I recently read Homme de Plume by Catherine Nichols. I was aware of the publishing industry's gender bias, but it's a different thing to see proof—numbers that cannot be ignored. Catherine's same query letter sent using a male name received 17/50 manuscript requests versus 2/50 using her female name. Nichols says her male counterpart "is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.
Before embarking on my writing career, I had to decide what name to publish under. I've been called "Tori" my whole life. It's what family and friends address me as. It's what I introduce myself as to strangers. However, I decided to publish under my legal name, "Victoria," because it sounded professional. I liked the flow of four syllables into my two-syllable surname. And although I will always say my name is "Tori" when asked, "Victoria" is my given name. It's a part of my identity. It's the name I sign, and it's the name that will be etched into my tombstone when I'm gone.
Now I'm wondering if I chose wrong.
Should I have published under "Tori" or "Tory" because it is unisex? Because an editor or agent reading my name in the signature of my submission would not know my gender? I wonder if I should have chosen the option that allows me to hide the fact that I am a woman.
I hate that I must wonder that. I hate that my work will be preemptively judged—by editors and readers—before they have read the first line. I hate that the words in my byline color the words of my story.
My freshman year of college, I took a writing class in which we regularly workshopped each other's pieces. When your story was being discussed, you were to sit quietly and listen. No interjections. No, "But it means this. You just don't get it." No adding to or changing the words on the page.
The work was to speak for itself.
Now I'm told that my work cannot speak for itself, that my name above the story will always alter the reader's perception of it. I am told that my identity as a woman not only affects others' perception of me, but of my work as well. I am told that unintentional bias and gender-expectations will change the way readers respond to my work.
And there is not a thing I can do about it.
Catherine Nichols' is not the first piece of evidence I've seen regarding gender bias, though it is likely the most striking. Amanda Filipacchi discusses the differences between male and female author photos. Nicola Griffith presents upsetting data regarding the lack of female authors winning literary awards. Peter O'Dowd realizes his own personal bias against female authors, reading 22/149 books written by women over a decade.
The problem is so pronounced that some presses, such as And Other Stories, are pledging to publish only women in the year 2018.
So you tell me—what is the solution? Should female writers publish under male names to dissuade gender bias? Should we all dress in overalls so no one can tell the difference? Should everyone sacrifice their names and identities in favor of initials?
How do we fight bias so deeply ingrained that the biased are unaware of it?
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