Friday, November 19, 2010

Fun With Gender Genie

Over at Left Brain/Right Brain, the bloggers and commenters are having fun with J.B. Handley's assertion (at Age of Autism) that LB/RB blogger Sullivan is really Bonnie Offit (wife of Autism's False Prophets author Paul Offit) wearing the cyberspace equivalent of a fake beard.

In this post from yesterday, Kevin Leitch (the primary LB/RB blogger apart from Sullivan) ran samples of both J.B. Handley's and Sullivan's writing through a web-based gender-guessing algorithm called Gender Genie, which prompted many of the commenters to submit some posts of their own for gender analysis.

I thought I would join in the fun myself, but then I had the idea to compare my results by category of post --- is Gender Genie more likely to think me female if I write about some things than if I write about others? --- and realized that reproducing those results would take up a lot more space than a typical blog comment.

So I'm posting it here.

My hypothesis: the more technical posts will be judged male most of the time. Autobiographical posts, literary posts, and probably feminist posts will be judged female most of the time.

Posts about research articles:
"Through a (Brain) Scanner, Darkly" - 1557 words
Female Score: 1004; Male Score: 2112
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Who's That in the Mirror? Autism and the Developing Sense of Self" - 2091 words
Female Score: 3093; Male Score: 3036
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"These Are Not the Eternal Verities of Biology - Part II" - 831 words
Female Score: 884; Male Score: 1374
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Fever Dreams: Autism Research and the Changeling Myth" - 1010 words
Female Score: 1311; Male Score: 1520
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Thoughts on the 'Extreme-Male-Brain' Theory of Autism" - 921 words
Female Score: 682; Male Score: 1467
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Autism, Alexithymia, and Empathy" - 1673 words*
Female Score: 1524; Male Score: 2132
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Say What?!" - 1061 words
Female Score: 997; Male Score: 1771
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"I Wanna Be Sedated" - 2518 words
Female Score: 2895; Male Score: 3922
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Autism and Genetics: It's Complicated" - 1526 words
Female Score: 1657; Male Score: 2295
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

Average scores for this type of post: 1485 female; 2181 male
Average post length in this category: 1465 words

Posts about my life:
"Doubly Deviant: On Being Queer and Autistic" - 2497 words
Female Score: 3343; Male Score: 2881
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"An Act of Shameless Emotional Exhibitionism" - 1025 words
Female Score: 1841; Male Score: 857
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"Gender Variance in Autism: How Much of It Is Just Sensory?" - 1100 words
Female Score: 1317; Male Score: 1647
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"A Brief Experiment in Communal Living" - 1129 words
Female Score: 1488; Male Score: 1462
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"Addendum" - 716 words
Female Score: 709; Male Score: 958
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!



"Employment Issues in Autism: Finding and Holding a Job" - 792 words
Female Score: 1122; Male Score: 968
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"What's It Like to Be You?" - 677 words
Female Score: 660; Male Score: 1040
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Bringing the Doctor-Patient Relationship Into the Bedroom"** - 991 words
Female Score: 1642; Male Score: 1581
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

Average scores for this type of post: 1515 female; 1424 male
Average post length in this category: 1116 words

Book reviews/literary criticism:
"Totally Unexpected Gender and Disability Awesomeness from Larry Niven" - 1500 words
Female Score: 1844; Male Score: 2266
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"In or Out? Using Spatial Metaphors to Describe Autism" - 2459 words
Female Score: 1936; Male Score: 3877
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"A Flash-Flood of Feminist Fiction" - 2299 words
Female Score: 2242; Male Score: 3720
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"More about Jude the Obscure" - 1423 words
Female Score: 1980; Male Score: 1956
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"Autism in the Not-Too-Distant Future: Thoughts on Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark" - 641 words
Female Score: 658; Male Score: 934
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Metaphor at the Expense of Characterization: Autism in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake" - 1166 words
Female Score: 1310; Male Score: 1360
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Comparing Feminist Dystopias" - 1005 words
Female Score: 1053; Male Score: 1417
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

Average scores for this type of post: 1575 female; 2219 male
Average post length in this category: 1499 words

Posts about feminism:
"Oh No, an Analogy!" - 678 words
Female Score: 537; Male Score: 1145
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"But What About the (Aspie) Men??!" - 1504 words
Female Score: 2464; Male Score: 2675
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"A Bit More on Reproductive Choice" - 1234 words
Female Score: 1167; Male Score: 1439
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Disability Rights and Bodily Autonomy" - 694 words
Female Score: 1216; Male Score: 842
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"Violence Against Disabled Women" - 1660 words
Female Score: 2610; Male Score: 2365
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"Where Neurodiversity Meets Feminist Theory (Part III)" - 607 words***
Female Score: 1021; Male Score: 1121
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"On Patriarchal Medicine: The Intersection of Feminist Critique and Anti-Vaccine Crackpottery" - 588 words
Female Score: 695; Male Score: 1078
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

Average scores for this type of post: 1241 female; 1363 male
Average post length in this category: 995 words

Other political/philosophical posts:
"Human Diversity and the Surveillance State" - 606 words
Female Score: 663; Male Score: 860
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"More Focus on Compliance: An Addendum to My Last Post" - 518 words
Female Score: 646; Male Score: 840
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"A Tale of Two Epidemics" - 677 words
Female Score: 949; Male Score: 1269
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"Employment Issues in Autism: Trends" - 770 words
Female Score: 800; Male Score: 1172
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... male!

"New Concept: Context Disorders" - 465 words
Female Score: 857; Male Score: 808
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

"Is Bullying a Feature of Our Culture, or a Bug?" - 663 words
Female Score: 1155; Male Score: 1144
Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is ... female!

Average scores for this type of post: 845 female; 1016 male
Average post length in this category: 617 words

While I've tried to pick posts that are either free of quotations entirely, or have a fairly high proportion of my writing to other people's writing (this ruled out some of the research-article posts that I'm quite proud of, and would otherwise submit as representative of my writing), or were purged of overly long quoted passages, the samples I gave were still not 100% written in my voice. Especially the literary and science-related posts: if you're writing about another piece of writing, whether it's a book or a research article, you're probably going to have to quote it at some point.

I can't tell the extent to which this has biased the gender classification of my posts; with the research-article posts, I'd expect the gender of the lead author not to have much of an effect since research articles are written in such a uniform, dry, trying-to-be-objective style. With the book posts, it turns out all but one of them are judged to be written by someone of the opposite gender of the author whose book I'm reviewing. (The lone exception is the post on Larry Niven's The Integral Trees, which Gender Genie determines was written by a man).

(Also lumped in with those book posts is a more generic literary-type post about the use of spatial metaphors to describe autism; in it, I cite and quote from an article by the philosopher Ian Hacking. The Genie also decided that post was written by a man, but it had a pretty high ratio of my writing to Hacking's writing that I'm less likely to think quoting from him biased that reading than I am to think my liberally quoting Larry Niven's book might've biased the gender-determination of that post).

Something I expected, since I noticed that all of the pronouns seem to read as "feminine" words to Gender Genie, was that my autobiographical posts would tend to be classed as female-written. This turned out to be the case: of the eight posts I chose to run through the program, five came out female and three came out male.

Both my posts about feminism, and my posts about political, philosophical or cultural topics in general were overwhelmingly judged male. I separated out feminism from the other political/theoretical writing to see if Gender Genie seemed to consider content at all; I guess it doesn't.

For the most part, it does seem to think I'm a man, though.

*There is a lengthy quotation near the end of that post that I omitted from the text I sent through Gender Genie, so this figure falls a bit short of the actual length of the post.

**This post could just as easily be considered a literary or feminist post: it's a comparison of a dynamic I observe in my (heterosexual) romantic relationship to similar dynamics in books --- F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper --- bookended with a little bit of feminist history/theory. So it has all three elements; I just figured the autobiographical element was most prominent.

***Again, excluding a fairly long quotation.

8 comments:

Maggie said...

I keep wondering if the Gender Genie will get used to 'confirm identity' or to 'discover ghost-writing' ... or if it will become used to further police gender expression. As in "we're sorry, Ms. Brown, but you don't write too much like a man for us to publish."

Which would only be the reverse of the publishing industry's behavior in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when a woman could only get published (in most genres) if she 'wrote like a man.'

My hope, of course, would be that they would refine their computerized tool. But it wouldn't be a big surprise if instead someone began to use it to force us into pigeonholes once again.

(sigh)

Maggie said...

oops. That's "sorry, you write too much like a man" ... not the "don't."

Lindsay said...

@Maggie - it's possible.

I think I'd be more worried about it being used to unmask female writers using masculine or gender-neutral pen names; there's still a very strong tendency to take a writer on Serious Subjects more, er, seriously if you believe hir to be male.

And plenty of women writing online about Serious Subjects *do* choose to obscure their gender, both so that they will be taken seriously and to avoid having men sexually harrass, threaten or stalk them on the Internet.

At least, I'd be worried about that if the Gender Genie were actually very accurate about predicting people's real gender. As it is, I think we're safe.

Lindsay said...

Your point about gender policing --- female writers potentially being marginalized for not writing enough "like women" --- is interesting, but I'm not really sure it would work quite like that.

I don't know that "writing like a man" would be a pigeonhole in the same way that "writing like a woman" is --- we seem still to have the idea that there's writing, and then there's women's writing.

In such a climate, I don't think a woman who writes like a man would be marginalized for her writing style ... maybe she would for the fact that she's a woman, if she wrote under her own name. (Depending on what sort of writing she did, anyway.)

Nitz the Bloody said...

Interesting little program there. I got different results for two blog posts; male ( my actual gender ) for one of the Sonichu critical reviews, and female for a discussion of the Ruby's World creative process. I hope nobody takes it seriously, because I wouldn't want people to be pigeonholed. But I'd like to see what happens when passages from favorite writers are entered into the Genie.

Wonder how it works for comic scripts, because I'm suspecting Chris Claremont would get a female score...

Lindsay said...

@NTB - I'm not sure how you would input comic-book text; without images, the story is only half-told, but if you try to describe the images you'll end up injecting too much of your own prose style into it.

I don't know enough about how the program works to know if the lack of coherence that would result from inputting *only* the text from a comic book would interfere with its gender-guessing function.

Also, do you include sound effects?

urocyon said...

Interesting. I had somehow managed to miss the Gender Genie. Just from the few I've entered so far, my samples also turn up as mostly male, with the exception of a couple of more autobiographical ones, as you observed.

Strange criteria.

Lindsay said...

I was actually pretty surprised that my literary posts didn't come out female, especially given this mini-experiment Prometheus tried, and summarized in this comment at LB/RB:

"I ran some of my 'blog posts through 'Gender Genie' for a laugh and they came out about 2000 female and 4000 male - overall MALE.

For comparison, I took my latest scientific paper (on which I was the sole writer, if not sole author) - about the same. As a control, I took papers published in the same issue of the journal my paper was in - one written by a female sole author and one written by a male: both were scored as being written by a male. It appears that scientific (or analytical) writing is scored by 'Gender Genie' as male, regardless of the author's gender.

I then went over to one of the 'lit crit' (post-modern) journals and picked two papers with sole authors, one male and one female ... [b]oth scored as overwhelmingly female."

So, given his finding (albeit based on a sample of 2) that literary criticism tends to be read as female-authored, I am somewhat surprised that the majority of my literary posts --- even the one that's closest to being Real Academic Literary Criticism --- come up strongly male.

Maybe it's because I don't do *post-modern* criticism ... he did say that's the subgenre he looked at. Or maybe the two articles he chose just randomly happened to contain lots of "feminine" keywords.