Gender Wars: Do Men and Women Write Differently?

See full issue for 2016 02-15

Every person on this planet writes differently, but is it because of gender? Are you telling me a penis is going to change how I think, feel, and communicate? Perhaps my experiences, which would be different had I been born a guy, influence what I write. However, I think the idea that gender affects our style or the themes in our writing is a load of horseshit. But hey, I’m open minded. I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong, so let’s explore this question a little more.

I don’t typically engage in the gender war thing, especially when it pertains to writing. I prefer to avoid all gender shit entirely. It’s a hot button discussion that has few winners and tends to crumble into messy, uncomfortable feelings.

However, I’ve been reading and thinking about this a lot lately, so I thought, let’s give gender its moment in the sun.

My first question was does gender affect the genre you write in? Well, it’s no secret that the romance genre is dominated by females (unless there are a shit ton of men using pen names out there). Even in the indie world, most romance authors are women. The same seems to be true for erotica. Is this because the girls are all about the feelings? Maybe. Or maybe it’s because it’s “acceptable” for a woman to write such things. The boys aren’t “expected” to write about love or relationships, or a hot threesome with the twins that take care of your horses…

Sorry. Tangent.

It’s also no secret that Science Fiction is a male dominated genre that seems depressingly full of dicks (pun intended). Is this genre more balanced in the indie world than the traditional one? I can’t find hard data to answer that question. Certainly, more women seem to be self-publishing in the sci-fi genre than are getting published by publishers. If I find some cold hard facts on this one, I will update you at a later date.

While it’s a couple years old, this article does shed some light on the male/female stats in speculative fiction (based on Tor’s figures anyway) when it comes to the submissions inbox. Are we women not submitting because we’re not writing those genres? I don’t think so.

Many feel that acquisitions editors and readers are biased when it comes to the books they prefer, choosing one gender over another, regardless of the quality of writing involved. I wondered, how do they know if the person they’re reading is male or female. Sure, there’s a name on the book, but with so many pen names and gender neutral names out there, how is it possible for them to know who wrote what they’re reading? Maybe they have enjoyed a slasher piece penned by a woman, or a hot romantic epic spun by a man.

But you can tell the difference…

Can you really?

I’ve encountered many readers who believe you can determine gender based on the emotion in the narrative. For example, female writers tend to hone in on reaction and motivation, while male writers highlight atmosphere and tone instead.

Another “stereotype” I’ve heard is that men tend to write fast-paced, action-packed tales, while us girls prefer to add some backstory, so we tend to slow it down a little in comparison. Men focus on plot answering the what, where and when, while the women are all about the how and why of everything. Really? Hmm. It’s also been suggested that the fairer sex is more interactive in our style, while dudes care more about conveying details, so they’re more impersonal. Screw the feels.


I wanted to investigate the assumption that one can determine gender of an author based solely on writing style, character, word choice and genre. So, I’ve been conducting a very unscientific experiment on my blog and my social media pages, where I asked several authors to write a scene based on a prompt. I had an equal number of males and females. Each writer had the same prompt and word limit, and I published the excerpts without names or any hints as to the gender of the authors.

And something interesting happened….

I broke the experiment into three parts. You can read the first two parts, and maybe take a stab at guessing the author’s genre here and here. When you’re through, take a peek at my results here.

The first thing I noticed was that I fooled almost no one with my scene. All but one participant guessed my piece was written by a female, and a few even guessed it was me that wrote it. So, apparently, I have a definable style and it’s girly.

What I found more interesting, though, was that when I tallied the “votes” almost everyone was right about 50% of the time. Of course, that also means they were wrong 50% of the time. Only a handful managed 65% correct, but no one scored higher than that. Both guys and gals had similar results, and another interesting bit I found was that we misidentified our own gender as often as we misidentified the opposite gender.

At least half of the participants admitted that their guesses were based on gut feelings, and not on any stylistic criteria. This isn’t a huge survey, which means it’s not exactly “conclusive”, but I’d say it does strongly suggest that it’s damn hard to determine gender based on a sample of writing. Perhaps a longer work, like a novel, would give a reader more clues, but I doubt it. Why?

Because the way we write, our style, and the genres we choose to write in are determined by our education, culture, life experiences and our “tastes.” While it’s true, gender affects all of those things, it doesn’t make girls write one way and boys another. We all have just one thing in common: We’re human (or most of us are). And being human means we each have unique elements that we bring to the table when it comes to creating. It has little or nothing to do with gender, but everything to do with who each writer is and where he or she has been.

So, if you’re a guy and someone says you write like a girl, say thanks. Same for the ladies who are told they write like a dude. Who cares? None of that matters as long as you’re writing a damn fine story.


Renee Miller

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