Editors’ Choice: The Instability of Gender

Ted Underwood and David Bamman 1500-word abstract of a paper delivered Sat, Dec 9th, at MLA 2016, in a panel with Deidre Lynch and Andrew Piper.

By visualizing course evaluations, Ben Schmidt has reminded us how subtly (and irrationally) descriptions of real people are shaped by gendered expectations. Men are praised for being funny, and condemned for being boring. Women are praised for being helpful, and condemned for being strict.

Fictional characters are never simplymagined people; they’re also aspects of novelistic form (Lynch 1998). But gendered patterns of description do appear in fiction, and it might be interesting to know how those patterns have changed. This also happens to be a problem where natural language processing can help us, since English pronouns have grammatical gender. (The gender of “me” is a trickier problem; for the purposes of this paper, we have regretfully set first-person narrators aside.)

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This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Lacey Wilson based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: Daniel Lynds, Harika Kottakota, and Heriberto Sierra.