“James Chartrand” & “Men With Pens” – the skeptical feminist in me says “no way”

I don’t read Copyblogger regularly, although I know a lot of folks who do, and who love it.  But today my friend Meagan Francis pointed my attention to a post there by someone who appears to be one of the site’s regular bloggers, someone who goes by “James Chartrand.”

In the post, Chartrand reveals (GASP!) that HE is actually a SHE.

Why has “James Chartrand” kept up this charade of adopting a male online persona rather than revealing herself to be female? In his/her own words:

I had high-quality skills and a good education. I was fast on turnaround and very professional. I hustled and I delivered on my promises, every single time. I worked hard and built the business, putting in long hours and reinvesting a lot of the money I made.

I really, really wanted to make this work.

But I was still having a hard time landing jobs. I was being turned down for gigs I should’ve gotten, for reasons I couldn’t put a finger on.

My pay rate had hit a plateau, too. I knew I should be earning more. Others were, and I soaked up everything they could teach me, but still, there was something strange about it . . .

It wasn’t my skills, it wasn’t my work. So what were those others doing that I wasn’t?

One day, I tossed out a pen name, because I didn’t want to be associated with my current business, the one that was still struggling to grow. I picked a name that sounded to me like it might convey a good business image. Like it might command respect.
My life changed that day

Instantly, jobs became easier to get.

There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all.

Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.

And I was thankful. I finally stopped worrying about how I would feed my girls. We were warm. Well-fed. Safe. No one at school would ever tease my kids about being poor.

I was still bringing in work with the other business, the one I ran under my real name. I was still marketing it. I was still applying for jobs — sometimes for the same jobs that I applied for using my pen name.

I landed clients and got work under both names. But it was much easier to do when I used my pen name.

Understand, I hadn’t advertised more effectively or used social media — I hadn’t figured that part out yet. I was applying in the same places. I was using the same methods. Even the work was the same.

In fact, everything w the same.

Except for the name.

The answer was plain. Without really thinking much about it, I tried an experiment when I chose my new pseudonym:
I became a man (in name only)

Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.

No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic.

Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it, too.

In other words, this person says that she instantly experienced a much higher level of success as a professional writer/copywriter as soon as she began going by a male “pen name.”

I call baloney, MAJOR baloney on this. This story simply doesn’t add up.  Now it’s possible that the person’s writing work picked up at about the same time that she began using a man’s name as her byline, but if so, that was coincidental. How can I say this with this level of certainty? Well, I can say it because I have made my living to greater or lesser degree (100% for many years and usually at least 20% of my income in any given year) as a published author, freelance writer, editor and copywriter since 1995.  And I am thoroughly female. Furthermore, I have many, many female friends who are also highly accomplished, nationally published freelancers, web designers and copywriters.  And I know a large number of the magazine and website editors who assign work to those of us who are competing for the freelance work that’s out there; at least 65% of them are female.  Last, I myself have held several online production and account executive positions that have involved assigning freelance content, design and online community management work.

Obviously, the fact that I have focused much of my own freelancing over the years in the women’s and parenting categories means that I encounter more female editors and writers, but my own editorial and copywriting work has ranged far beyond these niche areas. I’ve written about the plastics industry, business development, marketing and branding – you name it.  My motto has always pretty much been “WILL WRITE FOR FOOD.”

So I know this business well from all sides, and I’ve been involved in it for a long time;  I can say unequivocally, without hesitation and with great clarity that the type of gender bias this “James Chartrand” describes simply does not exist. Now does that mean that there aren’t a few sexist jerks out there – as there are in any field?  No, there certainly ARE some sexists in the online content and design biz,  but they are incredibly few and far between in what is arguably a female-dominated profession overall.

Another reason that Mr./Ms. Chartrand’s tale doesn’t hold water is that I am not sure how she expects those of us who have done this for a living at the level she claims to be doing it to believe that none of the editors, account execs, clients, other writers, sources, interviewees, etc with whom she has worked on all of this content she claims to be publishing for pay ever want to speak to her by phone. The fact is that even in this age of online everything, the production of editorial content for publication – on the Web or in print – still requires phone contact. Editors want to talk to you by phone. Clients want to meet you. Interviewees won’t always agree to be interviewed via email. Tracking down sources frequently requires a phone call or two. Certainly there are projects where I never use the phone, but just about anytime I work with a new editor or client, at least one phone call is involved, and many interviews still call for picking up the phone.  And if you are making the case that you have ONLY been hired or retained on a content project because the editor, online producer or account exec believes you are a guy, you can’t very well be female when you speak to the sexist pigs on the phone.

Unlike Mr./Ms. Chartrand, who states in her blog post that she “never wanted to be an activist,”  I am a feminist activist. I consider myself an outspoken advocate for pay equity, reproductive rights and gender parity in the workplace. And that’s why it irks me when I read something like this blog post.  While I cannot say for certain that Mr./Ms. Chartrand’s story is untrue – perhaps this is one of those outlier cases that simply doesn’t align with all available evidence – it seems highly, highly unlikely.  My gut feeling is that it’s some kind of attention grab, or that the story has been constructed to support Mr./Ms. Chartrand’s decision to use a pseudonym – a decision that was made and has been retained for reasons other than as an antidote to raging, explicit gender bias, but now requires some more interesting explanation than the actual reason.

If this story isn’t true,  as I suspect, it’s much like a  (far less important, meaningful or impact-laden) fake rape accusation.  It gives ammunition to the anti-feminists of the world who want to discredit the REAL gender bias issues that working women still face today. And that irritates me. I am happy for any freelancer who is able to support her family with her work, as Mr./Ms. Chartrand is apparently able to do.  I suspect, however, that any success she has achieved is due to the quality of her work, and has nothing to do with whether her name is “James” or “Julie” Chartrand.

UPDATE:  In the comments below this post, you will find several readers’ own tales of gender bias in the workplace, as well as a link to an interesting piece in Salon today on L’affaire “James Chartrand”

Let me reiterate, in light of reader’s telling their own tales of workplace sexism, that I am IN NO WAY suggesting that gender bias does not exist in our offices and factories. My point is that this particular tale of gender bias rings false to me.  And I do think that when people make things up, or exaggerate  – if that’s what has happened here – it undermines the hard work many people have done and continue to do all over this country to fight real, genuine sexist inequities in our workplaces.

In re-reading James Chartrand’s post, I again find myself thinking something we sometimes say around Bell Buckle: that dog don’t hunt. I find it particularly interesting that “she” titled her entire website “Men with Pens.”  This indicates to me that the whole gender thing has been an “issue” with this person in a bigger way than just the pseudonym.  I’m just sayin’…

Robert Frost’s poem about working motherhood

Last night E had to memorize a poem for school, and he pulled it up on my laptop to print it out. So this morning, when I sat down to work, this Robert Frost poem was still there, on my screen, and I was amazed to see how beautifully it describes the juggle that makes up my days during this phase of my life. I thought you might see some of your own life captured in the poem, too. So I’m sharing it with you.


Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at. once
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with~ hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.