What’s in a Name? Depends on the Gender

Women Are Still Using Men’s Names Just to Get a Reply

A couple of stories have come to light in the last few weeks about how a person is treated in digital communications based on gender.

One, a tweet story by Martin R. Schneider told of his experience with his colleague Nicole Hallberg. Martin and Nicole are both recruiters in Philadelphia, PA who ended up both using Nicole’s email address for recruiting. After Schneider couldn’t get over the responses he was suddenly getting, he realized why.  Male candidates thought he was Nicole. As an experiment he and Nicole switched emails for a period of time to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt it was an ugly pattern, not a single incident.

Schneider tweeted, “I was in hell. Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending. One asked if I was single.”

Check out Schneider’s entire Tweet Moment, it’s eye opening and he tells the story of surprise rather well. As for Nicole Hallberg, she wasn’t surprised, she was used to it.

Unfortunately, it’s not a all a unique story.

A Fake Male Co-Founder

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwye are the two entrepreneurs who own Witchsy, an online arts and handmade products store. This year, their first, Witchsy has sold over $200,000 worth of merchandise.  That’s impressive.

However as they grew and continued their success, they reached out to more vendors, graphic designers and developers and noticed a very distinct trend. They were getting very little response, responses that were condescending, with some correspondence starting with “Okay girls.” One developer who, when rejected for a date, tried to sabotage the site code for which he was already completely compensated – gee, why you single?

So, being inventive entrepreneurs, Gazin and Dwye invented a co-founder, a male co-founder named “Keith Mann.” Suddenly, ‘Keith’ as the sender of company emails and requests, was getting immediate attention and timely, professional responses.

The Male Nom de Plume

Unfortunately, this is carrying on a tradition of passing into the dull world male acceptance.

Female authors, some at the top of their field, such as J.K. Rowling, a self-made billionaire, feel the pressure, or just the lack of desire to fight stupidity of men who don’t value the brilliant contributions of women. In J.K.’s case, it was her male publisher’s idea, as he thought young and adolescent boys, the assumed audience of Harry Potter wouldn’t accept anything from a female author.  That publisher was wrong on many beliefs, especially not understanding the market to young and adolescent girls.  To her own credit, J.K. has made it clear she’s no shrinking violet on topics of feminism and bullies.

However, as “J.K.” and not Joanne, she is among an impressive list of women who chose male or not obviously female pen names / nom de plumes. This list includes the Bronte sisters, (Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell) Louisa May Alcott (A.M. Barnard)   George Sand, one of France’s most prolific authors of the 19th century, is actually better known than her real name, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin.

In her interview Asimov’s Science Fiction, Alice Bradley Sheldon, aka James Tiptree Jr. said “a male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” She was also a graphic artist, painter and art critic, and the quote referred to much of this. So, rather than being respected for her many successes, she was compelled to put her energies into her art instead of fight another fight against sexism.

So what’s your take? Fight the fight and deal with the ignorance along with everything else you have to do to be successful? Or, genericize ourselves for acceptance among those of lower intellect to just not have to deal with their issues?  What are we, as women trying to accomplish? What do we want to tell our daughters, nieces and the next generation?


If you’d like to hear more about Nicole Hallberg and Martin Schneider and their switched email experience, you can hear it in a podcast: