“Are you gender typical?” asks the Independent

// 22 September 2008

So The Independent decided to run a quiz, called “are you gender typical?” The questions are ludicrous, and although the quiz gets a thumbs up for generally acknowledging that not only women express behaviours traditionally labelled as feminine and not only men express behaviours traditionally labelled as masculine, there are some serious problems here.

Let’s start with the name of the quiz: which puts the whole exercise in the context of judging readers against a ‘typical’ man or woman.

Sometimes men like Sex in the City, which definitely doesn’t make them “camp” or “girlie”, the newspaper informs us. Sometimes women can dispose of their own dead mice. But that doesn’t mean you’re a “tomboy”, just that you “plough your own furrow” and “dare to be different”.

Check out the scoring system chosen by the newspaper – a literal binary!


Scores associated with femininity are given a 1, those with masculinity a 0. So the Independent has come part of the way – it’s not all manly men and feminine women – but still can’t shake the idea that behaviours, television watching habits, personality traits, and whatever else, fit into two – and no more – neat boxes that can be categorised ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.

Some of the questions are particularly galling:

18. A. I can find my keys in in less than five seconds

B. I have to hunt around to ind my keys

Guess which answer gets a 0 and which gets a 1? Yep, that’s right.

If the questions weren’t so annoying as to make it a moot point, I would mostly want to answer “neither” or “both” to these questions (there’s no space for anyone who can’t stand Top Gear or Sex and the City; or reads the foreign news section and the colour supplements with equal interest. And, yes, the Independent newspaper believes unironically that its foreign news is coded masculine, supplements feminine).

Then we have the lead-in to the questionairre:

Of course the differences between the sexes are interesting (and sexy). But think for a moment about a beautiful Bangkok ladyboy compared to a 19-stone rugby prop forward. Or contrast a female shot-putter with that skeletal girl on the catwalk. The differences within each sex are equally interesting.

“Ladyboy?!!!” But I guess that at least the heterocentricity of the first line introduces a theme which runs through the whole quiz!

As well as reassuring high-scoring men that they are not “camp” or “girlie” (what could be worse?!) men and women who score in the ‘middle range’ are told:

You’re in the middle ground of the gender spectrum so you can appreciate both masculine and feminine pursuits without getting hung up on what seems gender “appropriate” or whether your sexuality is being impugned.

Does the Independent really believe that calling someone gay is a slur? And that only straight people are reading this?

OK, the value judgements have shifted since How Masculine Are You? from 1954 (interestingly the Independent gives the most “positive” description to men and women who score in the middle range, whereas the newspaper is a bit negative about “manly men” and “sugar and spice” women, who are told to watch out for “dolls’ house syndrome”, whatever that is), but there are also some striking similarities.

The Independent’s version certain provides more room to manoeuvre, but the central idea that the world can be split down the middle with the feminine on one side and the masculine on the other remains; even if it is acknowledged that femininity and masculinity are not necessarily co-ordinated with women and men. And, noteably, tired and fundamentally negative stereotypes about femininity remain – femininity means reading the light section of the newspaper; preferring ‘human interest’ to history documentaries (isn’t history a human interest?!); shopping to washing your car; taking ages to get ready.

(Via Jezebel)

Comments From You

Cara // Posted 23 September 2008 at 1:53 pm

Hmmm, the other day on Loose Women they were joking about “man looking” where men always expect the woman to find stuff such as keys. But this quiz thinks women can’t find keys.

They can’t even keep the gender stereotypes straight!

And I find my keys where they always are, in the flippin door! Cos as a woman living alone, I don’t feel safe when at home alone, especially at night, unless my door is locked. I do tend to have a place for things – ooooh no, am I a man?!- but that’s not why I always know where my keys are, or not the only reason – point is, the same behaviour can have many motivations, and different motivations behind it in different people. This kind of quiz is way too simplistic.

I agree – this sort of quiz reinforces the idea that there is, at least, a continuum of male to female.

I don’t think that’s true. People exhibit a mixture of traits, some of which are traditionally thought to be female, some male. Yet for example you can be caring and empathetic (“female”) and also good at reading maps (male). Or unempathetic and lousy at reading maps.

Like Jess said, you can enjoy Sex and The City and Top Gear – or neither – i.e. you could enjoy both shopping and cars.

There is no logical reason at all why these things are related. There isn’t some kind of cluster of “typical” male and female attributes.

On a related note, on any test of gender – e.g. the “what sex is your brain?” one on the BBC website (eurgh) it’s hilarious how freaked out people get if their result doesn’t match their sex. It really really does upset some people.

There is also a test online which you put something you’ve written, e.g. a blog entry, into and it tells you what gender it thinks you are. I can’t remember the link, will try to find it if anyone is interested. Anyway, amazingly, my more emotional or frivolous or funny entries came out female, but entries about serious subjects e.g. politics came out male. Clearly there were Stereotypical assumptions behind it.

Milly // Posted 23 September 2008 at 2:17 pm

What a load of rubbish. I just tried to do the quiz on a colleague, and by the 3rd question I was already too infuriated to continue. Chapped lips or chapstick? go washing or wash the car? Zzzzzzzzz. Lazy lazy journalism on a slow news day.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 23 September 2008 at 4:39 pm

18. A. I can find my keys in in less than five seconds

B. I have to hunt around to find my keys

I have NO IDEA if A or B is the “female” answer in this one.

Since I do not know the answer does this mean I exist in a state of being both male and female that will collapse into a single sex upon discovering my keys?!

tom hulley // Posted 23 September 2008 at 5:27 pm

One snag with questionnaires like this is that they categorise our diversity. On the keys test, I do both. Depends on the day, time of day whatever.

In my life I have done ballet and played rugby. The latter was the ‘soft’ choice really. Strange too how all the red-blooded heteros in rugby can never stop grabbing each other.

Gender expectations are very powerful and shape our lives however much we resist. One day I might get into a car without needing to challenge every other driver. It would help if the Independent seriously challenged these pressures instead of trivialising them.

It can be very hard to break out of gender constraints. I recall Marianne Grabrucker’s work about the difficulty of raising a child without giving in to prevailing gender expectations:


Well worth reading.

Winter // Posted 23 September 2008 at 6:24 pm

Quiz won’t tell you anything about your gender but it might tell you something about your social class and economic status. I mean, a choice between “Spa and camping”? If I have to settle for a week in a caravan in Tenby does that say anything about my gender?

Danielle // Posted 23 September 2008 at 10:09 pm

I agree with the general opinion: it is far too simplistic. Do I like to spend hours shopping, or get in and out with minimal fuss? Surely that would depend on how much time I have, what kind of mood I’m in, how tired I am?

There’s always a small part of me that enjoys doing these sorts of quizzes though. In fact, I love “personality” quizzes in general, and horoscopes, even if I know they’re bollocks. Feminine trait, do you think? :P

Adele // Posted 24 September 2008 at 6:30 am

Every time I’ve done tests like this, I end up in the middle. As do most of the people I’ve ever met. As do most of the population, in tests where the percentage of other users scoring each option is shown.

I think it’s mostly because they test competence. It’s pretty easy to see that each of the answers gives you a ‘competent’ and an ‘incompetent’ option. I think most people get in the middle because, unlike what sexists would like to believe, most human beings have a range of skills and a range of weaknesses. And for most people, these don’t fit into the neat little gender binary of skills.

thegirlfrommarz // Posted 24 September 2008 at 2:35 pm

18. A. I can find my keys in in less than five seconds

B. I have to hunt around to find my keys

Well, in my house (A) would be the female answer as I keep my keys in my handbag and always know where they are. (B) would be the male answer, as my boyfriend puts them down on a random surface when he gets in and has to hunt around for them before he leaves.

Shows how ridiculous most of these questions are – aren’t we done with the gender essentialism yet?

tom hulley // Posted 24 September 2008 at 2:40 pm

Yes, Winter, I think it does. Class and economic status are both gendered, aren’t they? Women are poorer than men on the whole. In most/all societies there are far more women in the poorest groups.

So chances are that a lower cost holiday may well link with gender position.

Also men (so far as I can make out) tend to spend more easily than women who are often more thrifty and even feel guilty (about spending on themselves at least).

Women are portrayed as shoppers and spenders but I think most social science studies on spending patterns show different.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 24 September 2008 at 2:56 pm

I’m very disappointed in the Independent for this.

Can I second Tom Hulley’s comment on the Marianne Grabrucker’s book: “There’s a Good Girl: Gender Stereotyping in the First Three Years – A Diary”

It is indeed brilliant. I had put it into the F Word Shop last year because it really does sum up why I am a feminist and it’s a fascinating read.

Ellie // Posted 25 September 2008 at 10:39 am


I scored three which means:

“You are a man’s man, and not especially in touch with your feminine side. Be careful you don’t slip into pitfalls like insensitivity and poor communication”

Score zero for accurate gender predicting there. I love how they can tell I’m a bad communicator because I like football better than tennis and prefer showers to baths. Genius.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 25 September 2008 at 11:32 am

Oops, I was trying to link to the item in the F Word shop but it didn’t seem to work. Anyway, you can find the book by doing a search on Amazon.

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