Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Gender Divide

I just posted an extract from my blog on this groovy little gidget thingy called the Gender Genie and a weird thing happened. I turned into a bloke. (Just don't tell my husband.) According to the website, these people were inspired by a New York Times article that argued they could gauge the gender of the author of texts based on particular word choices and frequency of use. In other words, it's a question of mathematics. Or Algorithms, more specifically.

Here's the thing, I tried this test over and over, and no matter how many cutesy things I say, how fast I bat my eyelashes, or how high I like my heels, apparently I write like a bloke. Sixty to seventy percent male words over female ones, every single time.

Now, this might seem like a simplistic approach to understanding something as complex, fraught and slippery as the idea of gender, and gendered writing, but it interests me because it parallels other experiences I've had. You see, on every forum and bulletin board I've visited anonymously, no matter which country, subject, or field of interests, posters consistently assume I'm male. Not just some of them. All of them. Until I say something declaring my hand, something unambivalent or clearly gendered (like the fact that I'm a mum, or that I went to a girls' school), whereupon I am inevitably met with a chorus of, "Sorry! I thought you were a dude." (Bloke, if Australian.) Or, "You sound like a guy." And variations on that theme. Over and over, everywhere I go.

Now, I've always had interests in areas not traditionally associated with women - footy, politics and debating - so perhaps this shouldn't surprise me. Except that in my fiction, I deliberately and carefully write for women, about women, and about girls. I'm not interested in writing for men, don't choose subjects that would matter to the blokes I know. I actively and carefully target women. As readers, and as subjects.

So you can understand my confusion. And, frankly, concern. Because here's this mathematical theory essentially declaring me a man trapped in a woman's keyboard - a theory that seems to hold up when tested amongst real people - and now I have to wonder if maybe there's something to it. Or at least, something to the perception that there is such a thing as gendered writing. Even if that perception is among readers, rather than writers, or something we've learnt rather than imbibed. Either way, it's tricky.

So why don't you give the test a shot and tell me how it goes? Were they right, or were they wrong? Or are they as confused as you are? (Try to sample at least 500 words - that's the recommendation. But even when I cheated, posting half what they asked, they still pegged me as bloke.)

P.S. For those having trouble posting comments - sorry! I thought I could fix it - twitter me or send a message and I'll try to sort it out. Or post on your behalf.

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