Captain Wentworth is a girl?

Last week my friend Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed posted a blog on gender differences in dialogue:Turning X’s into Y’s: Guy Talk That Works. A critique partner had told her that her hero sounded too effeminate. She ran her hero’s dialogue through Bookblog’s Gender Genie, a tool that predicts the gender of an author based on key words and is sometimes used by authors to test if their characters’ dialogue is gender appropriate. Gender Genie thought Therese’s hero was a girl.
This made me wonder because I had read the same manuscript and did not see anything wrong with the dialogue. Therese’s hero is half British and an antiques dealer: polite, well educated, pretty much as close to a Regency hero as one can get in a contemporary novel. I thought maybe he sounded fine to me because I’m so steeped in historical fiction. Gender Genie is based on an algorithm developed using post-1960 documents. The results may have some validity for modern writing (though many people have broken the test) but should a historical author worry about it?

I decided to run some dialogue from Jane Austen’s heroes through it. The first one I tried was Mr. Darcy and he checked out as male. Whew! Next I tried Edward Ferrars and Edmund Bertram. Both tested out female–not so surprising as they are some of Austen’s more “beta” heroes. But then Mr. Knightley checked out as a girl. And the highest female score of all was from Captain Wentworth, even though the sample dialogue I used was all about the ships he’d commanded. I’d always considered him Austen’s most macho hero!

Then the final surprise. The highest male score of any of Jane Austen’s heroes came from Henry Tilney. While he was talking about muslin, no less!

Looking at Gender Genie’s key words, I’m pretty convinced that historical changes in speech patterns explain these results. Though perhaps Gender Genie did detect Jane Austen as the puppeteer behind some of her heroes?

To me, masculinity isn’t determined by speech patterns alone. For me, the character’s actions and ways of thinking about things are more important. In that respect, Jane Austen’s male characters feel like men to me. And many other readers, presumably!

What do you think about Gender Genie? Do you think it’s bogus? Do you think historical authors should adapt their heroes’ language to modern standards of masculinity? (One would hate to have an effeminate hero!) What makes dialogue feel masculine or feminine to you?

This was a fun experiment. Maybe next week I’ll try some dialogue from other authors, male and female, historical and contemporary. Who knows, I may even test out my current hero’s dialogue. But maybe not–wouldn’t it be dreadful to learn that my Waterloo veteran turned balloonist sounds like a girl?!

Elena

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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Elena Greene
14 years ago

Oh, as an afterthought I just ran this blog post through Gender Genie. It tells me I’m male! Maybe I should pay more attention to some of that spam email I get after all…

doglady
14 years ago

Cracking up at you running the blog post through Gender Genie! I had not heard of Gender Genie before. It sounds like a great tool as long as one doesn’t let it completely alter your character. Captain Wentworth is a girl? Weird!

Therese Walsh
14 years ago

Oh, as an afterthought I just ran this blog post through Gender Genie. It tells me I’m male! Maybe I should pay more attention to some of that spam email I get after all…

LOL, Elena!

I enjoyed my GG experiment. At the very least it forced me to seriously consider some dialogue issues in new ways. Worthwhile. πŸ™‚

Claudia Dain
14 years ago

I’ve never heard of Gender Genie before! It sounds fascinating, but maybe not that accurate? How can you be male, Elena?

What elements of speech does Gender Genie use to determine gender? And I agree with you completely; it’s really more about thoughts and actions than speech.

Cara King
14 years ago

I just want to say: Captain Wentworth is definitely male. Trust me. I know of what I speak. πŸ™‚

Cara

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Claudia, Gender Genie analyses the text solely in terms of key words that are supposedly more common in either men’s or women’s writing. (For instance, the researchers found women use more pronouns.) In my case, use of the words “the” and “as” kicked me over into the male rating.

Janet Mullany
14 years ago

If Captain Wentworth’s a girl, I’m a guy. And according to Gender Genie I am, or at least a very butch girl.

Cara King
14 years ago

I am having such fun with this genie thing, Elena!!! Thanks for linking to it.

I wrote in a fairly deep POV on Gamester, alternating between hero & heroine’s POV… So I submitted longish narrative sections (no dialogue) for each of them to the genie… And the parts I wrote in Stoke’s POV it thinks were written by a guy, and the parts I wrote in Atalanta’s POV it thinks were written by a girl!!!

I know it’s silly — but on one level I feel validated. At least it implies my voice did change when I changed POV character, which I meant to do…

Hmmm… Got to see how my other things stack up!

Cara

Cara King
14 years ago

OMG, this is the most fun ever.

I put in an entire scene (including dialogue) between my ex-army hero, Stoke, and his semi-whiny younger brother.

It turned out as barely female: a score of 3055 female points vs 2905 male points, which is 51 percent female.

Then I deleted everything the younger brother said, and it came out barely male: 51 percent male.

Which proves that my hero is more manly than his little brother, which is as it should be! πŸ™‚

Overall, though, it’s a lot more female than the narrative bit I gave it earlier. Which may imply one of a number of things, some of which would be:

1) dialogue (on their test) inevitably skews female; or

2) *my* dialogue skews female; or

3) the fact that they were discussing a woman for part of it skewed it (the words “she” and “her” give one female points); or

4) I spent more time on my first chapter making Stoke seem very male than I did on this later chapter; or

5) so many other possibilities… πŸ™‚

Cara

Cara King
14 years ago

Obsessive Cara, back again…

My film reviews are male — 60% male.

And what surprises me — my blog entries are male too — 58% male!

And here I thought my blog entries would come out ridiculously female… πŸ™‚

(Though I expect on certain other tests they would…)

Anyway, it’s no surprise to me I’m secretly a guy. In some ways, I grew up in a fairly male environment…spent my teen years playing D&D…started out college at a science school that was 85% male… Used to wonder why some girls didn’t like me, till I read Deborah Tannen and learned that the whole “let’s bond through friendly mutual insult” thing is really just a guy thing, and actually offends some females… πŸ˜‰

Cara

Tracy Grant
14 years ago

Fascinating–I’ve now spent way to much of my day playing on the computer or doing valuable research :-). It says Gender Genie works best on excerpts of 500 words or more, so I used the letters between my characters I write for the Fraser Correspondence Section on my websie and the A+ sections in the my books. I got different results for different texts “written” by the same characters. Both Charles and MΓ©lanie scored more than once as male and more than once as female. Same for Charles’s besti friend David, Charles’s Aunt Frances, rakish Viscount Quentin. Isobel Lydgate scored as male on the two letters from her I tried (even though she’s talking about things like babies and shopping). Raoul O’Roarke and Simon Tanner both scored as male on the one letter I had for each of them. Because the scores are based on a fairly narrow list of words, I do think period usage could skew it a fair amount.

Cara, does Todd know about you and Captain Wentworth? :-).

Cara King
14 years ago

Cara, does Todd know about you and Captain Wentworth?

Yep, Tracy, he knows all about it. And as long as he gets Elizabeth Bennet, I get to keep Wentworth. And Knightley. (Two for one is fair, right?) πŸ™‚

Cara

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

Geez, I’m scared to run my blog entries through! I hadn’t thought of that–is there a category for “never mind the gender, this one is batty?”

Cool site, Elena.

Santa
14 years ago

Not my Wentworth! Okay, maybe the letter at the end that takes my breath away every time is the culprit. Maybe that’s what tilts the Gender Genie’s scales.

I am happy to hear that Mr. Darcy has escaped unscratched. It’s probably because he’s all cranky in the beginning of the story.

marieconley3
14 years ago

It has been accurate with me so far.

Todd
14 years ago

Tracy wrote:

Cara, does Todd know about you and Captain Wentworth?

Cara wrote:

Yep, Tracy, he knows all about it. And as long as he gets Elizabeth Bennet, I get to keep Wentworth. And Knightley. (Two for one is fair, right?) πŸ™‚

Well, not to bring this conversation to too base a level, but I definitely count Elizabeth Bennet as “two.”

Todd-who-is-definitely-male-in-certain-respects

Todd
14 years ago

OK, so this Gender Genie stuff is totally addictive.

I first tried putting through some letters of mine. Every single one of them came across as mildly-to-strongly female. (They were all under 500 words, though.)

Then I put through a very long letter that I had written to Steven Pinker arguing with one section of The Blank Slate. That came across as very strongly male. (Maybe because I’m arguing? I don’t know.)

I then went back to some of my old short stories and ran those through. It was a bit of a mix, but they tended to come across a bit more female than male, on balance.

Finally, I tried a couple of essays on technical subjects. Those were way way way male–two to one or so.

So, what’s the explanation?? Is the Gender Genie bogus? (Probably.) Is it affected by whether or not I was in touch with my feminine side?? (Could be.)

I am reminded of an online gender test, which asks you a series of innocuous questions and then guesses if you are male or female. It pegged me as female. For which the moral is: the internet has opened up vast new arenas for wasting time.

Todd-who-is-a-manly-man

Todd
14 years ago

BTW, I’ve now run my previous comment through Gender Genie, with the following results:

Words: 205
Female Score: 236
Male Score: 303

Vindication, at last!

Todd-who-is-getting-manlier-by-the-second

Elena Greene
14 years ago

I’m glad everyone’s had so much fun with this! I should feel guilty at the collective productivity loss… but as with rock concerts, everything is research, right? πŸ™‚

On a more serious note, my new theory is that people with broad interests and vocabularies (such as the Riskies and friends) are likely to test male and female at times depending on context.

Elena, still female last time I checked

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Elena, this is a hilarious, but eye-opening experiment.

It’s so much easier to make a medieval hero uber-male, but I can see a Georgian hero with his red heels and peacock weskit to be a female.

Cara King
14 years ago

Never one to do things by halves, I’ve now put a bunch more things thru Gender Genie…but they all came out female. (How boring!)

SF story #1, which has a female MC and lots of female/female dialogue: 63% female

SF story #2: 51% female

YA novel: 52% female

Regency #2: 53% female

This does seem to be consistent with my previous results, which imply that having a female POV character, or dialogue involving women, seems to really shoot my female score higher…

Cara

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

My personal journal and blogs tend to be heavily male. But my blog comments and board comments tend be heavily female. I think it’s a matter of formal v. informal writing in my case.

Cara King
14 years ago

I think it’s a matter of formal v. informal writing in my case.

You know, Keira, I still haven’t read the explanatory articles, but from the genie runs that Todd and I have done, I suspect that’s got a lot to do with it.

Now I’m waiting for them to come up with a test to see if you’re a cat or a dog… (I’m sure if my erstwhile cat could have taken the test, he’d have come out at least half dog…)

Cara

Elena Greene
14 years ago

I’m sure formal vs informal matters. I think context does too–it would affect how many pronouns one would use, for instance.

Glad you’re having fun with it, Cara–you *may* be even more obsessive than I am and that’s saying a lot! πŸ™‚