The Male/Female Hand

writingI 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…?

 

Extract One

“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.

 

Extract Two

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 deadClfSq-CVAAABzvG.jpg-large 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.

 

Extract Three

“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. 15847476He’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.”

 

The above extract is by Frank Lee, from Violet Rising. Of six guesses, only two surmised correctly that he is a man.

 

Extract Four

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.

 

Extract Five

“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 28807912enough to that.

 

The above extract is by Terrance Aldon Shaw, from Moon-haunted Heart. Of six guesses, only two surmised correctly that he is a man.

 

Extract Six

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.

 

Extract Seven

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.

 

Extract Eight

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.”

19301669“Oh Celine, please do not tease me so, I must know more. My excitement is growing as we speak. What are you suggesting?

 

The above extract is by Charlie B, from Monsieur Touton: Parisian Gigolo Extraordinaire. Of six guesses, only two surmised correctly that he is a man.

Extract Nine

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.

 

Extract Ten

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.

 

Extract Eleven

“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.

 

gender in writing .png

(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.

 

 

 

27 thoughts on “The Male/Female Hand

  1. I can’t believe I fooled anyone, even though I know both female characters very well. (extract 9) It gives me hope that the WIP from which my excerpt was derived might register with F/F women readers.

  2. A fascinating experiment, and I’m sure I’m going to do a bad job of guessing the gender of the writers. But here it goes:

    1. Male (the series of verbs pushed me to that side). 2. Male (the viper made me guess that). 3. Female (based on talk of habit). 4. Female (mention of calendar). 5. Male (a funny thought, as “before we was both” felt like a guy). 6. Female (seemed like it was written by a female submissive). 7. Female (the talk of legs). 8. Male (I don’t have a specific thing, just a feeling). 9. Male (“hard nubs” made me choose). 10. Female (based on the mention of “childless”). 10. Male (again, more of a feeling than a specific thing).

    I find my reasons funny, and they’re probably off the mark. It’s really curious what makes us think of masculine and feminine. It makes me wonder how much of that is based on what culture has fed me, and what I’ve learned from my own experience. Thanks for doing this experiment!

  3. My feelings are that many of these are quite typically either male or female in their voices – now you can tell me I’ve got them all wrong! I’m not sure if these are extracts of existing works or if you asked the people to write in a typical manner or if you’ve asked them to disguise the gender of their voices if they pleased, but my ‘inspired’ guesses are:

    1M. 2F. 3M. 4F. 5F. 6M. 7M. 8F. 9M. 10M. 11F

    1. Hi Mark
      The pieces are all from existing works, submitted by the authors, and not created for this challenge, so they should be fair representations.
      You did pretty well with your guesses: 7 correct.
      Which elements in numbers 4 and 5 made you decide the voice was female?

      1. Revisiting 4, I’d say it was written by a man. The lack of emotive content and qualifying adjectives suggest it’s not been written by a woman. I still think 5 was written by a woman, the non-visual descriptions are more like what I believe a woman would use.

  4. I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess on any of them. These are all short excerpts chosen by the writers, so they had the option to filter out the “will this give it away” material!

    I suspect that men and women can both write fairly convincingly in the other gender’s voice, but there will be some aspects of male and female “life experience” which differ. Additionally, they may have a male or female character who is atypical of gender stereotypes, at least in the situation described by the story. I suspect a writer really wanting to “get it right” would ask for advice too…

    Good fun and very interesting, especially seeing your “scores”.

  5. Clearly a skilled author can inhabit characters of any gender. However, many of the excerpts above struck me as typical of erotic romance (some to the point of being stereotyped) in their tone, subject matter and overall perspective. Although there are some male authors of romance, the majority are female. (I’ve notice, though, that some male romance authors emulate the style of female authors.)

    I’ll render a guess that only 1,7 and 11 were written by males. But this is really just a guess. A lot depends, Emanuelle, on whether you chose these excerpts to reveal or to mislead!

    1. Thank you Lisabet. I agree that a skilled writer can inhabit any character.

      The above authors chose the extracts themselves (all taken from existing works – rather than being written specifically for this ‘challenge’).

      Looking at number 7, which features ‘spoke’ male to you?
      x

  6. With short excerpts like this, it is super hard to tell! In longer pieces, I think it is really a question of voice. If an author is a master of voice, they can become anyone. (Memoirs of a Geisha comes to mind… I keep on forgetting it was written by a white American man! He completely became the character for the duration of the story.) I will say that it’s fun to read erotica and romance by male authors, since so many tend to be women. Vive la difference!

    1. I had forgotten Memoirs of a Geisha, Fionna. When I read it some years ago I was convinced that it was an autobiography written by a woman, and was totally shocked at the end to find it was written by a man, and that it was a work of fiction, albeit based upon some stories that came from geishas. So clearly I am no judge of gender when it comes to reading someone’s work.

      1. Reading the ‘answers’ above I am sure that I would have got many of them wrong. If this teaches us anything it is that we should not rush to make snap judgements based on our perceptions and prejudices. A very interesting experiment, Emmanuelle. Thank you.

  7. Just going with my gut instincts and trying not to over analyze…this is tough because I really don’t pay attention to the writer while reading 😉

    M, F, F, M, F, M, M, F, M, F, F

      1. Just an instinctual guess…but here is my question. How are you categorizing the writers as male or female? Do you actually know them, or are you going by name or internet presentation? (I ask due to a spate of supposedly male writers turning out to be women)

  8. I enjoyed this thought. Personally, I think in writing, it is easier for the gender lines to blur. For a few reasons I suppose. One is the structure of written language as opposed to spoken language. Also, a transference of language that occurs as a reader.

    I have read a few female authors that write very strong male point of views (even if there are ‘tells’ if you look hard enough). While I believe this is true for male authors writing strong female POVs, I can only make that assumption.

    That all said, thanks for the thought-provoking post. Here are my guesses, for what they are worth. (BTW, I believe I had a more difficult time deciding these, because there was a erotic theme in each, so I had a bias to assume female for most. The statistician in my head getting in the way.) The ones marked with a ‘?’ as well are the one’s I felt had a better chance of possibly going the other way.

    1 F
    2 F?
    3 F
    4 M?
    5 F
    6 M?
    7 F
    8 F?
    9 F
    10 M
    11 F

      1. Oh, I am hardly worried that I only got 4 correct. If the pieces were longer or I spent a bit more time pondering it (versus a quick read and going with more of a gut feeling), I might have scored better. Yet, my initial point I think remains that some of the mechanics of writing to express language can buffer the gender of the writer a bit.

        I actually maked both 4 and 6 as on the fence, leaning toward male. And rereading 10, I am surprised I wasn’t a bit more on the fence as well.

        I think with 10, the dialogue feels more feminine, but the descriptors felt like they were written by a guy.

        Even though I was on the fence with 4 & 6; with 4, actually the first line made me think it was written by a woman, it was the rest of it that slowly changed my mind. With 6, it was similar. Both of those were tricky though because I completely lack a connection with the pain/discipline thrill so to speak. So, hard to say for me if that is how a man would completely think/feel about it, because I have a complete disconnect from it.

        Not sure if any of that helps your curiosity or research, but there it is for what it is worth.

  9. OK, I’m gonna play! 1. F 2. F 3. M 4. F 5. M 6. F 7. M 8. M 9. F 10. M 11. M

    I dithered over 7 and 8. The rationale behind all my guesses is top secret until I know how badly I performed!

      1. I was mainly trying to focus on syntax, rather than content, and thinking that men often have a more direct style of communicating than women (and there’s a huge history of gendered culture powering that). But my somewhat crass assessment criteria are not (please!) to be misinterpreted as “women are coy about sex and need it parceled up in love and narrative while men are devoid of nuance and sensitivity”!

        I also noted some phrases and structures that I felt were well worn, and I allocated those pieces ‘female’ points bc I think women are more likely to be reading erotica and perhaps unconsciously absorbing and repeating those prose tropes.

        Looking forward to reading the results and seeing where I missed the mark! (I also belatedly wondered how writers who don’t identify as binary might fit into this.)

  10. No idea, they all could be either and I would only be guessing. Just for fun I will try a couple.
    #2 Woman, #11 Man, #7 Woman, #4 Man. No particular reason for choosing other than a word choice here and there and an intuitive impression.

    We’re all the same and it really doesn’t matter what sex writes anything. Both can do it equally well or equally horrible! That’s what makes it fun.

      1. I thought #2 sounded like a man, but it may be a woman! “Princess Bride” Vizzini effect.

        For #11, it was just my impression of “frontal lobe…”

  11. I honestly don’t know which ones were written by female writers, and which ones by male writers. I have always assumed that women concentrate more on the emotional aspect of relationships, whereas men are more interested in actions, but that might just be my bias. I am firmly of the opinion that as a writer of fiction, nothing should be outside my remit to write about, whether it is in the realm of my experience or not. As you say, you don’t have to kill someone to write a good murder story.

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