When You Zoom Out and Look at Thousands of Books, the Patterns Are Clear
September 7, 2020 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Before getting too upset, I wanted to see if this approach to writing was as widespread as it seemed, or if I was succumbing to selective reading. Do authors really mention particular body parts more for men than for women? Are women’s bodies described using different adjectives than those attributed to men? from The Physical Traits That Describe Men & Women in Literature by Erin Davis posted by chavenet (28 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 


The format was almost as compelling to me as the content. However, I found myself wishing I could see the list of books and the actual numerical data. This was really interesting, thanks!
posted by Night_owl at 3:56 PM on September 7 [9 favorites]


The overall shape of the findings is less of a surprise than she states (yup - literature reflects the larger societies in which it's created), but this is a fascinating analysis project and a great visual presentation.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:21 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Again, just so impressed with the marriage of text and visualized data here. More like this please!
posted by moons in june at 4:24 PM on September 7 [7 favorites]


Great, thank you!
posted by frumiousb at 4:31 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


This is great.

Some of the laziest descriptions are when the (usually male) author has a character (almost always a woman) stand in front of a mirror in order to describe her nude body -- it's the male gaze, but narrated in a woman's voice.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:19 PM on September 7 [15 favorites]


This is fascinating. I wonder how it works with gendered languages. I dated a French woman for a few years, and I was always a little weirded out when she would tell me the linguistic gender of body parts, often swapped from what would be expected.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:37 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


I envisage a thousand writers reading this, throwing their hands up, smacking themselves on the forehead a few times, and starting their novels all over again.

(too hopeful?)
posted by aramaic at 6:06 PM on September 7 [10 favorites]


This was so interesting! Great essay.
posted by medusa at 7:17 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


I am part of the writing teams for a couple of screenplays, and I am definitely going to show this to the other writers and make sure we avoid these traps. Lazy character writing is so easy to fall into, and here is some actionable data to avoid it. Thanks for this!
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:35 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]


Detective fiction often seems obsessed with describing the flawed and decaying carnality of the aging protagonist
posted by thelonius at 7:51 PM on September 7 [4 favorites]


Starting an essay by mocking Patrick Rothfuss is a quick and easy shortcut to my heart.

Something else I've noticed is that male and female writers write sex scenes wildly differently, and now I want her to analyse the differences for that also...
posted by Cozybee at 8:09 PM on September 7 [8 favorites]


Detective fiction often seems obsessed with describing the flawed and decaying carnality of the aging protagonist

THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED—Oct. 9, 1890.
posted by clavdivs at 8:32 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]


I can tell from this infographic who does the child-rearing. Only women have laps.
posted by aniola at 9:35 PM on September 7 [7 favorites]


Starting an essay by mocking Patrick Rothfuss is a quick and easy shortcut to my heart.


Rothfuss is a weird example of an author whose trilogy has dated so thoroughly before it's even finished that it's hard to imagine the final book satisfying the tastes of readers in the 2020s the way it did in the 2000s, when Joss Whedon was still seen as writing well-rounded female characters.

That particular sequence certainly didn't help though, jesus
posted by Merus at 10:46 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]


There's a very active subreddit for this sort of thing as well: r/menwritingwomen.
posted by Harald74 at 11:00 PM on September 7 [7 favorites]


She misses the point of Rothfuss completely. The narrator is unreliable and the over the top descriptions are literally the point and written that way on purpose. Does she think Rothfuss wrote a Mary Sue?

The rest of the analysis is good though.
posted by WhyamIhereagain at 11:26 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


>Does she think Rothfuss wrote a Mary Sue?
Not Kvothe, but watching him DnD as Viari (and I enjoyed seeing him have fun), yes, he "writes what he knows."

P.S. I can't find the "mefi's own" link for Pat, I think there might have been one.
posted by k3ninho at 12:28 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


This is great, and very well done. Thanks for posting!
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:28 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]




The one result which did surprise me (although in retrospect it shouldn’t have) was that green eyes skew so heavily female.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:24 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


The overall shape of the findings is less of a surprise than she states
Came here to say basically this, though I had in mind putting it in a way less kind. I did not find that reading the thing linked was a very good use of my time. Women and men are described differently! Who'd a thunk it!

I admit to being curious about the text analysis software. Did the writer build a custom dictionary of body-part words? What was the lexicon? Did they roll their own English text parser or find something more or less ready to eat? How much manual labor was involved looking over what it excerpted, and what kind of quality control would you use to figure out how much it's missing?
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 6:08 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


There's a methodology bit towards the bottom. It looks like she used an off-the-shelf natural language processing tool (spaCy, which is written in Python--huzzah!) with a hand-compiled body part corpus.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:36 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


There's a very active subreddit for this sort of thing as well: r/menwritingwomen.
posted by Harald74 at 2:00 AM on September 8 [3 favorites +] [!]


Also exists this Facebook group; And then she breasted boobily to the stairs and titted downwards
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:03 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


>> The overall shape of the findings is less of a surprise than she states

> Came here to say basically this, though I had in mind putting it in a way less kind. I did not find that reading the thing linked was a very good use of my time. Women and men are described differently! Who'd a thunk it!


Sorry, did she claim that this was novel or revolutionary? The implied requirement that something must be a new discovery to be worth discussing is an effective way of discouraging traditionally underrepresented and excluded groups from participating. "Oh, everyone knows [whatever]. Let's talk about something interesting instead. Next topic!"

It is useful and valuable to have something that "everyone knows" actually studied and documented. If you're not interested in it, feel free to move on to something that does interest you, and let the people who are interested in it discuss it.
posted by Lexica at 12:01 PM on September 8 [14 favorites]


This is sooooo good! Thank you so much for sharing, chavenet!
posted by lord_wolf at 1:40 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Women and men are described differently! Who'd a thunk it!

Also, this is a very dismissive take, as the point is that these descriptions can reinforce stereotypes and inequality.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:22 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


> The one result which did surprise me (although in retrospect it shouldn’t have) was that green eyes skew so heavily female

Green eyes feel very female to me, probably from having read it in so many books. Men have ice-blue eyes, or black eyes, and their eyes darken when they get angry. (I read a lot of crap.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:33 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


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