A blogger for Copyblogger, who wrote under the name “James Chartrand,” outed herself as a female, explaining that she chose a male name to earn more money and get more respect in her career.
Years ago The Blogger Formerly Known As James Chartrand (who declined to identify her real name) hit a plateau in her career. She couldn’t command a higher rate. She lost gigs she should have gotten. Things were looking grim. So she distanced herself from her existing company by choosing a pen name: “I picked a name that sounded to me like it might convey a good business image. Like it might command respect.”
She chose a male pen name. Ha, more like penis name! Choosing a male pen name seemed to fix everything for James Chartrand. She put food on the table for her kids and get a mortgage for her house near her mom. She explained:
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 see. Well, the plot of many a wacky teenaged rom-com has actually come to life. If only Gloria Steinem were dead, she’d be rolling over in her grave.
My first instinct was to be inflamed with anger at the discrimination that led her to do use a pseudonym. Same old, same old BS, right? Sexism and racism are indeed alive and well. And, hey, as a woman, I can sure relate to how she felt. I’ve had my share of sexist blog comments calling me the c-word, and worse; I remember what it felt like when I was a newspaper reporter and the fire chief in town, who loved to pal around with my male colleague, declined to answer a question from me because it was “too complicated” for me to “understand.” I absolutely believe Chartrand when she says that her gender cost her gigs. Who knows, maybe Chartrand is not Caucasian and has a real name that reflects she is a person of color, a potential double bind when she applied for jobs. Maybe her race cost her gigs, too.
But once I sat for awhile and thought more analytically, I felt resentful that Chartrand chose to “pass” (my word, not hers) as a male writer. Chartrand wrote she wasn’t interested in becoming an activist—as she put it: “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.” That’s the part that slays me—”life’s too short.” Well, sure, life is too short for any woman, or a black person, or a gay person, who is discriminated against. However, most of us aren’t lucky enough to be in a profession where we can completely hide behind a pseudonym. Madeleine Albright didn’t do it. Meg Whitman didn’t do it. The Williams sisters didn’t do it.
Honestly, there is something rather Uncle Tom-y about Chartrand hiding behind the opposite gender. By assuming the identity of a male writer, she skirted the discrimination against women entirely while doing nothing to change womens’ lot. She just left the glass ceiling standing there, rather than shattering it.
Sure, “passing” was Chartrand’s choice, and as Charlotte York would say, she chose her choice. But it showed no solidarity for other women at all. There’s plenty of female writers out there who confront the marginalization of women head on, pointing out how with factual data how they’ve been shortchanged, asking for raises, taking their brilliant work elsewhere if their bosses refuse to budge. But “James Chartrand” took the easy way out.
What’s worse is that Chartrand just contributed to the stereotype that male copywriters are more talented than women copywriters when that’s obviously not true. It takes everyone to change sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc., not just those of us self-proclaimed “activists” who feel up to it.
Apparently the days where the author Mary Anne Evans published under the name “George Eliot,” or a fictional Jo March in Little Women published under “Jo March,” aren’t as long-gone as we’d have hoped.
But what might be harder to stomach is that it’s not just the “old problem” of big, bad discriminatory men who are to blame.