Jilara (jilara) wrote,

Thoughts on gender and style

I took the writing gender poll. I also checked the "was it correct?" poll. It wasn't correct about me, and it seemed like it wasn't correct about a lot of women who took it. But then, isn't LiveJournal primarily a geek sort of place? Somehow, "geek" has always been more a masculine concept, and I suppose I fit that. I mean, I've always been a geek type girl and several men I know joke I'm a great gay man. I do male-type activities in my free time. So what does this assigning females a male gender say?

Or, more interestingly, what is the premise of the study on which it is based all about? I find the concept of male/female writing styles to be unsettlingly 19th century in outlook. Remember, women once weren't considered capable of great writing, because somehow they wrote differently. And people claimed to be able to tell. Well, this study claims there is a basic linguistic difference in how men and women express themselves. That, I can accept. Women are taught to soft-pedal, and couch things in less hard-edged terms, fairly early in life. I was always in trouble (and still am) for being rather direct and information-based in my communication style. Great for a tech writer. Considered very bad form for a woman. The people who take offense are invariably women. So maybe I just don't "speak their language." But then, I never have.

However, the authors of the study paper also that expected that the "differences would be reduced or eliminated in formal written text." It didn't happen. And it was the same result in both fiction and non-fiction. I find this troubling on several levels, in that it implies an inability for writers to achieve a gender neutral style, and implies that it involves something inherantly hard-wired into the brain. In short, change those pronouns all you like, their use alone, as well as the grammar and syntax will often ultimately give away the gender of the writer. Maybe.

Apparently, women use more pronouns. Now, pronouns are funny things. Pronouns are terribly non-specific and subject to misreading and misinterpretation. A good tech writer tries to avoid too much use of pronouns because they can be confusing. Even in fiction, pronouns are fraught with misdirection. If several male characters are present, to whom does "he" actually refer?
Interestingly, men tend to use non-gender-specific pronouns more than women. Fascinating, as Mr. Spock would say.

So instead of just putting down my gender test results, (which is boring, no surprise, and possibly a pointer to something that is based on a premise that I find unsettling) I figure it's better to start a little deep analytical thought on what's going on, here. Is this one of those tests that's the moral equivalent of being able to tell if you're a replicant or not, like the test in Blade Runner?

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