Solidarity vs. Self-Interest? Gender Ambiguous Author Names

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From George Eliot to J.K. Rowling, female authors have sometimes published under masculine or gender-ambiguous names. The decision may have been based on a publishing industry professional’s advice, an author’s own knowledge and expectations of the publishing landscape, or other factors altogether. Whatever each individual author’s reasons, the unfortunate reality is that women are still underrepresented in the literary world.

If it’s still very much “a man’s world” out there, if books by male authors are more likely to be reviewed or even (traditionally) published, and perhaps more likely to sell better (especially in certain genres), it’s not surprising that female authors sometimes feel the best way to give their work its best chance is to slap a male or androgynous name on it. But, this raises a number of perplexing questions and conundrums for me.

Is the choice some women authors make to (at least temporarily, at face value) disguise, or at least not overtly display, their gender just helping to perpetuate the status quo (and therefore ultimately hurting all women writers)? Do women writers have a responsibility to proudly and unequivocally represent themselves as Women Writers, always, regardless of what setbacks — rejection, lack of critical attention, lower sales, a more limited audience —  they might encounter because of it?

Or is each writer’s greatest, foremost responsibility to her own work and ensuring that it has the very best chance it can to succeed (whatever that might, legally, entail)?

Self-interest over sisterhood? Solidarity over sales? And are those concepts even mutually exclusive (or are we all just too caught up in dualities and non-existent “battles” between concepts)?

In short: Is it “wrong” or “anti-feminist” or even just “harmful” for women writers to use male-sounding or gender-neutral pen/author names?

I hate to break this to you, but…

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. It’s not for lack of trying, as I’ve definitely rolled these questions around my mind a bunch. I don’t know that there is one single, splendid answer, either.

What I would love is to get other people’s perspectives. What do you think?

  2 comments for “Solidarity vs. Self-Interest? Gender Ambiguous Author Names

  1. Chris
    July 27, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Tough question. But even writers have to make a living, and it’s a difficult enough business as it is, so why not think of it as branding? I was once in a writers group with a man who used a female pseudonym on his romance novels, and they sold successfully. His publisher requested that he do this, and he didn’t have a problem with it — in fact, he was thrilled to be publishing and getting paid for it. I think that a woman writing men’s adventure fiction might make a similar decision. Does that make her any less a feminist? Not in my book.

    • July 27, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Interesting points! I had wondered about men writing in stereotypical “female” genres, like Romance. I’ve seen a number of general “chick lit” novels written by men. I guess then that brings up the age-old question of “boy books” and “girl books” and how responsible that type of marketing is (especially since takes aim at readers starting at a very young age).

      New can open; more worms everywhere.

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