Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sex/Gender in the Writing World

By now, you've probably seen it--the article in Jezebel about V. S. Naipaul's comment, or the one in the NYT, which mention the man's comment that he can detect the gender of a writer before he finished the second paragraph. In response, if you still haven't seen this, there's also the quiz hosted by the Guardian so you can see if you're as "cool" as Mr. V. S.

I'm thinking one of those initials is a tad off.

Naipaul commented that this knowledge is based on how he (mis)understands women, because they aren't "Masters of their own house" and sentimental, and thus will never reach his personal greatness.

Anyone feel like boycotting yet? I have some ideas about what he can do with that personal greatness....

Of course I think he's wrong. In fact, I tried much too hard to look for these silly indicators when I took the Guardian's quiz, and only got 5 of 10 correct--which, if thrown into a probability meter, means that I have mastered the art of random guessing and no more. At least I've got that going for me.

Every writer has his/her own voice, which may lean toward the sentimental or the... what's the opposite of sentimental in this context? Analytical? Anyway, Each writer has her/his own leanings in how they want to narrate a story. Each voice is unique, with different levels of sentimentality v. the-opposite-of-sentimentality.

What do you think? Without foreknowledge, do you think you could tell the difference between men's and women's writing? Do you even care enough to try?

I wonder, however, how much our own experience and the societal limitations of our genders play into our writing. I only bring this up because I'm struggling with male-male dialogue. Frankly, and this shouldn't surprise you, I've never been involved in a conversation that only involved men. How could I? I'm not one. I pondered this on Facebook about two weeks ago. Male buddies I haven't heard from in years stumbled from the woodwork to add their 2+ cents (really, their words were worth more than measly pennies). Of course, they're all different, too, so the answers conflicted, sort of. And perhaps I came out a little more confused than when I began.

So, despite the sexism that prompted me to write this, do you think our genders and the social "restrictions" associated with them affect your work? How do you get around it? What do you do to make your characters' conversations authentic, even if your own gender isn't present for said chit-chat?


Carol Riggs said...

Well, fascinating. I suppose I may write my male characters like a female...not sure. I just try to make them sound like a person, period. Get into their heads and see what make them tick. But there ARE differences. Do readers care? Some do, and some don't.

L. said...

I think there's no substitute for research when you're not sure about something. Whether it's sociology and gender relations books, or just going out someplace and shamelessly eavesdropping on conversations.

Seriously, eavesdropping is fantastic for hearing how people talk to each other. The actual words they use vs. what they mean. How they avoid topics. What they keep coming back to. How the other person responds.

If you're anywhere near me at a diner or a coffee shop, I'm listening. ;)

Misha said...

ugh... well... I think I can add to that list of things to do with his personal greatness.

Anyway. I go deeper than gender when I write. So my interactions depend on personalities and styles of speech more than anything else.

I'd just love to know if Mr. Personal Greatness can write a female character to save his life. Because unless he can do both with equal aplomb, I don't see what he's bragging about.

Ted Cross said...

I don't know if my female characters sound okay. I haven't ever had any beta readers mention a problem with them seeming male. I got 7/10 on the test, but I doubt it means anything.

Sarah McCabe said...

Mr. Naipaul is probably an unfortunate result of his upbringing. I feel pity for people so irrational.

However, it does seem that, in general, men and women do write differently. I came upon this site:


It is based on actual scientific research and uses an algorithm to determine whether a passage is written in a typically male or female fashion based on word choice. Though when I entered in samples of my writing I came out with instance of "male" and "female" writing depending on whether the POV character was male or female. That made me feel pretty good about my ability to portray the genders.

Angela Felsted said...

I probably need to work on this. In my present MS, which is told from alternating first person POV (guy/girl). The female lead is kind of closed off and less sentimental than the male character, just because that's their personalities.

But I definitely struggle with this. Thank goodness for male crit partners and beta readers.

Cold As Heaven said...

I think men and women write differently. It's not mainly a question of style, but more about emotions and attitude. In my own writing, I find it much simpler to relate to a male protagonist. When developing female bi-characters, I probably fall down on stereotypes.

BTW, Henrik Ibsen was a male writer who was remarkably good at developing female characters (Dolls House, Hedda Gabler, Ghosts)

Cold As Heaven

Christine Murray said...

I definitely think I write like a woman. Men and women are equal, but we're different. My issue with that idiotic author is that female writing is not inferior to that of a man's. Nor is it superior. It's just different.

Charity Bradford said...

LOL, I think there are subtle differences. Perhaps its similar to adults writing kids. Our "adultness" always slips in.

Wonder what he'd think of me? I took that online gender test 5 times with 5 different stories and each time it said I wrote like a guy. What's up with that?

Charity Bradford said...

Sorry to double post, but I just scored 6/10 and I didn't even read them. :D I think its baloney!

Siv Maria said...

Great topic ( Love the brain pictures) I don' care if male or female write a story, don't really think about the gender as much as the authenticity of the story. Thats what I think of when writing dialogue as well. We all know where that guy gets his ideas...LOL

Jan Morrison said...

That is pure unadaltered bull pucky! I mean the B.S. Naipaul stuff. oy. Do we really still have to do this? Now? I know, I know, I'm old but shit - man, woman, wholly identified gender-oriented being - I do not care to go there anymore. Who the frig cares? Does Naipaul care or has he just found another way to take up space in the papers without actually writing anything? I don't need to boycott, girlcott B.S. cuz I did it a long long time ago. Tiny penises of the world untie - I say!

Christine Tyler said...

I think Mr Naipaul would fit very well back in time when Wuthering Heights was pen-named by a "man," and it's was "so obviously" written by a male--rather than the frail, consumptive, dreamy woman it actually was.

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