What was the very first typeface described as “feminine”?

Caren Litherland asked this question on Twitter a few days ago. Any ideas? 
«1

Comments

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 985
    edited August 2015
    I have always had a problem associating gender with a typeface. Type can be used for any purpose by anyone.  The problem for me is the stereotype issue.  A typeface like Curl[z] emits the stereotype of some women but surely not many. What is gained by associating a gender with a face? I have seen   Futura used successfully in women's fashion ads but don't see it as particularly feminine. I would be curious what others may think about adding gender connotation to fonts?
  • I have always had a problem associating gender with a typeface.
    Same!
  • Please excuse my spelling, I thing I was aiming for Curlz ;-)
  • Sometimes it is associated with the weight of a specific font and not the typeface as a whole. Helvetica Ultralight might be feminine but Helvetica Black, not.

    As for trying to put a date on the first use of the term... why? Just curious? I'm sure it goes back at least a century, probably quite a bit more.
  • Indra KupferschmidIndra Kupferschmid Posts: 246
    edited August 2015
    I understood the question as “which typeface or genre was the first”, not when was it.
  • I agree, Thomas, that it is used quite liberally these days but it is a worthy historical research question. Related to this is *who* is doing the describing? The distributor? The designer?
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,179
    edited August 2015
    I’m sure this wasn’t the first such description, but let’s get the ball rolling:

    Factors in the Choice of Typefaces
    , by Geoffrey Dowding.
    Wace & Co., London, 1957

    “The quality of…the feminine [may be suggested] by the use of Bernhard Cursive or Madonna Ronde…”

    p. 81: Suitability—or fitness for purpose

    With more time, I would go through the ad sections in old Penrose annuals, or Art Directors Club annuals.
  • In Russian nouns are gender-sensitive, and that applies to the names of typefaces. Гротеск (grotesk) is masculine, and антиква (antikva) feminine. Therefore, Univers is a boy but Helvetica is a girl… Now that’s funny but that’s the way it is in Russian.
  • I liked this snippet from an issue of American Printer and Lithographer, 1921 Volume 72 page 37.
    The Roman has been so prettyfied and qualified that today instead of being masculine, which is the very essence of the Roman letter, the German Roman types strike us as feminine.

    Google Germany would not show me the full page but maybe you can access it from out the US: https://books.google.de/books?id=fgIhAQAAMAAJ&q=“the+german+roman+types+strike+us+as+feminine”&dq=“the+german+roman+types+strike+us+as+feminine”&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0CBQQ6AEwAGoVChMI7Z-9i9ugxwIVS40sCh3EjwGJ
  • “The taste of the time is for lightness and delicacy, and the features of strength and boldness have to be sacrificed in favor of this feminine inclination. These modernized old-style types are good illustrations of the prevailing fashion."
    Theodore Low DeVinne, 1886. This was from a Grolier Club lecture but see also his article on "Masculine Printing." William Morris threw around lots of gendered language about type too in that same era. Both saw lighter, higher-contrast, fashionable designs as lacking the virility of the revived old-face model. 
  • Consider the time period.  I wonder what would happen if that were to be said today?
  • Maxim ZhukovMaxim Zhukov Posts: 54
    edited August 2015
    Speaking of typographic connotations:





    Source
    Marc Arabyan (Université de Limoges). « Le choix typographique ». Revista Investigações, Vol. 22, nº 2, Julho 2009. Universidade Federal de Pernambuco; pp. 25, 26.
  • Greeting card script fonts are generally considered more feminine. The customer base is predominantly female in the industry, so when referring to customers "she" is almost always used instead of "he". Proprietary greeting card scripts typically have softer curves and are not very heavy. After a decade of lettering for American Greetings my work lettering tends to be that way as well.
  • The reset specimen has been treated in Scotch italic, an italic face generally being considered appropriate for feminine printing. 

    From "School of typography" by Edmund G Gress

    American printer and lithographer. v.51 1910-1911 Sep-Jan, page 72

    http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015086752907?urlappend=;seq=84

  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 507
    edited August 2015
    Not entirely about feminine typefaces, but still an awesome read:
    https://archive.org/stream/GoudyHalfCentury1946V1/goudy-half-century-1946-v1-0600dpijpg#page/n5/mode/1up
    Half century of Type Design by Goudy. It's full of great histories and anecdotes about his faces. Many of then where custom fonts for branding of that time.
  • I wonder about the original masthead type for "Ladies Home Journal"? I would be curious how it was chosen and if it qualifies as an early example of so called "feminine type"?
  • Thanks for all of these examples. Wondering if it's possible that it's even earlier. I'm thinking about Renaissance type designers/ handwriting experts like Ludovico degli Arrighi who used the dimensions of the human body in both practices. Just a thought. Back to sleuthing.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 12
    It must have come very early indeed, since it makes so much natural sense.
  • Now, what was the last typeface described as "masculine"? :) 
  • A few years ago I went back over my old ad copy to clean it up. Yuck! It was all girly this and manly that—so cringeworthy. People still do it but I don't think they realize how tone deaf it comes across.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 13
    It can certainly be taken too far, but beware of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, often simply to escape guilt by association. Although difficult to fathom and easily abused, leveraging gender in visual language remains the only way to avoid painting yourself into the corner of elevating people based merely on their outward –inescapably binary– gender.

  • Maybe assigning what the type designer or writer believes to be the gender characteristic of a typeface is more limiting. When an angular stencil headliner isn't described in ad copy as masculine—when a light Spencerian script isn't described as feminine, what broader benefit are we missing out on?

    Does assigning a gender to a typeface help the customer? If a designer is looking for a headliner for a military recruitment poster aimed at women, should they be looking for a masculine font? Keyword: macho? When they read the ad copy telling them how manly this font is, are they going to think that they've found the wrong one?

    A milliner finds a script that looks perfect for the lining of a top hat intended for men. But the ad copy says it's "girly" and "has curves in all the right places." Why do we need this gender specification in fonts? Get rid of it and we lose nothing.

    If it's a display typeface made of penises, then yeah, maybe we could call that masculine but otherwise, I don't understand why gender is needed in ad copy for fonts.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 13
    Does assigning a gender to a typeface help the customer? If a designer is looking for a headliner for a military recruitment poster aimed at women, should they be looking for a masculine font?
    Anything that manifests reality helps both customers and culture. Those questions are good ones; enabled only by factoring in the gender perception of shapes.
    If it's a display typeface made of penises, then yeah, maybe we could call that masculine
    Why so literal, and gender-binary? Enough with this focus on genitalia. Literality is not how fonts work for any aspect of evoking life... including gender.

    Let's say no to fear (of misuse). And let's start with the basics:


  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 564
    edited November 13
    The 'feminine' category can also be found in copy books. Here is a famous Lucas Materot's model from 1608: "Letters easy to write for women"


  • What's funny is, if I was asked to categorize them, I would have put the assignment of the triangles the other way around.

    But then again, I wouldn't have thought either one was really clearly "female" or "male" in the first place.

    What's more odd about this conversation, Hrant, is that you are so often an advocate for change and open-mindedness about new directions for type design. Yet now you are claiming "Anything that manifests reality helps both customers and culture" as justification for assigning gender to type in ways that seem to constrain the use and interpretation of type (and gender roles, too). To me, this feels inconsistent with many of your expressed views about type design. But maybe it's just me, I don't know.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 13
    What's funny is, if I was asked to categorize them, I would have put the assignment of the triangles the other way around.

    But then again, I wouldn't have thought either one was really clearly "female" or "male" in the first place.
    I totally welcome your initial gut feeling of not rejecting the association even if you conclude something different than me*; I feel your essentially subsequent conscious "pull-back" is well-intended, but harms our collective betterment.

    * Please do elaborate on why some part of you feels that.

    There is no design without constraint. Some constraints are better than others. The constraint of escaping from the risks of gender-association in type is to me much less fruitful than the association itself. I believe open-mindedness is indeed critical, here to: think clearly and deeply about our psychophysical realities (beyond mere genitalia); and to dig deeper than cheap formulas like "cursive is feminine".
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,228
    Ramiro, the same thing is found in some English copy books of the 17th and 18th Century. This is from William Brooks' A Delightful Recreation for the Industrious: a Copy Book of Plain and Practical Writing After the most Modish-manner yet extant with variety of Ornam[ent] by Command of Hand.




  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 13
    Lucas Materot's model from 1608: "Letters easy to write for women"
    By "easy to write for women" did he mean it's feminine? Or simple?
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 13
    In his talk at TypeCon, Bobby Martin mentioned that his font featured masculine and feminine components. Twice.

    During the Q&A I asked him to elaborate. I was very sad to see him brush it off with an "official party line" tailored to appease the particular audience on hand. Fear. To rephrase Frank Herbert: Fear is the thought-killer. And it's caused by us. Let's stop doing that to each other. If we really do believe in free thought and open discourse.
Sign In or Register to comment.