Let's Play 'Find The Female'

Are your words letting your gender show?

Gender inequality in Hollywood?  Say it ain't so!
Damn, I wish I could.   When it comes to screenwriters getting access to Hollywood, I have been known to regularly spout stuff like, "Don't worry about access.  Write a good enough script and it will find its way in."  But when it comes to gender inequality, I'm a woman, so it hits a little close to home.

Gender inequality is a hot topic right now.  Well, it's always been a hot topic, but until recently, the 'hot topic' label only applied because of the massive explosions it set off in vastly male dominated screenwriting groups everywhere each time some woman dared bring it up.  The good news is, that seems to be changing.

I'm not posting to debate the question of gender inequality.  There is no debate.  Don't believe me?  Check this out: Go Into The Story posted stats back in June on spec sales broken down by gender, and it was depressing.  For a more in-depth look, check out this Women And Hollywood piece.  Then, if you still don't believe that screenwriting sexism exists, feel free to stick your head in a microwave.  (Seriously, we can debate the reasons all you want, be there is no denying that it is real.)

Yes, this stuff is depressing, but it's also good.  It gets people talking, and discussing, and cursing, and screaming, and denying, and debating, and making jokes, and it's even inspired Mystery Exec on twitter to start a movement aptly named #BeTheChange that encourages writers to create believable female characters with actual depth rather than just boobs and rape trauma.  With all this attention, gender inequality is no longer Hollywood's dirty little secret.  It's out in the open, and exactly where it needs to be in order for change to occur.

But what exactly needs to change?  Is it a 'Boy's Club' thing?  Is Hollywood simply a reflection of society?  Does it boil down to money and women not wanting, or being able to, write what the market demands? Is it just a feminazi plot to spread lies in order to take over Hollywood?  Is it simply that women tend to have integrity and won't write crap to make a sale?  I could go on and on, and honestly, it would take a PhD in gender studies and at least five years of research to come up with anything close to a decent answer.

I don't have that kind of time.  What I do have, are many opinions, which I, of course, am sure are 100% right, but that's beside the point.  I'm not writing to share them, or attempt to sway opinion.  The links I offered above are a good start if you want to educate yourself about sexism in the industry, or check out this post over on Alice In Actionland.  If you're reading this, I assume you're at least halfway intelligent and can form your own views on this very real, serious, universally damaging issue without help from me.  Me, I prefer to deal by keeping my head down and writing kick-ass scripts, still half-under the naive delusion that my work is not cut off at the knees when competing against male written scripts simply because I happen to have ovaries and a vagina.

So why am I writing about gender inequality?  It pretty much boils down to the same narcissistic reason everybody puts stuff up on the internet: someone pissed me off.  And when I'm pissed off, I do what any modern gal does; I turn to the masses to weigh in and hopefully prove me right... that is, if I can call the handful of people who read my blog a mass.

See, I recently sent a trusted beta-reader a piece of work I was particularly happy with.  I've known him forever, and he's the first to see every draft, outline, treatment, logline, grocery list, and death threat I put together.  He's heard me pitch the worst crap, as well as the occasional gem.  And he's not afraid to tell me which is which.  I don't always listen to him, but I do trust his opinion.  And it's an educated one.  He's a director who's been around the industry block long enough to have seen and given notes on more than his fair share of scripts, so it's not like he's talking out of his ass. 

The point is, he's well respected, and when he gives an opinion on all things film related, it's probably wise to listen.

But he's also my brother.  Which means I occasionally have to call him out when I think he's full of shit.

Which brings us to the point.  He took a look at this recent creation of mine, and he loved it.  Thought it was my best work to date, yada yada yada...  I should be thrilled with high praise from one who rarely gives it, right?  RIGHT?!

But there was hesitation in his voice.  This is from a man who doesn't hold back.  So I pushed.  "Spit it out!  Is it the story? The characters? The structure?  The pacing?  Some little plot point I left hanging?  Too much sex?  Too little violence? A funny Freudian spelling mistake?  What? WHAT?!"

Then he said it.

"You write like a girl."

WTF?  Me?!

I get off on guns and fast cars and violence and robots and explosions and loose women and testosterone fueled blockbusters.  He should know.  He exposed me to all of that stuff by introducing me to the magic that is movies.

When I was done chewing him a new one, he explained that he wasn't talking macro - concepts, characters, plot - he was talking micro - language, word choice, phrasing.

Yes, women use more words than men in conversation, and in writing (as evidenced by the shit-ton of words in this very blog post), but in all things screenwriting, economy is key.  I've learned that the hard way (my first script was 125 plus pages - YIKES!).  If a word doesn't need to be there, get it the fuck out.  My scripts are lean, mean, and slick.

But do I write like a girl?  Does the simple choice between 'he zipped down the hallway' versus 'he dashed down the hallway' reveal my gender? 

He was very confident that, if he read my work blind, he would be able to tell it was written by a female, and more boldly, that female writers are generally easy to spot by their word choice alone.

Holy shit!  If he's right, the implications are HUGE!  

I don't buy it.  So I'm calling a tentative BULLSHIT.

I wanna know what you think, and I wanna put it to the test.

It's time to play...

I've asked some screenwriters to offer up one sample page to be posted blind.  Among the six victims crazy mofos masochists writers are award winners and produced writers, so it's safe to say they've all developed a high level of word choice skills.  But does word choice reveal their sex?!

In the samples below, I guarantee that there is at least one male writer and one female writer.  Other than that, I'll say nothing.  Can you guess which ones are male and which are female?  I want to see how accurately people can judge sex with out-of-context random pages based on words alone. 

What do you win if you guess correctly?  Bragging rights, baby!  And maybe a shout-out on Twitter. 

And if enough people guess, I'll post the sexes for the world to see (and if the writers want to come forward and claim their page at that point, cool!)


1) Post your guess in the comments

2) If you know the writer and/or the script, don't ruin it for others by posting identifying info.  Keep it to yourself and be smug in the knowledge that you'll get at least one correct.

3) Discussion in the comments is cool, but sexism can be a highly charged topic, and I'm trying to learn something and keep this somewhat entertaining and fun, so please be civil.  

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
Sample 4

Sample 5

Sample 6

Click on the above samples for a full page view

So what do you say?  Will you help a girl out and hopefully prove the theory is bullshit?!  God help me if it's not.  I want to keep believing that any rejection that comes my way is due to the fact that I suck rather than the fact that I have boobs and a vagina and write like a girl.