Project Pitch: It’s a Man’s World – Or Is It?

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.

Works Cited

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.

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4 thoughts on “Project Pitch: It’s a Man’s World – Or Is It?

  1. Hi Danielle,
    A very interesting subject and one that I’m particuarly interested in as a Victorianist. There’s considerable debate over whether lots of of women DID use pseudonyms relative to their numbers, or whether it’s just an accident (or not) of history that some very prominent women did. The Brontës were clear that the names they chose were gender-ambiguous, and some men write as women. You should take a look at Dorothy Mermin’s _Godiva’s Ride_ and perhaps also Tuchman and Fortin’s _Edging Women Out_ alongside the other things you consult on pseudonymous reading. Also I think there’s an important book on periodical culture by Alexis Easley that would be very useful to you. Your experiment isn’t entirely clear to me. Are you going to publish exactly the same text under both a masculine and a feminine name? I can’t tell whether “if any changes at all” refers to the text you’ll be posting, or something else? Do you mean “negative results” in the scientific sense or just unpleasant responses? I look forward to learning some of these details and to seeing how you related the experiment, the current debate over pseudonyms, and the uses of pseudonyms in the past within your own project. Great that you’ve bee finding Orlando useful to explore the topic: have you discovered the pseudonym attribute on the authorship tag?

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    • Hi Susan,
      I’ll clarify a few things for my proposal.
      For my experiment, I will be publishing separate work, creative pieces, pseudonymously on a Medium account. I will be comparing it to the amount of views my real account receives (considering I made it not that long ago).
      The “changes” did refer to the creative pieces I will be posting compared to the pieces I post under my real name. Lastly, the “negative results” did mean scientifically.
      Thank you for the suggestions, I look forward to reading them! And yes I did find the pseudonym tag extremely useful on the Orlando project. Thank you!

      Like

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