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Apparently I’m a Man on the Internet?

2009 February 15
by Roisin Foley
An example of a Gender Genie decision.

An example of a Gender Genie decision.

So a friend of mine recently started a weird, slightly mean internet project of sorts which I thought spoke to a lot of what we’ve been talking about in this class. Let me just preface by saying I do not approve, and I have made this clear to my friend. So, my friend knows a guy at college who keeps a blog, which my friend describes as “hilarious,” and not in an intentional way.  It’s one of those personal blogs that maybe three people read, and those three people all know the author personally. So my friend (and my friend’s roommates) decided to start a blog pretending to be a girl, and have slowly started posting on the guy’s blog– with the objective of eventually striking up an internet relationship of sorts. My friend and his roommate are all guys. They’ve described what they’re doing- the act of pretending to be someone else on the internet, as “fun.” They can talk about the personality of “Mel” (their female alter-ego) at incredible length and detail, as well as her relationship to the internet and her blog. In order to seem “more female,” they’ve been using The Gender Genie , an application which analyzes text and tells you whether the author is “male” or “female” and how many points “male” or “female” they are. 

I decided to test the Gender Genie myself, and it told me I was male three times (I used the paper I wrote for this class, a personal blog entry, and an entry from this blog). When I pasted in a short story I wrote, it told me I was female. I’m female-bodied and identify as such. The algorithm that the Genie is based on, from what I can tell, basically thinks that analytical= male, personal= female. One of my friend’s roommates (who has been participating in the “Mel” blog farce,) used the Genie on his personal writing and came out “female’ every time, which he reacted to rather badly.

So, my question is, if something like this is “wrong” most of the time, what’s the point? Does it retain any of it’s usefulness as a tool? Or, does it’s usefulness lie in the very fact that it is wrong, which allows us to further explore the constructs that surround the idea of gender as dichotomous?

8 Responses
  1. Hillary permalink
    February 15, 2009

    I thought I would see what it thought of my writing, and it three times it came-up with male (paper for this class and two papers for Women and Feminism History of Art) and once with female (the only fiction piece i picked). This is really interesting, but i think there might be some problems for college students who use it with their work from college it if it assumes that analytical is male and personal is female because most papers for college are analytical. Also it’s interesting to think about the fact that many people in college probably have very analytical writing because it is so drilled into our heads that that is what we should do. I have no data but my own writing, but i feel like the genie is going to find non-fiction as male, blog posts as female, and fiction could go either way. Maybe i don’t fully understand the way it works, it just seams to not be so perfect at determining gender by how people write.

  2. Solomon Lutze permalink
    February 15, 2009

    Haha. My blog posts all got me listed as female (male-bodied, male-identifying person talking). A piece of fiction, however, was listed as male. I don’t know what to think of this, since that piece of fiction was written to emulate a particular male writer (Lovecraft) but was from the point of view of a woman. Ah well.


  3. Mista Jay permalink
    February 15, 2009

    I am female bodied and female identifying, but the paper I wrote for this class listed me as male, a fiction short story listed me as female, and yet another short story I wrote listed me as male again.

    I believe that the usefulness of this “tool” DOES lie in the fact that it can be wrong, that gender can’t possibly be split up into “analytical” and “personal” (or whatever it uses to decide) and on that note how exactly does some of these words constitute as “feminine” words and “masculine” words, anyway? I mean, honestly, how is “a” a masculine word? How can it be seen in an analytical vs. personal viewpoint, if it’s just a letter?

    Anyway, besides that frustration, I find this to be a mix of amusing and creepy.

  4. Carrie permalink
    February 15, 2009

    Interestingly enough my fiction pieces got me identified as male and my blogs got me identified as female. I’m not quite sure what that says about me (a female bodied, female identifying individual) or my writing.
    I think it’s a little ridiculous that it would be possible to tell if a person is male or female based on writing style. Superficial indicators of gender are never cool.

  5. Natasha permalink
    February 15, 2009

    Sounds to me like the tool’s based on gender stereotypes and, as such, is showing us just how inaccurate these stereotypes are for modeling the diversity of people of all genders.

  6. Ryan permalink
    February 21, 2009


    Is there such a thing as a non-superficial indicator of gender?

  7. Baibh Cathba permalink
    March 12, 2009

    In response to Ryan, the answer is most likely no.

    I believe we’ve been talking in class about the arbitrariness of labels. I’d like to think we’ve come to the conclusion that gender is an adjective, not a noun, but don’t actually know if this is true for anyone else in class. On another note, here’s a Gender Analyzer for you if you didn’t have enough fun with Roisin’s gender tester ^_^ (I tend to show up as “male” when I write fanfiction. Yes, I write fanfiction :P)

    Also, when this blog is entered… (img won’t work… so link: Gender Analysis of our blog

    I’m a female person (note! female is an adjective here) in a female body, but my momma raised me to be a gentleman. I hold doors open regardless of gender, which often upsets my male friends because they’re all “but I should be holding that door open for you, ’cause you’re a girl”. As a personal preference, I don’t like people holding doors for me unless I’ve got my hands full. It’s something slightly paranoid about people at my back -_-.

    Anyone have anything to say about the idea of chivalry/chauvinism? I like to think they’re two sides of the same coin, but that might just be me.

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