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May, 2004 : Feature:

Do Women and Men Really Write Differently?

Gender dynamics have colored the evolution of speculative fiction from the beginning. We can readily observe that male writers have dominated much of the publishing world—yet one of the earliest landmarks of science fiction and horror is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In fantasy, which has come to favor female writers, we find The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Belgariad series by David Eddings. To see the big picture, we have to step back and look at the rules and the exceptions together.

The Gender Genie

We can speculate indefinitely as to whether and how men and women write differently. But some people have done more than just speculate. "Inspired by an article in The New York Times Magazine, the Gender Genie uses a simplified version of an algorithm developed by Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology, to predict the gender of an author." (Bookblog, "Gender Genie") It allows you to paste in text and specify whether it is fiction, nonfiction, or a blog entry; and it claims to work better with samples of 500+ words. You can visit the Website and test it yourself.

This is hard science, based on counting how often certain words appear in a sample of text. Nor are the words which distinguish gender related to content, but rather to grammar. The differences are structural as well as topical. "Female writers use more pronouns (I, you, she, their, myself) ... Males prefer words that identify or determine nouns (a, the, that) and words that quantify them (one, two, more)." (Ball) Some of the other feminine keywords include: with, if, not, where, be, should. Some of the other masculine keywords include: around, what, are, as, it, said. This suggests that language tends to encode gender in very subtle ways.

According to Koppel and Argamon, the algorithm should predict the gender of the author approximately 80% of the time. At the time I first encountered the Gender Genie (September 15, 2003) it posted an accuracy ratio of 89.74% right to 10.26% wrong, which is almost 10% better than predicted. It has dropped since then; the numbers for Tuesday, April 13, 2004 were 63.37% right to 36.63% wrong for submissions since September 13, 2003 ... still significantly higher than random chance, almost 2/3 correct.

When I tested the Gender Genie with other people's work, it registered the men as men and women as women. With samples of my own writing, the program yielded a mix of male and female readings. This is probably because I picked pieces at what I considered the far ends of my gender-writing spectrum. Sometimes I write in a very masculine tone, other times in a very feminine tone. I was intrigued to realize that my inner sense of what each piece would be was correct. My sense of gendered writing may be more, the same as, or less accurate compared with the program—but it is a real sense, however vague and difficult to describe. I can feel something going on in there. It correlates well to analysis. Regardless of the program's accuracy, I was quite pleased to find that there are absolute, demonstrable differences in my writing—the perceived difference is reflected in statistical changes of word use. So I'm not just imagining that I write differently when I push the ends of the spectrum. I suspect the program would also register shifts in other writers who sometimes write in a very feminine tone, other times in a very masculine tone.

This program reveals both the differences and the similarities in how men and women write. It shows a strong tendency for the genders to write differently, and can tell them apart quite well when they do; yet it also reveals the overlap, because it is not 100% accurate. What makes a story "seem to us" like it was written by a man or a woman may be our own intuitive grasp of this statistical curve. There are profoundly feminine or masculine stories at the far ends, while in the middle, we find stories so balanced in gender that they give no strong clues about the author.

Stylistic Preferences

What we actually see reflected in fiction is a pesky little aspect of sex and gender that contemporary culture often obscures: "male" and "female" are not pigeonholes, but areas on a spectrum. They are places where people, identities, and stories tend to congregate; but there are other options. So in addition to the stories highly characteristic of what men tend to write and read, or women tend to write and read, there are those instances in which authors jump the fence into new and interesting territory.

Gender division in writing and reading thus comes down to tendencies, not absolutes. Men more often concern themselves with actions, ideas, and analysis. Women more often concern themselves with processes, perceptions, and implications. Philip Ball observes, "men talk more about objects, and women more about relationships." ("Computer Program") Consider the examples in this article as reference marks at the ends of the spectrum.

One stereotype, that women write "fluffy fantasy about bunnies, or unicorns ... the ‘elfy-welfy' stuff," is readily disprovable. (Schwartz, Sisters I, xi) Turned loose in a venue tolerant of female-minded fiction, they produce stories as rich and bitter as black coffee. Yes, women also write light stories—but that isn't what emerges as the prevailing tone in a single-gendered context. Tanith Lee titled her book of retold fairytales Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. Compare its contents to the Brothers Grimm versions and you'll see that the "Sisters Grimmer" remark is accurate. Her imagery, while couched in beautiful language, draws some graphically violent metaphors and touches unerringly on how hard a woman's life can be, as illustrated in this line: "Her hands, which had been dishes for her tears, now lay as if slain in her lap." (Lee, qtd. in Allie)

Another stereotype, that men write very spare prose, sacrificing description to plot, is also disprovable. They simply may choose to describe things in other ways, or describe other things altogether, than women would. It's rather like the difference between journalistic and artistic photography. One vivid example comes from Theodore Sturgeon's story "It" in Things Hunting Men: (Drake 7)

At the county fair, someone had once said of Alton Drew that he could shoot at a handful of corn and peas thrown in the air and hit only the corn. Once he split a bullet on the blade of a knife and put two candles out. He had no need to fear anything that could be shot at. That's what he believed.

I was somewhat surprised to find that, in searching my collection of anthologies for single-gender titles, the ones written entirely by men all fell into the most predictable pattern: war, hunting, and hard science. I expected at least a little variation from the stereotype. I was less surprised to find that the anthologies written entirely by men were not deliberately designed as such (except for Men Writing Science Fiction as Women) whereas all the ones written entirely by women had explicitly excluded male writers. Men still have an edge in publishing. However, this suggests another "challenge" anthology duet: forget about gender per se and tackle themes, for instance inviting men to write about relationships and women to write about inventions.

Questions of Difference

The opening premise, "Do women and men really write differently?" unfolds into a fractal array of related questions. Some aspects concern the author, some concern the character, and some concern the topic and techniques in the story itself. These ideas and questions nest themselves in layers of complexity and depth. Try reading some of the works recommended in the bibliography below, and then see what answers you find.

Does gender affect publishability?

An author's sex can affect the ability to sell stories; male writers dominate much of the field, but a handful of noteworthy venues have specifically solicited women. Susan Schwartz notes in her introduction to Sisters in Fantasy I, "Some writers didn't find an all-women's anthology either necessary or desirable ... we would just be ghettoizing women writers further;" (x) and "Ursula LeGuin's Dancing at the Edge of the World made me wonder if a woman artist doesn't indeed have different constraints upon her time and craft." (xii) This is in the fantasy genre, generally considered one where women have an edge!

Furthermore, Kathryn Ptacek's introduction to Women of Darkness observes a similar pattern in the horror genre: "In one anthology I found to my surprise that there were no women writers at all, in a second and a third just one or two. There were too many like that. ... somehow, considering the number of women writing in the field, there should have been more. I didn't really think the editors had deliberately not chosen women writers, but neither did I think that women had not sent their stories in." (ix) My anthology shelves show a similar pattern.

Broad Universe, an organization promoting speculative fiction written by women, has tracked some industry statistics. A count of books received at Locus found 31.4% by female authors, 65.7% by male authors, and 2.8% by authors of unknown gender. A survey of "Year's Best" anthologies revealed that the ratio never reached 50/50—not even in Year's Best Fantasy and Horror edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, where the highest percentage of female authors was 48% in 2000. A more common ratio was 20-30% female. (Linville, "Tour")

Nor do authors enjoy equal recognition of published works, which can affect later contracts. Of seven awards surveyed, only two showed a ratio favoring female over male writers: the Campbell from 1990-1999 (55% female winners, 45% male) and the Tiptree from 1991-1999 (88% female, 6% male, 6% transgendered). In the major awards, such as the Hugo and the Nebula, women never so much as broke even—ranging from a low of 0% (Hugo 1953-59) to a high of 47% (Nebula 1990-99). (Linville, "Tour") This shows a gradual improvement, but not equality.

Watching the lag between the publishing success of men and women is like watching the lag between their respective salaries for similar jobs: you can't quite pin anyone down as causing it on purpose, but you also can't deny that the gap exists. One possible explanation: a count of editors at professional-level speculative magazines tallied 21% women and 79% men. (Linville, "Tour") If women tend to write what women like to read, and men tend to write what men like to read ... then male writers have an edge simply because there are more male editors.

On the other hand, women are much more likely to get a chance to write for a venue which excludes the opposite sex altogether. It's an interesting experience, which male writers rarely encounter. I found several anthologies whose parameters restricted submissions to women, but only one for men.

Can a reader tell which stories are written by men or by women?

Regarding the author, there are stories written by male authors and stories written by female authors. Closely related to the first point, there are stories written by authors under an opposite-sex pseudonym. This raises the fascinating issue of "passing," in which some authors successfully fool editors and/or readers into believing their pen-sex instead of their body-sex. Many women writers have disguised or at least downplayed their sex by writing under a male pseudonym (like Alice Sheldon aka James Tiptree, Jr.), initials (like C.L. Moore), or a name easily taken for male (like Marion Zimmer Bradley). One famous example of passing: "Wilhelm is the woman to beat, but Tiptree is the man." (Ellison, 814)

Conversely, in genres favored by women, male authors sometimes use the same trick and take a female pen name, especially in romance and fantasy. Harold Lowry, who served as president of the Romance Writers of America for a while, wrote under the pen name Leigh Greenwood; Tom Huff wrote as Jennifer Wilde. Aimee and Dave Thurlo (husband and wife) wrote romances under Aimee's name, then later published mystery and suspense novels under both their names.

Can authors write characters of the opposite sex, plausibly?

Moving deeper, we find stories written from the perspective of a character having the opposite sex to the writer. This technique, while demanding, is something that most writers try at least once. Two challenges leap to the forefront: it requires writing outside one's own direct experience, and it is very easy to fumble by trying too hard. There is a matched set of anthologies which explore this issue, Women Writing Science Fiction as Men and Men Writing Science Fiction as Women. While the titles suggest, to me, the previous idea of passing under pseudonym, the common thread of these stories is actually first-person narratives written across the gender gap.

Mike Resnick began with the idea of Women Writing Science Fiction as Men based on the long tradition of female writers using male pen names, then decided that it needed a mirror image and launched Men Writing Science Fiction as Women. The premise for the first volume (repeated with genders reversed for the second) was: "first, each story had to be told in the first person of a man; and second, if changing the narrator from Victor to Victoria didn't invalidate the story we didn't want it." (Resnick, Men Writing, 10)

I found neither volume particularly convincing in terms of how well writers captured the worldview of the opposite sex; the character actions were plausible enough, but still sounded like men written by women or women written by men. Most authors, alas, overdid the gender cues—exactly the same thing I've seen in writing classes attempting this (very challenging) exercise. They grabbed the most obvious points, whereas the epitome of gender-oriented fiction capitalizes on the subtle differences. I don't think a man would joke about penis size in quite the way Leah A. Zeldis wrote "Big," nor a woman joke about pregnancy the same as Tom Gerencer in "Not Quite Immaculate," but both stories made me titter anyway.

However, two stories stand out for capturing aspects of the opposite sex. "G-Bomb" by Ron Collins in Men Writing Science Fiction as Women explores the lengths to which a mother will go in obtaining the best for her child, and the emphasis falls not so much on the pregnancy as on that particularly feminine flavor of ruthlessness. "Thumping the Weaver" by Susan R. Matthews in Women Writing Science Fiction as Men considers the traditional point of etiquette that a man shouldn't hit a woman—and the main character urgently needs to do that, or something like it, to prevent disaster. In my mind, these two authors came closest to the anthologies' stated target of conveying the opposite worldview. From a research perspective, the misses are just as enlightening; and from an entertainment perspective, the stories are still fun to read.

Certainly a talented author can write the opposite gender well enough to delight readers. Can they do it well enough to convince readers that the author and the character share the same gender when, in fact, they do not? Sometimes, yes; this is a whole different flavor of passing, often not deliberate on the writer's part.

Defining "Genderfic"

Deepest of all—and the category most subject to denial—are the stories whose content is so inextricably linked to gender that they raise questions about what, why, and how we write ... and who we are. Certainly there are motifs that people typically avoid; few male writers find menstruation an attractive topic, whereas few female writers go on and on about guns. Are there stories that men could not write? Are there stories that women could write, but don't write? Or is gender truly irrelevant to writing? Should any skilled author be able to write plausibly the perspective of an opposite-sexed character, or under pseudonym fool readers about the author's sex? Should it be easy, or impossible, to sort stories by male and female authors—with the names removed? Literary critics disagree, vehemently.

Because so much of the speculative field focuses on male writers and readers, special exploration of gender issues falls more often to women. In the submission call for Sisters in Fantasy, editor Susan Schwartz said, "...what I want you to write is the story you've needed to write and couldn't think of an appropriate market for before I contacted you." (xiii) Indeed, the resulting contributions seem to me a different flavor of fiction than the usual. Jane Yolen declared flat-out in her poem "Women's Stories" in the same anthology: "My stories are not your stories." (2) Noted linguist and science fiction author Suzette Haden Elgin went so far as to invent a language, Láadan, to express the unique worldview of women on the grounds that existing languages were inadequate to the purpose. One noteworthy counterpoint exploring how male authors tackle gender issues is, as mentioned above, Men Writing Science Fiction as Women.

Every perspective has its spotlights, and its blind spots; when you specify gender as the perspective, people get edgy because, in all honesty, we haven't done a terrific job with gender relations in real life. To say that there are stories men wouldn't think of, or women wouldn't care to commit to paper, is to assert that—at least in some ways—there are genuine differences between the genders, more than a simple chromosome.

One common highlight of men's fiction is the "story of idea" where it matters more what happens than who gets caught up in it. "Park Rules" by Jerry Oltion in Nanodreams takes a single idea and uses a tiny everyday detail—the list of park rules mentioned in the title—to illustrate how the technology has changed everything. Not only are the "nanorangers" a clever concept, the methodical structure gives the story a very left-brain, logical flavor; characteristics often considered masculine. "The War Memorial" by Allen Steele in Future War features a character trapped into standing helpless as a battle rages around him, sweeping away his fellow soldiers. This type of mental torment neatly counterbalances some classic images of female helplessness, such as a mother watching her children's murder.

The two volumes of Sisters in Fantasy present some of the best stories I've found in terms of conveying the ineffable sense of gender through subtlety rather than a sledgehammer. "Horse of Her Dreams" by Elizabeth Moon in Sisters in Fantasy tells of two girls who become icons of youth and beauty by riding magical horses—but it's less about that than about the desperate struggle of those not destined for such popularity. "Kneeling at His Side" by Lois Tilton in Sisters in Fantasy II turns Norse mythology on its side by following Loki's wife Sigyn through his story, from her original attraction through the death of their sons and her loyalty in remaining with Loki to mitigate his punishment.

Contrast these last two examples of human idolatry and of helplessness with the poor soldier who became a monument in "War Memorial" above. Even when dealing with the same theme, male and female authors often write about opposite sides of the coin. Along with "Park Rules," these are stories that seem most characteristic of the author's identity—the least likely to occur to writers of the opposite sex.

After reading numerous stories about gender issues, or written in single-gender venues, I realized that there isn't a convenient term for such things. So I worked my way to a definition of "genderfic" as stories unique to the author's gender. If the reaction of the opposite sex is "Huh? Why would anyone want to write (or read) a story about that?" while the reaction of the author's sex is "You said it, sister (or brother)!" ... that is genderfic. I've heard people say exactly that about some of the stories cited in this article.


In writing this article, I favored short stories over novels so as to sample more writers in shorter space. Another reason is because I found several anthologies especially suited to exploring how the author's sex influences fiction. However, similar patterns appear in longer fiction. Take a look a your favorite books and ask yourself how gender may have influenced them—or your decision to purchase them.

One of the oldest pieces of advice to authors is, "Write what you know." When it comes to gender, most authors write most plausibly from their own perspective, but some of the best works in the field have come from crossing the gender gap. Why? Maybe it's because speculative writers feel especially drawn to exploring the alien, and men and women can seem very alien to each other at times. Stories with a strong influence in these areas invite us to take a closer look at this fundamental structure in our lives we call gender ... and only then can we decide if we like what we see, or if we want to make changes.

Works Referenced

Allie. "Tanith Lee: For the Love of Language." 2002. (Online)

Ball, Philip. "Computer Program Detects Author Gender." Nature 18 July 2003. Online.

Bookblog. "The Gender Genie." 2003-2004. Online

Dann, Jack and Gardner Dozois, eds. Future War. New York: Ace Books, 1999.

———. Space Soldiers. New York: Ace Books, 2001.

Drake, David, ed. Starhunters Vol. II: Things Hunting Men. New York: Baen, 1988.

———. Starhunters Vol. III: Bluebloods. New York: Baen, 1990.

Eddings, David. Pawn of Prophecy. New York: Ballantine, 1982.

Elgin, Suzette Haden. A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan. Madison: The Society for the Furtherance and Study of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Inc., 1988.

———. Native Tongue. New York: DAW, 1984.

Elliott, Elton, ed. Nanodreams. Riverdale: Baen, 1995.

Ellison, Harlan, ed. Again, Dangerous Visions. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1972.

Kress, Nancy. "Guest of Honor Speech." ConFuse 1993. Reprinted in Linköpings Science Fiction-Förening, Månblad Alfa 21 1994. Online

Lee, Tanith. Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. New York, DAW, 1983.

Linville, Susan Urbanek. "A Tour of the SF/F/H Field Prepared by the Broad Universe Bean-Counting and Research Division." Broad Universe Website, "Statistics" page, 2002. Online

Maralani, Vida J. "Women on the Edge of Time: Science Fiction and the Feminist Movement." Ex Post Facto Vol. III 1994. Online

Ptacek, Kathryn, ed. Women of Darkness. New York: TOR, 1988.

Resnick, Mike, ed. Women Writing Science Fiction as Men. New York: DAW, 2003.

———. Men Writing Science Fiction as Women. New York: DAW, 2003.

Salmonson, Jessica Amanda, ed. Amazons! New York: DAW Books, 1979.

———. Amazons! II. New York: DAW Books, 1982.

Schwartz, Susan and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Sisters in Fantasy. New York: Roc, 1995.

———. Sisters in Fantasy II. New York: Roc, 1996.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Oxford: Oxford, 1818.

Strange Words. Review of Amazons! and Amazons! II No author or copyright date listed. Online.

Thurlbeck, Gregg. Review of Women Writing Science Fiction as Men. Rambles Dec. 2003. Online.

———. Review of Men Writing Science Fiction as Women. Rambles March 2004. Online.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. London: Allen & Unwin, 1954.

Copyright © 2004, Elizabeth Barrette. All Rights Reserved.

About Elizabeth Barrette

Elizabeth Barrette writes speculative fiction, related nonfiction and poetry, and often presents panels at conventions. Her other fields include gender studies and alternative spirituality. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a major in Rhetoric and a minor in Women’s Studies. Previous credits include articles "The Spirit of the Law: Exploring Sharon Shinn's 'Samaria' Novels" in The Internet Review of Science Fiction and "Words of Power: The Languages of Mithgar" in Spicy Green Iguana; stories "Breakthrough Combination" in Fortress and "Beaver Goes to a Party" in Mytholog; and poems "There and Back Again" in The Minas-Tirith Evening Star and "Tawaab and Sameh: Son of Fire, Daughter of Wind" in Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness. She enjoys suspension-of-disbelief bungee-jumping and spelunking in other people’s reality tunnels. Visit her Website at:


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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