Writing and Gender


Some of you know I chose the pen name “D. D. Syrdal” based on a number of factors, one of which was the idea that using initials instead of a spelled out name would lessen the possibility of being dismissed out of hand as a ‘female’ writer. Many female writers over the centuries have masked their sex with masculine pseudonyms or ambiguous initials. I’ve seen a lot of female writers on Twitter who do the same thing, and because of that I was starting to have my doubts about whether or not it was still an effective ploy. Well, I think I have confirmation that gender assumptions still hold fast. I left a comment on David Brin’s blog a couple days ago in regard to a post he put up after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, discussing whether killers in crimes like that should not be named. Well, here’s what followed:

 

And his humorous response (which I will always treasure):

 

 

Here’s the actual blog post. If I hadn’t been sick when he was in town for his book signing for his latest book, Existence, a couple of weeks ago I might have been able to meet him. He has a great blog for the science-y types, and fans of science fiction. I do recommend it. I’m sure most of you know him as the author of The Postman, which Kevin Costner made into a movie.

I’ll admit I was a bit nonplussed at first, as I’ve never been called “Mr.” before. Now I can’t stop laughing about it. This is exactly why I chose the moniker I did, and now I see it was for good reason.

Still, it’s kind of an interesting commentary, isn’t it?

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16 thoughts on “Writing and Gender

  1. tmso says:

    Very interesting. What I find most interesting about it, is that instead of coming off as bitchy, folks think I am an “authority” on a subject – until they find out I’m female. Once they learn that, you can tell (for both males and females) that I’ve been knocked off my pedestal. Sad, but true. The thing is, I never asked to be put up there. I guess, that’s the way guys are treated all the time? Did you see John Scalzi’s blog post about how white, males experience life on the “easy setting”? Another sad, but true statement.

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  2. Eric Syrdal says:

    That is interesting D.D. I never thought ( i’m now sorry to admit) about the fact that women would need to do such a thing to avoid unwanted bias/prejudice. I guess that’s a naive outlook to have had in the first place and it really does make me feel rather silly for not having considered it.

    I sometimes forget that people have “hang-ups” like that. Gender has never had a bearing (for me) on whether or not a person is capable in their job. Though I recently had a medical procedure on a “sensitive” area and I had a female surgeon. She said a couple of times during our initial interview that, “if I’d rather have a male doctor……” she would not be offended. I finally stopped her after the third time she said it and told her that as far as I was concerned i had no problem with her doing it. She relaxed a little after that and told me that she usually has that request from older men…(I assume she meant older than me since I am only 40) and just wanted me to know it was an option.

    On a sadder note though, in my daily job I come across women all the time who are obviously held back/down because they are female. I’ll be working on a broken pipe or something and suddenly get that feeling that someone is watching you.. I’ll look behind me to see them standing in the doorway or craning their neck to see over my shoulder. When I look at them, they’ll shrink away and say….”Sorry, didn’t mean to bother you. I don’t want to get in your way.”

    I’ll usually laugh and say, “You’re not in my way and it doesn’t bother me when people watch me work.”

    Then that will usually open them up like a floodgate and they will start telling me how they want to know how stuff works but their husbands/boyfriends don’t let them fix anything or tell them how to fix anything. So I’ll explain as much as I can about what I’m doing and let them see how it’s being done.

    I’ve never been that way. And it makes it easy to forget that some men still do think that women only have one role. It always makes me a little sad to see how happy they are when I “let” them see what I am doing. It makes you think how horrible it must be for someone you trust and love to hold you back from something you are interested in simply because you happen to be female.

    It’s the principle reason I have worked on my daughter’s confidence since the day she was born. I just want her to understand she is the only person who should ever define her, no one else.

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    • D. D. Syrdal says:

      Loads of women authors have hidden behind male names: George Eliot, all the Bronte sisters had male pseudonyms, and more recently, James Tiptree, Jr., after whom a literary award is named, was the nom de plume of Alice B. Sheldon. She kept it secret for a really long time. As a science fiction writer especially in the time she was writing, female writers were not taken seriously. Robert Silverberg publicly wrote that Tiptree could not possibly be a woman based on a writing sample. Hrm.

      And I always hang around and bug the plumbers 😉 I do recall an incident where I’d put a new seat on the toilet in the spare bathroom. My ex was crushed that I hadn’t waited for him to do it. Coupla lousy screws and it was done. But some guys need to own that stuff or their egos are stomped. Sad for them, too.

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      • Eric Syrdal says:

        LOL 🙂 that’s awesome about the toilet seat. Much to the irritation of my boss, I have (once or twice (crosses his fingers behind his back)) even told some of the wives/mothers.
        “You can do this, it’s not that hard. Here, let me show you how so next time you don’t have to call me.”

        Yes yes yes..I know extremely counter productive in a capitalist society..but..the smile on their faces was priceless.

        Did not know that about the Bronte sisters.

        If you don’t mind me asking, how did you come up with your Pen name again? You told me when we first met because I sent you a message thinking that you might be a relative. I remember that wasn’t the case.
        Kindred spirit maybe, but no blood. 😉

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      • D. D. Syrdal says:

        Ah, good for you. Teaching the ladies some minor stuff will likely not cut into your profits all that much. Nothing worse than feeling helpless, I love knowing how to do things.

        Yes, the Brontes went by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell for some early writing. Jane Eyre (Charlotte’s book) was originally published anonymously.

        My own pseudonym comes from my original online moniker, Digital Dame (the Ds) and Syrdal was the name my mother used as a surname when she was a child in Norway. The name of the property they lived on was called Syrdal, and it was common at the time to use the name of property as a family name.

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  3. Susannah Bianchi says:

    That’s certainly something to ponder. Never knew that’s why you chose initials. I just knew I liked how they looked on the page. George Sand came to mind at once. It never occurred to me that I’ll be judged by my sex. Am I naive? I love your writing, plain and simply. I can’t imagine others not feeling the same just because you’re a woman. It’s that Pollyanna in me.

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    • D. D. Syrdal says:

      Thank you Susannah. Sadly, yes, our writing is often judged based on our gender, or criticized more harshly, or dismissed outright. Being female has never really stopped me from doing something I wanted to do, I never really had that dichotomy in my brain that because I’m a girl I can’t do a certain thing. I’m aware of physical limitations that I have (less upper body strength than I wish I had) but if I want to do something and think I’m capable, the fact that I’m a woman will not come into the equation.

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  4. Liz Shaw says:

    I have been called Mr. before. In person. I was bald from chemotherapy, but I still had extremely noticeable secondary sexual characteristics (i.e. breasts) that should have been a clue. I upbraided the young man who was serving me at the pharmacy counter at WalGreens. I told him that part of his job was to help sick people feel better. The next time I went in, I was wearing bright red lipstick, just in case. Same guy still called me Mr. I transferred my prescriptions to a different pharmacy. Ha!

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  5. Ileandra Young says:

    I have two pen names actually and am quite pleased at how ‘unisex’ my other name is. Not only does it mask my gender but my heritage too which I anticipate will have interesting results. 🙂

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    • D. D. Syrdal says:

      Hi Ileandra,

      Hopefully someday, in our lifetime, we won’t need to use pen names for those reasons. Until then, I have to say it is kind of fun creating a whole other persona. Many writers use different names for different genres that they write in, for marketing purposes. Of course, when we’re hugely famous we won’t worry about all that 😉

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