Social Characters: new lab collaboration by Eve Kraicer

Social Characters: new lab collaboration by Eve Kraicer

Eve Kraicer’s lab collaboration (our name for working papers) is now out! It’s about the ways in which gender is represented in contemporary fiction looking at a collection of ca. 26,000 characters. Some of the salient findings:

  • the ratio of women to men characters in novels is estimated to be 40:60;
  • this number doesn’t significantly change based on genre or readership;
  • the exception to this rule is main characters who come in at 50.2/49.8
  • while women authors write more women characters than men do, they never create more women than men overall;
  • only 19% of novels sampled from seven different genres showed women in the top two leading character positions;
  • authors favour pairing men and women characters together way above what we would expect to see by chance, i.e. novels really favour mixed-gender interactions;
  • of 58,000 social triangles investigated (3 connected characters), less 5% consist of three women.

We discuss the implications of these numbers in our longer paper that appeared in the Journal of Cultural Analytics. Overall, they confirm other research that has demonstrated women’s marginalization within cultural representation. We were nevertheless surprised given that these are imaginary entities produced in relatively low-cost creative enterprises. And yet the same larger structural patterns persist, even across different genres like prizewinning novels, bestsellers, young adult fiction or genres like Romance and Mysteries.

Our hope is that this knowledge can be used to make changes to the publishing industry and engender more gender freedom when it comes to creative writing.