Subtle Hints of How Writers View the Genders

Below is a fascinating article about statistical analysis showing differences in how female and male writers describe either their own or the opposite gender. (*)

Men Shout, and Women Scream—at Least in Fiction

The writer, Ben Blatt, analyzed twentieth-century writing within three categories–classics, best-sellers, and literary award-winners–and looked for patterns in the descriptions. He learned some interesting things. And as an avid reader (and a writer too), I had to laugh–nay, chuckle–kind of wryly–at some of those patterns.

For example, Blatt found that men are said to “mutter” much more often than women, while women, conversely, “murmur” more often than men. And that does sound familiar. I started trying to think about why that sounds, on first glance, kind of natural to me. I know that I have men “murmuring” in my stories, but I think it happens mostly when they are trying to be reassuring or comforting. On the other hand, to me at least, “muttering” suggests an element of grumbling or complaining that “murmuring” does not suggest. Maybe the idea of “murmuring” suggests more caring, which we–or I?–ascribe more to women than men? While a hint of complaint in “muttering” seems more natural to men?

This is something I’ll need to watch more carefully. And I know I’ll always be watching for these words, now, when I read other people’s writing too.

Another thing that made me wryly chuckle (something, apparently, that men do more than women, if you go by their writings) was that male writers seem to write women as interrupting someone far more often than men do, while women write both genders as equal-opportunity interrupters. This, on the part of the male writers, may be a case of projection. It’s been proven more than a few times (see, for example, linguistic researcher Deborah Tannen’s work) that men tend to interrupt (and, mostly interrupt women) far more often than the reverse. Yet the myth persists in society that women do the interrupting. That just is not the case. So that finding kind of got my feminist hackles up.

The article is an interesting read. And it’s also going to be interesting, from now on, to read books and stories with these patterns in mind. I will also need to check my own writing more carefully, I think, to make sure it’s not perpetuating subtle gender biases.

(* This does not include transgendered or nonbinary writers. I imagine that the analyst did not think of further classifying the genders; there could also be issues of finding classics or best-sellers for these categories, and maybe even literary award-winners. But it would be even more fascinating to learn what patterns might [or might not] be revealed for these writers too.)

    One comment

    1. Pussreboots says:

      Interesting post. I’ve been paying more attention to gender portrayals as well in recent years — though I haven’t found many books, especially with a transgender character — that fit my own experience with gender. There’s rarely much of a gray area in how characters are presented or how characters seem to perceive their gender and other characters’ genders. I find that problematic.

      Anyway — I’ve moved to a new domain. If you could, please remove the .pair from my URL in your blog roll.

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