Gender bias in publishing…

Writer Catherine Nichols talks about the reaction she encountered when she started using a male name on her resume.

I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! 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…

That was when George came to life. I imagined him as a sort of reptilian Michael Fassbender-looking guy, drinking whiskey and walking around train yards at night while I did the work. Most of the agents only heard from one or the other of us, but I did overlap a little. One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George’s book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent. Even George’s rejections were polite and warm on a level that would have meant everything to me, except that they weren’t to the real me. George’s work was “clever,” it’s “well-constructed” and “exciting.” No one mentioned his sentences being lyrical or whether his main characters were feisty. A few of people sent deeply generous and thoughtful critiques, which made me both grateful and queasy for my dishonesty.

No one person is responsible for the larger effect of the group response to my work, and presumably none of them want to be sexist. I emerged from this experiment with a few theories about the emergent gulf.

8 thoughts on “Gender bias in publishing…

  1. roughseasinthemed June 25, 2016 at 21:35 Reply

    Well there’s a surprise. I’ve used a male alias on the internet – interesting.

    • Francois Tremblay June 26, 2016 at 00:13 Reply

      What happened?

      • roughseasinthemed June 26, 2016 at 00:13 Reply

        Respect?

        • Francois Tremblay June 26, 2016 at 00:17 Reply

          And fewer personal attacks, I expect…

          I’ve been sortof doing the opposite lately. I have a tumblr, but I haven’t revealed who I am on it. People assume I am a woman because of the subject matter. So far I’ve only gotten two personal attacks, though (but they’ve been reblogged quite a bit- I guess men like the idea that women who disagree with them are singularly unattractive).

          • roughseasinthemed June 26, 2016 at 00:19 Reply

            No. Just women wanting to like me :( Sad really.

            • Francois Tremblay June 26, 2016 at 00:21 Reply

              Why is that sad? I mean, apart from the obvious (that women shouldn’t generally bother with men).

              • roughseasinthemed June 26, 2016 at 00:26 Reply

                Because the women need approval from the men.

                • Francois Tremblay June 26, 2016 at 00:37

                  Well obviously I mean come on. If women could get approval from each other, or even from themselves, then they wouldn’t need to conform to men’s ideals. And then where would we be?

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