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Gender and literature

March 22, 2009

Recently I had a conversation with someone who had come across my website. They asked if I was targeting a male audience in particular, as my writing seemed masculine in subject matter and style.  As I pointed out in my blog, I’m not consciously targeting either male or female readers, although it has worked out that my “masculine” style has attracted a largely female audience!

But to complicate matters, there is the GenderAnalyzer, a software program that uses a text classifier, trained on blogs written by men and women, to determine whether a blog has been written by a man or a woman.

For both my writing blog and The Long Watch GenderAnalyzer correctly identified the author (me!) as male – but only just, declaring them both to be fairly gender neutral at 59% for my blog, and only 51% for The Long Watch (results reflect percentage certainty of gender based on text, results may vary as text changes over the life of the blogs).

Certain genres have traditionally been gender-biased, whether in readership or authorship.  Mary Anne Evans had to write as George Elliot to be taken seriously, and there is anecdotal evidence that male romance writers sell better under a female pen-name.  Earlier this month the Guardian newspaper wondered if the gender of an author makes us view the work of that author differently.  As an experiment, think of well known authors and see if you would view their work differently if they were the other gender.  Teri Pratchett, Stephanie King, Adrian Niffenegger, Simon Plath?

Would The Long Watch have more male readers if it were written by Pauline Anderson?

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8 Comments
  1. March 22, 2009 3:00 am

    I got 77% for my blog. It’s an interesting point about gender and all that because it shows that everything is kind of influenced by the filter of our upbringing and how that society brings people up with certain gender stereotypes that are a bit hard to break in a broader sense.

    P.S. Karen, love the new redesign!

  2. March 22, 2009 7:03 am

    I had to have a go at this. My writing blogged served up fairly neutral 56% (which I thought was interesting given that I’ve got some serious woman focused articles on there!) however my personal blog pinned me as a female at 77%! Hmmm.

    My fiction writing is never directed at any particular gender and I have to admit as a young woman having a bent on books that weren’t particularly stereotypical for a woman (mass murder, terrorism, serial killers, psychological profiling etc) My non fiction writing on the other hand is definitely targeted at a female readership – given the topics that I write about.

    Definitely food for thought Paul … and can’t see you as a Pauline! Not after we’ve all been traumatised by Pauline Hanson here in Australia :)

  3. March 22, 2009 7:33 am

    Thanks Benjamin. Dale designed it!

  4. jamesashelford permalink
    March 22, 2009 4:11 pm

    Right, so I work on fiction blog with three other men, which got a male but “fairly gender neutral” 51%. By just feeding in my own page from the page I raised that to 55% male which means I can scientifically claim to be 4% more manly than my best friend! Bwahahahaha.

    And then my personal blog full of rantings, ramblings, reviews and inner stream of consciousness/insanity pegged me as 52% female which interested me. My colleague Junius’ author page on Eclectic Chair scored 63% female and I wonder what criteria we met to get those evaluations.

  5. March 23, 2009 7:00 am

    I do not conciously write for any particular gender. The only thing I conciously do is write things that I think can be accessible to any age group to some extent, including my children.

    So, out of curiosity I tried the Gender Analyzer on my three blogs. One of them was rated as a gender-neutral but male-authored site (57%). The next was a gender-neutral but female-authored site (57%). And the third was a very strongly female site (95%).

    I tried my wife’s blogs and all four of them came out as female-authored (ranging from 53% to 80%).

    The statistics nerd in me finds this fascinating! However, I am left to wonder how deeply the Analyzer goes into the web sites or if it really is just screen scraping whatever shows on the landing page. My blogs usually show just short bits of posts on the home page and then only about 13 posts at a time; I wonder if a larger number of posts or if the complete text for the posts would cause a different result in the analyzer.

    As it is, most of my readers are female, largely because most of my friends are women and that’s who’s reading my stuff for the most part. I wonder if I am, in some unconcious way, writing things differently because I do know my audience so well or if I’d write in a more sterotypically “male way” if more of my readers were men. Or maybe it all boils down to the fact that I try to keep things appropriate for my children to read. It’s all very interesting, in my opinion!

  6. March 23, 2009 7:15 am

    darn it – Jodi got in with the comment on Pauline…. nope def not you Paul.. unless you can start to practice a nasal “please explain”…… ummm I htink I will need to explain that to you……

  7. March 23, 2009 10:45 am

    Fascinating!

    I write a blogfic (fictional blog) from the point of view of a male character. I guess it works because I was given a 65% male rating. My audience is nether male or female, I just wanted to write from a male perspective.

    My personal writing blog, written as the female me, came in at 88% male!!!

    I’m going to have to think about this one for a while.

  8. March 23, 2009 4:56 pm

    Ha ha Annie – no explanation necessary – “I don’t like it….”

    Her fame (or infamy) has spread to these shores now!

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