Thoughts: Women and Writing

Sahm King at the Arkside of thought did a post today that I found not only relevent to poetry but to women’s place in society and in particular, the arts.

We’ve all been aware that J.K. Rowling recently wrote a crime novel.  We also know that she wrote under a pseudonym.  She did this probably in order to test her writing abilities and in order to pass from the Harry Potter era to something completely different.

She was betrayed by someone in her law firm (who has had to pay her damages by the way).   By blowing her cover, her book which was a slow seller became an over-night success on the strength of her Potter reputation.  Old news.  The real question is not that she wanted to try to publish without her Harry Potter success pushing the sales of her new book.  The question is why did she choose to publish as a man.

It was because of the genre of the book.  American and English publishers are convinced that women writing Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime and similar genres will not sell.  I’d like to think that they are only afraid of missing out on their male buyers because they’ve been written by a woman, however I’ve a sneaking feeling that even female readers would have their doubts before buying a crime novel written by “Mary Mercy”.

Women have been pigeon holed.  Women are good at writing romantic stories or children’s stories.  How much more so since the invention of Chick Lit, for pities sake.  Thanks to Emily Dickenson, women can also write poetry and hope to be published if their poetry is feminine enough.  A poet from the Iraqi war zone publishing about the horrors of war, might not get published if that poet is a woman.

Some interesting reading:

I’m Sorry, But Your Poetry Just Ain’t Girly Enough by Sahm King

Why Did J.K. Rowling Use a Male Pen Name For her Crime Novel on Policymic

What’s in a name? Why authors use pseudonyms? on DW (a german e-zine) This article states that on the whole women publish crime books and are sold in Germany without any particular problems…but read on.

Have anything to add?


30 thoughts on “Thoughts: Women and Writing

  1. I write under this pseudonym primarily because I have no allegiance to the surname with which I was born with, and many people have nicknamed me Lilith since my vampire fetish began :p

    Yet I do find when I write more hardcore, profane poetry or prose that I DO get some backlash, thinking I’m not being “ladylike” or being “inappropriate.” Yet that’s mainly from family so I guess that doesn’t count, still I see quite a few disparities in gender when it comes to entertainment in general. It’s almost we’ve gone BACKWARDS in our thinking…..


    • Yeah, family doesn’t count. But will agree about the entertainment industry, here if a woman wants to go into TV or cinema it’s more about her boobs and butt than anything else. Though women singers seem to have their fair share of the market. Toted writers tend to be male, except again for sentimental and romantic stuff…that’s all female.


  2. I’m gonna be in trouble now…
    The article you linked to by Holger Ehling makes some good points. When he talks about women using male names to publish being a “centuries-old literary tradition,” I’m shouting, “Break the tradition!” It is old and moldy and rotting, and created by (excuse my generalization, which is really a fact) wealthy white males. I won’t even begin to name the wrong/evil/bad/hurtful things done under the guise/excuse of “tradition.”
    As, Ehling states, in the past “alternative identities have been adopted (by women) for more serious reasons: to avoid persecution… (and)…so that they could publish their works in the first place.” Making money was a bi-product, not a reason.
    Melissa Hugel’s article pins J.K. against the wall (in a very friendly way). Sure, use a different name, rather than your famous one, to see if your writing holds up in a different genre. Makes sense. But a male name? According to what I have read, JK already bowed (sold out) to her publisher and took the female (Joanne) out of her name.
    The only way to change “traditions” is… to change them! In 2013, you and I will not be publicly or privately persecuted. If “traditional” publishers refuse our female-authored (traditionally) male-genre book, then we find a smaller publisher or go indie. If you are so starry-eyed to believe that the only way to make money on your book is to use a male name, well, keep dreaming, because statistics show that very few of us will make enough to support ourselves by selling books of any genre, by either gender.
    JK had no fear of persecution, no worry her book would never be read by the public. Instead, she used a male name and didn’t sell much, then oops, her secret was leaked and she sold her book in incredible numbers. Hmmm.
    Yet, JK sat in a perfect position to actually begin breaking with tradition. What if…JK picked a female name? No matter the amount of her sales, it would have been a great opportunity for her to initiate a conversation about the “centuries-old literary tradition.”
    As it stands, JK will never know if her writing in a new genre holds up or not. I think that punishment fits the crime perfectly.
    Thanks for asking the question, Georgia.


    • Great comment! I’ll agree it’s a hard field to break into, and so much more now with the millions who are publishing on line and through their blogs etc.
      And I agree there are a lot of things traditonally done that should be chucked out the window. I hate it when someone tells me: I’m used to doing…. or I’ve always done… Lives have been ruined, people killed etc thanks to that lame assed excuse.
      I also agree that Rowling could have done something really postive for women as a whole, but didn’t really care to do so. It’s been said she doesn’t need the money but wanted to test her writing abilities…so she might have just tried testing them while testing the system, after all her publishers published her so what the hell.
      I’ll shout with you…let’s break with “traditon” and to hell with the oligarchy that rules all things for profit only. Better indie than disguised as a male.


  3. As far as I know, it goes even beyond the ‘genre’ issue… men just don’t tend to read female authors, full stop, while women do read books written by men. So, to capture the maximum audience, publishing under a male pseudonym confers advantages.


    • And confirm tradition. I know, what you’re saying and I think you’re probably right too.
      Women have had little choice in the matter since they began reading…unless they want to read only “Chick Lit” or harmony books or gothic romantic novels etc. Still I agree with Patti Hall, if someone like Rowling, who could have come out of the closet doesn’t, there’s little hope for women artists. I use the word artists because the same problem exists even in other forms of art.


  4. Traditional Publishing has been an old boys club forever and while it has change a bit the same stereotypes exist in the industry but there are women that have pushed those glass ceilings. Nin for example pushed boundaries by writing some of the best erotica (taboo for women to write about at the time) in the Fifties. But it seems for the most part women for some reason can’t shake the stigma of being a woman writer… Critics of Mary Shelly say her husband Percy had a hand in her writings. Having read both I don’t believe this is true. The voices are distinctly different as well as use of language…


    • It’s and old prejudice that’s slow to die. Unfortunately, women themselves often stigmatize themselves and other women. Even in the art world of the past, a woman was able to enter her foot in the door because she had a husband or lover who sponsored her and it’s often been the same in other fields. The main problem is that after millenium of being downtrodden and held back the general change of attitude cannot be “fixed” even in 5 generations…and it’s a global problem.


  5. I’m really happy to see you write about this, Bastet! Only yesterday I was reading a book about women in Ancient Greece and I found out that the funeral speech of Pericles, written down by Thucydides, one of the most famous pieces of writing from that time, could have at least partly been thought up by Pericles’ concubine. How ironic: this famous speech about the Greek democracy and its soldiers and the possible collaboration of this woman, Aspasia, a concubine and a foreigner. (Plato was one of the writers to allude to her helping write the oration; this isn’t some 20th century feminist conspiracy.) So I can only say: it looks like this has been going on for a very long time.


    • Oh it’s been going on for a very very long time, which is why it’s probably going to take a very long time to be overcome. My only “worry” is that knowing how history works and the ups and downs of fortune, that there will be some other terrible shift and our relatively open age will pass out of history and women will once again just return to being mothers and housekeepers, closeted in their homes and denied access once again to the agora…unless a concubine to some nob and a foreigner to boot.


  6. Wow -I must admit this is something I’ve never thought about – but it is a disturbing reality that needs to be faced. Oh well, no-one is going to make me write under a man’s name, so if that means I don’t sell as well as I might, so be it…the world really lives up to that saying ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’. 😦


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  9. Dear Bastet,
    I think that enough time has passed now, that you are no longer considering my previous post (around 09/07) here for view. I don’t believe that I was rude, vulgar, or otherwise socially unacceptable…I also find it amazing, when >writers< censor me… Would you care to at least enlighten me as to your reasons for dismissing my post…I learn from knowing the errors of my ways. Constructive criticism is preferred, though not absolutely required…any information/response, may be better than none.



    • To Malikoma: I did post your answer, but not where you could have read it as you don’t folow this blog. Here is where you can read it: .
      I’ve been getting some snarky comments as well as some very nice one’s from people promoting their porn sites, I wasn’t sure how to handle you as you are anonymous. As I say in my post linked here, once approved here on W.P. always approved, unless you want to go through each comment individually every time, so I’m cautious on a first time approval. I dismissed your comment on the post because you are anonymous and obviously wish to remain so, but I posted your comment in my weekly newsletter asking what my community had to say about said comment. Spam is becoming a big problem here. I have to spend a lot of time getting rid of it. So if you’re legit, I’m sorry you got foisted onto the newsletter, but know, your comment was read and people knew which post you were commenting.


      • In short, thank you very kindly Bastet!
        In protest of other issues, I had removed my original Gravitar…avitar; I’m not sure if that is what has created some confusion? I can assure you you that I am in fact legitimate…or at least that I am not a ‘spammer’ or of any source of ill repute…as it were.

        I must first apologize for probably coming off as a tad indignant…a presumption on my part that I was censored.
        And, that I was perhaps a bit too edgy in my initial commentary.

        I know, all too well the hazards and frustrations with the spamming parties, and I don’t fancy any better their content. Why I failed to consider this in my protesting query to you…I have no answer.

        While I’m not a novice to online community-exchange’ I seem to be a bit befuddled by this particular format.

        I am the rather extemporaneous ‘shy’ sort that you refer to in your newsletter…shyness for me should not be construed as bashful, but certainly a reservation on traditional roles. And, as far as extemporaneous goes…while I do tend to just ‘happen’ in my comments…please be assured that it is usually with much thought, following much inspiration.

        I’ll admit that I don’t understand the reference to “ad hoc Gravitar”, and I’ll be much obliged for anyone to enlighten me.

        I believe that I’ve said quite enough for the moment…I hope to be worthy of participation here.
        Peace be with you all, and may the next rising tide be bountiful!
        Humbly yours,


        • Ad hoc Gravitar meant that you registered with W.P. through the Gravitar system for the sole purpose of commenting this post, no address, no blog, and therefore anonymous.
          I don’t appreciate anonymous replies on my blog. I
          In my opinion if you have something to say, you can say it, inside the limits of decency of course, but you should be openly yourself, just like everyone else is here.
          I’ll approve your comment, but you’ll be the exception that confirms the rule. And though I may regret it, I’ll allow your last two comments to pass, as I can always shunt you to the limbo of spam I suppose if indeed the need should arise. 😉


          • Okay, this may help to sort it a bit…oh, and I’m not taking your exception to the rule lightly! Thank you!
            I signed up, with the intention to comment on a (a resurging writer) friend’s WP blog (perhaps early July?)…I failed to see where the option was, to not have my own blog created at that time.

            You see, I had no intentions of starting my own blog…I simply wished to participate, both at my friend’s request, and my own desire…as part of a Friends & Family Support & cheer team…to give my input. WP mandated me to a sign-up. I kept the unintended blog up until a few days ago…thinking that I may put it to use after all. With an already long-standing participation on a forum site, I’ve since realized that I simply don’t have yet the resources of time, energy, or mind to start a new endeavor…so I deleted my WP blog. The Gravitar bit, from my perspective…was in order to have a personalized avatar…I then needed to sign up for Gravitar (it confused me, that I have to sign-in twice to post a comment)…and as stated earlier, I had a bit of a protest…and deleted my personalized avatar…
            Also, I do not participate in any of the social-networking sites…facebook, twitter, and so forth…

            I’m sure that this is all as clear as mud by now 😉

            For better or worse, I attest and swear unto you (not at you;-)…that I am unequivocally openly myself…whatever that may be…help us all! It shall be me, in all of my various forms and conditions…

            Bastet, for lack of better wording…I intuit an energy from you that pleases me! Though I shall not commit to any particular availability, I intend to read more of your work, but if this alone proves to be the remainder of our interaction…I’m very glad to have had this opportunity, in spite of any idiosyncratic nature!

            Thank you!


          • I’ve had people (friends actually) comment to me through their e-mails and i-phones so I didn’t realize that it could be that complicated.
            Thanks for the explanation, it’s appreciated., and if the time arises I’ll be glad to see your comments in future. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

            May peace be with you.



in shadows light - walking under weeping pines - spring rain

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