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A Little Experiment

I’m curious. Some of the peeps and I have been talking about gender roles in reading and writing. I’ll spare you the dogma and diatribes, and you’re welcome. Today, I’m going to give us a test. The following four excerpts are from novels I have read. Can you tell which ones are by women and which are by men? Leave your guesses in the comments section and we’ll see if any of us gets them right. I chose descriptions or interactions or actions by men, for a little consistency. But that was my only criteria. The books are from different genres, various voices, periods of history and theme.

1. Here he had arrived at Eustace’s room and while it, too, yielded unfortunately little, it gave some idea of its inhabitant’s tastes—there were thick, strictly pressed wool clothes hanging in the closet like battalion in formation, and there were a number of conservative pamphlets, stacked neatly on the desk, next to precisely sharpened pencils and a stack of blue stationery. No points, which Lenox found strange. The only sign of disorder was a handkerchief, which had been lost beneath the bed and smelled of peppermint and wax.

2. His eyes fell on one of the dead Norsemen. He leapt off the bay, grabbed the long-handled ax from the dead man’s clenched hand, and began striking at the corpse. The limp body jumped with every blog. The golden helmet came off, revealing the beardless face of a young boy, but Gerold kept striking, raising the ax again and again. Blood spurted everywhere, drenching his clothes.

3. I’m bug-eyed from lack of sleep, having stayed up late reading, and when I finally did fall asleep, I had a continuing dream of sliding backward in the Lincoln down snowy Pleasant Street Hill. Also, my cold is back, a fact I’m trying to conceal from Lily, who predicted that it would be, thanks to my run. I’ve taken an antihistamine, and it’s beginning to dry me up, but its also left my light-headed. Despite relieving myself before leaving the house,I already have to go again. There’s a lot I’d like to say to my wife at this moment of her leaving, and I consider telling her that I think I’ve formed my first stone. Lily would stay if I asked her to, which means I can’t ask.

4. Creeping Christ? he thinks. What does he mean? His head turns sideways, his hair rests in his own vomit, the dog barks,Walter roars, and bells peal out across the water. He feels a sensation of movement, as if the filthy ground has become the Thames. It gives and sways beneath him; he lets out his breath, one great final gasp. You’ve done it this time, a voice tells Walter. But he closes his ears, or God closes them for him. He is pulled down stream, on a deep black tide.

ANSWERS:
1. A Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch
2. Pope Joan, by Donna Woolfolk Cross
3. Straight Man, by Richard Russo
4. Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel

What do you think? Surprised? Not surprised? What do you think of your decision making process? Thanks for participating. I learned something.

28 Comment

  1. Okay, I first want to say that I don’t think you can tell if a passage is written by a man or a woman, especially if the writing is good. (Bad writing is a little easier to tell, IMHO). But I still want to play!

    1. Woman (the detailed description) 2. Man (the violence) 3. Woman (the stream-of-consciousness that includes his wife) 4. Man (no idea… it sounds masculine?)

    I also really hate the gender generalizations that I used for my guesses. But I still enjoy guessing games. 🙂

    1. That’s exactly the point! After a week of hearing from men that they don’t read women bc they’re too feminine , this is my pushback. Next I want to post four pieces of theological writing and see.

  2. I’m going man – woman – woman – man, but that’s pure intuition so not at all cerebral or remotely scientific. Also? Based on those passages alone, I think the only book I would have stuck with is the first one. 🙂

    1. oh, how I picked – 1, I knew. (I think anyway.) 2. The description…it seems like if it had been a man, it would have been shorter, tenser descriptions, making it more violent and less narrative. 3. It’s talking about a being a husband, so I think you picked a woman just to throw us. Also, the writing style. 4. Shorter, terser. Sounds more like a man.

  3. I can only give you guess–explaining them would be madness, and open me to charges of misogyny, idiocy, or both:
    1. Male
    2. Female
    3. Female
    4. Male

  4. I’m another that would say man, woman, woman, man, but I’m not very confident about it. One of them I recognize a name, another it was the in-depth description of how he felt and acknowledging that the wife told him it would be that way. But really, not confident at all…..

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