Thursday, December 17, 2009

Write like a man

Posted By on Thu, Dec 17, 2009 at 12:21 PM

Of course, as a freelance writer, this is a topic near and dear to my heart; however, this same sort of phenomenon can occur in any industry and affect any demographic.

Whether we're conscious of it, or not, we stereotype people constantly, for a variety of reasons. What's disturbing is we're not doing much of anything to correct our behavior and too many people aren't speaking up, demanding equal treatment when they should because, ultimately, not paying people the same rates for the same work — or treating people unequally in other ways — is a human rights issue. Period.

Today, Men with Pens blogger James Chartrand revealed that "he" is actually a lady with a laptop. After working under her real name for years, Chartrand was still struggling to make it as a freelance writer. Not only was her income negligible, but "I was treated like crap, too. Bossed around, degraded, condescended to, with jibes made about my having to work from home. I quickly learned not to mention I had kids. I quickly learned not to mention I worked from my kitchen table." Out of desperation, she started submitting work under a male pseudonym, just to see if it made a difference. And boy, did it ever.

Instantly, jobs became easier to get.

There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions -- often none at all.

Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.

I think Mary Elizabeth Williams spoke for all of us at Broadsheet when she said in an e-mail, "Wow! That's so fucking Brontë sisters!" George Eliot and George Sand also leapt quickly to mind; when we think of women writers finding success under male pseudonyms, our thoughts naturally turn to the 19th century. But then, Chartrand also mentions Isak Dinesen, whose first book was published in 1934. And come to think of it, I've read that in the late 1990s, J.K. Rowling became known as such because her publishers feared that boys wouldn't read books written by someone named Joanne. Last spring, the website Divine Caroline made a list of seven famous female authors who used male names, including Alice Bradley Sheldon, who found it easier to break into science fiction writing in 1967 as James Tiptree, Jr., and Nora Roberts, who chose the name J.D. Robb in 1995 when she began writing detective fiction alongside her wildly successful romance novels. When much-admired political blogger Digby accepted an award in person in 2007, some of her biggest fans were shocked to learn that she's a woman.

Read the rest of this Salon.com post, by Kate Harding, here.

Read the writer out herself in her own words:

You know me as James Chartrand of Men with Pens, a regular Copyblogger contributor for just shy of two years.

And yet, I’m a woman.

This is not a joke or an angle or an analogy — I’m literally a woman.

This is my story.

Once upon a time, I found myself having to make some hard decisions.

The welfare application was on my kitchen table. It was filled out and signed, waiting for me to bring it to the people who would decide whether I’d be able to make rent next month or put food on the table.

I hated looking at it. I didn’t want to be in this situation. I’d thought that when you start over, make a clean break, life was supposed to get better, right?

But here I was, out of money and out of choices.

I had two young daughters to take care of. I was single and alone, having left an unhealthy relationship, and I was living in a crappy, tiny apartment.

I’d used up my savings trying to make ends meet, supplementing as best I could with the money I earned from a dangerous part-time job that gave me all of 4 hours pay a week at minimum wage. I had been looking for a better job, but there were none to be had in the low-income/high-unemployment area where I lived.

And I couldn’t get a full-time job anyway — I was still on the waiting list for a spot in daycare.

I landed clients and got work under both names. But it was much easier to do when I used my pen name.

Understand, I hadn’t advertised more effectively or used social media — I hadn’t figured that part out yet. I was applying in the same places. I was using the same methods. Even the work was the same.

In fact, everything was the same.

Except for the name.

Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.

No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic.

Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it, too.

Did I quit promoting my own name? Hell yeah.

I never wanted to be an activist, or to fight the world. I’m not interested in clawing my way up a ladder to a glass ceiling. Life’s too short for that.

I just want to earn a living and be respected for my skills. I want my kids to be happy and have access to what they need. I want them to go to university and have good opportunities in life.

Truth be told, if just a name and perception of gender creates such different levels of respect and income for a person, it says a lot more about the world than it does about me.

Read the rest of  at CopyBlogger.com.

In related news: 'Does it matter that she's a woman? With opinion writing still dominated by men, the answer is a loud yes.' (Salon.com, 2007)

What do you think? What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all? (This movie doesn't get going until 0:54, if you want to skip ahead.)

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