Gender Roles as Writers: Why Tits Really Don’t Matter

When I first found out about James Chartrand’s mythical gender in the Copyblogger post, I was transported to a bit of a dark place. I wrote a post with the title “Why Tits Still Matter” and was generally gobsmacked by the revelation that Chartrand earned more money as a male than as a female writer.

Some time has passed and I have mulled the issue over for a while now. What I came out with on the other side is something very different. I believe it was the experience and confidence, and not the gender, that got the gigs. While I don’t want to argue with James’ assertions, I do believe that experience and voice had a lot to do with her uptick in business.

When I first began freelancing full-time, I had been writing website copy for ten years as a side dish to the many duties of a web designer. I had been formally educated in Creative Writing at a University, even though I did not graduate my near completion of the program at three years gave me a solid grounding in grammar, theory, and how to write clearly for your audience. While both of those things gave me a good start, I was still a babe in the woods when I began my career. In many ways, I still am and probably will be for the next decade or so.

It took me a good couple of years to make the mistakes and garner the experience that it takes to really hit your stride as a copywriter. I would argue that even six months of experience at it full-time will make more of a difference than even four years at an institute of higher education.

Generally if you are a woman, you think that a male voice is a voice of experience, confidence, and authority. I am aware that this is a generalization, and some women may think a male voice is a plaintive baritone that wonders where it put its keys. In any case, if you start writing in the authoritative voice, you are bound to get gigs.

I recently landed a gig writing for a traditionally male market, but a market that I’ve been an active participant in for most of my life. If Chartrand’s object lesson was 100% correct, there would have been no way that I would have landed it. I did, and I have to take it as evidence that women can succeed as female copywriters regardless of market. They just need some experience in that market, and a pair of figurative cojones that allow them to speak decisively about their chosen subject.

Another thing I was doing in my early career was using a passive voice. Self-editing my writing for its use has led to an overall uptick in the quality of my writing. I believe that if you write from a place of lower self-esteem, which you will as a beginner, you are more likely to default to the passive voice. Writing in a “male” voice guarantees that the passive voice will not be used.

Chartrand also mentioned in a CBC interview that she grew up in Quebec, where people who were English were perceived to be more successful than those who were French at the time. She is used to these skewed views on who you are based on the language that you speak, so why not take the logical step to gender? It made sense. It also made me smile because my upbringing in Ottawa made me think that as an Anglophone with just a basic grasp of French that there was no way I could ever work in my home city, an assertion which led me to choose school and permanent residence in Southern Ontario. In effect, I had been brought up with the opposite view and had the poo end of the stick.

In the end, my belief is that you have to have faith in the inherent goodness of the human race. This goodness will nip sexist, racist, or otherwise unpleasant thoughts in the bud and allow talent and not gender to shine through. The final object lesson for me in the whole thing is to write aggressively, write often, and write well. I wish you every success as you try to do the same and thank Chartrand for the opportunity to reflect on some very important questions.

3 Responses to “Gender Roles as Writers: Why Tits Really Don’t Matter”

  1. Nice post. Interesting insight on how confidence as well as experience plays into how we write.

    January 14, 2010 at 10:26 am
  2. Another interesting perspective and one that dove-tails neatly with two that I saw via Friendfeed last week:

    http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/01/a-rant-about-women/ where the author suggests women should be more aggressive in marketing themselves, perhaps to the point of lying (that is a simplification but it’s a long article)

    http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2010/01/should_we_encourage_s/ which asks whether such behaviour actually helps anyone in the long run.

    It’s hard to be deprogram yourself if you have been taught that modesty is the better part. I particularly like the way you have identified confidence as the factor that sell writing. It is hard to drop the passive voice (another great tip) and feel confident, but it is the only way forward.

    January 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm
  3. admin #

    Thanks for sharing both of those links Mary; very important for both male and female writers to read!

    January 19, 2010 at 11:15 am

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