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I Am Woman, Hear Me Blog

I Am Woman, Hear Me Blog

42-15717216You may have heard, it’s been all over the internet today– in the freelance writing world, at least–our buddy James from Men with Pens is, in fact, not a man at all. She is a single mother who was driven to writing under a pseudonym as a means for putting food on the table for her two kids.

Why the pen-name? Because it was easier to find work, easier to get the rates she deserved, by using a man’s name. She (and it’s going to take some time to get used to this pronoun) says that when she would apply for the same job, using both her real name and her pen-name, the name made a difference.

I was still bringing in work with the other business, the one I ran under my real name. I was still marketing it. I was still applying for jobs — sometimes for the same jobs that I applied for using my pen name.

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

I find this fascinating and not a little depressing.

I was born in the mid-1960s and have lived my entire life hearing about feminism, equal rights, the NOW organization, the glass ceiling … all of it. Women earn less than men for the same work. Many jobs aren’t “suited” for women because they’re too technical, important, or whatever nonsense. (That works in reverse, too; just try being a male nurse or kindergarten teacher). Women’s Studies was an available major when I went to college, as if women needed our own, pink, ruffly little classes so we’d feel included while not interfering with the important, male-dominated topics.

The point, though, is that I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted to, and that, by the time I was an adult, the fact that I was a woman wouldn’t matter anymore.

I can’t tell you how sad I am to learn that that’s not true, not even on the internet. Not even when it’s a matter of writing, which can be done equally well (or badly) by men or women–writing talent is NOT gender-based.

Do I blame the talented and driven James Chartrand for doing what she had to do to support her family? Not in the least. Do I feel betrayed or deceived, by the male-persona lie, not to mention left out for not having known the secret? Well, maybe a tiny bit, in the first few minutes as I pulled myself up off the floor. (Concussion from falling to the floor will do that, you understand.) After the shock wore off, though, I was filled with nothing but admiration for the way she tricked that gender-biased system … and, a little, a wish I’d thought of it first.

But here’s my question to you.

Why do you suppose that this gender bias exists? Especially in the freelance writing field?

In the multitude of comments in Copyblogger’s post today, there were a couple mentions of the old New Yorker cartoon. “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” If you’re hiring someone to write a webpage, does it matter if the writer is a man or a woman? Maybe, perhaps, in some instances. If your site talks about tips and tricks for breastfeeding your baby, a male writer might not do as good a job as a woman–though I’m sure he could still write decent copy, with some research. And vice versa for a site on, say, motorcycles (or pick the male stereotype of your choice.)

My biggest question, I suppose, isn’t why clients might assume that they could pay women less than they’re paying men for the same number of written words … they probably pay them less for answering phones, making sales calls, and working in human resources, too. It’s what they DO. They pay women less.

No, my biggest question is … why do we women let them? Why do we accept less pay? I can (almost) understand that in some traditionally male-dominated professions, women are still having to prove themselves. (I mean, gosh, it’s only been a few decades, right?) But … writing? Women have been writing for centuries, and it’s not like we spend our time swooning on the chaise these days, in between embroidery stitches. We’re too busy running after our jobs, our kids, our spouses, our dogs, and our sanity. You know, just like many of the men are.

Is it because we were taught differently? Did our mothers somehow encourage us to accept less, even while telling us to reach for the stars? Or is it simply because we have not put our collective foot down and say, “Enough, already?” I’ve never been a radical feminist, even when it was popular. I figured I already deserved equality, and any perqs beyond that were up to me.

Thanks, James (or whatever your name is), for showing everyone that gender doesn’t matter when there’s a brain and a talent at work.

You know, for those people who hadn’t figured it out already.

Yes, my name is Deb Boyken, and yes, I am a female writer. Proud of it, in fact.

Not only that, I’m proud that almost every comment I’ve seen on this topic today–mostly from the freelancing/writing community–has been supportive and generally in the “What difference does it make?” arena. At least we writers know the facts.

It’s the writing that matters. Not the gender.

Now, we just have to convince the rest of the world…

20 thoughts on “I Am Woman, Hear Me Blog

  1. Melissa Donovan

    I felt the same way as you Deb — I didn’t blame James for doing what she had to do in order to survive and get ahead (in fact, I applaud her!), but I did feel a little bit betrayed on a personal level.

    Having said that, I think we have to be careful in looking at this story in terms of gender. For example, many of the comments at Copyblogger, I think, are problematic. Everyone seems all too willing to accept that the success of James and Men with Pens is due to gender. However, it’s just as likely that James’ writing skills, confidence, and branding techniques had improved from the time when she was writing as a woman, and that the success she’s enjoyed as a man may be more due to skill and attitude than gender. I’m not saying this is the case; I’m just presenting it as a possibility — perhaps a likelihood.

    I consider myself a feminist (surprise, surprise!), so why would I offer this perspective? Well, look around. There are plenty of successful female copywriters and bloggers on the web. I should know; I’m one of them. From Wonkette and Dooce to Wendy Piersall, Naomi Dunford, and Skelliwag, women have done just fine on the web and in the world of writing.

    Yes, there is definitely gender discrimination (I have experienced it firsthand!) but women are active participants in it. I see plenty of women willing to settle for lower rates than men in the copywriting world. One of the modern challenges for everyday women is attaining confidence in themselves and establishing self-worth in the business world. There is a dangerous, slippery slope upon which women writers who simply lack skills or strong branding will blame society and gender discrimination for their own failures. That doesn’t do women or the feminist movement any good at all.

    Either way, it’s not right that anyone would choose a copywriter based on gender alone (there may be some few exceptions — such as breastfeeding articles). It’s also not right that a woman might actually gain confidence in herself only when she poses as a man. This story does show that we, as a society, still have much work ahead in terms of equality.

    Well I’ve written an entire essay and set my own head spinning. I’m glad that this story is generating discussion about all of these issues, and I hope that people will be compassionate, fair-minded, and critical thinkers as the conversation continues.
    .-= Melissa Donovan´s last blog ..Fostering Creativity for Better Writing =-.

  2. --Deb Post author

    Melissa, you can write an essay in my comments any time.

    I’ve been finding all the commentary fascinating, and it’s been making me think, a lot. I know and believe that prejudice is out there–it always has been–and I can understand why it still exists. It just saddens me that it’s there.

    It’s amazing how powerful a name can be. Several people pointed out that working with an Indian or Hispanic name can be just as difficult to work with, from a business perspective. It’s all a matter of perception.

    I can understand that some people have felt deceived because they were. It’s not just the male name, but the enthusiastic “Men with Pens” branding that has the whiff of deception to it. But, ultimately, that doesn’t matter when there is no question that the JOB James is doing is top notch, no matter the name under which she does it. It’s not like she’s running for political office where a lie like this would be inexcusable. (I’m old-fashioned, I don’t think politicians should lie except for things like national security.)

    But, ultimately, I think James did what she had to do. I just wish she hadn’t had to, for her sake but also for the sake of those of us who didn’t think to do that!

    And, I wonder how many female writers are suddenly applying for jobs under pen names, now that this is all out there! (grin)

  3. Pingback: Chappysmom

  4. Melissa Donovan

    Thanks Deb. You know I love chatting with you!

    A lot of the female commentators over at Copyblogger are saying things like “maybe I should try writing as a man!” or “I am going to write as a man now so I can succeed too.” I have a big, big problem with that. Yes, we women have yet to achieve full gender equality, but I truly think that the days when we have to disguise ourselves as men are long gone. James’ actions and story could prompt countless women to pose as males in the online marketplace. And that, in my opinion, would be a major step backwards for women.

    I’m sure James truly believed that using a male facade would be better for business. I’m just not at all convinced that she was right about that, since there is clear evidence to the contrary…

    In all of the discussions about James’ story, there is a consistent and ongoing failure to acknowledge women who are successful copywriters on the web. The only possible reason for that is because people WANT to believe that women are being refused work or decent wages based on their gender. I happen to know firsthand that’s not entirely true.

    I have never once in my career as a freelance copywriter felt that I could not land any gig that a male copywriter could land. I’m also privy to the knowledge that my openly female-run business garners higher rates than several male copywriters out there. Twice I have been hired to write “in a masculine voice” by clients with a masculine brand; they liked my writing skills and style, so they asked me to do it.

    Also: I once found a female copywriter online who was charging over $1000 just to write a home page. That’s almost obscene!

    I think it’s great that everyone is being supportive of James and her particular situation. I just don’t like the way attitudes and generalizations about the gender issue are shaping up. It’s bad for women and bad for business. I think women need to open their eyes and see that yes, you can, as a woman succeed online, in business, and as a writer. My concern is that if we focus on a problem that doesn’t really exist, then we’re just taking our energy away from the problems that we women really do face in the world today.
    .-= Melissa Donovan´s last blog ..Fostering Creativity for Better Writing =-.

  5. --Deb Post author

    I think I saw one of the comments from Tei at Men With Pens saying that she had an upcoming post about successful WOMEN freelancers as an other-side kind of follow-up.

    And I agree that if suddenly hundreds of women freelancers suddenly go “stealth” and start writing as men or even under gender-neutral pseudonyms, it kind of defeats the purpose of James coming clean in the first place. Because the point should be that this should NOT be necessary. Though, I admit that even I’m curious … would a male pen name make a difference? The idea of a scientific experiment has some appeal…

    But, no, feminist or not, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Use my initials instead of my name? Sure. But I feel too firmly that men and women are equal in all the ways that matter. I don’t want special attention either because I am a woman or if I were to pretend I am not. My writing, my character, my self stays the same no matter what name I use … and society and my business contacts should acknowledge that. Good writing is good writing and is what matters … which is, I think, exactly James’ point in that post.

  6. James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    Hey guys,

    Just wanted to drop in quickly and answer a question Melissa had:

    Everyone seems all too willing to accept that the success of James and Men with Pens is due to gender. However, it’s just as likely that James’ writing skills, confidence, and branding techniques had improved from the time when she was writing as a woman, and that the success she’s enjoyed as a man may be more due to skill and attitude than gender.

    It’s true that my skills have certainly improved over time and I’m sure there are plenty of other factors involved in my success. I have never stated that gender is the sole factor.

    But improving on initial or current skills had nothing to do with it, I believe. I still operate other businesses using my true identity, as a woman. And I’m still treated differently, even today.
    .-= James Chartrand – Men with Pens´s last blog ..Taylor’s a Feminist – But So Is James =-.

  7. Hilary

    Watch it, ladies! The absolute best breastfeeding coach at a hospital my husband worked at a few years ago was a man. A male nurse, in fact.

  8. Lawrence S. Miller


    I agree with what I perceive to be your basic thesis. Women should be treated as equal to men. That does not mean they should be treated the same as men. Women are different from men.

    The differences are immense. Just some of the differences are: Women tend to have weaker upper bodies than do men. Women are more verbal than men. Women are built different from men. Women are more emotional than men. Women are smarter than men. Men are more logical than women. Women are the nurturers and moral compasses of the family. Men are the leaders of the family by dent of their greater strength and and take-charge attitude. Women are less susceptible to sexual perversion than are men. Women concern themselves with more important issues than do men. (Did I shortchange men in my short list?)

    Once all the differences are taken into account, anyone, and most especially a Christian, must come to the conclusion that both genders of the species man (or mankind) are perfectly equal before the creator and, therefore, should be perfectly equal before all Christians and all people of every way of life.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the very idea that women should be paid less for the same job performed in an equal manner to that of men is deplorable.

    I would like to add that I was quite taken by Melissa Donovan’s comments. Perhaps what she wrote wasn’t perfect but it was a darn close.

    Also, when it comes to discrimination, Christians; especially those who wear cassocks in public, are discriminated against as much or more than are women. The reason I say this is that in an earlier time, I experienced it. Discrimination is never fun, but in my case, mostly in the Middle East but also in Orange County, California, my life was threatened more than once. Now let me tell you, that is discrimination.

    So, take it from me, I do not like discrimination one little bit. If women aren’t equal to men, then they must be superior. Inferior people or those with an inferiority complex are the ones most likely to discriminate. They need someone to look down on. Women, being shorter, are an easy target, just I was in my cassock.
    .-= Lawrence S. Miller´s last blog ..Poll Reveals Trauma of Joblessness in U.S. =-.

  9. Meryl K Evans

    Men with Pens uses a “male” theme with its bullets and all that. Now, what if James had set up the current blog and used her female identity and change the name to something else. The content along should be more than enough to make it as successful as it is under the “male” disguise.

    I just don’t get it. I thought we made enough advances that gender bias would not be a “subconscious” thing as that’s the only thing I can think of that caused this to happen and online, no less.
    .-= Meryl K Evans´s last blog ..50+ Writer Uses for Facebook =-.

  10. --Deb Post author

    Discrimination is one of my pet peeves–if something so serious can be categorized as a peeve–right up there with generalizations on what any group of people are “like.” In an ideal world, people are judged by their own merits, as they should be. It just saddens me that this is not the case … not even behind the anonymity of the internet.

  11. Walter

    Discrimination has always been the predilections of humans. Unless we are made aware of our tendency to discriminate, we cannot make amends; and unless there’s someone like you who voices your rights, it will be left unchallenged. 🙂

  12. Lorette

    Depressing indeed. It happens in the medical field as well. As recently as five or six years ago, I had to make a bit of a scene where I worked, where employed women physicians were making substantially less than employed male physicians doing exactly the same work. I think there is still definite bias towards thinking that women aren’t “worth” as much, since maybe we won’t put in the hours due to family commitments etc. I also definitely think that women aren’t as good at asking for what we deserve. Men of my generation (born in the 50’s) are raised on that, and absolutely do not hesitate to demand what they think they should get. Women are under more societal pressure to play nice and get along. I hope that’s changing with the next generation.
    .-= Lorette´s last blog ..Knitted Christmas Gifts =-.

  13. --Deb

    I know discrimination happens, and it saddens me … but I can see it more easily in, say, the medical profession when you’re dealing with people who’ve grown up with that old stereotype/bias who might still firmly believe that men are better than women at certain kinds of work. But … on the internet? For WRITING? I still don’t get that. A woman can write a webpage just as well as a man can–it only depends on the writer, not the gender. I don’t see how gender affects that at all–even if you’re an old-school mysogynist who thinks women can’t do anything but cook and clean house (shudder).
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Do You Have A Lucky Charm? =-.

  14. Jan Scott Nelson

    Great discussion here. 🙂
    Can I just say, at a slight tangent, that from my experience Women’s Studies is/was not remotely ‘pink’ or ‘ruffly’. LOL.:)
    In truth it is at its most basic level, a means of ensuring that women’s experience is acknowledged and accepted into academia. Prior to the 1970s/1980s women’s experience was invisible in academic terms. It is a cross-discipline field (does that make sense?) which has served a vital role in raising women’s and men’s consciousness. That is quite old-fashioned language I know.
    We (students/teachers of WS) used to get sideways swipes about ‘knitting’ and ‘domestic chores’ and I’d be sad to think this attitude still prevailed. I think your comment is probably a tongue in cheek one, so I hope you don’t mind me just sticking my head above the wall and making sure no one took it too seriously.
    I love your blog by the way. Warm wishes for 2010. Jan
    .-= Jan Scott Nelson´s last blog ..A wonderful year ahead =-.

  15. --Deb

    @Jan–yes, the pink and ruffly comment WAS tongue in cheek. I was in high school and college during the 80s, though, and it gives a skewed view of things … since I wasn’t yet in the workplace, I couldn’t really see for myself how equal or not-equal the men/women things were, but I believed my teachers when they said that they SHOULD be equal, and that gender shouldn’t put limits on what you could accomplish. And so I didn’t see the point of Women’s Studies (though I actually DO knit).

    I mean, I understood the consciousness-raising point of them, but if we were all equal, why would we need a whole, separate department? To me that was like saying, “We like pink and blue equally, but today, we’re going to concentrate on making everything pink.” If equality was the point, why focus on only one side? Yes, I got that so much of what we were studying was stuck with the old-white-male syndrome, but didn’t see how shifting allll the way over to the other side of the spectrum would really help–especially if feminists then only talked to other feminists.

    Of course, once out in the real world, I did see prejudicial behaviors based on gender, and no, never thought it was fair, but I tend to think that letting our differences divide us into all these separate, politically-correct groups (men, women, black, white, Christian, Jew, etc) who feel misunderstood or unappreciated, we lose track of the things we all, as humans, have in common.

    Or, something like that! (grin)
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Great Way to End the Year =-.

  16. Jan Scott Nelson

    Hi Deb, I absolutely take your point. I guess mine was that we weren’t all equal, and we knew it, so it redressed the balance a little. Back in the day it felt like a radical and empowering thing to have a place where women’s experience was heard. Stregnth in togtherness and all that stuff. Now, I trust, it is less necessary. Though I remain slightly dubious. 😉
    .-= Jan Scott Nelson´s last blog ..It’s amazing what you find inside an anemone! =-.