Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Would a Virtual Sex Change Help Your Career?

I think I was about as surprised as everyone else when I read that James Chartrand is actually a woman--and started using a male pseudonym to get freelance writing work. There's a tradition of this in writing--witness George Elliot--women pretending to be men so their writing will get the respect it deserves--and they'll get the pay they're entitled to. And it's led me to think about how I present myself.

I've occasionally had clients question my rates. Not often, and I usually take it as a sign I don't want to work with them. But I've had plenty of clients try to talk me down during the negotiating stage or tell me I'm too expensive--and I lose the job. I've had plenty of slowball clients. Overall, I wouldn't say I get a lot of revisions back on what I write--I hardly ever get to two rounds, and round-one revisions are most often minor.

But, I've started to wonder whether having a male pseudonym would open doors to bigger, better-paying clients. Would it be easier to break into big advertising and marketing firms if I were a guy? Would it be easier to quote higher rates? James's story suggests it would be.

The problem is that I'd have to speak to these clients on the phone at some point--if only to interview for projects. It's pretty clear from my voice that I'm a woman--and I sound much younger than I am. This could work against me, and I'm aware how important perception is.

Has anyone out there tried using a pseudonym--either different from your actual sex or not? How did it go? Why did you choose to do it? I would love to hear more of these stories.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'd have thought the opposite to be honest. Along the lines of a beautiful woman being more likely than my ugly ol' mug to catch the eye of male editors. Perhaps we're all just looking for 'not my fault' reasons to explain our lack of success.

Mridu Khullar said...

It's a slippery slope. As an Indian woman, I've encountered both sexism and racism. More racism, in fact. If each of us started pretending to be someone or something else to appeal to a certain type of individual, we'd be nothing but clones. I'd like to hear perspectives of women, of people of different colors, of people with a different origin and sexuality.

Maybe I would make more money in the short term by pretending to be white and male. But in the long-term, the only way any of us is going to get equality is if each of us stand up, be proud of who we are, and demand a fair wage anyway.

Unknown said...

I don't think it would help me. I've thought about it in anger or frustration a few times, but I feel I'm confident enough and assertive enough to protect my career without going male.

I guess we're all looking at the other side wondering if the grass is greener. :)

Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

I may be in the vast minority here, but I lost all kinds of respect for "James Chartrand" when that news broke. I believe in fully OWNING who you are. See my motto in my bio for more on my philosophy.

Kimberly Ben said...

No, you're not alone,Irreverent Freelancer. Although I understand why James did what she did, and I supported her actions in the beginning, the more I thought about it the more I started to find flaws in the logic.

Don't get me wrong, I support everyone's right to do what they consider best, but (as Mridu pointed out so well) as a woman and a minority I feel a greater sense of responsibility to be exactly who I am.

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Mike: It makes a lot of sense to me that there would be benefits and drawbacks to either approach. Of course, a really handsome guy copywriter might get great leads from female (or gay male) clients too...attractiveness can definitely work both ways. I guess no matter what your sex or race, it would be easy to say someone else has it easier.

@Mridu: Also, I think in the long term there's only so much time you can hide who you'll get found out eventually, and then you'll have to still deal with the job market the way you are. If you start off embracing and owning what you are, you won't have this problem.

@Lori: Thinking about the issue more, it's occurred to me that confidence may be the key issue here--not whether you're male or female. Maybe the people James worked with were responding to her (er...his? Her?) confidence...not the fact that the name was male.

@Kathy and Kimberly: I see where you're coming from. When I read the article James wrote, I was really surprised that she saw such a huge difference after she started using the pseudonym. But (as I said above) it could have been the confidence it gave her, not so much the name itself--and if it truly was the male name, maybe now that she's "out" it will change the opinions of anyone she worked with who may have given her more respect because they thought she was a guy.

Anonymous said...

I must admit I'm kind of torn on this stuff. Part of me thinks there's a decent argument for taking positive, assertive actions to move away from a culture where invalid discriminations occur, but the bigger part of me is tempted to assume the world has moved beyond this stuff, treat it as a non-issue and then react with astonishment and ridicule when it does happen.

The problem of course, is that most discrimination happens in a way that is not obvious or provable. And I guess that's even more the case for a white male like myself. Dunno. I'm conflicted. And it's too early in the morning ;)