Handwriting and gender cues

Introduction

A reader recently asked me:

I want a more feminine handwriting. Just like voices, one can usually take a quick glance at a letter and make a pretty good guess as to what gender the writer was. But I just can't put my finger on what it is that makes a handwriting "feminine" or "masculine". What can I do?

As with other forms of gendered expression, handwriting involves stereotypes of what society deems “masculine” or “feminine.” As with voice, the best way to adjust your handwriting is to look at handwriting examples of women who are your age, ethnic background, education level, etc. and try to emulate them. In my own case, I emulated two girls I sat next to in band in middle school. They would write notes to their friends with a very precise, rounded, loopy style that was quite artistic, and they would always make a giant S at the bottom that said “sorry so sloppy,” even though the writing was impressively neat. They also practiced their own signatures a lot, and I would do that at home. However, I am very impatient with longhand writing, as I tend to think faster than I can write. When I am dashing off a note, I usually print instead of writing in cursive, because I find it easier to make this look "feminine" when writing quickly. I also emulated my mother’s handwriting. She has these great flowing flourishes on her letters that I used to practice.

Though computers and wireless technology have greatly reduced the amount of longhand writing most people do, it is a great skill to have for writing cards and notes. It's becoming a lost art, but if you take the time to work on this, it can make a huge difference in how your handwriting is perceived by others.

A note on “graphology” and other pseudoscience

Though there is a scientific field of inquiry that looks into forensic aspects of handwriting analysis, there is also a pseudoscientific field of “graphology,” or personality analysis based on handwriting. I am a member of QuackWatch, and you can read an affiliate’s discussion of graphology there:

http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/grapho.html

I also recommend Skeptic’s dictionary:

http://skepdic.com/graphol.html

Some scholars have taken a more scientific approach to discerning individual differences in recent years (Beech 2005, Burr 2002). Generally speaking, most studies have shown better than chance success at guessing the gender of a writer by handwriting, with the average success rate at about two out of three.

Academic charlatans (i.e. certain evolutionary psychologists) will try to reify sex and gender through findings like these, but it is too early to tell whether handwriting differences reflect biological differences between people, or whether the differences in handwriting reflect society's expectations for gender roles. The Beech and Macintosh article mentioned above is the best summary to date regarding biological differences. Burr suspects that boys and girls learn early in life how their culture expects them to look and act, even in their handwriting. Several studies have found that the writing of identical twins, while strikingly similar, is nonetheless distinguishable (Newman 1937, Wanscher 1943, Beacom 1960, Gamble 1980). Given that most people can alter their handwriting to appear different with practice, this skill seems largely learned and based on social constructs.

< Previous

 

Next >