The other day–for no apparent reason–I researched the functions of the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex. Okay, my research wasn’t entirely random, but sprang from an article I’d read, which theorized that behavioral traits are related to the right or left dominance of the amygdala and the OFC. Already aware that behavioral traits don’t necessarily have gender associations, I asked myself, “But aren’t male and female amygdalas different and, if so, how does this relate to personality and the differences between male and female thought processes?”
Due to this admittedly small project I embarked on [which should actually be as big as the sky, but I was at work that day], I ran across this timeless statement by Nobel Prize-winning author VS Naipaul: ‘[VS Naipaul] felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. “And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too,” he said’ (read more at this UK Guardian article).
I also stumbled, yet again, on the Gender Genie, which is an online tool used to determine author gender. The Gender Genie is notoriously bad at guessing gender, most likely owing to the simplicity of the algorithm. Its approach is one of by-the-number uses of male versus female words. In regards to my own writing, my nonfiction nearly always merits a male rating, while my fiction is split. I’m not alone in this–just try throwing in excerpts from famous authors, and you will realize that spotting author gender is far more complex than counting male versus female words [for example, J. K. Rowling is decidedly male. I’ll bet you wouldn’t have guessed that by looking at her pretty face].
And then I remembered Patrick Todoroff’s latest blog post Targets and Intentions, in which he defines his reading audience as male, and his writing as masculine. I know what he means by masculine fiction and, yet, at the same time, I don’t have a clue. For example, I enjoyed his book Running Black, not for the action scenes–which, for me, I can take or leave–but for the ideas. I read speculative fiction to explore ideas, such as man-becoming-machine through the use of nanobots.
Conversely, I know what feminine literature is–but how can I define it?
What is the true differential between male and female literature if language clue words aren’t the key to recognition? Why can I almost always spot author gender? What is my brain detecting? For a start, let’s put aside the notion that men and women are exactly alike. You can cast aside gender stereotypes–I don’t mind. But, please, for the sake of argument, let’s admit that men and women are different. I’m not exactly the most “feminine woman” according to gender stereotypes. I’m withdrawn and unfriendly, relationship avoidant, not a natural nurturer; I don’t have a clue what to do with my hair, my fashion sense is completely lacking, and I don’t have curves. And I’m sort of “autistic” as far as emotions go.
However, I’ve been married for nearly nineteen years, and I now know without doubt that I must be female [yes, bearing four children with little to no trouble has convinced me. And aside from that, I don’t get my husband’s mind AT ALL]. In addition, I’m reasonably certain my writing sounds feminine. And why is that, I’d like to know?
In this online PDF, I discovered a fascinating study on this very topic: Gender, Genre, and Writing Style in Formal Written Texts. This quote begins to get at the heart of the difference between male and female writing: “Thus, one main locus of difference between men’s and women’s writing is the way the people, objects, collectives and institutions are presented. In particular, since we will see that it is specifically pronouns that refer to animate “things” that are used with greater frequency in female-authored documents, our results are consistent with earlier findings that
men talk more about objects, while women talk more about relationships (Aries & Johnson 1983; Tannen 1990)” (a link to the full text).
I think the researchers may be on to something. Again, to connect myself with my gender, I have to admit that I write about relationships because I don’t understand people, and I’m desperately attempting to crack their codes. So even as an outlier among my gender [at least I feel that way], I’m still focused on what makes people tick. Yes, I know, I’m not the voice of collective womanhood. I’m simply connecting my experiences with this research, seeing if the pieces match.
Although I haven’t come to any hard and fast conclusions, except to generally concede that men are more object-oriented and prefer action, as well as being more aggressive than women, my overly active imagination suddenly wondered if this is the problem with Christian fiction and why authors such as Mike Duran are perpetually critiquing the Christian publishing market. Read this article of his as an example: The Christian Fiction Market Reflects a Dangerous Worldview Shift. Perhaps his real gripe has nothing to do with a focus on materialism over spirituality, but a focus on the complexity and nuance of relationships over the revelation of spirituality in real, objective terms.
Maybe the truth is that Christian fiction has been castrated and can’t tolerate masculinity.
Hear me out for a moment–I, unlike VS Naipaul, am not belittling feminine literature. Using femininity as an insult is as reductive as criminalizing masculinity. But could we create balance in this, please? Can we bring the men back into the fold? Or is Christian fiction too far gone for that?
****Because I’m obviously a terrible communicator, I’m editing in my actual conclusion. Highlighting the psychology and complexity of relationships through literature is both spiritual and intelligent, but it appears to be a feminine trope. I doubt anybody would argue with the claim that Christian fiction is largely composed of this model. So why are we afraid of a masculine model [perhaps because men don’t buy fiction, she said in a very small, feminine voice]?