The Sexist

James Chartrand’s Constructed Masculinity Goes Far Beyond the Pen Name

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Yesterday, career Web guy James Chartrand admitted that "he" is a woman, actually. Chartrand said that after she adopted the male pseudonym several years ago—one that sounded like it "might command respect"—she did command respect, and began to ascend from struggling single-mom writer to respected male Web entrepreneur.

In light of the news that Chartrand is a lady, I am struck by some of the more masculine touches Chartrand inserted into her crowning achievement as James Chartland: The Web development team "Men With Pens."

But first, a bit of feminist review. Upon reading Chartrand's coming-out piece, The Frisky's Jessica Wakeman took issue with Chartrand's decision to obscure her gender to get ahead: "Honestly, there is something rather Uncle Tom-y about Chartrand hiding behind the opposite gender," she wrote. "By assuming the identity of a male writer, she skirted the discrimination against women entirely while doing nothing to change womens’ lot. She just left the glass ceiling standing there, rather than shattering it." Meanwhile, Broadsheet's Kate Harding saw Chartrand's pseudonym as a reminder that some old-school feminist battles have not been laid to rest: "I get furious when people insist that western women have achieved full equality," Harding wrote. "But even I've bought into the myth of meritocracy enough that my first thought upon learning a female writer massively increased her success by adopting a male pseudonym was, 'Wow, how retro! How Brontë, how Eliot, how Sand.' Certainly not 'how Rowling.'"

Whether you think Chartrand's choice to adopt a male name was anti-feminist or illuminating, you should know that adopting a male name is not all Chartrand did.

* She also adopted a male persona—her biography refers to her repeatedly as "he."

* She also named her company "Men With Pens."

* She also crafted a company logo (above) that looks like it was directed by Michael Bay.

* She also slipped this line into the bio of one of her employees, copywriter Taylor Lindstrom: "She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club."

* She also introduced Lindstrom to the blog as "perky," "adorable," and capable of cooking and cleaning. (In introducing a male employee to the blog, Chartrand described their relationship as "bromantic," one in which the Men With Pens "could be laid back together, chink beers and not argue over the remote control").

* She also regularly used photos of naked women to illustrate her posts.

* She also occasionally essentialized women—"all the women" loved Jerry McGuire, Chartland wrote—while conveniently placing herself outside of the gender categories she set for them.

* She also used a photograph of a man silencing a woman with his hand as the logo for a "Men With Pens" role-playing game. When a few commenters noted that the photographed failed to create an "inviting community for women," Chartrand replied: "Photography is very subjective. You see a woman being terrorized. I see a man helping a woman stay quiet so he can save her life."

* She also penned this post—amazing, in hindsight!—which instructed "mommy bloggers" to stop "whin[ing] about being stereotyped" and begin welcoming male commenters in their spaces:

On the few occasions that I’ve risked my balls to post a comment on a mommy blog, I noticed my comments were skipped over as if they (I?) didn’t even exist. Sometimes my comments get a sharp, snappy, “piss off” kind of remark in reply. Sometimes I’m absolutely bashed, and I have a hard time figuring out why.

. . . I don’t understand making male readers and participants feel unwelcome. I know plenty of mothers who blog and who come off as. . . . well, bloggers who are mothers. They don’t perpetuate the stereotype of a frazzle Mom trying to work in a household of chaos. They don’t try to shave the balls of all males who dare to visit the blog. They don’t discount opinions from men. Everyone is equal. They blog, they work, and they raise their children.

So . . . Chartrand claims to have testicles in order to avoid being lumped in with all those whining, stereotypical mommy blogs, and then she has the nerve to insist all the lowly female bloggers let her into their club? Chartrand, of all people, knows that everyone is not equal on the Web. Chartrand herself pretended to have a pair of balls because she found her work perpetually discounted, insulted, and ignored by men. Men (and people who assume masculine identities) get to have the rest of the Internet. Women get their own tiny little part of it, where women's voices are actually valued. In those spaces, comments about how these women "wield their feminism like a spiked mace" from the one man valiant enough to "risk his balls" to wade into the comments are not welcome. Obviously.

* She also made some shit up! Unlike Brontë, Eliot, Sand, or Rowling, Chartrand didn't use a male pseudonym to get her works of fiction published—she parlayed her name into a successful blog which regularly touched on her life . . . except as a man. Every post that tried to recast Chartrand's personality into a male persona—like this one about how "he" learned to knit back when "little kids don’t know that boys shouldn’t do girl things"—is pretty much untruth. If the sexist blogging world made Chartrand change her name, did it also make her throw in some defensive gender posturing to explain why she—a man, of all people!—would ever take up the feminine pastime of knitting? This is where Chartrand's gender play goes beyond necessity and enters the realm of professional responsibility. Isn't a habit of spinning absurd white lies a bit of a liability for any professional writer?

Of course, "Men With Pens" isn't all gender stereotypes and objectification—mostly, it's just straight-up professional advice for 'net writers. But in light of Chartrand's admission, the more sexist aspects of the Web site are hard to ignore. Are Chartrand's hyper-masculine touches in "Men With Pens" tongue-in-cheek inside jokes? Are they defense mechanisms meant to ward off suspicion that she wasn't really a man? Are they yet another way for Chartrand to use sexism for her own career advantage? Or is this just how Chartrand truly sees herself—as a "man with a pen" who enjoys jokingly categorizing her employees based off rigid gender norms, feels the need to bash mommies, and thinks that naked ladies best illustrate her points?

Chartrand thinks that adopting a male pen name was necessary to make her career. "Truth be told, if just a name and perception of gender creates such different levels of respect and income for a person, it says a lot more about the world and the people in it than it does about me," she wrote. But Chartrand's ruse went well beyond the public's mere "perception" of her gender. She named her company "Men With Pens," for Christ's sake. Are we really expected to believe that financial necessity forced Chartrand not only to take a man's name, but to actively define her career around the fact that she's a male with precious balls she's got to protect from vicious ladybloggers? Or that by doing so, Chartrand was in any way elevating her voice as a woman?

More likely, Chartrand owes her career to a willingness to play into the "boy's club" mentality, not only in the name but in the content of her work. Chartrand responded to Web sexism by becoming a bit of a male chauvinist herself. She created a male space that—while welcoming to female commenters and clients—is, let's be honest, more welcoming to men. That act may have been necessary when she was a single mom scraping by on welfare checks. But now that she's a Web presence of her own, complete with clients, employees, and substantial readership, does she really have to keep perpetuating the guy thing? After all, Chartrand has now managed to shore up more recognition as a woman than she ever could as a man.

  • pmsrhino

    I'll give her the fact that she was doing what was necessary to get by in such a sexist world to take care of her kids. I do think she went to far, but then when there aren't a lot of options for many women and sometimes the path that makes more money gets chosen, even if that path is the more "evil" of the choices. Reminds me of how women will act like men and objectify women just like men (female chauvinist pigs), adding to sexism instead of changing it. Mostly to get by in a world where men rule and women need to liven up or be considered a humorless feminist. Going into a "man's" field, like writing or business or pretty much anything that pays well enough to support a family on one's own pretty much requires "balls," quite literally.

    It would have been nice if she didn't go to the lengths that she did, but I can understand. I think bringing awareness to this situation and the situation of many women writers would do much more good than tearing Chartrand down for the choices she had to make to take care of her family.

  • Reid

    That's fascinating.

    Here's an interesting experiment that I often find myself doing without thinking about it: read an article (non-news) without looking at the author's name. After reading it, try and guess the gender. I'd say when I do that I'm right about 60-70% of the time.

    I remember hearing on NPR about a computer program that could read text and guess the gender of the writer with surprisingly high accuracy. Even when the writer was writing about a topic generally considered more associated with the opposite sex. I wonder how that program would've flagged Chartrand's writing.

  • http://seyanen.blogspot.com Minivet

    "Chartrand owes her career to a willingness to play into the “boy’s club” mentality, not only in the name but in the content of her work"

    How is that supposed to work, exactly, when you're a completely unknown writer who can only look for paid work via mail and the Internet?

    (Is it necessary for Chartrand to be a good person/writer for her experience to be taken as telling?)

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  • Former Staffer

    Who?

  • newslang

    stomping all over other women to get ahead herself. that's all i see this as. an attempt to elevate herself by continually bashing and bringing down other women.

    yes, she did this in reaction to sexism, but that in no way excuses that she went above and beyond in an attempt to *be* sexist. does she deserve to be torn down? i wouldn't go that far, but let's remember that she spent ample time on her blog tearing down *women*. there are no excuses for this, especially since she really should have been able to empathize with the plight that mommy and other women bloggers face.

    disgraceful.

  • newslang

    also, she worked pretty darn hard to perpetuate and encourage the very climate that made it impossible for her to receive equal recognition and compensation for her work while writing under her real name.

    that is nothing but harmful to every other woman writer out there.

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  • http://www.livecollarfree.com James NomadRip

    You can all blast her actions in creating such an alternative identity, and claim she did nothing to shatter the glass ceiling. That is one way to look at the situation.

    Or you could say that she has actually done more to bring light to such a continuing problem by showing how she was able to manipulate peoples' biases. By now coming out, she has proven that these problems exist in a powerful and demonstrative way, while most people only sit around complaining (read some of the previous angry comments, for instance).

    She has done more to prove your points about sexism than angry rants ever have or ever will. But again, you can continue to blast her all you like.

  • http://www.misandryreview.com/ John Dias

    As a man, I take note that the stereotypes of males that she used are a poor reflection of what men are really like. Somehow it reminds me of the Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele (who is black), trying to relate to "average blacks" in the culture by giving his blog the title "What Up?" I expect blacks to be chastened by their one-dimensional portrayal by Mr. Steele. And as a man, I look at Chartrand's portrayals of men and feel similarly irritated.

  • http://www.kriscramer.com Kristen

    Reid, the computer algorithm you heard about is called Gender Genie. You can copy and paste an excerpt into the box on the Gender Genie page and it will analyze the piece of writing and assign it a gender rating. I'm not convinced of its accuracy. It consistently rates my writing as male despite the fact that I'm female.

    You can test it on this page by pasting any piece of writing into the box: http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php)

  • KP

    After reading a comment at Deb Ng's blog by Chartrand's former partner in crime I'm convinced we've all been punk'd.

  • fanta

    "Without thinking much about it," Chartrand claims, she fictionalized her resume, lied to her clients and took money under false pretenses...all for the sake of her children, who she shakes in our faces at every opportunity to justify her unethical actions.

    I had no idea children were so handy. If only I'd known, I'd have popped out a few myself.

    But how can we be sure she even has any children? Once she lies about something as fundamental as her gender, why should we believe anything else she says about herself?

    As a woman who made a living from writing for decades before the internet existed, and who continues to write today, I'm infuriated not so much by Chartrand's fraud as by her mealy-mouthed confession of it - a confession she likely wouldn't have made without the threat of blackmail.

    C'mon, James. Tell us another story. You're not really a man OR a woman, are you. You're a dog. (On the internet, nobody knows.) It's not that you write well, but that you write at all. Well, kudos to you, my furry friend! These are ruff times and you've got whelps to feed, so earn that kibble any way you can. Bow WOW!

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  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    Hi Amanda,

    Eh, I'm not as concerned about her initial decision. Commercial writing, and obviously copy writing, already requires a certain amount of "voice" tailoring to fit customer's expectations. It's not like you turn down, say, a piece writing about local community colleges just because you went to an out-of-town university. And I don't think it's that uncommon for writers to try on different personalities and/or pen names for different types of work since, say, an edgy alt-weekly isn't going to fall over itself hiring the same person (or at least the same name) as the person who pens the "what's happening" column for the local home and garden center.

    So when I read her piece I didn't get the impression she was selling out when she tried on James Chartrand. But what she discovered was that once she did something... predictable happened.

    Where it gets interesting though, as you point out, is when she started going over the top with the trying-to-pass macho thing on her Pens with Men's Names blog. I mean, here I am 100% red-blooded hetero XY-chromosome male and I don't think I could have pulled off her kind of macho tone...

    Unless I too tried to fake it...

    Which near as I can tell maybe 95% of other men seem to do when they're going on about what it "means" to be a man.

    I'm not sure why real-life hetero men spend more than a minute worrying about their masculinity. All I know for sure is the more time you spend trying to figure it out, and worse, trying to act into what you think you've figured out, the less of a man and the more of a fraud you become.

    Chartrand proves rather nicely just how empty "what it means to be a man" really is -- based on stereotype she's more of a man than I am!

    Which, if they really cared, might come as a shock to my wife, my children, my friends, my family, and all the women I've been partners with.

    Anyway, from my perspective the social offense continues to be not the fraud she perpetuated but the fraud so many other people guilelessly guzzled as manly-manliness because she so closely resembled all the other frauds they want to believe are the "real" thing.

    Yeah, she's made life harder for women. And in this case she really has made life harder for men too. But in a very narrow sense she's made life a heck of a lot easier for people like me who don't get where gender fits in the natural order of biological sex, sexual identity, sexual orientation, and instantiation with actual partners.

    figleaf

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  • Horst

    All this does is make plain how much (all our) gender posturing is, simply, posturing. No wonder everyone's so upset; Chartrand is putting on a drag show for us! And in public, no less!

    I don't buy for a second the faux outrage at how much harder she's made life for other female writers. Sure, every hyper-macho writer helps "perpetuate the climate", but it takes a heck of a lot of them to do it. One more doesn't make a huge difference. So why is outrage directed specifically at Chartrand? Because Chartrand flouted a norm some of y'all apparently take to be much more important: leaving the macho business to men.

  • http://maximumcustomerexperience.com Kelly

    Amanda,

    As a longtime reader of James'—something rather lacking here in your comments—I feel compelled to tell you of how often women readers complimented James on being a man who finally understood and uplifted them, not someone who was objectifying, bashing, or treating them as lowly. James was not seen by readers as sexist—though sure, you can take apart moments and see them as over-the-top.

    No blog is meant to be read in sound bites. That is a liability when you suddenly find yourself thrust into the limelight, completely against your will. It's easy to comb through many hundreds of posts to look for any point at all that you'd like to make here, and I commend you, because of all the reactions I've read, you at least took the time to do your homework.

    James writes and works for the long term and creates massive value for thousands of men and women readers and hundreds of raving-fans-clients in the process. Thousands of people lead better lives for the employment she provides, the advice she's given so freely for years, and the incredible work she does. Not too shabby for such an evildoer.

    Her kids, by the way, are quite real.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  • tinfoil hattie

    A cheap trick, unworthy of a woman who changed her name and identity because she knows exactly what it's like to be a woman trying to earn a living in our lovely patriarchy.

    What would have happened if "James" had pretened to be a big ol' feminist - refusing to play the boys' games, refusing to act like a stereotype? We'll never know, because Chartrand took the easy, sleazy way out.

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  • iyamwhatiyam

    Wow, this is... entirely awesome, actually. What Chartrand did, that is; not this indignant commentary. I'm a woman and sometimes-writer, one of many who does not write in a particularly "feminine" voice or mode, and I've often considered adopting a manly pseudonym if I were to publish anything. I'm strongly feminist and proud to be a gal, but if I can express a female-friendly viewpoint behind the trusted mask of masculinity, I don't see how that's a conflict of values at all. Much the opposite: it's a sort of literary guerrilla warfare. And when the truth does come out, I think a lot of readers will necessarily find themselves reconsidering their assumptions about skill and gender. As far as I'm concerned, the more often that happens, the better.

  • http://damariasenne.blogspot.com Damaria

    Writers have been using pen-names, adopting male identities or using non-gender-specific names for generations, so I see no problem with James doing the same. i've read her work for years, liked it, and wondered what the secret of her success was. She presented herself as a confident professional who sometimes expressed strong feelings I didn't agree with, but that's the nature of interacting with other people.
    My response to the view that she should have refused to play the stereotype is that, it's fair that we should put the mantle of feminist activist on her shoulders. We are all entitled to make choices. Her life, her choices. and if we feel that more work needs to be done to smash stereotypes, we should do it ourselves, not demand that others do the work.

  • http://damariasenne.blogspot.com Damaria

    sorry, meant not say NOT fair

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  • Gretchen

    THANK YOU!

    I didn't bother to do research into the nature of the blog, but the mere fact that it was named "Men with Pens" made me think that there was something more at work than simple psuedonymity.

  • Rebecca Leaman

    This article astonished me. Does the writer not understand the difference between a business "brand" and the person behind the business? And if James had toiled on in obscurity and poverty, instead of making a success of the business s/he built, would so many people suddenly be shrieking about cheats and betrayals?

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  • snobographer

    tinfoil hattie @15 She probably would have gotten fewer hits and less money, but still more money than if she hadn't pretended to be male. I don't begrudge her taking on a pen name, btw. Just the obnoxious machismo.

  • Darvel J. Silda

    Men with pens. You left out the i. LOL

  • Wendy Schmoolo%9

    I really enjoyed your comments. Keep them coming.

  • Kathy Sierra

    I'm still left wondering why we're all accepting at face value James' interpretation of the result of pretending to be male. I'm not questioning her motives or choices, but when someone demonstrates an ability to consistently sustain a lie (one giant one and, as was pointed out, many little--and unnecessary--"white" lies), I'm going to remain skeptical about virtually everything else they say after that.

    We're treating this like a scientific experiment and accepting her conclusions -- that she changed NO OTHER VARIABLES other than pretending to be male and voila--success. Maybe, as a woman, I'm just hoping there's more to it. But the researcher in me is finding it hard to buy the conclusion that she did NOTHING differently. To me, it seems there are dozens of other variables in play that could explain the change in her success, including just plain old experience.

    Many of us have found ourselves in jobs where as we learned and grew, the only option was to take a new job -- a fresh start -- rather than attempt to change the way our employer/co-workers viewed us. It's certainly true with clients as well. It seems far more likely to me that "James" took the lessons learned from past experience and--emboldened by a new, FAUX persona--reinvented and re-estalibshed herself at a new level. That the new persona also involved a gender switch may be far less relevant than is being assumed. Or perhaps the "now I'm a MAN" was indeed very relevant for "James" in supporting a new set of behaviors, but it was the new behaviors--NOT the gender--that clients responded to.

    Just sayin'... I'm not sure that even James is in the best position to know why things got suddenly so much better after the "switch".

  • Renee

    She did bring an interesting fact to light: Men will get the cold-shoulder in female-dominated circles instead of being welcomed.

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