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