Tuesday, December 15, 2009

James Chartrand is a Woman? It's Complicated Alright

Yesterday the online freelance writing/blogging community learned on Copyblogger that Men with Pens James Chartrand is actually a woman. I have to tell you I never saw that one coming. In fact I was completely blindsided by the news. So much so that I spent the rest of the evening in a fog getting very little work done as I tried reconnecting the dots from the first time I discovered the Men with Pens blog; trying to figure out if I’d missed any signs.

This may sound crazy, but until James revealed the truth about herself, it simply never occurred to me that there was a glass ceiling for freelance writers. Crazy, huh?

Gender bias toward writers

Whether you’re an established freelance writer, just getting your writing career off the ground or somewhere in between, there is a reason why Jame’s story should matter to you.

In the beginning James was providing clients with high quality content and reliable service; yet she was unappreciated, put down and often subjected to clients questioning her ability. But as soon as she decided to start calling herself James, she found it easier to get gigs, client’s lapped up her advice and just basically found her more brilliant, capable and knowledgeable in general. Even though she was the exact same person. Now what’s wrong with this picture?

A new way of seeing things

I spent the evening reliving my own past client encounters. Those times when clients nickled and dimed me, resisted cooperating by providing the information needed to get the job done, trying to get more for less or putting me through revision hell – were those guys (and 90 percent of the time they were male clients) just jerks for the sake of being jerks or jerks because they were doing business with some random woman working from her home?

Like James I thought it better not to mention my kids or the fact that my office is set up in the corner of my dining room. Some clients could care less, but I couldn’t be too careful. I go to great pains not to be perceived as a hobby writer.

How far would you go?

James’ story resonated with so many writers as you can see from the many comments at the end of her guest post. We all came to choose freelancing for different reasons – a last resort effort to generate a much needed income, the need to escape a suffocating career or a flexible way to make money and care for a loved on with special needs. We expect for everything to be neat and professional and dare I say fair? But sometimes that’s not what we get. I guess I’m still a little shocked at the lengths some are forced to go to just to put food on the table and pay the bills. Personally, James’ story makes perfect sense to me. As she said in her post, she had some tough choices to make, so she made them. Such is life as a freelancer.


Lori said...

Actually, this topic is the very thing I have for tomorrow. :)

My sister and I discussed it, too. She said when she's getting a hassle from a company, she puts her husband on the phone. Instantly, without his even uttering a word different from hers, problems are solved.

There is a gender bias, but it's two-sided. We women categorize men in much the same way, though I don't think they're getting paid less for it. And we categorize ethnic groups, age groups, etc. I stood up for a Spanish-speaking guy who was getting verbally abused by, of all people, the customer service rep at the local store. Her comments to him - learn to speak English - landed her in hot water with her company, because guess who wrote them a letter (I'm a trouble maker)? Her intolerance isn't new, nor is it rare. But that's one more person educated. That man spends money just like I do. Treat him with respect.

I don't understand the backlash (although mild) from those who felt James betrayed their trust. No, James protected her earning potential and her career choices. And it's a damn sad thing that she had to pretend to be a man in order to be taken seriously. The real crime here is how society treated her as a woman.

Kimberly Ben said...

Lori, I can't wait to read you post. You hit the nail on the head with this one.

I'll be completely honest - one reason I've never thought much of gender bias is because of all the other possible bias I might have to face. Being African-American and Muslim is more than enough without tossing in the fact that I'm a female to boot, Lol. Being that I wear hijab, you should see the people who look past/through me to speak directly to my husband when we are out making a purchase (it's even funnier when he steps aside and tells them to talk to "the boss" and points to me). But I don't look at it so much as an obstacle to overcome.

It is what it is, I am who I am and I know exactly what I'm capable of personally and professionally. What's sad is that's not always enough for everyone else. James is clear proof of that.

Lori said...

That's one of my favorite sayings - It is what it is. :)

What rattles is that the victimization, in many cases, can be halted if the victimizer is refused a victim. In other words, stand up for ourselves and stop crying "Poor us!" If we refuse to accept shoddy behavior, eventually someone's going to "get" it and that's one less person holding on to ridiculous stereotypes.

I hear you on the hijab and the stereotypes! We frequently host meditation monks in our home. The neighbors (posh neighborhood) just avoid us. Too many orange-clad dudes for the conservative crowd! LOL We have plenty of cultures and nationalities trotting through our house throughout the year. I think it makes our lives much richer, and I feel blessed by the opportunity to know so many spiritual people.

Kimberly Ben said...

Lori, I love your attitude. We need more people in the world like you.<3

Blog Writing said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Designed by Lena