were about futures where the medical establishment had more blatantly replaced religion. I don't know if they were hard SF or not and it wouldn't really matter until I finished them. In one, I had everyone try to speak according to Grice' relevancy principles.


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Jsteg1210
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I was actually pretty surprised by how many of our members were women. I'd be happy to play along, but you should know that I'm not very prolific. It may take a while for me to get a piece in.


[Edited for a horrible typo]

[This message has been edited by Jsteg1210 (edited March 04, 2005).]


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wbriggs
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I don't think I could tell the difference in writing styles. The subject matter is more to the point. My WIP is very obviously written by a man: mostly male POV, lots of stuff about hunting. I almost wonder if it's too much that way, but I don't feel competent to do much female POV.

...that was a pretty funny typo, Jsteg! Your secret's safe with me.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited March 04, 2005).]


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Keeley
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I thought you were a guy at first, franc li.

I'm not sure why the name Keeley would seem masculine. I've chosen other screen names that were, I thought anyway, gender-neutral. I usually only use those screen names when I go to places where I think my opinion will be valued less or my personal safety will come into question if people knew I was a woman.

Says something about this board, doesn't it?

Still, I don't like putting much personal information in a public forum. Even one as respectful as Hatrack. You never know who's lurking.


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Kolona
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With my screen name ending with an 'a,' I'd figure people would assume female, yet I've been referred to at times as 'he' here on Hatrack. I guess, like many things, it's a crapshoot.
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ChrisOwens
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Sounds like fun, if not for anything but curiosities sake. Who knows? Some might be better at judging then the others. Or it might tell us nothing at all.
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Keeley
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Even if it tells us nothing, that tells us something.

I have a question, though, regarding gender voice in writing and this exercise. If the purpose of doing this is to see how much of our gender shows through our writing, does that imply that the best kind of writer is one who tries to stay gender neutral?

What I mean is, should a writer avoid sounding either like a woman or a man when writing his/her stories unless the character and POV demand it?

And should I put this question in a separate topic?

[This message has been edited by Keeley (edited March 04, 2005).]


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mikemunsil
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You know, that's a level of sophistication in writing that I don;t think I can yet achieve, so I'm not going to worry about it.

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mikemunsil
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I'll set up a place for this experiment this weekend and post a link to it here.

This would be a good time to make any further comments on how you think it should be executed.

mm


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MichelleAnn
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Has everyone seen this site?

http://www.bookblog.net/gender/genie.html
Michelle

[This message has been edited by MichelleAnn (edited March 04, 2005).]


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Keeley
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That's an interesting site, mostly because of the keywords they use.

I put in two entries, both by the same female author.

The program guessed the first entry's gender correctly. The second, it didn't.

When it showed the statistics, out of all the entries this program has received it's guessed correctly by what I consider a slim majority.


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wbriggs
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I posted some of my stuff.

2 stereotypically female scenes (needlepoint and talking about boys), female POV: both female

2 stereotypically male scenes (huntin' and fishin'), male POV: both male

1 male POV scene discussing feelings: rated as female

I'm having a hard time with "with" being female and "the" being male! I also note that putting it in present tense makes it more male.


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Reaper
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I tried a paragraph about my day on the site MichelleAnn posted and my writing came back overwhelmingly female (194 to 52) even though I am male (in case the name didn't give it away). I guess I just have a female writing style, or the site is rubbish. I wonder if that is because I have had exclusively female English teachers?
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Kolona
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I'm male according to them, whether I'm writing fiction or nonfiction. Guess I better tell my husband.
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RavenStarr
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This is an interesting project idea (if nothing else, at least for the sake of a useful writing exercise)... I personally know I write somewhat gender-bias... writing for the opposite sex is a complicated thing for me...
For those of you who haven't already revealed in some manner whether your male or female, try writing something (even if it's going with the 13 line rule), and let's hear who thinks who is what...

[This message has been edited by RavenStarr (edited March 04, 2005).]


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RavenStarr
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As a side note, If I partake in this excersice, then I'm just gonna have to give a sample of what I'm working on now, otherwise I'm gonna get myself side-tracked and it'll take forever to get back on course... so... with that said... nobody critisize the passage I put in, it'll be from an unfinished work, so it's allow to have some degree of crappiness right now... I'll let you critisize it when it's done...
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Robyn_Hood
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I'd be willing to participate in your little challenge, I'll check out the site on Monday.

----

I tried that Gender Genie thing on seven different stories and it only guessed right one and a half times (one story scored a 15 point difference in favour of female; so while it was technically correct, the score could have easily swung the other way).

The two stories it guessed corrctly on were both deeply penetrated female POV. The ones it guessed wrong were strong male POV/voice or generic voice.


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Jeraliey
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I'm only just barely female. As in it was a 49/51 split. How 'bout that.

Rick, looks like the mindless website disagrees with your opinion!

(frankly, though, I'm more inclined to believe you...)


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EricJamesStone
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I see a major problem with mikemunsil's proposed experiment: the writers know their pieces are going to be scrutinized for evidence of gender. It's very hard to tell what effect that will have. Will people change their writing styles, either intentionally or unintentionally? If they do, will it be to emphasize their gender, to seem gender neutral, or to try to fool people into guessing the opposite gender?

I suggest that the experiment be revised to use writing done before this experiment was proposed. If submissions are restricted to portions of projects that have not been critiqued by Hatrackers, it is highly unlikely that anyone will know the identity of the author.

Update: Even allowing people to select portions of their own work may lead to some bias, but it won't be as bad. It would be best to select passages at random.

[This message has been edited by EricJamesStone (edited March 04, 2005).]


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mikemunsil
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Good points. I'll certainly take them into account.

Anything I propose will have little technical validity as the experiment is too small to attach much in the way of significance. And although I could design an experiment that would be statistically valid, the odds of getting enough volunteers to design something on which I could legitimately run stats,would be slim to none. *whew! ran out of breath*

So, I'll settle for something less.

[This message has been edited by mikemunsil (edited March 04, 2005).]


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keldon02
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I believe that any good writer can emulate the opposite gender, but then I also believe that gender itself is a continuum rather than a dichotomty. So if I had to bet on the outcome of such an experiment I'd have to say that it would be hard to tell, especially if each writer were tasked with writing one passage as a male and another as a female.

MichelleAnn, I tried some samples at your bookblog site and found that the samples from the two stories where I tried to write for brighter readers were declared feminine and the samples of the story I'm writing in a more concrete fashion for general readers were declared male. The key here is complexity rather than word count.

I think that what their program is actually doing rather than counting words is measuring parallel versus linear thought and measuring levels of abstraction, as implied by words.

I have a theory about why this sexual differentiation would occur as a countable phenomenom. Women are more often trained from childhood to parallel verbal processing and absrtaction but men are trained to more singular contrete processing. In other words I believe that more often male children are encouraged to produce simplistic straightforward ideas about physical things and females encouraged to produce more ways of working on ideas themselves.

Boys are more often sent out to play (Well actually that was when I was a child. Now they are put on Ritalin and sent to the bedroom to play video games. ) while girls are absorbed into the maternal circle of conversation. (This independent play versus maternal/child interaction may also be one of the reasons why more boys go into experimental science and more girls into the humanities.)

I don't believe sexual differentiation of verbal skill is so much of an innate process as we are led to believe, but rather a process of hundreds of repetitions of reward and punishment as the child learns language function.

[This message has been edited by keldon02 (edited March 04, 2005).]

[This message has been edited by keldon02 (edited March 04, 2005).]


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MichelleAnn
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Keldon -
You make an interesting point. I have noticed that the more straightforward I write, the more the Gender Genie skews male.
Michelle

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mikemunsil
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EricJamesStone made such a great point that I'm really struggling with how to make the experiment (it is NOT a challenge) worth you while.

How about this? We'll do it in two stages.

Firstly, I'll prepare a really generic scene (for example: a child is eating a banana) and post it. You look at it and rewrite it two times: once from the female point of view, and once from the male point of view. Then you send them to me. I'll post them all anonymously and you and other Hatrackers will vote on which of the female POV rewrites were credible as being written by a female, and which are not. Ditto for the male POV rewrites. I will then present the following results:

1)all voters opinion of the male POVs as credibly written by a male
2)all voters opinion of the female POVs as credibly written by a female
3)all male voters opinion of the male POVs as credibly written by a male
4)all female voters opinion of the male POVs as credibly written by a male
5)all male voters opinion of the female POVs as credibly written by a female
6)all female voters opinion of the female POVs as credibly written by a female

Then, after we do that, we'll use EricJamesStone idea, OR we can do his first.

Comments?


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MrClean
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I'd be willing to send something. I was just goning to say the same thing as Eric, that if we wrote something new specifically for this experiment I think it would be slanted. I immeadiatly started thinking of how I would write it to try and make it undetectable. I don't think it would be intentional but the human mind does weird things when you prompt it with little suggestions.

I like the idea of sending something that was writen prior to this thread, however I would be willing to do both.

As much as we might want to be 'undetectable', face it we are different. We, meaning male vs female, think differently, process information differently and react to things differently.
Now having said that I will flush it all by saying that I too thought many of the females on this site were males the first time around. So ... what was I saying?

Mike, I'll wait to see how your post shakes out when you have it ready.

MC


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franc li
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While I was game yesterday, various events would prevent me from doing extracurricular writing this weekend. Like, someone loaned me OSC's latest and I have to return it ASAP
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keldon02
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Sounds like fun. But being new on the workshop forum I would like to ask how long of a time is usually given for such projects? Wimp that I am I have a hard time writing quickly.

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MichelleAnn
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I would submit something previously written, but I wouldn't write something new.
Michelle

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mikemunsil
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Sounds to me like we'd better start with something previously written, and give ourselves sevweral weeks or so for the other.
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djvdakota
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You could simply ask everyone to submit 13 lines of something previously written, and depend on their honor not to gender-tinker with it.

That, I think, would be the simplest solution.

This is a very cool idea, mike.


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Jeraliey
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This is interesting, and I'm thinking about participating if I have time, but I just don't think the results will be significant.
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Robyn_Hood
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I'm still up for this in any incarnation.

In order to make it more credible, do we need to ensure that there are an equal number of both genders participating? How many of each would we need?


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mikemunsil
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Well, to be more credible, we would need about 18 each male and female so that I could run some statistics on it that would mean something. I don't believe we'll get that many.

Doesn't matter, though. The intent is to continue to engage in speculation!


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franc li
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I dunno about the statistics thing. (I am planning to enter, by the way). Even if we don't tinker, doesn't it stand to reason that we will select a clip based on the purpose?
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RFLong
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Gender Genie thinks I'm male. Very male.

Hmmm...


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