Essays On Language And Gender

Essays On Language And Gender-5
But that difference weakens steadily as we move forward to the present; the actions and attributes of characters are less clearly sorted into gender categories.

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This essay explores the changing significance of gender in fiction, asking especially whether its prominence in characterization has varied from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first.

We have reached two conclusions, which may seem in tension with each other.

We will cast light on those questions only indirectly, by showing that public signs of gender had a fluctuating and uncertain significance.

To trace the representation of character across 104,000 books, we needed a way to identify the characters in a work and separate them from each other.

But broadly, and taken as a whole, our evidence is shaped by the book-buying practices of academic libraries (with additional contributions from the Library of Congress and New York Public Library).

It doesn't include everything published in the period, and certain important sites of publication (pulp magazines, for instance) are known to be underrepresented.We used a pipeline called Book NLP, which identifies character names in a work of fiction and clusters those names, so that "Elizabeth" and "Elizabeth Bennet" are linked as a single person.Then it identifies words that are connected to each character in a range of different ways: because they're actions she performs, actions of which she's the object, adjectives that modify her, or nouns that she governs ("her spirits," for instance).On the other hand, we have checked this collection against a less academic sample drawn from and (as we will explain shortly) the most dramatic trends affecting authorship seem to be broadly the same in both samples.In any case, a collection drawn from academic libraries can certainly tell us a lot about the literary tradition that has been studied in universities.Moreover, a role like "Miss Bennet" can belong to different people over the course of a narrative.Gender, on the other hand, is comparatively easy to recognize.In fact, there is an eye-opening, under-discussed decline in the proportion of fiction actually written by women, which drops by half (from roughly 50% of titles to roughly 25%) as we move from 1850 to 1950.The number of characters who are women or girls also drops. While gender roles were becoming more flexible, the space actually allotted to (real, and fictional) women on the shelves of libraries was contracting sharply.We are working with a collection of 104,000 works of fiction.They are spread over 306 years, from 1703 to 2009, but the vast majority are dated from 1780 to 2007, and that's where we will focus our attention.


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