(Roughly) Daily

“As names have power, words have power”*…

 

gender1

 

My book club was reading The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable plot, we found a 35-page interlude about a highly attractive fairy, describing her body in minute, eye-rolling detail.

After slogging through that book, I began paying attention to similarly stereotyped descriptions of bodies in other books. Women are all soft thighs and red lips. Men, strong muscles and rough hands.

I was frustrated by this lazy writing. I want to read books that explore the full humanity of their characters, not stories that reduce both men and women to weak stereotypes of their gender.

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?

To do this, I selected 2,000 books spanning Pulitzer-winning classics to pulpy best-sellers, and ran them through a parser that identified sentences mentioning body parts. I then extracted the owner of the body parts and any adjectives describing them…

gender2

It’s easy to dismiss or overlook the differences in the way men’s and women’s bodies are depicted because they can be subtle and hard to discern in one particular book—one or two extra mentions of “his bushy hair” may not register over 300 pages.

But when you zoom out and look at thousands of books, the patterns are clear…

All the details from Erin Davis (@erindataviz) in The Pudding: “The physical traits that define men & women in literature.”

(Via Walt Hickey at Numlock, who observes, “honestly, now I just want to read a book about a women who’s all knuckles and a dude who’s got rockin’ hips.”)

* Patrick Rothfuss, author of the novel that occasioned the study cited above, in a different work, The Name of the Wind

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As we lose the lens, we might send fictional birthday greetings to award-winning journalist Lois Lane; she was “born” on this date (according to the 1976 DC Comics Calendar). She has been wildly differently depicted through the years, as one can see here (among other places).

Superman27

The Golden Age Lois Lane and Superman, from the cover of Superman #27 (March–April 1944), art by Wayne Boring.

 source

 

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