Author Teresa Frohock asked visitors to her blog to guess whether prose excerpts were written by a male or a female:
Our scientist in residence, Mark Lawrence, kindly analyzed the data and reached the following conclusion:
“Given the 1,045 guesses and 535 correct guesses we can say that no statistically significant power to determine gender from writing has been demonstrated (under the assumption both genders were equally represented – they weren’t but it doesn’t introduce a large effect).
“With selection of authors drawn with equal likelihood of either gender then a random guessing machine making 1,045 guesses would expect to get an average of 522 correct answers and if it repeated the experiment many times we would expect 95% of the results to lie between 490 and 554 correct answers. So our result is well within the bounds of expected statistical variation for a random set of guesses.”
In other words, people can’t tell the difference between male or female writing styles based on the prose alone. Without the hint given within a name, people were guessing.
. . . .
None of you can say for certain whether K.J. Parker is male or female. You can guess. You can suspect. Ten thousand different rationales can lead down ten thousand roads. I used to work for attorneys where I mastered the art of reasoning both sides of an argument with supporting documentation, so I take it all with grain of salt. As Mark pointed out in one of our emails, it’s very easy–not to mention human nature–to skew the evidence to support an individual’s point of view. We like to think we know the answers and that the facts support our reasoning, but in the end, it’s all conjecture.
. . . .
Perhaps the publishers are right to ask women to submit their stories under pseudonyms. If a female name automatically conjures young adult/romantic/emotive story-lines in someone’s mind, and a good part of the audience suffers from contempt prior to investigation before the first line of prose is read, then the novel or story may never make it out of the gates sales-wise.
So the publishers succumb to subterfuge, the authors (tricksy, tricksy, tricksy authors)also participate in the game, and you, the reader, are left to guess. None of this is new, by the way. Female authors have been hiding their gender behind pseudonyms for over a century. Likewise, male authors who write romance or other genres with a predominately female readership are asked to disguise their gender.
Link to the rest at Teresa Frohock and thanks to Jane for the tip.