Hitting the Target

The Gender Genie is a Web site which purports to be able to guess from a text (preferably of more than 500 words) whether the writer of the text is male or female (some algorithm is involved). Well, I was curious how “The Sagan Diary,” which is “written” by a woman, reads to this algorithm, so I fed in the text. The response:

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

Just to be sure to it doesn’t think I’m natively girly, however, I also fed it the first chapter of The Android’s Dream, in which, as you know, someone farts someone else to death. The result: The algorithm believes the author of that passage is male.

I’m authorially hermaphroditic! Cool.

47 Comments on “Hitting the Target”

  1. Well done. I know some authors say that writing in the voice of another gender can be difficult. Fooling a computer isn’t the same as convincing another human being, but past familiarity with your writing leaves me with little doubt that you were able to pull it off.

    Well done.


  2. I’m really confused. Any sort of ‘soap box’ post on my site, and I come back as a male writer, but any time I’m talking about Valentine’s Day or Dunkin Donuts, I’m a woman.


    In a quick test of 10 posts, 7 came out male oriented. I swear to God, the last time I looked, I didn’t have a penis.

  3. John, did you actively try to make TSD sound like a female’s writing, and TAD sound like a male’s? Was there any conscious effort at all to do that? I’m just curious.

  4. Kate:

    “I swear to God, the last time I looked, I didn’t have a penis.”

    ‘m going to take your word for that, Kate.

    Clearly, one ought not take this algorithm too seriously.


    Well, in the case of TAD, I was writing as me, and I’m male. In the case of TSD, I was trying to write a first-person account from the point of view of a character who among many other qualities she possesses, is also a woman.

  5. Pretty interesting. And accurate for the most part. I tested sections from my WIP, where different chapters are told from a different character viewpoint, one male, one female, and it accurately pegged the “writer” as male and female where the viewpoint shifted. So label me authorially hermaphroditic as well. :-)

  6. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Chang, father of pangolins

    Niiiiicceee. I think it’s a highly admirable trait to be able to write in the voice of the opposite gender. I’m eager to make sure my female characters ring true and aren’t just male characters with breasts.

  7. Not sure if using the first chapter of TAD is a fair test – I would suspect the mere presence of the word ‘fart’ would skew the results…

  8. Don’t believe Kate. (S)he plays video games, reads science fiction, shoots firearms, contemplates a zombie armageddon, and generally gives most men a run for their money in the “manly” category.


    Unfortunately for me, my time-travel/multiverse piece consistently tests female (told third person, limited omniscient), while my blog posts test consistently male.

    If you look at the bottom of your results, it gives you a keyword index that gives some insight into the scoring procedure. I don’t know that I agree with it.

    Female words seem to include: Past tenses, future predictive (should, could, would), interrogative key words, and personal pronouns (me, myself, hers, yours). Male words seem to include: the bulk of prepositions that describe location, direct verbs (is, are), adjectives defining quantity.

    So we can conclude from this that women are generally quick to bring up the past, quick to nag (you SHOULD/COULD do this; WOULD you do this), and inherently selfish (personal pronouns). Men are direct, concerned with defining exactly what you’re talking about, and insensitive.

    That sound about right?

  9. I tested that hypothesis. I looked for the first chapter of “Good in Bed” by Jennifer Weiner, whose work is usually classified as “chick-lit”. I had a hell of a time registering any chunk of her writing as female, to begin with, but finally got the Genie to get her gender right with this:

    I had met Bruce Guberman at a party, in what felt like a scene from somebody else’s life. I’d never actually met a guy at a social gathering who’d been so taken with me that he actually asked me for a date on the spot. My typical m.o. is to wear down their resistance with my wit, my charm, and usually a home-cooked dinner starring kosher chicken with garlic and rosemary. Bruce did not require a chicken. Bruce was easy.

    I was stationed in the corner of the living room, where I had a good view of the room, plus easy access to the hot artichoke dip. I was doing my imitation of my mother’s life partner Tanya trying to eat an Alaskan king crab leg with her arm in a sling. So the first time I saw Bruce, I had one of my arms jammed against my chest, sling-style, and my mouth wide open and my neck twisted at a particularly grotesque angle as I tried to suck the imaginary meat out of the imaginary claw. I was just getting to the part where I accidentally jammed the crab leg into my right nostril, and I think there might have been hot artichoke dip on my cheek. My friends were pretty much speechless with laughter, when Bruce walked up. He was tall, and tanned, with a goatee and a dirty-blond ponytail, and soft brown eyes.

    I tested this repeatedly by changing keywords such as “chicken”, “party” and “crab” to “fart”, but the Genie didn’t switch back to male again.

    Another beautiful theory slain by ugly facts. Sorry.

  10. Based on sample chapters from Set This House in Order, I also appear to be an authorial hermaphrodite. While it’s tempting to ascribe this to the fact that it’s an MPD novel, I think the real explanation is that I use an almost equal number of “male” and “female” keywords, so that the gender of a particular passage becomes a matter of luck.

    BTW, I’m more than a bit puzzled as to why the words “the” and “a” are considered masculine. Do women not use articles in their fiction?

  11. Huhn, that’s interesting. I tried six “finished” and two unfinish stories, divided equally between my SF and F writing. For my SF writing it says I’m male (not that I need external validation). But for my fantasy writing, it rates me as female. What’s up with that?

  12. Yes, but according to this stupid male and female translation now, the fiction story I just posted is written in male flare as well. Perhaps this program is the clear example of what is fundamentally wrong with trying to ascertain what a woman is really thinking to begin with.

    Kill me now.

    P.S. James is a cakeass for implying that I am a man. I clearly have two bazongas and a bajingo.

  13. I tried it on 3 chunks of my recent fiction, 3 blogs posts and 2 chapters from some old projects. Everything came up male except one of the blog posts, and even those results were weird: the blog post about cooking came up male, and the post about coding an html to plaintext filter came up female.

    I blame excessive geekiness. It’s probably just as well I write male protagonists when even writing about my own life comes out ‘male’.

  14. Did some testing of this with gutenberg texts. Seems this isn’t accurate for older texts; most Victorian writing seems to come out female.

  15. Kate – I think using urban slang just reinforces that your posts are written by your inner man. Embrace your spiritual johnson.

  16. I’m very unimpressed with it. As many of you have discovered if what you feed is about boys it thinks the author is one; and if it’s about girls you are a girl.

    It claims to work better for longer pieces of at least 500 words or more so I fed it whole novels (hey, it beats writing them), but still got the same results.

  17. If I’d had to guess before using the Genie I would have said that my writing tended towards the masculine. I quickly proved that with some blog posts and fiction. And then some more. And then some more… So I got paranoid and dug out some stuff I wrote in the romance genre. Ahhhh! So I CAN think like a girl. Good.

    Because otherwise I was going to have to go reprogram the Genie with an axe.

    Come on, I used the word “with.” I get girl points for that.

  18. Well then….wouldn’t you be fun on dates?!?!?

  19. I just had to try the thing. Turns out I’m 56 year old waitress living in Midland, Texas.

    Thanks a lot, John. I’m not sure how I’m gonna explain this to my wife.

  20. Justine Larbalestier, I’m not so sure your “feed it boys it’ll think your a boy…” theory works. I fed it about 1000 words of two guys talking about hunting and setting up the fantasy/horror story and it came back as “Female.”

  21. i pasted in 1064 words from a chapter and apparently my writing is male. this is good, considering the character telling the story is male

  22. Steve Buchheit: I fed it about 1000 words of two guys talking about hunting and setting up the fantasy/horror story and it came back as “Female.”

    Okay, it’s algorithms make no sense at all then.

    Gotta say that makes me happy as I really don’t believe there is a “female” or “male” way to write.

  23. I pasted the entire Oxford 2007 dictionary and it told me to quit acting like a child and to go fsck myself….
    SO on that note…
    serv1-nicc-lab#./tear_drop -FSCK -U


  24. Mary: I tested this repeatedly by changing keywords such as “chicken”, “party” and “crab” to “fart”

    Did it improve the story? Bruce did not require a fart. Bruce was easy.

  25. While the toy is fun to play with, I think there’s an uber-discussion to be had here, does it matter (male of female writer) and if it does, why can it so often be faked (women writing as men, men writing as women)? How can one fake it well? What does lead to believability of the voice? Can it be distilled as these types of algorithms would lead us to believe, or is it still an art?

    Or am I just suffering from lack of caffeine?

  26. But seriously.
    Im impressed that someone would spend god knows how much time figuring out the algorithm to determine if authors are male or female.


  27. Since Mary decided to test it by replacing certain words of Jennifer Weiner’s with the word ‘fart’, I thought, “What would happen if you changed all the words to ‘fart’?” So I plugged in the word ‘fart’ 330 times, and…

    It was confounded.

    So apparently, the word ‘fart’ has absolutely no bearing on its analysis – I stand corrected…

  28. “does it matter (male of female writer) and if it does, why can it so often be faked (women writing as men, men writing as women)?”

    i don’t know how much faith i put in this algorithm, it’s basing the decision on male of female using keywords. what matters most is that a good writer will use the correct voice, depending on whether that voice is male or female, and convince the reader. i’ve seen poor male authors fail miserably writing a woman’s voice, and vice versa.

  29. Ship, I guess I’m not talking about the algorithm, but live human readers. As has been shown on this (and other) blog(s), this algorithm really can’t tell the author’s sex from the text (at least for fiction, I haven’t seen much non-fiction results run through it).

  30. While the toy is fun to play with, I think there’s an uber-discussion to be had here, does it matter (male of female writer) and if it does, why can it so often be faked (women writing as men, men writing as women)?

    I think there’s another uber-discussion to be had, about how the toy’s underlying algorithm actually works, and whether our responses to it are an example of the Eliza effect.

    Wouldn’t it be funny if this business about keywords was just a dodge, and it was actually determining the maleness or femaleness of texts by flipping a digital coin?

  31. Well, it gives you the reason for deciding which way it picks. It produces its result by weighing specific keywords (giving some words more weight than others) and adding up the scores. It even highlights the keywords in the text…

  32. Matt Ruff: Wouldn’t it be funny if this business about keywords was just a dodge, and it was actually determining the maleness or femaleness of texts by flipping a digital coin?

    It’d prolly be more accurate that way.

  33. Carol Elaine – Spend my days being creative with acting stuff & cleaning up after animals for money. Spend my evenings cleaning cat puke for free. 'Tis a glamorous life.
    Carol Elaine

    In 2003 the Gender Genie said I was authorially hermaphroditic as well. Today I tried it with text from four recent entries. Guess what? Again, two entries read as female and two as male. I’m still authorially hermaphroditic.

  34. Matt Ruff: Wouldn’t it be funny if this business about keywords was just a dodge, and it was actually determining the maleness or femaleness of texts by flipping a digital coin?

    Easy enough to test. Resubmit the same text different times and see if the scores change.

  35. Interesting. I fed it 3 stories.

    (1) A story about a man who becomes a machine. Male, but nearly even.

    (2) A story about a lesbian trying to get a first date on a military starship. Female.

    (3) A story about someone very much like me whose pile of boxes from my office accidentally collapse into something like a black hole. Decidedly male.

    As a parlor game, it definitely has some amusement value. Might be useful if one was writing for a different market or trying for a particular voice — as these three stories did.

    Dr. Phil

  36. Interesting. I fed it two chunks of non-fiction from statements of facts for briefs in criminal cases and two frgements of fiction backstory for a story I’ve been playing with for a while.

    The non-fiction was solidly female, the fiction male.

    I’m male, by the way.

  37. I’m told I write women well–at least in screenplays. I once did a writer-for-hire adaptation of Lee Smith’s, “Saving Grace”. Lee liked the way I wrote the women characters, and her kind comments meant a lot to me.

    My wife, the real writer in the house, has a theory. She thinks men from homes where the father was absent much of the time spend their formative years listening to women more than men and therefore are better able to write in a woman’s voice better than we might think. I don’t know if she has anything there or not, but it’s an interesting idea.

  38. Just discovered another fun game you can play with this thing: check the ‘nads of your favorite historical document!

    Magna Carta*: female.
    Declaration of Independence: male.
    U.S. Constitution: female.
    Gettysburg address & Emancipation proclamation: double-Y chromo male.
    Preamble to the new Iraqi Constitution**: more manly than the D.o.I., but Lincoln would make it his prison bitch.

    *English translation from the British Library
    **English translation from Wikipedia

  39. Steve: The right way to do it “randomly” would be to run the text through a strong hash function such as MD5, then use the value of the least significant bit to determine gender. That way the same document always returns the same result, but results over the universe of possible documents are random. Input canonicalization would be key, of course, so that it wouldn’t be confused by changes in spacing, punctuation and such.

    It is a sign of how much work I ought to be doing right now that I am already writing this program in my head.

  40. Yeah, but that would be really unstable. Like if you added a space at the end, bam it could switch. Gotta be a little more subtle than that…

Exit mobile version