I first posted this challenge in June, noting that, as authors, we share a common humanity, but that we write from a position limited by gender, social background, ethnicity, cultural environment and sexual orientation, as well as by our own life experience.
Of course, as storytellers, our words are designed to depart from fact and enter the realm of fiction. If we are writing memoir, our audience can reasonably expect an ‘authentic’ account but the realm of storytelling is the realm of imagination. The most commonly cited examples are the crime writer not having needed to have committed murder, and the science-fiction writer not having needed to have left the planet or to have travelled to the future.
Questions I’ve been pondering:
- How effectively can a male author inhabit the female psyche, exploring a woman’s mindset? And vice versa.
- Are there identifiable differences in the hand of male and female authors? (ie. how far is our writing style influenced by our gender – whether we define gender as a biological state or as a social/cultural construct)?
- Also, importantly, as readers, do we make assumptions as to what we expect from the style of the male/female hand?
In pursuit of answers, I, and the authors of the extracts below (male and female) invited you to reflect on our various writing styles, challenging you to identify the gender of each author. Answers are now at the foot of each extract: all extracts were chosen by the authors themselves, and from existing works (not written specifically for this challenge).
In reading them again, reflect on WHY we might reason in a particular way. Are we guilty of applying stereotypes, as to how we believe the male/female hand ‘should’ look? Or, are there truly stylistic markers which reveal the gender of an author…?
“Stop it!” she said, playfully hitting me with a pillow. I grabbed her wrist to stop her and we fell onto the bed, into an embrace, a clinch, a kiss, a roll, a wrestle, her on top, me on top, her beneath me and then me beneath her, tongues locked, hands exploring, heat rising. We stopped and pulled apart, staring at each other. A kind of awkward but hot realization of what was happening.
“Wow,” she said, and we both burst out laughing, kissing, laughing, kissing. Undressing.
The above extract is from a forthcoming work by Jonathan Kemp. Of six guesses, four surmised correctly that he is a man.
The temptation to hurt her is strong, to skewer her with more than his ready cock. His hand shakes as he battles impulse, corruption hot in his veins. He grips the blades wide. How easy it would be to plunge them into her. The viper within him hisses, wishing to split her with its venom, to see the spilling of her true self. Would death reveal some part of her so far hidden? A seductive secret?
There is her skin, and his, the prickle of primal impulses beneath the epidermis: skin dead yet hypersensitive. Cloaking skin, skin wrapping the toxic. He wears his skin, as she wears hers. Peel it back and what will he see?
The above extract is by Emmanuelle de Maupassant, from the forthcoming ‘For the Men’ anthology. Of seven guesses, six surmised correctly that I am a woman.
“My husband sleeps with his back to me, but I don’t sleep at all. I lie here out of habit. The kind that’s easy to break but you just keep forgetting to get around to it until it becomes your life. I go back to his pathetic tantrum over the car and realize what felt so different this afternoon when he was yelling about nothing. I never got that clench of stress I always used to feel when we argue.
I begin to understand the systematic dissolution of love. We lie close but never touch, remembering vague glimpses of things we never mention. We only talk about necessities. He’s still a handsome man, with a talent for making money. Everything else is a blank form to be filled out with the shards of broken memories.”
He has this thing about posture.
My husband will tell me to stand perfectly straight, ankles together, hands at my sides.
“Shoulders back and tits out,” he will say. He will correct my errors with the thin cane across my naked ass and I will secretly crave another, or across the fronts of my thighs, and I will not. But if I have an occasion coming up that will require me to wear shorts or a skirt, he will not hit my thighs. He knows my calendar better than I do.
“It’s all about the beauty of the female form,” he will tell me, “And working to achieve its utmost potential.” A slouching girl is just not as attractive as a statuesque one, her assets well displayed. Well, who could argue with that?
The above extract is by an anonymous male author. Of seven guesses, four surmised correctly that he is a man.
“Mm.” He kissed me. I mean a real kiss, slow and gentle and sweet. Nobody’d ever kissed me like that before. Didn’t take long before we was both using our tongues, and the deeper we went the tighter we hugged each other. I liked the feel of his bare skin against mine. I liked the way he smelled, all clean and spicy like a breeze through an orange grove down south, and kinda warm, too, like he was maybe just a little excited. I couldn’t get close enough to that.
He didn’t say anything until a pair of drinks had been delivered to the table. Then he leaned forward, and his voice was a low growl when he answered, “You need to be bound. Bound to my whim and paraded on a lead throughout the Arena so that everyone knows you are mine. You need to be beaten, often and thoroughly, so that you never forget just how much regard I have for you and how dear to me you truly are. And you need to be taken, bent over a table and savaged until your screams of pleasure and your cries for mercy ring from the very rafters. That, my dear Iras, is what you need.” He sat back, raised his drink, and smiled. “Unfortunately, it’s not what I can give you. Not tonight. Would you settle for dinner?”
The above extract is by Elizabeth Schechter. Of six guesses, three surmised correctly that she is a woman.
I tried not to fidget, but my bum insisted that it was simply not possible to find a comfortable way to sit on that horrid little stool. I was beginning to think of it as a hooker’s point-of-sale display stand. Its only purpose appeared to be to allow me to wave my legs around and attract attention. My legs tended to be noticed anyway, long and fairly shapely, even though I do say so myself. Della certainly liked them. Almost every man and quite a lot of the women gave them more than a passing glance.
I sipped at the colourful and tasty, but regretfully alcohol-free, concoction in my glass and looked around the gallery as casually as I could. I wasn’t normally nervous at a stake-out, but I was with a new team, in a public place and in the presence of some eager and enthusiastic amateurs.
The above extract is by Ian Smith. Of seven guesses, four surmised correctly that he is a man.
Her confidant, Celine had listened to her complaints of her husband’s inability to satisfy her sexual needs, and had been truly sympathetic, as she patted her close friend’s hand. She had sipped her cognac and had then made a suggestion. One that had truly astonished and surprised Mathilde.
Celine confided her secret in a soft whisper, having made sure that no servants or other listeners were prowling the house.
“My dear Mathilde, you are no older than I, you are still of good looks and your body is most desirable to men. Perhaps you should take up my remedy for your problem. I assure you that it is a most satisfying one but you will need to be adventurous in its application.”
With a small collection of outfits in hand, Devyn tugged Mary toward the dressing area and ushered her into their assigned booth, barely large enough for one and crowded with two…
Mary’s protest turned to a soft sigh as Devyn put her lips over the thin fabric covering her hidden treasure. With the moist heat of Devyn’s soft mouth, Mary’s nipples twisted into hard nubs, begging for more attention.
Mary struggled half-heartedly, an arrow of lust piercing her groin, as Devyn continued the oral torture.
“Are you two alright in there?” asked the disembodied voice of the attendant.
Devyn cackled as she wadded up Mary’s clothes, then threw them over the top of the door.
“Put these in the pile to go to Goodwill.”
Mary’s eyes nearly popped from her skull.
“Devyn,” she said in a whispered shriek.
The above extract is by Spencer Dryden. Of six guesses, three surmised correctly that he is a man.
The parking lot overflowed at the Halloween Tree, one those stores that pop up in empty storefronts in the mall every year and then vanish right after the big night to come back the next year someplace else, like toadstools in the lawn.
The twins took off to find the “gross” masks in the back of the store, and Carolyn strolled down the props aisle with plastic hands, rats, and spiders, all the while being sonically accosted by yelling, flashing, and jiggling skeletons, ghouls, and tombstones when she walked past them.
“Hey, you’re here too,” Kathie said, also childless for the moment, until hers came back to drag her to see what she was not going to buy them. And what she might buy them, given the limits on the credit card and adult taste.
“Hi. Yes, it’s getting to be like Christmas at these places—more stuff every year to spend money on.”
“You said it, and they always get to have all the fun dressing up and all. But hey, this year will be different. Do you want to come with me to a grown-up party next weekend? Saturday night?”
“Oh, I haven’t been to a Halloween party without the kids in years. What do people even wear now?”
“As little as possible at this one, I’m sure. It will be at Susan and Paul’s new house, and they always have very adult themes. Remember that Christmas party a couple of years ago?”
The above extract is by T. J. Vermillion. Of six guesses, three surmised correctly that TJ is a man.
“Here’s the thing about Zelda. She’s always there. She’s never not there and she’s impossible to miss, but you have to pay attention, and most people don’t—pay attention, that is. The world, for most people, ends at their frontal lobe, which is pretty fucking limiting. Not that I’m complaining. It’s relaxing in a way. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s a person’s self-interest.”
The above extract is by Malin James. Of seven guesses, three surmised correctly that Malin is a woman.
(update – July 2015)
Where we do think we can identify a male/female hand, it’s interesting to ponder WHY we are reasoning in a particular way. See comments below for thoughts…
Feel free to add yours in light of the above reveal.