The relationship of female writers and the use of initials is not a topic that is new to me. I’ve tackled it before on Anxiety Ink. Please note the comments nearest the end are the really important parts.
I myself am a female writer who writes under initials. I have a couple of reasons as to why I prefer to do so, mainly the world’s inability to pronounce or remember by first name –at least I thought this was my main, valid reason until I read this passage in Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead:
“I used my initials instead of a first name – I didn’t want any-one important to know I was a girl. Anyway, in high school we’d studied an essay by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch which said that the ‘masculine’ style was bold, strong, vivid, and so forth, and the ‘feminine’ one was pastel, vapid, and simpy. Writers are fond of saying that writers are androgynous as to their capabilities, and that is no doubt true, though it is telling that most of those who make this claim are women. But they are not gender-neutral in their interests. Most importantly, they are treated differently, especially by reviewers, however that difference in treat-ment may manifest itself; and sooner or later that will affect them” (Atwood, Margaret. Negotiating with the Dead. Anchor Canada Edition. 2003. 21).
Having read this, and reacted like I was dealt a blow, I think my rationale for writing under initials has much more to do with feminine baggage than my own neuroses over my name. Those are my emphases in the passage by the way. I have never read a woman whose writing I would consider simpy, by the way. Weak prose are a matter for editing, not a fact of nature for women writers.
Anyway, before you set this quote aside as dated or as second wave hogwash –its 2016 after all!– know that just last year I spoke with a woman who decided at the last minute to initial her name on the marketing book she published so that she wasn’t immediately dismissed by male readers as just a woman. She wanted a chance beyond that first glance, she wanted people to read the blurb of her book at the very least before they dismissed it if that’s what they were inclined to do.
Key phrase there: “just a woman.”
Let that sink in. Seriously. It is 2016 and there are still countless female writers out there who either publish under initials or adopt a male alter ego so that they are taken more seriously. Hell, so they are given more opportunities! Don’t believe me? Joanne Rowling not only publishes under J.K. but also Robert Galbraith. And that’s Joanne freaking Rowling!
What are we doing to our women artists that they can’t even feel sure of themselves in their own female skins? It’s hard enough being an artist, it’s damn near close to impossible being a female artist sometimes.
I’ve never in my life judged a book’s content on the gender of the author unless it’s a man that really really demeans the female characters in his work, but that’s a whole other ball game. It appalls me that gender is even a factor. I didn’t even know this was a problem until I hit adulthood. Why is it that kids don’t care who writers what as long as it’s an entertaining story? Why do we slather all of these crazy labels on everything as adults?
It baffles me.