Right now, the top story on The Daily Beast is this: “Poll: Women Are Better Writers Than Men.” Was that supposed to be flattering? It’s actually both patronizing and completely bogus.
The article is presented as fact and was apparently written by no one: Its byline reads only “The Daily Beast,” which is really quite funny if you try to picture it. The rest is an infographic (because if words are made to be aesthetically pleasing, they must be true) published by Grammarly.com, a service where users can enter text or drop documents to check their grammar, plastered with the question: “Do Women Write Better Than Men?” Spoiler: YES! Why? REASONS!
The rest is a series of data points with questions like, “Are men more likely to write about people and use pronouns like ‘he’ or ‘she’ or are they more likely to write about things, with pronouns like ‘the’ or ‘some’?” and “Are women more likely to spend significant time developing characters or get right to the point?”
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “I already know exactly what the answers will be.” If you’re assuming that the percentages showed that men just happen to write about “things” more than “people” and that women “spend time developing characters” while men “get right to the point,” you would be right, as the people who supplied the information to the poll were regular people. Three thousand of them. Not, as one might assume, literary scholars or experts in anything other than a mild familiarity with our culture’s deeply ingrained stereotypes about the different ways men and women think, which is to say, everyone.
And the data was not, as would have made much more sense and been actually valuable, pulled from Grammarly itself. (A study on the different kinds of phrases men and women plug into Grammarly.com? That could be something, at least.) Instead, Grammarly literally just asked 3,000 people whether they assumed women write more “about people” or “long, descriptive sentences” versus “short, straightforward ones.” (Guess what? Women apparently like to write long sentences and men prefer to write short ones, which, if anything, should indicate that the most recent authors most of us have read were Ernest Hemingway and Jane Austen back in the tenth grade, and none of the thousands of writers who don’t fit the mold like David Foster Wallace, Lydia Davis, etc. etc.)
The problem with the poll wasn’t just the method of data collection, or that all the questions seemed to have an inherent gendered dichotomy that practically guaranteed what the results would be prior to anyone actually taking the poll. It’s that the only question that ended up mattering in the entire survey was the first one: “Who are better writers, men or women?” 59% of the respondents said women, a data point we will likely attribute to the fact that there was no answer box for “This poll is completely stupid.”
Look, women don’t need patronizing “studies” telling them they’re “better than men” at writing or anything else, for that matter. And we certainly don’t need any more opinions presenting themselves as facts schilling the same old, “women’s brains work this way, and it’s better!” or “men think that way, and it’s bad!” It is all fine. Everything is fine and everything is terrible. Now, excuse us—we’re going to go read The Bell Jar and weep for humanity.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa.