Kate wrote Thursday about distinctive voices of bloggers and how their voices are often instantly identifiable, even in comments on other blogs. (A lesson, perhaps, to not try to post something anonymously unless you're very, very good at disguises?) The first time I recognized a blogger by her voice, without regarding who placed the comment, I was a little surprised. Yet, it makes sense. If you read someone often enough, even in an informal medium like blogging, you're bound to recognize their style after awhile.
This leads me to another issue that I've thought of often. Are characteristics of a blogger noticeable, even if blogging pseudonymously? For example, can you readily identify someone by gender, by nationality or ethnicity, or by age, if those characteristics are not stated specifically?
I first thought about this several months ago when I asked my teen-aged son whether he thought most of the players in World Of Warcraft were teen & young adult males. He was a bit puzzled at first, but then thoughtfully said that he assumed most were, but he really didn't have any idea. He smiled slightly (maybe even blushed?) when I wondered what percentage of female characters in WoW were actually males. He said that he thought that a few women played the game, but said he didn't know if he could tell men playing women, or women playing men. He just knew that he didn't know any girls in real life who would play WoW, or at least admit to it. It does seem like a very male sort of game to me, although I know that not all gamers are male. His comment about not knowing girls who would play made me think about how much our concept of gender is based on what we know. He didn't know any girls that would play so therefore he might not know how to identify them in the role-playing game.
After this discussion, my husband said he re-read my blog to determine if there were gender signals within the writing (apart from the obvious things like 'my husband' etc.). I wasn't surprised that he thought it was definitely female, but I was surprised at what he pointed to as evidence of a female voice, the things that he claimed a man would never write.
I never would have tried to disguise my gender -- I don't know that I'd know how to do so while still retaining any sort of authenticity in my writing. A recent review in the NY Times of the new James Tiptree biography discussed how, in guessing the real identity of Tiptree, some had postulated that Tiptree had to be male. Tiptree was, in fact, a woman named Alice Sheldon. "The Women Men Don't See" is the only Tiptree that I've read. I already knew that Tiptree was a woman, but I found myself thinking as I read the story that there was a certain male quality, beyond the male first-person narration. Until I read the closing paragraphs of the story. Maybe the subtle, final joke of the story is that men can't understand women, but the character Althea -- and Tiptree-- certainly knew men and not in a way that men could recognize.
I don't know if it is as easy to identify age (assuming a mature adult narrative voice), although I have found myself surprised sometimes by things that are clues. For instance, on a blog I read frequently, the blogger recently mentioned something regarding her children which indicated that they were quite young. I thought: she's young enough to have a 5 or 6-year old? I hadn't consciously considered her age previously but I must have made some assumptions to be surprised that she was not the age that I expected.
In a role-playing game, like World of Warcraft, (I am not a player, btw), one could assume an identity that didn't have to share the same demographic characteristics as oneself. But, because it is a fictional world, perhaps it is easier to assume a radically different identity. In writing fiction, the writer has to be able to assume a portion of the identity of his characters in order to fully develop them. Otherwise, men could only write about men, and women about women. Sometimes, though, the gender, and maybe age & ethnicity as well, of the writer can be detected. It is an aspect of the style of writing that goes beyond the characters. Maybe in blogging, because it isn't usually a fictitious undertaking, those characteristics are more easily identified. After all, gender, age, religion, race make us who we are and influence what we choose to write about and how we choose to write it.