Monday, September 22, 2014

He Said, She Said

Post by Jenny

Take a look at this list of words and see if you can identify what they have in common:

codec
golem
Kevlar
paladin
biped
dreadnought


Or these:
bottlebrush
decoupage
wisteria
mascarpone
taupe
bodice

If you’re picking up that both lists might have at least a hint of gender bias, you’re correct. Ghent University conducted an online vocabulary test wherein participants were asked to identify which of 100 letter sequences that flashed across the screen were real English words. They didn’t have to know the meanings, just whether they thought a particular group of letters was a word. Mark Brysbaert, Director of the Center for Reading Research, analyzed the first 500,000 results, focusing on differences in gender. (I found this on Slate, via Business Insider.)

The lists also include the percentages of men and women to correctly identify the words. Ninety percent of men, for example, knew, or correctly guessed, that dreadnought was a word, compared to only sixty-six percent of women. Considering that a dreadnought is a battleship, a type of acoustic guitar, and a video game, that covers a lot of territory for hobbies and interests.

Similarly, ninety-three percent of women recognized taupe, while only sixty-six percent of men did. (C’mon guys. You’ve got to buy more stockings. I think taupe might even be the color Joe Namath wore in that legendary advertisement.)

In general, the ‘male’ words were associated with transportation, science, and weapons. The ‘female’ words had more to do with fashion, art, and flowers. And, yes, I realize that lists like this should be taken with a grain of salt. Different people know different words for a variety of reasons: education, socioeconomics, culture, profession. You can bet that police officers and chefs make it their business to know Kevlar and mascarpone, regardless of gender.

It’s our job as writers to understand that, while men and women can and should be equal, they’re not the same. It’s okay for characters of different genders to use different words. And even, occasionally, leave the toilet seat up. Because that's how it is in real life.

Do you think word choice is an effective way to show gender differences?




3 comments:

RichardK said...

I'm in touch with my feminine side, because I knew what all those words were, including taupe. No, I don't have stockings of that color. My eyeliner, on the other hand...

Michelle Mach said...

So interesting! I'm not sure I would have known "golem" except that it's the name of a bead company. :)

Sarah Sullivan said...

I don't know if it is effective or not. It is always interesting, however, to realize the ways in which men and women interpret things differently. I certainly think of some books or some writers as more feminine or more masculine.

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