Friday, June 29, 2007

Writing Like a Girl


I want to thank you all so much... from the bottom of my heart... for your good and kind words, celebrating my new call with me.

What a girlie sentence that was.

I have recently discovered this website. Using an algorithm developed by a couple of university professors of linguistics, the "gender genie" makes very reliable predictions about the gender of the author of any text which is typed or pasted into a box on the webpage.

I went to gender genie, and I pasted in a blog posting. Result: female. I used female-signifying words (such as "I," "you," and "she") twice as frequently as I used male-signifying words (such as "the," "that," and "these"). I pasted another blog post in: same exact result. By a two to one ratio, my blog writing is overwhelmingly female.

Except, for some reason, I had a hunch about something. I went and found a sermon of mine, and pasted that in. Result: male. Again, by about a two-to-one margin. I got another sermon and tried again. Same thing. At this point I was hooting and hollering and talking aloud to myself. "Oh my... !" "What the...? " "Holy....!"

Then I remembered that for Easter this year I wrote a sermon in the first person, from the perspective of one of the women at the tomb. I pasted this in. Result: female, but by only the tiniest margin. A handful of words made the difference.

Now, I am just stunned by this. I am stunned that the language I use for preaching is so clearly not my native tongue. And I am really wondering how this came to be. Is this the inevitable result of theological education? Have I unconsciously absorbed some kind of sexism? Is this the result of nearly 2000 years of preaching by men almost exclusively... have we received a tradition that is overwhelmingly male in expression as well as in content?

The RevGals have questions in today's Friday Five about personality tests... I realize that one should not put all one's faith in something so... well, arbitrary, perhaps, so artificial. But I am really, really interested in this question. And I am very interested in preaching... well, not like a girl, but certainly, like myself. I have always been under the impression that I brought my own voice into the pulpit. Does this mean I am not doing that?

So, any readers who are similarly interested in these questions: I invite you to go to the gender genie (link above) and tell me your results. Are you preaching like the gender you are? And what do you think about that?

13 comments:

Gannet Girl said...

Interesting. I came off as fairly balanced based on the passages I chose -- slightly male, slightly female, quite a bit male, quite a bit female, and one that was overwhelmingly male. The last one was a surprise, since as I read it I felt that it was a true reflection of my own voice.

Certainly the biggest influence on my writing is my legal training and experience, which might account for some of the "male." But in terms of reading sermons and essays, I probably read more women than men.

Who knows?

more cows than people said...

Hmm... the sermons that I plugged in that seemed the more "academic" to me- tested male. the sermon that was a monologue- overwhelmingly female. some other sermons were male, many were female. i only tested two blog postings- two of my recent long posts- one male, one female.

I wonder how accurate this is- is speech gender coded in conjunctions and prepositions primarily? it seems style and approach would also be influenced by gender, maybe that's captured in these key words in a way I can't see.

Interesting that your preaching voice is so different from your blogging voice... hmmm... for me it seems pretty parallel...

don't eat alone said...

My posts were male and my poetry was female.

Peace,
Milton

Cynthia said...

Well, I couldn't compare sermons, but I've been to gender genie with multiple blog entries, and apparently I write like a man. (Scratching and shifting myself here.)I really don't know what to think of this. I used fluffy, silly blog entries, serious ones, ones about political, societal and religious issues and ones about very feminine and very maternal stuff. The result was all the same -- male. Even my poetry, which I thought was darn near estrogen saturated. Personally, I think the algorithm is screwed somehow. I've always thought my my writer's voice is distinctly feminine, yet I do strive for some traditional journalism basics (read very male) of strong verbs and concise sentences. Without a lot of restraint, I can be the queen of the run on sentence.

Grandmère Mimi said...

In the passage I submitted, I wrote like a male. There you go.

KnittinPreacher said...

I submitted this week's sermon and it came back male. But as I was looking at the word list I noticed I did not use she or her at all in the sermon, mostly because it didn't fit with the text, and another week that would be very different. Several of the words I try to avoid in a sermon generally (I try to use "we" instead of "you" and avoid "should" like the plague) are female. I wonder if it has more to do with the medium (sermon vs blog) and the purpose. I know I preach differently than I blog. It was a fun experiment. Thanks!

Leah Sophia said...

Who'd've thought? Sounds fascinating and maybe a little scary...I'm gonna plug in a sermon portion and a more generic blog. I'll post my results here, and maybe even on one of my own blogs! Thanks...

Sally said...

fascinating , I have checked a couple of my blog posts which showed an overwhelmingly female bias- now to try a sermon.... what does this tell us about our training???

Kievas said...

A couple of blog posts scored highest in "male" but interestingly, one of my tech columns for a local magazine came up with a fairly close split.

I'm not sure I'd trust this analysis, though.

Muthah+ said...

My sermons are male and my blog posts are female. Hmmm. I know I have consciously tried to make my sermons not female so that men in the parish would not feel uncomfortable. But that also scandalizes me as one of those old fashioned feminists of the olden days.

But I also find that my blogs are not comfortably written. Part of the reason is that I am often addressing difficult things in the church on my blogs.

Leah Sophia said...

Of my 15 GG submissions, 12 were male, including the 9 or 10 sermons. That makes only 3 female! Interesting...thanks again!

RevAnne said...

I found that generally speaking, my sermons are male (2 strongly, 1 weakly, 1 strongly female); my church newsletter articles are also predominantly male; my other blog musings are predominantly female.
I wonder if this has to with sort of percieved intimacy in our language...sermons tend to be a little broader than my blog posts, but the Pentecost (female) sermon was strongly invitational. My newsletter articles, while chatty, tend to be a bit, er, controlled, because I know I'm writing for an audience. When I write for myself, my "voice" is female.
I'm a bit curious as to how the terms were chosen, and why my public voice, and that of many others, seems to be male and my personal voice female. I'm calling it a bias in the test...are we sure it's not a psych experiment?

LittleMary said...

oh i cant wait to do this later when i get to MY computer again. very interesting. why when it comes to sermons is it harder to be ourselves than when we write letters or emails or blogs? i think there is certainly something to this.