John-Michael Gariepy

Archive for the tag “Mary Shelly”

Step Right Up! Guess the Writer’s Gender and Win a Giant Teddy Bear!

This was going to be a simple post.

Recently, I stumbled upon some blowhard in the internet who claimed he could tell if an author of a book was male or female by reading their content.  Most of his claims were Texas Sharpshooting:  He painted his target on the side of a barn after he emptied his gun at it, then marveled how accurate his shooting was.

“Well, this would be a fun experiment!” I thought.  “I’ll just post an excerpt from 10 famous authors’ lesser known works and let people guess who’s the male and who’s the female.  We’ll see if people can figure it out by the context and language… and, Bam!  Easy article.”

So, I pulled out five female and five male authors and paired them up.  I got a selection of their writing and worked on the article.  Then I stepped back and realized something:  That’s a lot of words.  A lot of words left outside of the context of the books they were written in, and who wants to read that?  You want an example?  Sure.  Can you guess the gender of this author?

“I AM the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which,
when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless
continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable
speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental
power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous
population. So true it is, that man’s mind alone was the creator of all
that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first
minister. England, seated far north in the turbid sea, now visits my dreams
in the semblance of a vast and well-manned ship, which mastered the winds
and rode proudly over the waves. In my boyish days she was the universe to
me. When I stood on my native hills, and saw plain and mountain stretch out
to the utmost limits of my vision, speckled by the dwellings of my
countrymen, and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth’s very
centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a
fable, to have forgotten which would have cost neither my imagination nor
understanding an effort.”

Honestly, the challenge was nigh impossible.  Assuming you aren’t making blanket judgement based upon a novel’s genre (Most romance is written by women, and most war stories are written by men,) there’s no way to know a person’s gender based on the writing.  In theory, men are more direct and women talk more about feelings, but a good novel requires both directness and emotion (Emphasis on the word ‘good‘, Dan Brown.)  Unless the author calls out a detail about their own life, or possibly a philosophy built over a lifetime of being one gender, how could you tell?  And even then, how can you be certain the author didn’t do the research, and, yes, happens to know an intimate detail about shaving one’s legs that you wouldn’t have guessed from a man?

So, no, you’ll never know the gender of the author if they don’t reveal that information to you.  But, you might be able to guess.

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