Friday, January 4, 2013

Quick Observations Regarding the Gender Bending Contest

On Monday I'll be posting a longer blog regarding Teresa Frohock's amazing guess-the-gender contest, but for now, I just want to jot down what I've observed so far. As you might know, the contest involves guessing whether a man or a woman wrote the excerpt or short in question. Ten pieces went up and hundreds of guesses were made.

Some who guessed male or female then offered a reason why. Though some went off into the realm of the weird, and some were just gaming it (figuring that if more male authors were participating, they'd be more likely to win by guessing male), on the whole the guessers were helpful and insightful. I sorted the reasons into eight general categories.

Treatment of Emotions. The people who mentioned emotions almost always indicated their belief that a female author was more likely to focus on them. Were they right? We'll know on Monday. (Maybe.)


“I'm gonna go with male because it sounds like it's written with a male voice. In particular, there is a terrible situation that arises, but there isn't any kind of embellishment and instead leaves the emotions up to the reader instead of describing what the characters are feeling.”

“. . . A lady. As for [t]he why, the focus is strongly on the emotions.”

External rather than Internal Truths, Conflicts, or Solutions. These guessers assumed a male would focus on external things while a female would go internal.


“Well, like everyone else this story threw me for a loop. But really, the emotion that should be there, isn't and this avoiding of internal truth and rather find an external truth for an internal problem seems much more in line with male writing ...”

Guessers' Prior Experience with Reading Male or Female Authors For these commenters, if the writing sounded to them like male or female authors they had read before, they went with that.


“The passage was confident and well paced and seemed to have a really strong idea of its main character. While that could apply to either gender, a female author is the gender more closely attuned to that description.”

Perceptions of How Characters' Genders were Depicted Both males and females noticed what they thought were uncharacteristic gender behaviors in the stories, and thus assumed the writer to be the opposite sex from the character - or else they perceived an accurate depiction and assumed a same-sex writer. I had a few problems with that, but fair enough. I learned a few things.


“I feel like this [writer] is female. I don't typically envision men shrieking as most aren't really capable of hitting registers that high. They'll yell and bellow and harumph and grump and gruff and complain... Shrieking just isn't a thing they really do, and bigger guys . . . are even less likely to be capable of that. Guys can get hysterical, don't get me wrong, we just typically don't shriek when we do.”

 “Male... Basing this on the nature of [the main character’s] priorities . . . He is task-focused in a way that is difficult for women to effectively imitate in my experience. It might just be someone who's really, really good at writing men, but my gut says it's natural.”

Language I found this interesting. Many guessers picked a gender based on a simile or aphorism in the text. Sometimes it came down to a single word they believed would not have been used by a male or female. Was it risky to guess based on a single word? I can't wait to find out.


“I feel like this was a female mostly from a bit of the commentary, and in particular the phrase, "Oh, how delightful!" I am far from being well-read, and even further when it concerns plain old romance, but I could not help but be reminded of Jane Austen when I was reading this.”

“The phrase, "He was a mean-ass bastard," just doesn't sound like something a guy would say.”

“Tough call, but male, because I've never read a female writer who says characters cross their arms over their breasts, or under them, or in any other way relating to their breasts. They just cross their arms.”

Themes Going from interesting to fascinating in the comments. Coming-of-age stories: feminine. Tech: masculine. Hierarchies: masculine. Vengeance: masculine. Challenging societal roles: feminine. Truth, power, self determination: masculine.


“Male, I'd guess, since the kneeling and hierarchy seemed tinged with a man's romanticism.”

“Strongly think male. For one thing, I hardly ever find female authors writing lesbian characters, but encountered plenty of men who do. I also think the themes of truth, power, control and self-determination are more typically male - modern male, specifically.”

Use of Description Readers tended to look carefully at description, noting what kinds of things the writer mentioned. Lots of detail caused readers to guess female, as did descriptions of clothing. (I think they might have forgotten Myke Cole, who as a military man might notice a spiffy uniform and such.) Finally, many commented that men would focus more on visuals while women would go for additional senses such as smell.


“The first few images are not visual, but rather involve smell, taste, and touch. There is far less visual imagery overall than that of other senses.”

“Female. Too much attention to clothes.”

“Female. . . . Particularly the things the author chose to describe. Men and women notice different things. I really do not think the cleanliness of the man's uniform would have ranked so highly to a male author.” 

Finally, the Genre A few people guessed based on genre (romance, YA, sci fi, etc.)

Examples: (None. This blog post is getting too long for what I meant to be a few quick observations.)

Well that's it for now. Monday will bring some interesting revelations (though I am one of the authors, I know only who wrote three of the pieces, including my own).


  1. And this is why I think all of my entries were wild guesses!

  2. Mine were too, on the seven pieces for which I did not know the authors. Except for one - the romance. I have my suspicions about that one!