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23 Responses

  1. Beth
    Beth June 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm |

    I’ve seen this discussed everywhere recently. Jezebel, and other feminist blogs especially. It’s obvious that when it comes to the business world the in-your-face, masculine approach is considered more successful (unless you’re doing public speaking, then women who do this are considered angry/untrustworthy).

    But, I can’t help but wonder, why can’t people just take men and women as different when it comes to communication styles? Why must someone always change? Can’t administrators, executives, anyone involved in any kind of media, etc simply learn that this is how people tend to behave?

    I realize it’s not a genetic difference, but it IS a socialization issue. People in our society learn to behave/communicate in this dichotomous manner. Why is the female socialization considered inferior? Why must women change in order to be successful? Maybe this is naive, but would that we could create our own publications, our own companies, where this uber politeness isn’t frowned upon. I hate the idea of stamping out natural humility.

  2. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm |

    But if you’re a woman/writing under a female name, using an in-your-face, “masculine” approach is just as likely to lose you points as using a polite, apologetic “feminine” tone.

    The first essential for getting published and getting paid well and having people pay attention to what you write, is having a masculine name, as “James Chartrand” found out a couple of years ago:

    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.

    Did I quit promoting my own name? Hell yeah.

    For me, reading the pitches highlighted by The Awl and noting the staggering difference in their tone and their ask was a big wakeup call – are women writers doing enough to promote themselves and their work?

    For me, reading this post is a big wakeup call: on a feminist blog, a feminist blogger is still blaming women writers for not being good enough. It’s 163 years since Ellis Bell published Wuthering Heights. It’s 43 years since James Tiptree, Jr, started sending stories to publishers using a name off a marmalade jar. It’s 27 years since Joanna Russ published How To Suppress Women’s Writing. It’s 14 years since Joanna Rowling was kindly told she should use her initials only, since boys weren’t likely to want to read a book with a woman’s name on the cover.

    And in December 2009, “James Chartrand” wrote wearily:

    Using a male pseudonym when you’re a woman isn’t anything new. Writers have been doing it for centuries. George Eliot, George Sand, Isak Dinesen. Even the Brontë sisters, championed today, wrote as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell back in their time.

    Why did they do it? To have their work accepted, because women weren’t supposed to be writers. Their work had a much better chance if their audience didn’t have to get over initial skepticism that a woman could write at all, much less do it well.

    Since then, we’ve had feminism. We have the right to vote, to own property, to be members of Parliament and Congress, to get a job, and to be the main breadwinner of the family. And yet apparently we haven’t gotten past those 19th century stigmas.

    The evidence was right there in front of me.

    I never wanted to be an activist, or to fight the world. I’m not interested in clawing my way up a ladder to a glass ceiling. Life’s too short for that.

    I just want to earn a living and be respected for my skills. I want my kids to be happy and have access to what they need. I want them to go to university and have good opportunities in life.

    And she couldn’t have that if she wrote under her own name.

    Not because she wasn’t good enough. Not because women writers aren’t good enough.

    Because of institutionalised sexism in the publishing industry, which as feminists we should recognise and call down, not waste time blaming women for writing apologetic pitches.

  3. preying mantis
    preying mantis June 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm |

    “But, I can’t help but wonder, why can’t people just take men and women as different when it comes to communication styles?”

    Probably because the root issue tends to be the underlying belief that women are inherently worth less. The difference in negotiating and interpersonal styles in the corporate world has been noted for a while, with the attending advice that women should adopt more “masculine” strategies. Generally when they look into whether or not that actually works out, they find the women adopting more typically “masculine” attitudes and behaviors, they get penalized for it because it’s a backslapping hi5 moment when a dude acts that way and a “man, what a bitch” moment when a woman does the same thing.

    Someone whose basic problem is that the pitch is coming from a woman is not going to respond better because she doesn’t do the “apologize for being a member of the sex class” dance. There are still more than enough people out there for whom that is the case to make female authors trying to make a living without resorting to a male pen name go the extra mile to avoid getting slapped down. It’s a shame there isn’t an easier way to duplicate the blind audition remedy that’s taken hold in music.

  4. Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

    I’m a fairly gutsy freelancer, but I’ve definitely used the “I’m a long-time admirer of your publication” line before. Usually followed by half a sentence to a sentence about why I like it, and why I think I’ve finally found the perfect story for them.

    I think what’s really helped me in terms of confidence is being on both sides of the writing/editing equation. Same goes with job interviews. I think a lot of people – perhaps especially women? – have this fantasy of this whole world of people out there who are leaps and strides better and more impressive at what they want to do than they are. They also imagine editors to be a lot scarier and nastier than they are.

    The reality? Editors just want to find good, readable writers who are able to produce interesting stories that are relevant to their audience. Usually, in my experience, that’s a decision they can make pretty quickly (most successful pitches I make receive a same-day response). Similarly, job interviewers just want to find a smart, likeable, competant person who’s enthusiastic about the industry, understands it, and can do the job. They’re not looking to trip you up. They’re probably not even going to throw you in the scrap pile because there’s a typo in your pitch. They’re just looking for awesome story ideas.

  5. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin June 30, 2010 at 6:48 pm |

    An excellent point has been raised by this entry. I have to say, quite honestly, my response depends completely on how I am feeling emotionally at the time. If I am feeling insecure or generally self-conscious for some reason, then my replies become deferential and apologetic. If I am feeling confident and assertive, then my replies are hard-charging and aggressive.

    And as for the comments I receive on my blog or wherever I cross-post a pertinent entry, the comments I receive from women are much more likely to be almost begging forgiveness at times, though not always. Some women make very pointed criticisms of what I say, but are good to also let me know that they’re not personal. Men are usually less likely to be tactful and diplomatic, but again, not always.

    I’ve often wondered if this behavior would change if I were a woman or if gender-based responses are static regardless of who they are directed towards.

  6. KMTBerry
    KMTBerry June 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm |

    JESURGISLAC: What you wrote has really given ME a wake-up call. NOW I curse the day I decided to write under a really really feminine name. Everything I have published is under that name!

    I want to change to a man’s name RIGHT AWAY!! I NEEEED to make triple what I am making as a freelance writer, like three years ago!!! AHHHHHH!!!!!

    WHat to do what to do??? I guess the FIRST thing to do is think of a masculine name I like. I didn’t knwo that about the Bronte sisters. I think I have a copy of a book by “Acton Bell” !!

  7. Meg (the English Grad Student)
    Meg (the English Grad Student) June 30, 2010 at 8:03 pm |

    There’s a literary flip-side of this, though, which is the very problem that a lot of students today, like KMTBerry, do NOT know that Acton Bell and Anne Brönte are the same person. Or that Mary Astell never once put her name on a published work. And as much as they need to know how far publishing and editing have come since Bell/Brönte, the problem with naming names in the Anonymity game is more serious.

    Yes, we’re “reclaiming” women authors as role models. That’s wonderful. But it obscures the fact that there are many reasons to publish anonymously, semi-anonymously (initials), or with pseudonyms. And not all of them have to do with gender. Anonymous and semi-anonymous publishing allowed authors to cash in the in-club nature borrowed from coterie circles and it allowed authors to stand for entire groups — including, in the case of Astell, for *women* as a whole. Yes, I think it’s wonderful that we’ve figured out she authored books X, Y, and Z… but can we at least acknowledge the persona she constructed to do so?

    Virginia Wolfe was probably right, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” And despite the cult of the modern author, Anonymous was more powerful and useful than we give her credit for today. I hate to think that in the rush to “recover” the writing of women we efface the carefully constructed authorial personas that both allowed and influenced their work, insisting they be read out of cultural context.

    Ok, off the podium… (resisting the urge to apologize; semester just started and my women-in-literature course is on a roll…)

  8. Laura
    Laura June 30, 2010 at 10:12 pm |

    “tickle the balls” and “damnit”, really?! I feel like if I received such a pitch, I would consider it unprofessional/not funny.

    But I agree that I wish to start pitching under a pseudonym. Luckily my email doesn’t specify my first name! Hm.

  9. Dominique
    Dominique June 30, 2010 at 10:46 pm |

    I have no idea if this is why anyone has rejected my ideas and it would be harder to explain with those pitches I made to women’s magazines about spa holidays. However, editors don’t exactly write back to you in big capital letters saying HEY THERE LITTLE WOMAN: YOUR PITCH WAS JUST TOO WOMANLY-GIRLY FOR US! So I suppose a lot of us are left in the dark. My name is *supposed* to be gender-neutral, but only in French. In English, it appears to be VERY FEMALE. So: though my pitches seem neutral to me, with little to no apology in them, my name looks feminine and I am just too pissed off to change it (plus, how would I cash my cheques, without a legal démarche, as it were). My (quite cynical) guess is that these editors are making up a whole lotta excuses and exaggerating the differences between the sexes when the main differences are, very very likely, right between their ears.

  10. Valerie2
    Valerie2 June 30, 2010 at 10:52 pm |

    Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the men’s pitches were unprofessional and abrupt. It’s as if they were saying, “I don’t have time to make nice with you, give me what I want”.
    Not a good way to make someone like you. But that is one of the privileges of being male, you’ll automatically be liked if you’re good. For women, you have to be both likable and good.

  11. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac July 1, 2010 at 2:38 am |

    JESURGISLAC: What you wrote has really given ME a wake-up call. NOW I curse the day I decided to write under a really really feminine name. Everything I have published is under that name!

    For a couple of years, when I first got into blogs, I used a gender-neutral form of my real name. I didn’t think about it being gender-neutral, particularly: and it didn’t occur to me that I had anything to worry about it being my real name.

    I tend to be fairly up-front, in-your-face, and found to my surprise that many people were assuming I was male. (Later I discovered that unless you pick an obviously-fem name, everyone on the Internet will assume you ARE male.) I left a comment contradicting someone who was making a big deal of my (supposed) gender. I noticed he got even more rude and aggressive, but supposed it was because he felt like an idiot: I was slightly worried by some of his threats, especially as he appeared to live less than a hundred miles from me, but not too much, because I didn’t suppose for a moment he had the smarts to figure out where I lived, or anything else about me.

    Then a few weeks later someone I’d argued with at length on that blog decided to “win” the argument by doing an Internet search on my not-very-pseud, figuring out my real name, and where I lived, and finding a rare online photo of me, and posting links to all three, with a triumphant “hey look, I know who this person is, she’s not so much!” (This was a woman, also new to blogging, and I still wonder sometimes if she now realises exactly what was so problematic about her doing that.)

    I got the male friend who’d put the photo online to take it down – after considerable resistance: he couldn’t see what bothered me about it. I got the blog owner to delete the comment – after considerable resistance: he couldn’t see what bothered me about it. I worried for a few weeks about the creepy guy who’d made the actual threats finding me, but finally decided he probably wasn’t energetic enough to actually travel the hundred miles. And I cursed the day I’d posted anything under my real name.

    Then I took a break from blogs – from commenting – I invented the pseud Jesurgislac, and I resolved never to tell anyone anything about where I lived, my gender, or anything else whatsoever.

    …to discover that so long as I kept that resolution, everyone I met on the Internet supposed me to be straight, male, and American.

    Finally I outed myself as a British lesbian, but it took years before I felt safe to do that. And people still tend to assume at first online encounter that I must be male.

    Kathy, my guess that if you’ve never tried to get published using a male name you have no idea what kind of reaction you would receive if you did – and while I had assumed this kind of thing was gone with J. K. Rowling and U. K. Leguin, “James Chartrand” made clear it was not.

  12. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. July 1, 2010 at 6:03 am |

    Valerie2, I dunno. As an impatient person (and it’s hard to imagine that editors don’t become time wary when looking through a steady flow of submissions,) I find the third and male query a fuckload more likable. As preying mantis suggests, the female queries *are* doing a dance there, a dance around the point that’s distracting and even a little draining. There’s really no good reason to drag emotions into a professional appeal. I’m not saying I don’t empathize ( a LOT,) but I definitely find it problematic.

    And if you look back at the third query, he really is quite respectful (“Can you offer a word…,”) there’s just no superfluous clutter.

  13. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 1, 2010 at 7:53 am |

    Let’s not forget that when a woman is direct, she is called aggressive (and not in a good way, being aggressive is for the menz only, apparently). Men can get away with behavior that women cannot–and sometimes, this behavior is perfectly reasonable. But when a woman does it, she’s a bitch, she’s rude, and she’s trying to be a man. We cannot discount that double-standard, and the double-bind it puts us in–be too deferential and soft and it’s our fault we don’t get responses because it’s a turn-off. Be more direct and confident, and it’s our fault we don’t get responses because it’s a turn-off.

  14. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 1, 2010 at 8:01 am |

    Also, and this is just my gut reaction to this man’s pitch:

    Inquiry letter from a man:

    “Do you take pitches? Should I just write something and send it? Do I have to tickle the balls? I want to write for the awl, dammit.”

    This is really unprofessional. I’m a stickler for businesslike writing and professionalism in cover letters, inquiries, and interactions–it’s an incredible turn-off to see that stuff in letters of inquiry, cover letters, or any other correspondence. Save that for the actual piece. I’d skip over this one based on his letter.

  15. nathan
    nathan July 1, 2010 at 10:07 am |

    “I find the third and male query a fuckload more likable. As preying mantis suggests, the female queries *are* doing a dance there, a dance around the point that’s distracting and even a little draining. There’s really no good reason to drag emotions into a professional appeal. I’m not saying I don’t empathize ( a LOT,) but I definitely find it problematic.

    And if you look back at the third query, he really is quite respectful (“Can you offer a word…,”) there’s just no superfluous clutter.”

    I agree with Samantha and I think you can find this version coming from either men or women. And it should be the most effective.

    But as a writer and literary journal editor, I also agree that there are some troubling disparities between men and women in the publishing world. I don’t know what the percentages are of women writing query letters like the ones above, but those kinds of query letters are failures, as is the “ball tickler” letter in my book. And yet, it’s easy enough for me to envision some alpha male editor reading the “ball tickler” letter and thinking “Hell, this guy wants it. Let’s hire him!” And the same editor could easily be afraid of, or disparaging of, a women writing the exact same query. It’s socialization that’s just begging to be overturned, but we haven’t overturned it yet.

  16. Writes Like A Girl « Shitty First Drafts

    [...] Consider this post on The Awl about the ways that men and women pitch stories for their site (via Feministe).  Inquiries from dudes look something like this: “Do you take pitches? Should I just write [...]

  17. Mary Arrrr
    Mary Arrrr July 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm |

    So… when people pitch badly, they often do so in predictably gendered ways.

    Beth,
    Putting yourself down and belittling your own abilities is not being “uber-polite.” Recognizing differences in socialization means realizing good pitches from women won’t necessarily be as the same as good pitches from men. “Natural humility” doesn’t mean demanding emotional work from the recipient, which is what both of the female pitches presented do.

  18. Kit Kendrick
    Kit Kendrick July 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |

    Back in the days of BBS’s, I went to an in-person meetup and one of the guys there confided that he hadn’t been 100% sure that I was really female, despite my clearly female username. I don’t “sound like a girl” in writing, he said. A little examination turned up was that he was used to women apologizing before they gave opinions, which I hadn’t been doing.

  19. Another Laurie
    Another Laurie July 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |

    When my husband writes business correspondence, it always sounds incredibly rude and abrupt to me. He often lets me edit it to soften up, but now I am wondering whether perhaps I am not doing him any favors.

    The things is, I hire people sometimes and the so-called “male” style is often a turn-off.

  20. Love Bites: Clarisse Thorn | Time Out Chicago » » Men are straightforward, women apologetic when pitching stories

    [...] And Feministe, as is often the case, offers some good commentary and background notes. [...]

  21. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 2, 2010 at 9:33 am |

    “He often lets me edit it to soften up, but now I am wondering whether perhaps I am not doing him any favors.”

    If it’s being submitted by someone obviously male, he’ll probably still get his penis-points.

    This sort of thing tends to be one of those “heads I win, tails you lose” misogynist double-speak situations. Women engage in masculine-typed behaviors, and they’re pushy bitches. Women engage in feminine-typed behaviors, and they’re doormats, or not cut out for the environment they’re trying to make it in, or whatever. Basically, they’re just being such women that they can’t be taken seriously.

    Men engage in masculine-typed behaviors, and they’re real go-getters. Men engage in feminine-typed behaviors, and a lot of the time it’ll be reinterpreted in their benefit (they’re real team-players, or they’re great at making people feel listened-to and appreciated, or they’re remarkably professional about things) to highlight the positives of those feminine-typed behaviors.

  22. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil July 2, 2010 at 9:57 am |

    When my husband writes business correspondence, it always sounds incredibly rude and abrupt to me. He often lets me edit it to soften up, but now I am wondering whether perhaps I am not doing him any favors.

    I’m in favor of the softer style in business correspondence (particularly email) because of the tone issue–what sounds fine when you say it out loud can sound really harsh and abrupt in an email.

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