Women adopting male noms: When will we be past this?

Today I came across an article on Daily Life that discusses how female authors should consider male — or at least gender neutral — pseudonyms if they want to have a higher likelihood of being
a) published, b) reviewed, c) read by men.

This may or may not be true… but what makes me feel sad and a bit angry is that the subject has even come up. The idea that women should pretend to be men in pursuit of greater success is just infuriating.

We all know that’s how it used to be; but haven’t we come past this by now?

The article thus cited is actually not condoning this course of action, but rather promoting the Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW) — an initiative aimed at encouraging people to read and review Australian women authors. It was kicked off last year very successfully, and I think I just might sign up for it this year. All are welcome — you can sign up for the 2013 challenge here.

Raising the profile of women’s writing is important, no matter how much we might lament the need.

But as for the idea that I might ever adopt a male pen name — forget it. We women need to stand up and be proud of being women, and scorn any man narrow-minded enough to discriminate against a book based on the gender of its author.

If someone elects not to read a book because of its subject, or style… that’s another matter entirely.

All right I’ll jump off the soap box now. Feedback, people? Thoughts on the topic? I accept there may be some alternate views I’ve not thought of…

Would any of you women authors reading this consider adopting a male pseudonym? What do you blokes think? [Bloke: Australian slang for man.]


25 thoughts on “Women adopting male noms: When will we be past this?

  1. I don’t give a second thought to an author’s gender when considering what book to read, and some of my favorite authors are women. I know in the past it was considered smart for a female author to obscure her gender ala Andre Norton or C.J. Cherryh. I was rather hoping it was different now. Anyway, if you put your real name on your book, I’ll still buy it 🙂


  2. Sooooo disturbing. I know I live in my head a bit too much but I can’t seem to believe this is our reality. Love your reading challenge although it is kind of sad that we have to separate men from women in terms of books we choose to read, even if it is in response to this chauvinist concept that doesn’t seem to go away. I’m stepping down from the soapbox now. You shouldn’t have left it out for me. 🙂


    1. Oh, I’m glad I left it out for you, Sara! I agree, the whole idea of having to highlight the reading of women’s fiction is disturbing. But better that than let women’s writing languish in obscurity, I guess.


  3. As Joss Whedon replied to the question “So, why do you write these strong female characters?”: “Because you’re still asking me that question.” The reality is that the gender agenda was still alive and kicking in the 90s (when I was the only female in most of my undergraduate physics lectures, tutes and labs), the 00s (when I was in the female minority in a ministry cohort) and the 10s, when there remains a need for The Australian Women Writers Challenge. Naturally, we all wish it were otherwise, but this simply isn’t the case – so we must continue to talk about it, invite others to the conversation, engage with those who consciously or subconsciously promulgate sexism, and be thankful that we have so many ‘giant shoulders’ to stand upon. So I am quite happy to be lectured on sexism and misogyny by any person – so long as he or she is happy to engage in conversation about their bias afterwards!


    1. Joss is the man, isn’t he?!
      You haven’t commented on the need for women to pretend to be men, though… what do you reckon about that? I certainly have never felt tempted, all through my journeys through male-dominated industries (includng the one I find myself in now).
      Gonna join me on the AWW and help keep the conversation going?


      1. I didn’t think I had to comment explicitly, as I thought my position would be clear and assumed your readership would be skilled enough to infer my opinion. For the record, since it must be stated, obviously good writing is good writing, whomever the author. Personally I would not consent to being published under a male name, even though so many great females – from (some argue) Pythagoras to JK Rowling- have done so for various reasons. Bring on AWW et al!


  4. I do NOT like the idea that women should have to adopt male pen names. How 19th century! I can see how it might increase the chance of being read but it’s not worth it. I agree that women must stand up and be proud of being women.


    1. Indeed, Suzanne is lovely spelling. Besides, I think it would be awful to change the spelling of one’s name, just so the masses can get it correct! Glad to hear you’re keeping it. 🙂


  5. It has never crossed my mind to take on a male name or even a gender neutral name for my writing. I have considered using my initials with my last name (like J.K. Rowling) but only to give myself a teensy bit of anonymity. Maybe we should all just use a combination of letters and numbers. I think I’ll be XRE842. Remember that combo, you know, in case I’m published under that pseudonym some day. 😉

    Ugh. Why are people even wasting their energy in promoting such a ridiculous notion for women? When I think about all of the psychological and emotional energy wasted on repressing other people when that same energy could go towards lifting others up, I get so discouraged. Yay for those of us who choose books based on the writer’s talents and our own interests in their writing!


    1. OK, XRE842, you’re on! Yep, you’re officially brilliant.
      I’ve thought about the whole anonymity thing of course, but I’ve been circulating among writers for so long now it seems pointless. I could have adopted another name years ago, but it seemed pointless to do so without actually having anything to publish. So I guess I’ll just stick to my real name for now. Much less confusing!
      Plus — imagine having a male pseudonym and having to explain it every time you went somewhere in a professional capacity! Ack!



      1. It’s such a ridiculous situation, and to be honest I find it a little bit offensive both ways. Not only is it offensive that women are being told they have to pretend to be men (or be attractive) in order to increase their chances of being successful, but also as a man who doesn’t care in the slightest about the gender of an author, I find it a little offensive that the publishing industry is happy to brand me as a sexist simply because of my gender.

        That’s not in any way meant to be a ‘what about the menz???’ comment, I’m just pointing out that I think the men in charge are the real problem, but they manage to pass the blame down to the buyer. As far as I can tell from a quick count in my head, my book collection leans heavily towards male authors, but I think this is simply down to statistics; if a lot more men get published than women then statistically the chances of me picking up a book that sounds interesting and is written by a man is higher, as there are more of them. So using my book collection as a way of saying that, as a man, I’m sexist, is like saying that someone who goes into a bar and orders alcohol must be an alcoholic.

        To be honest, on sexism, and any kind of discrimination (racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, the intolerance of religion, etc), it’s absolutely pathetic that as a race we’ve managed to defy nature to the extent where we’ve actually managed to leave our planet before being able to accept everyone on it.

        As many people have said, it’s a shame that there have to be organised efforts and pushes to help women succeed in the world. I think that’s a very sad reflection on our society.


        1. I know, it IS ridiculous. And I avoided mentioning that whole comment about women needing to be attractive to sell books. Yikes!

          Yes, I think statistics could play a role in the gender imbalance on your bookshelf… But there’s no rule that says men have to like books by women as much as those by men (if they’re paying attention to the gender of the author, that is). I have no problem with the idea that men might actually enjoy books that happen to be written by men more… My problem arises if they become predisposed to dismiss books by women on account of gender.

          Thanks so much for your comment!


          1. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it when I read ‘at least you’re pretty’.

            I think it’s a good point that men might sometimes enjoy books more when they’re written by men than women. I’m sure it’s the same the other way around. I know that J.K. Rowling did hide her first name in order to avoid putting boys off her books, but I think there’s a big difference between boys and men. I think the possible aversion of young boys to things written by women is nothing to do with deep seated misogyny, it’s just that in their own childish way they are more comfortable with men than with women (in the same way that if you enter a room of strangers, you look for someone you might know).

            But yes, the idea that someone should dismiss a book because the author is a woman is horrendous. It’s a shame when you look back and see how far we’ve progressed as a society with regard to women’s rights and gender discrimination, as you then have to look at the present and realise we’ve got a long way to go before we can solve the problem. If anything, it’s changed now from blatant sexism to something worse, a more insidious hatred that is ingrained in the highest levels of our culture and circles of power.


          2. Yes, I’d heard that about JK Rowling and agree there’s a difference between men and boys. I believe that was all about persuading them to read!

            The other stuff though is quite incredible – and not a little depressing. But at least it doesn’t hold for ALL men! 🙂


  6. I agree with the other posters ~ I would never appear as a man to attract a different set of readers. What an insult to women. When I choose a book to read, I’m going off of the contents of the book, not the gender of the reader. ~ As it should be ~

    I just can’t imagine anyone doing that ~ but I guess some people do. Sad. .and stupid.


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