21 December 2009

Just Call Me Chris

Trying to stay positive has kept me silent for a few days. I don't want to bitterly wax on about the big issues of the day, adding to the din when there is little to add. I must remark on something I saw today, though, that reflects a less obvious but not less important issue.

I read in an article on AOL entitled "What's In A Name? Big Profits, Apparently" that a stay-at-home mom began using a male pseudonym to see if she was able to land more copywriting jobs. She did. She pitched the same jobs with the same terms using her real name and her fake name, James Chartrand, and the male name got the jobs. Newsweek also interviewed her to get the scoop on her now-successful copywriting business, and she said, "... I assumed, if I choose a male name I’ll be viewed as somebody who runs a company, not a mom sitting at home with a child hanging off her leg.” She got more assignments and got paid more. Once she had a few assignments, she sometimes would tell people the truth, and they didn't care, but that's only after she had a chance to prove herself under a man's name.

Every company who received both her pitches and hired her male persona for more money is liable for sexual discrimination, but what would a lawsuit really solve? It wouldn't end the clear biased belief that men perform better [ahem, in the workplace!] than women, especially when those doing the hiring have nothing against a woman once she's proven herself. It seems that the burden continues to be on women to prove themselves to be not just equal to but better than men.

This reminds me of the affirmative action debate. How does one overcome adversity and prove one's self qualified when others who have been privileged with better educations, better contacts, or even just a better wardrobe are competing against them? Historical disadvantages linger through the generations, and women haven't even had the vote for a hundred years yet.  Anyone who believes that working hard alone will lead to achievement is either ignorant or delusional. One must work hard with a plan, and not just a plan of accomplishments but a plan that includes putting oneself in the right places and meeting the right people and suffering the prejudices of others that come along the way. The story of James Chartrand frustrates me because it exemplifies the discrimination still active in the business world, but it also shows how this one woman's plan to get herself noticed worked. She just needed to get her foot in the door. This is a perfect example of how business is more than just a business plan and a product or service; it's about maneuvering in a world of injustices and inequalities to come out on top, or at least rise above the bottom. My ideal world consists of ethical businesses and constructive government, but in reality, we all have to work the system sometimes to get to a point where we can compete fairly, and sometimes that means hiding one's gender or sexual preferences or tattoos or whatever. It's not right, it's not fair, and it should change, but it's real. That the story has been picked up by multiple news outlets and enraged women everywhere means that things can change and probably will, if we keep shouting loudly enough.

As for the pay differences, well, that's just criminal, but in the world of writing, one gets paid based on how much of an audience one attracts, and if James Chartrand attracts more of an audience than a female name, well, James gets more mula. Sometimes the only way to enact change to is spend change. Tell your favorite publications you want more women, minorities, or whomever writing, and eventually they will listen.

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