Do Women and Men Really Write Differently?

May 21, 15:47 by John Frost
Comments on Elizabeth Barrette's article.
May 21, 17:56 by Mike Brotherton
The Gender Genie is pretty interesting. Just for fun, I put in two chapters from my new new novel in preparation (Spider Star is the likely title, Tor, probably fall 2005). The first chapter has a male POV, and the genie tagged it as written by a male. The third chapter has a female POV, and the genie tagged it as written by a female. The algorithm does give points to words like "she" and "her" for deciding if the author is female, but the higher score on those words in the 3rd chapter, if subtracted, still did not account for the difference. I don't know if this is random chance or if I have slight clue in my head about how to write one gender vs. another.

I'd also like to point out that there was an article in the SFWA Bulletin a couple of years ago (maybe someone with a sharper memory or better filing system can find it) that indicated that SF/F magazines accept the same fraction of stories from both genders. The data show that female writers don't contribute at the same rate as men.

It's also something of a myth that women make less money than men in today's jobs. Sure, yes, the raw numbers would indicate that women make on average 76% of what men make. But if you look at what men and women make in the same fields with the same experience, women make 98% of what men make, essentially the same. The difference seems to be from two factors: first, women take time off from their careers for family at a higher rate than men do (and so are less experienced on average), and second, women choose less high paying professions on average (fewer engineers, lawyers, doctors).

My personal take is that there isn't a lot of gender discrimination today, if any, in the SF/F field. There are lots of big name female genre authors, editors, and agents, and I've never heard about anyone in the field turning something down due to gender. Differences in publication rates are more likely cultural in origin as women apparently don't submit at the same rates. Why that is, is the real issue. Does anyone know, off hand, the percentage of male vs. female SFWA members? I'm guessing it's close to 50/50, but I really don't know.

All's fair in love and marketing, but women-only anthologies do seem, to me, to perpetuate a ghetto, and then there is clear discrimination (against men!). It's hard enough for new writers to break in with pro sales whether they are male or female, and it does offend male writers to see GLs for an antho pass by they can't even try to submit to. SF writers attempt to write from alien POVs, and writing from the POV of the opposite gender should be at least slighter easier than that!
May 21, 17:59 by John Frost
Also just for fun, I put in all the articles published here at IROSF. Apparently we haven't published a single article by a women yet, including Ms. Barrette.

I'm not sure what that says about my editorial preferences.
May 21, 18:54 by Thomas Reeves
I haven't finished the article yet, but I did play around a bit with the Gender Genie. One author I know is quite male, marginally macho even, I put his story in and got female.

Now I put in what I've written so far on a story I'm working on and got the most male result I have ever gotten. This seems appropriate as so far it's a story about a Coptic monastery.
May 21, 19:19 by Chris Dodson
I put in five of my stories and a couple of blog entries, and so far they've all come up male. It's nice to know that I'm such a manly writer.

Grrrrr! *flexes puny muscles*
May 22, 12:25 by David Bratman
I suspect it's the pronoun bit that does it. IROSF focuses on criticism, and that'll use what the gender genie calls male words rather than female pronouns. If you put in the memoir of a big egocentric male full of the word "I", perhaps that'd class as female.

One point about women writers hiding gender: C.L. Moore, and others in the 30s, may have used initials because they were concerned that openly female names wouldn't be published or read. But that was not Alice Sheldon's motive in creating James Tiptree, Jr. She was just interested in gender-bending. And while the name Marion Zimmer Bradley might sound ambiguous, she was already well-known in the SF community prior to becoming a pro author. Other readers might not have known, but nobody in that community would have mistaken her name for a man's.

Personal note: When I first read J.R.R. Tolkien and Terry Carr, I presumed in each case that the name was a woman's. I was wrong both times.
May 22, 21:37 by Simon Owens
Ran some stuff through the gender thingy, apparently Elizabeth isn't a female. Do you want to tell her or should I?
May 23, 17:05 by Luc Reid
One thing about the accuracy of the Gender Genie online: it seems likely that people go to the Gender Genie with the specific intention of getting it to guess wrong, since that's so much more fun than it being right. This may be skewing the sample that the Gender Genie has to work with for its stats.

About the statement "Men still have an edge in publishing" and the subsequent analysis of anthologies and awards: While this could be true (surely I'm no particular expert in this area), it seems likely to me that it's because there's more speculative fiction being written by men. Can't prove that, but anecdotally it seems to be true.

Or actually, hang on: I do have a list of authors' first names from a slush pile I read for juvenile spec fic at one point. Having skipped any entries that seemed at all gender-unclear, I get about 60% male and 40% female, and this is a list of juvenile spec fic, which in my experience seems to have a higher percentage of female writers than adult SF. I suspect a slush pile for adult speculative fiction would have an even higher proportion of males.

Of course, even if it's true that more males write SF, this doesn't necessarily preclude a bias in the publishing world, but I'd be curious about any more specific information anyone might have on this.

Another thing that occurs to me: it's possible that, given the way men tend to be, men may tend to be more prolific than women on average. Possibly (I'm only making a wild guess here), a man might tend to be a little more interested in getting books out the door and a woman might tend to be a little more interested in polishing the work. No clue if this is true, and obviously there are plenty of prolific women and plenty of non-prolific men as writers.
May 24, 13:19 by David Gardner
Gender Genie aside, part of the issue here is seperating how people tend to write versus blanket comments such as "women write fluffy fantasies" or "men write about guys names Dirk Pitt."

In my experience as a writing teacher, I can unequivocably state that there are tendencies for each gender. Males tend to write action, frequently to the exclusion of description, while women tend to write long and sometimes quite lovely descriptions, frequently to the exclusion of things happening in the story.

Another issue is that both genders tend to become much more like the other as they advance in skill and experience. This, I believe, explains the Gender Genie's difficulty with identifying the writing samples you're feeding it; it's reading more advanced writing, and that makes its algorithms less effective.

Finally (and it almost goes without saying) each writer is an individual, with preferences that may be informed by genetics, life experience, their choice for morning meals, etc., and these preferences are reflected in their work. I doubt I would ever assume that LeGuin would be a male from reading her work; similarly, I did assume Pat Cadigan was male after reading her work. Both are capable writers, but chose to work differently.

May 24, 15:56 by Bluejack
Another question is: does it matter?

Personally, I think it is obvious that men and women, on statistical average, will naturally gravitate towards somewhat different themes, subject matters, story types, and writing styles. It is certainly at least part biological; it may be mostly cultural.

I don't see anything wrong with this; nor do I see anything wrong with the people are not on what Barrette describes as the end of the spectrum. Nor do I see anything surprising about writers who "cross over." Just as actual individuals are a blend of genders, surely their writing will be as well.

So, what's the debate here?
May 24, 16:57 by David Gardner
Another question is: does it matter?
So, what's the debate here?

Excellent points. Personally I think the issue is "Where do the differences come from?",i.e. nature or nurture. In terms of how well writers write (once they achieve a certain level of ability) I would say that it doesn't matter.

May 24, 23:31 by Thomas Reeves
Judging by certain evidence there is a pretty clear nature aspect devalued in say the 1970s. That man raised as a girl who committed suicide gives some evidence on that. As does the fact a few traits are masculine or feminine across cultures. The debate now tends to be what those traits are and mean. (I think some of the theories at present of certain traits meanings are wrong)

I don't think that necessarily means "men want action, women description." From what I've heard much military SF is full of long drawn out descriptions of weaponry and hardware, that sometimes go on for more pages than the violence. Most hard SF, a mostly male subgenre at present, is full of description. In fact there is a the tradition represented by Stapledon, Clement, Clarke, Egan, and Baxter which is virtually all description with no action at all. Maybe it's not description of personal appearance, but it's description. Pages upon pages of what the engine looks or sounds like or long soliloquies on the stars or equations. Oddly I think women might be less likely to do that kind of excessive descriptive writing. In fact I think the women authors I've who do space stories aren't into long loving descriptions of engines, even if they have the hard science background to make them believable, they want to get to the action. Not to be sexist there, I'm sure there are women SF writers who spend entire chapters lovingly describing engine design, but I just have avoided them.

Anyway does it matter? Well to a degree I would think yes it does. Being aware of the cultural or biological influences that may impact you're writing sounds relevant. In fact I think who a person is, is usually quite relevant to their writing. That Flannery O'Connor was Catholic or Cole Porter was homosexual quite likely is relevant to understanding their worldview. Something as basic as your chromosomes is even more profound, and yet also more meaningless for that. It puts it on the level of how being tall or short affects your writing, unlike things which are beliefs or behaviors.
May 24, 23:46 by Mike Brotherton
Has everyone seen that tandem he said, she said story? I was first emailed it years ago, and have had it emailed to me several times. It's sort of the whole stereotypical male vs. female writing thing, and it's funny, too.

It's on the internet many places, for instance at:

May 25, 12:57 by David Gardner
Has everyone seen that tandem he said, she said story?
I have seen that, and I've always wondered if it was an urban myth. Does anyone know?
May 25, 13:20 by Bluejack
According to Snopes it's not actually true. Originally came from a joke list, then posted to the rec.humor newsgroup. Still, it's fun.
May 25, 13:35 by Jed Hartman
I'm mighty dubious about the Gender Genie; the anecdotal evidence I've seen (especially from comments on my journal entry about it, from various authors) suggests that it's not particularly good at determining author gender for fiction. Also, a linguist I know noted that for statistical natural-language parsing tools, 80% correct isn't very good.

Mike B, re your comment above, I'm afraid Sue Linville's article about gender bias in sf actually doesn't say that "SF/F magazines accept the same fraction of stories from both genders"; rather the opposite, in fact. Strange Horizons and Realms of Fantasy are the only prozines I know of that have even come close to publishing as many stories by women as by men; most other prozines publish more like 10% to 30% stories by women. See also the Broad Universe statistics page.
May 25, 14:41 by Mike Brotherton
Jed, Sue Linville -- yes, thanks. And thanks for the links.

You misunderstood my point and perhaps her point. My statement is correct based on her data. The SF/F magazines DO accept at about the same rate regardless of gender (you normalize the acceptances by the gender to get the rate). That is, a story by a female writer has the same chance of acceptance as that of a male writer. Sorry if that was unclear -- I agree that Analog, Asimov's,, etc., don't publish 50% female writers, and 50% male writers, but the equal probability of acceptance indicates no discrimination, or at least no editorial bias.

The reason that SF/F magazines (with the exceptions you point out) don't publish 50/50 is because women don't submit as many stories as men. That was what Sue Linville's article pointed out. If, in a fit of political correctness, all the SF magazines suddenly forced a 50/50 ratio, but the ratio of submissions to, say Analog, remained heavily skewed in favor of male authors, their chances of acceptance would drop dramatically in order to favor female writers. Assuming men and women on average write equal quality stories, Stan Schmidt, under those circumstances, would have to pick some inferior quality stories.

Either there aren't as many female SF/F writers, they don't write as much as men, or they don't submit as often -- at least not to quite a few SF/F markets. I'm in favor of organizations like Broad Universe providing support for female writers if that's what is needed to help them submit their stories. I have some concerns about BU being used by some people to create the impression that there is a lot of discrimination, or as a crutch to complain that they're not selling yet because they're female rather than the fact they're not good enough yet (I've heard a few isolated anecdotes of such things).

Hmm, looking at the Broad Universe statistics, it also seems that there aren't as many female SFWA members (38%) as there are male (58% -- corrected, thanks for noting the previous error!). One way of interpreting the numbers then, is that there just aren't as many professional-level female authors writing in SF/F as there are males. Asimov's publishes established writers for the most part, so you wouldn't a priori expect them to publish more than 38% stories by women (they publish less than 38%, but not a lot less).

There's another, related phenomenon. There are ultra prolific writers, and all the ones I know are male. Robert Reed and Jay Lake come to mind. A handful of writers like them can skew the relatively small number statistics all by themselves.
May 25, 14:53 by Mike Brotherton
Oh, I noticed the Strange Horizons statistics down at the bottom of the BU Stats page. You're getting the exact thing there I'm talking about. In fantasy, there may be close to 50/50 submissions and publication (which is why Realms of Fantasy publishes nearly 50% women authors), but only 1/3 of the science fiction is by women, and I wouldn't be surprised if that fraction was much lower for "hard science fiction", which puts Analog on the spot.

I thought that the Linville article was particularly interesting comparing editors perceptions and reality on submissions rates. Most thought they were getting 50:50, or close to it, until they counted.
May 25, 16:53 by Camden
Women are making in roads in the "life sciences." Meaning biology, botany, veterinary medicine, etc. There are starting to be more women doing biological hard SF. Some forms of physics and mathematics seem to be 90% male despite efforts to change that. I kind of wonder if women should be taught math separate to boys. I don't buy into the notion women are naturally less adept at math, but I think the way we teach it maybe does work better for boys.

Anyway I think Fantasy is traditionally seen as more culturally appropriate to girls. The popular image of Sci-Fi is gross monsters, macho heroes with bimbo of the week, and dorks who care more about computers than people. Granted some of the biggest pop culture SF phenomenons do a good deal better. The later Star Treks have had women in leading roles, Babylon 5 had several strong women characters, and the one women in the Truman Show was one of my favorites. Still mostly the popular image is very male oriented. (Although I'd think the Truman "Twilight Zone" kind of pop-SF would be more even in gender. I remember one of the self styled "women's networks" had a feminized Twilight Zone type show, which probably failed due to that patronizing streak in it)
May 25, 17:24 by Bluejack
Hmm, looking at the Broad Universe statistics, it also seems that there aren't as many female SFWA members (38%) as there are male (42%).

Interesting. What are the other 20%?
May 25, 18:00 by Camden
The actual figures were as follows

518 members are women (38%)
807 members are men (58%)
55 are of unknown gender (4%)

I think all you need is three professional sales to apply for membership. So this makes it easy for 4% to be of ambiguously gendered names and don't meet the others so remain ambiguous. Also pseudonyms could be a factor.
May 26, 13:40 by Mike Brotherton
Thanks for correcting my numbers! I got the first one right, then my brain or my fingers went for sushi.

Like I even get to go for sushi. I live in Wyoming now and have to drive for an hour to get sushi.

It's affecting my lifestyle!!!
May 29, 11:46 by cathy freeze
while women tend to write long and sometimes quite lovely descriptions, frequently to the exclusion of things happening in the story.

Which is an interesting comment, because i've noticed such decidedly gender-perspective comments on my pieces in workshops. Men critters often tell me that nothing's happening and women critters comments indicate that they think plenty's happening. And just to be perverse, the stats show the opposite when it comes to my sales--more men editors have bought my (meager) pile of sold shorts than women editors have. But (of course) is that because men editors rule over the markets I covet?

(just thinking about gender-skewed definitional differences.)

May 29, 19:00 by Irina Khadiz
I guess we all expect there to be some sort of difference when it comes to writing, buying, reading, & appreciating. The Gender Genie, suggests there is, & the criticism levelled at it seems to be that it should be able to do a better job than it does. But is there any meaning in the difference? Are we talking about (or looking for) discrimination? It seems like every reader, including editors, is going to have so many different factors influencing like and dislike that the known author of the gender, or even the gender implied by the story itself, is going to be a minor influence.
Jun 23, 16:03 by nina munteanu
When I submitted my published work, both fiction and non-fiction to gender genie, I got 100% male for my non-fiction and 100% female for my fiction, whether it was written from the male POV or was more plot-oriented. When I checked the rationale for the designation, it made sense and it is entirely to do with how we use language to influence our readers. It makes sense to me that fictional writing lies more in the "female" realm and non-fiction writing in the "male" realm. The results of my little test is testimony to this. What does it mean? I think it means very little when it comes to actual genders and that we should pay a lot more attention to language and target readers in our language. Gender genie is an excellent tool for this!
Nina Munteanu
Jul 3, 21:49 by
i went to Gender Genie and pasted THIS article in it, and this is what it said:

Female Score: 3147
Male Score: 5548
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

funny, eh?
Jul 3, 21:50 by
haha, i just did that too! it told me she's male as well.

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