Friday, November 14, 2003

Yesterday marked the first visible (to me, anyway) snowfall of my part of Ohio. The wind damn bit. I like winter, but I hope this isn't a sign of things to come. Next quarter I'll have predominantly night courses, which means that the weather will be colder. But also that the sun will have had time to defrost my car a little. Nothing sucks so much as early Ohio mornings in the winter when you don't have a garage. Maybe someday I'll live somewhere warm, where I can be nostalgic about white Christmas'. Doubtful. I don't like all that hot all the time.

Anyway, I was trolling somebody's blog today (wish I could remember whose, to give credit), and saw a link to the Gender Genie. It's a program designed to find the gender of the author of a text. It claims to be 80% accurate. This sort of thing piques my interest, so I gave it a shot.

According to the Gender Genie, my blog is written by a man. I belong to the 20% minority who have a writing style that more resembles their opposite gender. Ahh, well. The program uses, I think, largely conjunctions to determine gender. It seems objective enough at first glance. But I think there's a stereotypical trick to it. I ran a couple of different blog entries through the program. Entries in which I was particularly emotional had higher female numbers, while entries in which I leaned more to the abstract ran higher male numbers. I also ran some non-blog writing through the machine; essays and short stories came back male, but the poetry came back female.

Two interpretations come to mind given that evidence. Either the system defines a female's writing as more emotive, or I begin to write more femininely when I become more emotive. I'm not sure which is right, though if the first is correct, the second would logically follow. Anyway, I'm not screaming sexism or anything. I'm just curious if the principle being invoked is more biological or if it's a cultural thing.

The subject has been on my mind recently. My 21st Century, post liberation worldview tends to minimize differences between the genders. Equality of the genders, the idea that a woman can do anything a man can do, has created a paradigm in which it's relatively heretical to mention that as biological creatures, and not individuals, women and men have differing tendencies.

My own personal experience, in which I've naturally shied away from "girl stuff" makes me a little sensitive to the issue. When you're three and prefer playing with Legos to Barbie Dolls, you get a Tom Boy label pretty quick. People handle the stigma differently. Lots of girls make themselves more "feminine" to avoid getting a label that they're gay. Others embrace the Tom Boy thing, and kick somebody's ass whenever the word lesbian comes up. As for me, I started getting called gay in first grade, I think, because I didn't like dresses, and preferred playing soccer to playing dolls, and I reduced the pain of the stigma by writing off the idea that there are designated ways that genders have to act.

Anyway, in the end, I think I'm right in thinking that the differences between genders are less than the differences between individuals. But just as tradition dictates that there are differences between sexes, I think that there probably are some basic general differences (after all, programs like the one mentioned above is 80% accurate). The problem comes, in my view, not when you say that there are gender differences, but when you start treating tendencies of gender as law. People are uncomfortable when other people act outside of gender stereotypes. As a culture, we've grown more accustomed to the Tom Boy as of late. But we still don't like the Sissy Boy. Even as someone who isn't prone to writing off every soccer-loving girl I see as too Butch and likely gay, I still get the willies when I see a guy acting effeminate. The way I see it, the difference between saying that girls and guys tend to act in certain ways, and saying that there are certain ways that girls and guys have to act, is the difference between being observant and being a jack ass.

Another fun gender determining program is found at: The