[writing] (fe)male stories - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-06-11 19:14
Subject: [writing] (fe)male stories
Security: Public
Tags:process, writing
One of the rather intense topics of discussion last week at Rio Hondo was the concept of masculine and feminine writing. Not, specifically, stories by persons of either gender, but more generally the idea that stories themselves have gender. While there are analytics such as Gender Genie which do textual mapping based on established algorithms, the discourse ran more toward the themes and types of stories which get written, and how they can be thought to have gender associations.

There are easy stereotypes which can be pointed to, about how stories resolve, whether they're internally or externally focused, and so forth. We dug deeper than that, which was fascinating, though like many such topics it does not lend itself to resolution.

I was also struck by how this discussion overlapped with the recent kerfuffle over gender and race in editorial acceptances. The fact that our field is fundamentally committed to writing about the Other lends a strange cast to all these discussions. It's not as if there's a specific qualification for SF, unlike women's lit or post-colonial lit or whatever.

What do you think differentiates a masculine or feminine story? Can you offer (or ideally, link to) an example?
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User: dragonkal
Date: 2007-06-12 02:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What do you think differentiates a masculine or feminine story?

I don't think there is such a thing as a masculine or feminine story. To me, that requires a stronger boundary between "masculine" and "feminine" than I'm willing to stipulate.
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User: buymeaclue
Date: 2007-06-12 12:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You don't think one could posit a range, with "masculine stories" and "feminine stories" at the far ends?
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bodandra: the night of a party
User: bodandra
Date: 2007-06-12 02:34 (UTC)
Subject: This is a very interesting question
Keyword:the night of a party
I tend to not worry about this ... in my Role Playing Days I was often told by fellow gamers (all men) that I should have been a man - it must depend on how others react to the writing.
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Rose Fox
User: rosefox
Date: 2007-06-12 03:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
All of the stories in maureenmcq's Mothers and Other Monsters, which I just finished reading, strike me as masculine female stories.

Every system of classification needs multiple axes.
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Katherine Sparrow
User: ktsparrow
Date: 2007-06-12 03:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think that in thirty years we'll look back on a lot of writing and say, oh wow, that's so ought-gendered, that's so stuck in those limited ideas about male/female dichotomies or identities and comes from such a limited idea about gender and where a story can go. At least I hope gender is a bit more fluid then, and that lots of stories will seem dated and funny to think that it would be appealing more to women or men, which I would guess is essentially what a masculine or feminine story means--though it might be more complex than that. I think it's really hard to see right now those basic assumptions about who and what we are.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-06-12 03:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The problem with any discussion of that type is that people tend to lapse into a shorthand which rapidly becomes mistakable for a more proscriptive framework than anybody originally meant it to be. I have no problem with discussing "masculine" and "feminine" stories in the sense of "stories with qualities which mainstream would generally identify as being characteristic of male/female writers and/or appealing to male/female readers," but that's unwieldy to say, and so before long the discussion starts sounding like it's positing more of a concrete divide between genders than the discussants may have intended.

Which doesn't answer your question, of course, but I don't necessarily have good answers to what I would call a masculine or feminine story, beyond the obvious stereotypes, which are nothing more than straw figures to be knocked down. (Shit blows up? Masculine. People talk about their feelings? Feminine. Yeah, right.)

The textual analysis programs are all deeply suspicious to me. Maybe there are better ones that actually work, but the Internet-available ones I've seen are all wretched. Their success rate at identifying the gender of a writer is abysmal, so all they're doing is identifying writing styles that don't actually map to anything other than the preconceived models of the people who wrote the program.
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User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2007-06-12 04:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have no problem with discussing "masculine" and "feminine" stories in the sense of "stories with qualities which mainstream would generally identify as being characteristic of male/female writers and/or appealing to male/female readers,"

If we're going to make use of some stereotypes ... I was thinking of a more subtle use. What flashed into my mind was "The Cold Equations" as an extreme 'male' story: it was about facts, and how emotions couldn't alter facts.

Let's see, an extreme 'female' story.... Not HELLSPARK, it had too much hard fact and practicality. Maybe some of Amy Lowell's poetry. Hm, maybe GAUDY NIGHT. More so, Tey's TO LOVE AND BE WISE: where the mystery is motive, who FELT strongly enough to do it.... Or maybe I don't read the 'female' kind....
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Erin Hoffman
User: zhai
Date: 2007-06-12 03:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Purely for the sake of discussion, I am tossing this out more or less off the cuff...

Milieu --> Shadow
Idea --> Animus
Character --> Anima
Event --> Ego

Again, this is without full buy-in even from me, but I wonder about it in terms of classifying story types as cross referenced with gender.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-06-12 04:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
With only a cursory knowledge of the latter terms, that still looks intriguing. Even if it's not ultimately a workable frame, could I get you to expand on it?
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User: ktempest
Date: 2007-06-12 03:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"The fact that our field is fundamentally committed to writing about the Other..."

Um. I'm going to have to call you out on that statement. Cuz I see very little of that going on in our field.
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russ: watchmen
User: goulo
Date: 2007-06-12 05:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was wondering about that claim as well.

In one sense, it's so vague as to be irrefutable. "The Other" could mean anything really: another time, another world, another universe. In a general sense, ALL fiction is about "the Other".

But in context, it seemed to be aiming at "Other people/beings with radically different psychology" (read: "aliens", "monsters", etc?), in which case I'd say plenty of sf is about not-radically-different people (who often happen to be in sf-ish situations which are different from our time/world/universe).
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-06-12 13:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Men tend to be less wordy than women, and use more straightforward sentence structures"

While I can see that examples of this can be easily cited (Hemingway vs Austen, perhaps?) I tend to think that it is by no means as simple as that.

Can't resist a test (not obligatory, but if you're going to make a claim like that, you should be able to follow through). Two extracts:

"It was clear, at once, that her assistance in the kitchen would have been unnecessary; indeed, would have likely been a hindrance. She had been taught many skills, which had stood her in good stead, but she was well aware that her cooking was nothing more than adequate. Hao Qu’s, by contrast, was magnificent. There were subtle blends of spices that played against one another, and momentary explosions of ginger and pepper that were a delight to the tongue. The meat – which might have been pork, but might have been something else – was succulent and tender. She had to force herself to eat daintily."

"However, it soon became clear that Nightingale was not intending to use his voice. He played only on the harp. His fingers swept across the strings, drawing in their wake crystalline sounds that slowly rose to a pitch, evoking the beauty of reflections on the water, the simple joys of lovers walking by the river, the tireless gestures of wives kneading the dough for tomorrow's bread--and Maena, entranced by the song, fell into the endless rhythm of the farm and of the communion with the seasons.
And the song turned darker. The chords were still struck with the same skill, but something jarring underpinned them--the sound of crystal breaking, the slithery hiss of an adder before it strikes, the last, desperate scream of a deer hounded by hunters."

So, author genders for those two extracts?

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User: muneraven
Date: 2007-06-12 13:58 (UTC)
Subject: Too complicated
I don't think writing can be classified as masculine or feminine. There are too many layers of expression, and each one in isolation might be classified as masculine or feminine. What if you have a story that seems to be stereotypically masculine in sentence structure but stereotypically feminine in character development and yet stereotypically masculine in plot. Is that a masculine story? Maybe its an effeminately masculine story, lol?

We do this with people all the time. If a gay man is flamboyant in his gestures and wears a certain sort of clothing, we say he is feminine, never looking at the fact that his sexual habits, if looked at in isolation from his surface presentation, are stereotypically very male and perhaps he wants nothing to do with children, which is not exactly a feminine (nurturing) trait. If a lesbian wears a suit and tie we think she wants to be a man or at least is masculine. It doesn't matter if her choice of profession is highly nurturing or she exhibits many other traits we consider feminine.

I think it's impossible to label something as complex as a person or a story as masculine or feminine. There are too many layers to consider and the definitions of gender are too imprecise.

As far as I am concerned, only genitals can be safely labeled masculine and feminine at this point, and even THAT is changing.

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Jen Volant: eyes
User: tacithydra
Date: 2007-06-12 14:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Short answer: I think stereotypes differentiate a masculine or feminine story!

Longer answer: I always get irritable when thinking about this question (a flaw of my own as much as the question's), because I'm coming out of the school of thought that says there's not any practicable difference between men and women's writing styles that isn't instilled by culture.

Descriptions of babies ("Oh, he's a strong one! Oh, she's so soft and precious!") change depending on whether the very same baby is dressed in pink or in blue. Descriptions of authors' writing changes depending on what gender everyone thinks they are. Propagating the qualities associated with masculine vs. feminine writing just reinforces the fact that each gender has a default 'style' associated with it. Which means the writing style people use is going to be at least partially influenced by that dichotomy - either engaging in your gender-appropriate category, or working against it (not to say that this will take over anyone's writing style, or what-have-you, but I think in most cases it'll be bouncing around in people's heads).

This turns into a worm eating its own tail - people think they can ID the gender of the author depending on the style of writing. Look at the recent editorials about the feminization of science fiction - they're attacking works by both men and women, but they're doing it through the lens of gender. A lens that they can apply because describing the writing as masculine or feminine is a popular way of breaking down writing styles.

Eventually it turns into people thinking they can always ID the gender of an author by only reading their prose, much like people who think they can always spot someone who's gay - just because they were right about a few obvious cases, doesn't mean there's not a crapload of people out there who are far more subtle and in a grayer space, in terms of how they present (be it interpersonally or through prose).

So, back around to the short answer again, I think applying the label feminine or masculine to a writing style is bullshit. It would be just as easy to describe the very same differences in style supposedly picked out by 'masculine' or 'feminine' with words that actually describe aspects of that style, rather than yoking it to a particular gender.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-06-12 14:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It would be just as easy to describe the very same differences in style supposedly picked out by 'masculine' or 'feminine' with words that actually describe aspects of that style, rather than yoking it to a particular gender.

Which would, of course, immediately reveal that there's a multiplicity of axes along which styles can be identified: action-oriented plot vs. character-oriented plot, complex sentences vs. simple sentences, lack of adjectives vs. use of adjectives, etc. All of which do tend to vanish when we reduce it to binary labels.
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In a heaven of people only some want to fly
User: chipmunk_planet
Date: 2007-06-12 16:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'll call BS on the male/female story as well. I've critted more flowery poetic writings by men than I care to relate.

I'm a SF action/adventure/thriller writer. It's partly a function of genre. Fantasy and romance novels tend more to long descriptions and poetic prose; a thriller by definition has a lot of action, short sentences, and cutting to the chase.

Now more women write fantasy and romance in general, so maybe that's where the stereotyping began, I dunno.
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User: hijhinckx
Date: 2007-06-13 08:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
New writer question this discussion made me think about -

What if you have a storyline that is, for instance, primarily action/adventure and hence uses fewer adjectives/shorter sentences/less description (generally speaking) in those large swathes of story that are action and physically-moving-the-plot-forward oriented, but switch to a somewhat heavier use of descriptives and longer sentences and perhaps even a somewhat more "feminine" tone (for lack of a better word) when you bring the land (setting) forward in a particular scene, or come to the primary romance sequence of the tale? (We're not talking bouncing between Hemingway and Austen here, but a noticeable difference none-the-less.)

Is this just poor writing (inconsistent, etc.)? Or, if well-written and fitting for the portions of the tale being told, perfectly (or at least potentially) acceptable?
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User: hijhinckx
Date: 2007-06-13 08:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh - written in third person, though admittedly the setting and romance scenes are primarily from female POVs.
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