Saturday, June 18, 2011


I scored a respectable nine out of ten. Honestly! Okay fine, two were wild guesses. Nevertheless it is a decent score
The UK paper Guardian offered an on-line quiz challenging readers to guess the author’s gender from a single paragraph. It all started after VS Naipaul provoked fury by suggesting that women writers are 'sentimental' and 'unequal to me'. He also claimed that 'I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.' 

Take the quiz here.

At the outset, let me say that a good article is a good article irrespective of who has written it. Period. But this debate compels me to go on a gender guessing spree each time I pick up a magazine. While one is reading articles in the papers and magazines, gender distinction is almost impossible. However, when the genre is fiction, the mist disappears and the writers gender become relatively distinct.
Another writer Manu Joseph made similar claims when he said that the 'Upholstery Moment' gives the gender away. The moment a writer starts describing the color of the curtains, the drape and the sofa set, rest assured it’s a woman. It also holds true when women are describing characters, especially men. Personally,I believe that women writers definitely have a beautiful way with words where emotions, facial expressions and colors are concerned. Men, on the other hand tend to be more straightforward and practical. And yet, sometimes one is amazed by the depth of writers like Nicholas Sparks who describe women like no woman can.

I was discussing this with my husband and for fun sake we decided to play a game. Both of us had to describe Shahrukh in less than forty words. Not because I am a SRK fan, but simply because SRK was smiling from the magazine I had in my hand.

He: A self-made superstar with universal appeal and unconventional looks. His appeal transcends boundaries of age and gender.

Me: If charm was to ever take a persona, it will be the face of Khan. He can melt woman of any age to mush with his smile and easy wit. The fact that he's devoted to his wife pushes him high on the desirability list.

Obvious, right? But, but, but. If we change the muse from Shahrukh to a sports car, it would be another story. The husband has no patience for my mind games. That he would be more lucid and passionate about the car, I am certain. What's clear is that the gender distinctions become distinct depending on the genre.

Women writers who pen chic-lit are obvious and they make no bones about it. Sample this: When all the snooty ad people think Karol Bagh types, they imagine a pushy wannabe in a chamkeela salwaar kameez with everything matching- matching

Above lines are by Anuja Chauhan and no prizes for guessing the writer’s gender. But this line has to come from a man - ‘Dependable absolutely, faithful no doubt, but romance is as foreign to me as giving birth.’

Women have a flair for emotions and facial expressions making them mistresses of those smaller, softer moments. Men however write in their signature stealth style without lingering on facial and color details. 

Mr. Naipaul was being smug or perhaps courting controversy when he said that he has a nose for whiffing the gender within a para of reading. It is a possibility. But not the final word. 

What do you think? Not that it matters, but are you able to guess the writer’s gender after reading a post?


  1. intersting!

    Naipaul is infamous for his rudeness and insolence.
    btw, thanks for the link, i scored 4/10 :P


  2. have never bothered about the gender of the writer... seriously!

    can guess the gender of a driver though!! :)

  3. does it make any difference if i know the gender of the author before going into the write up???? nope....

    so why to bother about n try guessing it....

  4. Interesting post. I was bugged too when I read Naipaul's comments but then he has always been this kind of person. Take his views with a large bag of salt. Yes, sometimes I can make out that the writer is a female, and sometimes I am stunned with the depth of feelings a man can write with. So, I would not know how to answer your question.

  5. it depends from person to person. Nice read :) n thanks for d link

  6. How does it matter? Naipaul likes to court controversy by making such ludicrous claims. I took the test and scored 5/10. :D

  7. I cannot remember who but some writer passed a controversial statement on gender and their writing. I call it absurdity.

  8. Interesting Alks!
    I personally like Anuja Chauhan for a couple of write ups I have read of her!

    However it is totally an individualistic thing..whenever I write fiction, I hate giving descriptions, but do so because fiction is based on such necessities:/

    Many of my write ups would tell it is by a woman*for obvious reasons* but yours are as crisp and tongue in cheek as any man could ever be:-)

    I loved the two descriptions of Shahrukh...does your husband write too? He must:-)

  9. took the test and scored 8 :P hmm not bad. loved the SRK game you played. Well Men too can be expressive and emotional while writing but that's very rare :)

  10. The less said about Naipaul the better. As a woman I relate more to women writers. But does it mean I am gender-centric? Absolutely not. My favourite authors are mostly men but I loved reading Anuja Chauhan's Battle for Bittora. It was unadulterated mush yet it was witty and goofy. That's what makes women writers so emminently readable - they usually don't take themselves seriously, can write about anything under the sun and can tug at your heart strings.

  11. @AS...Appreciate your honesty.

    @Deepak...You have a magic eye... I am sure you see what others dont.

    @Irfan...For fun, I guess.It is irrelevant otherwise.

  12. @Rachna...True, some men can tug the emotional strings harder than any woman can. Honestly the gender doesnt matter when it comes to writing.

    @Rachit :)

    @Ajay...Appreciate your honesty. It was for fun sake. The writers gender doesnt really matter.

  13. @Prateek...Its a free world.Perhaps he wanted to create a controversy before the release of his new book.

    @Suruchi...Hubby can write only serious stuff(reports, presentations). I have challenged him to attempt humour, only 50 words but he has not attempted it as yet.Most women love Anuja but my hubby could not go beyond a few pages. I absolutely love her mushy, funny stuff.

  14. @rajlakshmi...Women are scoring far better than men. I guess we can identify women much easily. Not that it matters. Just for fun.

    @Purba...I guess you have a point. Women writers dont take writing seriously and it comes straight from the heart. So there it goes,....dil se dil tak.I love Anuja but my husband couldnt go beyond a few pages.

    But some like Arundhati do take writing and other causes seriously.

  15. Interesting.
    Naipul has a knack of getting in trouble with his mouth!
    But nevertheless, lets not forget that in older times women authors had to hide their true identities under the guise of a male name.
    And they were not really caught, till years later!

    So why make a hue and cry over it now?

  16. Initially I was outraged learning Naipaul's comments but when I gave it a little more thought I think I could relate to what he said. I scored an 8 on that quiz and I think a man and a woman's style of writing or expression do differ. But then again this isn't applicable everywhere. Just recently I finished Stieg Larsson's first book in the Millenium series which deals with crime and gore, an excellent write, but ironically enough Stieg Larsson's fav authors seem to be all women with the exception of a few.

  17. @Sakshi....Naipaul is writing worlds Digvijay Singh!

    @Samadrita...Bang on!Both have their unique styles. Men do not care much about facial expressions, colors and clothes which are fav with women..

  18. ‘Dependable absolutely, faithful no doubt, but romance is as foreign to me as giving birth.’

    And I love these lines, more for the art, and love of language if not for the simplicity of expression.

    No wonder there has to be something different in everyone, and the way we were built, Men and Women, some difference has to be.

    Blasphemous Aesthete

  19. @Anshul... Those lines are by Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding, a sequel to The Notebook. Both books are achingly moving romantic reads.

  20. Mr. Naipaul
    who is he?
    does he know cooking?
    i know you
    sorry i do not know Naipaul.

  21. Good post...try me...

  22. Nice post. Naipaul may have wanted to just create some ripples.. but I am glad men and women are different and write differently. Why should they be the same and how boring that would be..:)

  23. @sm....Wow, that makes my day. Maybe a week.
    Naipaul simply wanted to create a controversy and he did.

    @Stranger.....will come back.Sure.

    @Schismits....Bang on!

  24. I also took the test and was promptly reprimanded, "You clearly need to read more book by men!" That has set me thinking! Of late, I have been reading and rereading Shashi Deshpande. Most, if not all, blogs that I visit are written by women! Is it a personality disorder? Or, am I just addicted to women's way of presenting things?

    Excellent writing, nonetheless.

  25. @umashankar...Ha, ha...No, its not a personality disorder, but women do have an eye for nuance and an ear for irony. They are good story tellers... remember grandmoms stories?
    Men rule when they pen a mystery or a thriller. Have you read Arvind Adigas, The white tiger? He can beat any woman at black humor. Very dark realistic representation of the present state of affairs.

  26. I dont know what the fuss is about?? If Naipaul can guess genders good for him, may be he will play with grandsons guessing "gender game"..

    A good piece of writing is a good piece,be it men or women.

  27. Enjoyed your post, Alka. Thought I had commented on it.

    I did the quiz and my score was 4. Not bad I guess. Better than getting Zero.

    A piece of writing depends on the descriptions and the feelings it evokes, not on the writer's gender. Wish we could tell that to the man making those racist comments.

  28. @Perception,Rachna, BKC......

    I guess Naipaul was looking for controversy and he succeeded....beyond that it really does not matter. The quiz was fun though.

  29. @Alka,

    That is interesting. Always humorous way to put your point. You are too good.

    On the same lines, read my personal experience at my post

    (It is Mindless Martians under Thoughts Tab. Please read all the comments too.)

  30. Nice link there :) . In the end, if the write-up appeals to our mind and heart.. does gender matter? One can read Agatha Christie & Arthur Conan Doyle with same enthusiasm.

  31. I got 5 out of 10.

    May be it is the case with the experienced readers to recognize the gender of the author, i was not able to relate those 10 excerpts by the gender.

  32. @A ....sure, will do.


    @atlasshrugged... It doesnt matter. I guess women can easily identify other women. Its intuitive. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  33. Loved SRK's description. :-) Now to go chekc my score. I wanted to read the whole post before I detoured..

  34. @Zeba.....Thank you dear for visiting FREEBIRD. It means a lot.

  35. doesnt matter ..male or female...
    \yes lemme tell you at times I felt that...its hilarious..
    This guy came to my blog (unknown random visitor)..left a comment long back...I didn't know its a guy..Cuz..the name of the blog was related to some CURRY(cooking)I went to the blog and started reading...
    all porn stuff...I could easily guess its a guy ..FOR SURE...and it was a Guy ...but name was related to indian cooking
    any ways...its easy to make out!

  36. I have never really analyzed a write up as for who its coming from. I mean how does it matter anyway.

    Loved your and your husband's take on SRK. Fun stuff!

  37. Alka,

    I agree it may be possible but not sure shot. Example of SRK does show the difference clearly. At times renowned authors also take a dig at others. A very well known author used to describe setting in many paragraphs, at times running into a couple of pages. Another famous author took a dig in one of his book by saying " It was a straight road with trees lined on each side and a cat crossing the road makes about what the scene is." or words of similar nature.

    Take care

  38. Naipaul intended to create a controversy and he got nice publicity out of it. I don't know if I could make out the gender of the writer after reading one paragraph. But, the way you are writing people will be able to make out Alka's writing with just a glance. Wonderful post :)

  39. Let's be charitable. Maybe he has read plenty of books by women,
    but because he considered them good books, he's sort of blanked
    out that the authors were not men. Sounds as if Mr. Naipaul
    (whom I have not read) has the same problem.

  40. Thanks Alka for the link. My result says "Congratulations! You beat the average score of 4 for this quiz" and it was 6 out of a possible 10 to be precise. I think my sixth sense prevailed otherwise I strongly believe language does not have a gender! Mr. V. S. Naipaul is an iconoclast one who loves courting controversy and taking pride in being offensive. IGNORE HIM!!