I have always been fascinated by pseudonyms – particularly male pseudonyms used by female writers – and the implications that come with them. We’ve seen this throughout history, but what interests me is that gender bias is still very alive today, and modern female writers have used male, or male-sounding, pseudonyms to write under. In an article from the Wall Street Journal Asia, Stephanie Cohen explains, “The Bronte sisters published their 19th-century masterpieces as the Bell brothers, because, Charlotte Bronte wrote, ‘we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.’ More than 150 years later, women are still facing the same “prejudice” in some sectors of the publishing industry” (Cohen 2012).
For my project, I want to conduct a series of experiments by writing under a male pseudonym. I want to establish if I receive more responses, views, followers, etc., if any changes at all. I will be examining examples from the 19th Century to current time where female writers specifically utilized a male pseudonym to hide their identity. I’m curious to discover whether or not the motives have altered over the last 200 years. Gender bias is still a prominent issue, and I would like to conduct an experiment of my own in order to see if this applies to digital writing, particularly on the platform Medium. As I mentioned in my presentation, Medium is a fantastic platform for networking. This is why I selected it for the experiment component. I want to start on a platform where I can not be linked to my real identity through the use of a fake email, fake birth date, and a fake male name. I want to reach as many people as possible, and through the “stats” page, I will be able to discover how my pieces are received.
Through my research, I hope to answer questions regarding what has held women back, as writers, over time that led them to using pseudonyms. Are there any trends over the years, and why are women using pseudonyms today? Through my own experiment, I want to gauge my personal response to writing under a male pseudonym: is there a confidence that comes with concealing your identity? Will there be negative results? Would I do this again after the project is over, on my own terms, based on the research I have found?
In terms of my approach, I will be turning to primary and secondary sources to receive a wide range of perspectives and instances where pseudonyms were utilized. For example, in an article on Jezebel, Catherine Nichols learned the detriments of using a male pseudonym, when she says, “The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine,” (Nichols 2015). While I was gathering information on The Orlando Project, I noticed there was an increase of male pseudonyms from early/mid 19th Century, which was why I selected that particular century with which I would begin. Although I won’t be able to examine all cases, I want to take a sampling of some over the years, in order to determine (if plausible) the successes, failures, and/or implications that come with writing under pseudonyms.
I selected the title, “It’s a Man’s World – Or Is It?” because it invokes the second-guessing nature that occurs when we realize an author has a different identity than what we originally expected. I want us to question why we assume what we do about male and female writers. Gender should be an irrelevant factor to determine whether a writer is talented or not, but this, unfortunately, is not always the case. Through my analysis I hope to establish these effects of writing pseudonymously, particularly in digital writing.
Cohen, Stephanie. “Culture & Entertainment: Why Women Writers Still Take Men’s Names.” Wall Street Journal Asia (2012): ProQuest. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.
Nichols, Catherine. “Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name.” Jezebel. 4 Aug. 2015. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.