"Feminine" handwriting

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I have taken a few examples from the excellent Font Garden website to show characteristics deemed "masculine," "androgynous," and "feminine." These fonts are great for showing allographic characteristics of each letter, and what makes letter formation "masculine" or feminine."

Please note that deeming someone or something "masculine" or "feminine" is arbitrary and based on social custom. Not everyone would agree with my arbitrary assessments below.

This is a great cursive example from a woman who took penmanship classes to heart. Note the graceful shape of the o and s, and the fullness of the counters. See how all the angles are the same, and how each letter ends with a nice upward flourish?

Look at the rounded open counters on all the vowels here. Even though some letters slant backwards, the vibe here is “feminine” because of the curves and size.

This cursive example is great because of the capital m and i. The r is also very common among women who took second-grade penmanship lessons seriously.

Note here how the t and f have the exact same angle on the crossbars. This kind of consistency is a hallmark of “feminine” writing. Look at both the lowercase and capital w as well—the rounded shape instead of sharp angles on the baseline of the w is a strong cue.

This is classic young woman writing—high school or college age. Note how all the letters except t are made without lifting the pen from the paper. This is a classic tell of “feminine” writing. Note how open all the counters are, and the gentle hooks on the ends of letters like a, t, and n —this is the writing equivalent of “uptalk.”

This is a modified printing style that borders on italic or cursive. Note the crossbar angling consistency in the f and t, which can also be seen in the r and the little flourish at the start of the lowercase i. I imagine she can write pretty quickly and keep this looking consistently good.

Look at the f in this example—it is beautifully shaped. Look at the k as well—see how both arms have slight curves? Finally, check out the s—the loop back through below the baseline is very “feminine.”
This one is interesting—the e and l are so tightly looped that they almost look like an undotted i, but this is still very “feminine.” Why? Because the letters are consistent and carefully formed.

The rounded shape of the c, a, and g stand out in this one. Great counters. Note the o and r shapes discussed earlier.

This is another great example of consistency in size, slant, and counters.

Look at the b on this sample, and the loopiness in the capital h. Even though the s is a little unusual, the other letters compensate for that.

A classic example of “feminine” writing. Look at the e, formed in a single loop like a cursive l, and the rounded downstroke at the end of the t, k, n, and m. This also has another notable feature of writing that can look “feminine”: i and j dotted with a flourish or a tiny circle instead of a plain old dot. Unless you are in 6th grade or under, please, no dotting your i with a heart!

This casual style has a “feminine” feel thanks to the y, g, n and h.

Though this is very right-slanted, and the letters are all tall and thin instead of rounded and wide, this feels “feminine” because of the flourishes. Check out the start of the w or the hook at the end of the t. The s is also a very interesting shape.

This left-slanting style is very wide, giving it a “feminine” characteristic. Note how the a is formed in a “feminine” way: start above the circle, draw the back, then make a big counter without ever lifting the pen. This is also done in the two samples below.

This is a very nice style, in addition to the type of a mentioned above, look at the hook on the k and f downstrokes, the graceful hook on the e, and the way the l is never a straight downstroke.

Look at the way the t is crossed with a flourished crossbar, and the matching capital i. The a is the same as the two above, and look how the e and c finish with expressive hooks that are more like flourishes. I especially like the s, g, and j, and note how the j and i are dotted.

A note on writing style and vocabulary

Gender appears to be reified through writing style as well as handwriting, according to preliminary statistical analysis.

Recent attempts at creating algorithms that can determine a person’s gender by their writing style have produced some fairly accurate systems (Koppel 2003, Argamon 2003). They were able to guess with 83% accuracy based on a large sample of texts run through their algorithm. Generally speaking, the algorithm assumed men talk more about objects, and women more about relationships. Women tend to use more pronouns (I, you, she, their, myself), and men prefer words that identify or determine nouns (a, the, that) and words that quantify them (one, two, more). See the link in the reference section for the methodology involved.

David Lodge, whose early novel The Picture Goers was among the one out of five texts misgendered by the original algorithm, noted:

"Novels are very problematic texts because they are written in a medley of styles. And more often than not the author is trying to imitate some kind of imagined consciousness ­ male or female. Indeed, writers have always tried to imitate the distinctive characteristics of male and female discourse and we are in the habit of thinking that they have often succeeded. But perhaps these scientists believe they can prove this is an illusion. Still, I’m very surprised that this program is able to discern the gender of the real author. If you were to take ordinary first-person texts ­ letters or diaries ­ then you might, of course, expect a fairly high degree of accuracy. But that it can be done on literary novels intrigues me. This will have fascinating literary, critical and general sociological implications. That said, I’d like to see them apply it to a novelist’s attempt to imitate the opposite sex in a particular passage.” (McGrath 2003)

Some resourceful nerds at bookblog.net created a cruder version of the algorithm used on novels and called it the Gender Genie. It's available online for text analysis.

Elf Sternberg writes:

The Gender Genie algorithm, which first appeared in the NY Times' "science" section, is a poor popularization of the algorithm as it appeared in the original academic literature. I have the original paper and that algorithm is meant to be applied to fiction; applied to non-fiction, the authors admit, the algorithm is no better than random chance at detecting an author's gender. A much better alogrithm, the one that has an "80%" chance of detecting author's gender correctly, needs to be taught on a large sample to generate a massive statistical measure of male vs. female characteristics in text. Even applied to fiction, the popular algorithm is not much better. It seems to think I'm a woman, at least 97% of the time.

You can test a few samples of your fiction writing style with the Gender Genie, a simplified (and less scientific) version of the algorithm used by Koppel:


The Gender Genie statistics page indicates it only gets about 3 in 5 right, where Koppel's original got 4 in 5 right based on multivariate analysis on a large sample of texts. Like other "gender tests," this is not scientifically rigorous and should not be taken very seriously.

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Handwriting and gender cues