Can Male And Female Writing Be Told Apart?

Reading & Writing

I was reading a piece in the Independent, and halfway through it I stopped and mentally checked what I was reading with this thought; ‘Oh, it’s a woman writing – a man would never think that.’ Can male and female authors be told apart just by their writing?

A Noel-Levitz study examined a massive 97,000 students and got these results;

1. Females (54%) enjoyed reading much more than males (38%).

2. Females reported stronger study habits – 69% reported taking “very careful notes during class” and reviewed those notes prior to a test compared to just 47% of males.

3. Males reported greater confidence in math and science preparation. 53% of males said they have a “good grasp of scientific ideas,” compared to 42 % of females.

4. 51% of females reported “a hard time understanding and solving complex math problems,” compared to just 40% of males surveyed.

Patricia Cornwell and Mo Hayder are crime novelists who both write like the male in extremis. Cornwell, particularly, is obsessed with territorial demarcation, lists, data, probabilities, structural organisation, acronyms and power plays. The gentle, charming Hayder (whom I’ve met a few times) becomes a wolf in print, writing like an angry disenchanted man (in a good way). Both write without humour, which seems to be largely the province of the male.

The worst examples of men writing in a male style bring forth those terrible supermarket books about serial killers who do extreme things, while Frederick Forsyth waffles on about aircraft and the government like a retired RAF man forced into a desk job. Women who write dark fiction seem to focus more on emotions, complex states, loss, otherness.

Where it gets really noticeable is in supposedly zeitgeisty newspaper columns. The ‘new men’ go on about food, babies (in a distant way) and shopping while the ‘new women’ offer views on technology they obviously don’t have a clue about and political leaders judged by their grooming.

It would be interesting to ‘blind taste’ the genders in certain styles of writing, especially romantic fiction and SF.

2 comments on “Can Male And Female Writing Be Told Apart?”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Hmmm. When I was trying to come up with something for your contest the plots seem to revolve around fear of loss. Patricia Cornwell was a pathologist and scientist to her toes so it is natural for her writing to be that way. I have laughed at things in her books, although those books are certainly not humorous in general. Might it be hard to detect the gender of authors in romantic fiction because there is almost a formula for writing them? SF was so much the field of males that I suspect the women who were earlier writers in the genre were of that mental pattern. I think I mean that what you’re detecting is a mental map rather than a writer’s gender.

  2. Diogenes says:

    There is a program that is 80% correct in determining the sex of the author by looking at syntax and key words.

    http://www.nature.com/news/1998/030714/full/news030714-13.html

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