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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nonfiction writing quality by gender? Yeah, no.

This is an answer I made on Quora. The question was incredibly sexist in my opinion, but someone other than the asker requested I answer and it caught my interest for rebutting. 

The question was:
Do you agree that nonfiction written by women is typically less interesting than nonfiction written by men?
The reasons given were that women tended to write with more attention to emotion and character, while men tended to write with more attention to taut arguments and scientific methods, which led to women's writing being superficial while men's writing was idea-rich. I am not sure if I can find a portion of the reasoning which actually holds up under examination. Anyways, next paragraph begins what I said.

The prioritization of quantitative stuff that's easy to measure over qualitative stuff where emotions make sense as richer is part of the problem here: each focus has its use, and devaluing the one that's associated with femininity is part of sexism, especially since women are taught that they need to be in touch with  emotions and then punished for being so.

Additionally, many serious nonfiction topics involve human factors. When human actions are involved, analysis of thought processes is necessary to properly address the topic. Despite the extent to which many of us wish to believe otherwise, humans are generally driven more by emotion and instinct than by rationality: we are rationalizers, not rational creatures. With this knowledge in mind, the idea that bringing emotional factors into the analysis makes it less idea-rich is shown patently false for many topics.

Next, there is an implicit assumption that these areas of focus are contradictory. Taut argumentation can still be used when discussing emotional responses, and scientific methods can be applied whenever causes and effects are observable. This is true even if the effects are qualitative rather than quantitative. 

Finally, confirmation bias is a known factor: once such an opinion is formed, a reader is more likely to notice examples that confirm this opinion and categorize exceptions as "the exception that proves the rule" or something similar.

2 comments:

  1. I don't think I'd have been patient enough with the questioner to write such a well-reasoned answer to a query that borders on trolling!

    I read history books, and two of the best I have encountered (IMHO) are Juliet Barker's most engaging Agincourt and Elizabeth Longford's excellent biography of Wellington (also rated by historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell as the best work in its field). A good author is a good author regardless of their gender: in my experience gender is no indication of writing quality. Nor is gender a reliable indicator of writing style.

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  2. Given how Bernard Cornwell treats his female characters, I'm not sure how to take that, lol

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