James Chartrand, Men With Pens, male psuedonyms

// 16 December 2009

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Probably you’ve already read James Chartrand’s story by now, as it’s been whizzing around the feminist blogosphere since it broke. James Chartrand is the blogging psuedonym for the woman who created web design and copywriting blog Men With Pens.

She wrote up the whys and wherefores of adopting this pseudonym over at Copyblogger, some of which illuminates yet again the sexism that women writers face, and particularly mothers working from home:

I earned $1.50 an article. I averaged $8 a week.

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.

I quickly learned that this sucked.

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.

Eventually, I had earned enough income and credibility to get a mortgage, and I bought a tiny, modest house for me and my kids in a quiet town near my mum. It was the first home of my life I could truly call my own, paid for by long hours and hard work. Paid for by my own sweat and tears, at the tender age of 37.

Feminism SF has posted about how the issue applies to science fiction writers, while Sally at Feministe notes how non-shocking Chartrand’s story is.

Meanwhile, Amanda Hess at Washington City Paper’s sex and gender blog The Sexist is amoung those who have posted quite critically.

I don’t think there’s something ‘wrong’ with otherwise self-identified women writing under a male pseudonym or a male online identity (it’s fairly common in lots of online worlds, and done for many reasons).

The Sexist, however, really pins down how Chartrand used sexism and gender stereotypes to sell her work. Just to begin with:

* She also crafted a company logo (above) that looks like it was directed by Michael Bay.

* She also slipped this line into the bio of one of her employees, copywriter Taylor Lindstrom: “She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club.”

* She also introduced Lindstrom to the blog as “perky,” “adorable,” and capable of cooking and cleaning. (In introducing a male employee to the blog, Chartrand described their relationship as “bromantic,” one in which the Men With Pens “could be laid back together, chink beers and not argue over the remote control”).

* She also regularly used photos of naked women to illustrate her posts.

* She also occasionally essentialized women—”all the women” loved Jerry McGuire, Chartland wrote—while conveniently placing herself outside of the gender categories she set for them.

Ann at Feministing puts it like this, and I have to agree:

It was not a test of whether you can get ahead by adopting a male pen name. It was a test of whether you can get ahead by pretending to be part of the ol’ boys club. And the answer is a resounding, but not surprising, yes.

Personally, I think this does constitute using sexism for career advantage, and that is crappy when anyone does it. And, even more so, it’s incredibly crappy that this is such an effective tactic in becoming successful.

Comments From You

Holly Combe // Posted 17 December 2009 at 4:21 pm

Personally, whether I’m there with the criticisms that this was an “Uncle Tom” thing to do depends on exactly how the story broke. If it was her Copyblogger article, I’d say exposing herself now -after her plan was so effective- does a great service to feminism because she is actively lending weight to what we’ve all been trying to tell people all along. She did a crappy thing to get ahead (and, in a way, who can blame her?) but is now making up for that by getting alongside women as a whole to say “yes, we *are* discriminated against”. On the one hand, it’s bloody depressing but, on another, we can actually feel vindicated because here’s a woman who has created a brand that almost seems like a parody of the most outdated, unappealing sexist old-boys-club and has, nonetheless, been a great success. What does that say about our culture?

Equality? No need for feminism anymore? We already knew the answer to that. Now maybe some more of feminism’s critics will too.

Jess McCabe // Posted 17 December 2009 at 5:37 pm

@Holly Combe She posted about this at Copyblogger because someone else threatened to out her.

Kely // Posted 18 December 2009 at 1:28 am

Chartrand enjoys publicity so her posting on CopyBlogger didn’t surprise me.In her early blogging days she enjoy traveling to the different blogs to stir up controversy and build up her own reader base.

Her former partner at Men with Pens has a different take on it all. First read the comments here:

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2009/12/do-male-bloggers-receive-more-respect/

Followed by the interview here:

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2009/12/from-a-man-with-a-pen-to-a-lady-with-a-lap-top-an-inteview-with-deb-dorchak-aka-harrison-mcleod/

Put a different perspective on it, eh?

Nadine Dunston // Posted 18 December 2009 at 11:23 am

When I first read the about the exposure on Copyblogger, I felt like I really understood why James did what she did.

Yet, the more I read, the more I wonder about James’s motive for exposing herself.

Why didn’t she reveal her real name and identity? It was mentioned on another site that it was to protect another business she owns.

If she feels the need to do this, what else is she hiding from her readers? Is there some conflict of interests?

Kristel // Posted 18 December 2009 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for posting this, I find it very interesting. I don’t think what she’s done is crappy. I do think it was extremely cynical, but justifiably cynical. Looks like nothing much has changed since Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte decided to masquerade as the brothers Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell because they knew that otherwise their writing would be judged purely(and negatively) on their female gender.

Jess McCabe // Posted 18 December 2009 at 12:48 pm

@Kristel I think the big difference between Chartrand and the Brontes, or George Sand, or JK Rowling, or George Elliot (etc etc etc), is that while they all took advantage of the sexist structure of society and bypassed negative assumptions around women writers, they didn’t go that step further and use the position to, for example, belittle women writing under their own names/female pseudonyms, etc, to increase book sales. Although you could probably have a whole discussion around the politics of these writers.

It is quite complex, and like I said, I don’t think there’s something intinsicly wrong with women with online identities as men. Chartrand didn’t create the patriarchal culture that made her so much more successful if her clients thought she was a man, and a kinda sexist man at that. But she’s surely was behaving in a crap way by perpetuating sexism – or at least, based on Amanda Hess’ breakdown, that’s how I feel about this.

Claire // Posted 18 December 2009 at 1:00 pm

I quite often used to contribute to the blog of my misogynist local newspaper under a male pseudonym. I tended to make the “let’s be reasonable, lads” type remarks when the other contributors (all seemingly men sadly) came out with racist, homophobia or sexist remarks. If I’d written what I had as a woman, I’d have been shouted down or belittled as just another feminist. But as it was I used to say there was a point in the police improving care for rape victims or a point in maternity leave provision etc, and the guys might have thought I was a wet liberal, but I got into debate with them rather than a battle of the sexes. It was fun and I’d recommend it.

Kristel // Posted 18 December 2009 at 1:08 pm

Jess, yes. I take your point.

Giza // Posted 18 December 2009 at 1:57 pm

One of the things I find interesting about this situation is how James slagged women while writing as a man, and it was lapped up. Did this subtle and not-so-subtle sexism form part of the reason for her success? If it did (and I think it did), that’s another clear illustration of how you need to not only have a penis, but be willing to use it to keep “them wommenz” in their place in order to facilitate your road to success in a male dominated field (like copywriting is said to be).

Louise Edgerton // Posted 18 December 2009 at 5:00 pm

@Giza – This is the most disturbing part of it all. While James knocked fists with the men in his community the women blinked and tittered and acted as if this is normal and acceptable. The same women who thought Chartrand’s sexism was sexy and fun are the same women who are express outrage and indignation over her plight as a welfare mom who couldn’t get fair pay. What does this say about women?

Kelly // Posted 18 December 2009 at 6:11 pm

I pretend to be male on one forum – you immediately feel you can say a lot more.

Being male you work with instant respect, you’re not working against instant hatred.

I’d imagine it’s easy to fall into the trap of using sexism to qualify – look at all the female writers at the daily mail who essentialise women with every article and criticise ‘ladette culture’ and working moms ritually. I’m guessing being sexist works as good as being penned male. Once this writer realised this I guess she decided it was safe.

polly // Posted 18 December 2009 at 9:07 pm

Being “one of the boys” and deriding women – even if you’re not adopting a male identity – has always been the way to get ahead, so no big surprises there then. It reminds me of all those successful businesswomen who are always slagging off women for daring to take maternity leave and saying they’re just not dedicated enough…..

Holly Combe // Posted 19 December 2009 at 11:44 am

@Jess. Yes, I couldn’t find any articles that seemed to precede the Copyblogger one and, you’re right, Chartrand did mention the threat to out her. On top of this, she has actually said in an interview that she had no intention of telling anyone. Very disappointing… She doesn’t identify as a feminist either but, hey, at least she’s coming out now to say there’s a problem with attitudes. When asked if her pay-rate went up when she changed her name, she said:

“It immediately doubled. But what got me the most was not necessarily that I got more money, but that nobody questioned it. Nobody told me it was too expensive. Nobody asked me to bring it down. And even today, when I use my real name and I do business, there is always, always, “Is that the lowest you can go?”

I shall definitely be keeping hold of that quote for the next time someone digs out the common assumption that women tend to get paid less because we apparently don’t ask for what we want.

Amity // Posted 19 December 2009 at 1:33 pm

I’m not really interested in criticising James for what she said or did while using her pen name because, like others have said, it speaks more about what is required of women to get ahead in certain professional circles than of any ‘betrayal’ on her part.

The part I find most interesting (read: appalling) about this situation is that it highlights how the pay gap is not only a gender gap but more specifically a ‘woman of childbearing age’ gap, which discriminates heavily against mothers or women who have the potential to become mothers. That women are still penalised for reproducing should be the main issue here and causing more of an outrage than whether joining the ol’ boys club instead of fighting it is ‘unfeminist’ or not.

Though I don’t agree with this author’s blanket statement about what ‘feminism’ is saying (as if an entire political movement has one voice), she makes some good points about the James Chartrand story http://menwithpens.ca/feminist-freelancer

Jess McCabe // Posted 20 December 2009 at 12:43 am

@Amity Yep, true enough. Just the fact clients knew James had children seems to have been enough to change their expectations of her work and how much they were prepared to pay. It definitely does cast a stark light on what we already know about the pay gap, etc.

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