The Female Author has a “Man’s Brain”

We all know there are countless incredible female authors and writers in the world today. We know that a woman can imagine and put in words a vivid story of any genre just as well as any man. So why are there still women who feel the need to write under a pseudonym or initials rather than their full name?
Firstly, a quick history lesson. Between 1830 and 1860 multiple movements began rising up across many different countries asking for the same thing: women’s rights. From Germany to France, to England and America, there were organisations dedicated to creating a more equal society for women among men. Women during the nineteenth century had a very small voice in comparison to the modern woman, with far less rights that we enjoy today, such as voting, working, divorce, legal justice etc. But through small acts in the home and in their communities they were able to plant the seed and nurture the idea that all were equal and deserved equal human rights. This expanded to include those who were segregated into other oppressed groups such as Jews, slaves, the black community and more. They were determined to show that all of mankind was one and should be treated and respected as such. ‘Challenging the limits on their own situation, their approach was inclusive: all would be free or none could be.’ (Anderson 2000) One act of feminism that impacted women the most was through the written word. It was during this time that a female author under the pen name, Ellis Bell, was beginning to publish her works and make her statement to the world in her own way.

The critically acclaimed Wuthering Heights is one of the greatest gothic romances I have ever had the pleasure of reading, it honestly is despite the haters saying it’s trash. When Emily Bronte first published this novel, she did so under the pseudonym, Ellis Bell because it sounded masculine and would mean her novel would receive critical reviews from men. In fact, all three Bronte sisters originally published their novels under male pseudonyms, Ellis Bell, Currer Bell and Acton Bell. They’re writing for the time was not considered “feminine” because it explored themes that women weren’t intelligent enough to comprehend (insert eyeroll). The thing is, it worked. They got published, they had critics read them, eventually leading to their success. It was after this success, and the death of Emily, that the sisters revealed themselves as women.

Gothic novels made a rise in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century with many of them being written by female authors, such as Mary Shelley and her famous gothic novel Frankenstein. It is speculated that the gothic novel became so popular among women as it showed an alternative look at life, with darker, more exciting scenarios than the common household novels at the time, such as Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility. For women who may have been feeling repressed by the constraints of society having these novels of adventure and alternative values would have been a pleasant escape, but also would have given them drive to instigate change. M Kilgour said that, ‘In general, the gothic has been associated with a rebellion against a constraining neoclassical aesthetic ideal of order and unity, in order to recover a suppressed primitive and barbaric imaginative freedom’ (1995).

In terms of literature, women have passively fought for their rights for equality, for the right to education, for the right to be seen to be of the same intellect as men through this medium. When reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the female character Mina is constantly referred as having “a man’s brain” by Dr Van Helsing because of her proficient ability to read, write and organise her thoughts and theories. It seems ludicrous to me that an intelligent woman was once seen as not wholly female but a blessing from God for giving her male organs. ‘In particular, there is the suspicious fact that when terms like “High Gothic” are used, they inevitably refer to a canon that is almost exclusively male, even though women were (and are) the primary readers, protagonists, and creators of the genre. Only recently has serious attention been called to what should have been a striking fact: most of these books are about women who just can’t seem to get out of the house’ (DeLamotte 1990).

It is no wonder that during this period of our history that female authors were cautious when it came to publishing anything that wasn’t typical “feminine works” about household and marital stories. Mary Anne Evans wrote under the pseudonym of George Eliot for her novel Middlemarch. To kill a mockingbird was written under the name Harper Lee, dropping her first name, Nelle, off so that it came across that the author was male. Even Joanne Rowling, used a male name, Robert Galbraith for a time until she decided to change it to her own name. But her publishing house suggested she use her initials instead so that little boys would still want to read it – and so emerged J. K. Rowling. It is sad to see that even in modern days women have had to use male or gender-neutral names in order to publish their works successfully. This idea that because their stories aren’t considered ‘feminine’ that they shouldn’t keep their feminine names is a backwards and ignorant way of thinking. Nowadays women still feel they won’t be taken seriously by men in many aspects of life.

Unfortunately there is still prejudice against female authors in particular genres and a lot of pressure from publishers to use alternative pseudonyms etc. to make more sales. Many men won’t even pick up a book if they see it’s been written by a woman – and they actually tell authors that. Victoria Schwab (published under V. E. Schwab) recently took to her social media to express all of the toxic masculinity she’s faced as a female author when it comes to some men in the industry. She had a fellow male author tell her “pretty girls were meant for pictures”. She also had a guy message her to he never would have read her book if he knew she was a woman. How downright degrading for someone as accomplished as she is to hear. I was utterly heart broken to read this. It made me feel that the last 200 plus years of fighting and proving that women are just as capable literary professionals as men was in vain. What was the point if women – and successful women at that! – are still treated as if they aren’t to the same standard.

Over the last decade or two we’ve seen women publish under their own names, feminine and all, which is slowly helping to change people’s minds. Many of these authors seem to aim at a young adult audience rather than an adult one, which unfortunately has a bad rep when it comes to being considered a literary genre. I’ve read some trash YA that amazed me for even being published or considered good, and I’ve also read some fantastic YA that was written beautifully and had a great concept. The same can be said for every single genre out there. It just seems to be the admittedly mediocre YA which somehow becomes a hit that gives the whole category a bad name. But just because it’s written for young adults doesn’t make it any less than if it were written for adults. People forget that this is also the age group where you have the most influence and impact on a person’s attitudes and beliefs. So really it’s not a bad place to be for female authors to aim for to help gain a male readership. But the fact is, many women still feel pressure to hide their gender so that a wider audience will be engaged, especially when it comes to writing fiction for adults.

All men aren’t actually the devil and many do genuinely love reading work by women and don’t give a rats that they are, or identify as, women (treasure these wonderful creatures). To be honest I even know a few girls who have avoided female authors when it comes to certain genres because they didn’t think it’d be as good (I have also been guilty of this at times). From a marketing perspective being a female writer was a disadvantage to your success for a really long time, and for whatever reason, those attitudes are still impacting industry decisions today. It’s not right, and it’s not fair. We need to actively shed these prejudices off and allow women, as well as minorities but this is a separate subject I will cover later, to be recognised for their equally capable abilities.

It is my hope that, as a writer myself and, as someone who aspires to publish for adult readers that using my full name will not hinder my chances of having male readers. In saying that I have often considered using my initials or a pseudonym when submitting short stories online and for when I am ready to publish my finished novel. I want men to read my work. I want men to read works by women without the preconceived idea that it’s not going to be good. Or that it’s going to be too romantic, or overly dramatic, or too feministic. But I shouldn’t feel inclined to hide my gender at all. No one should, whether you’re cisgender or nonbinary. We should challenge people with these old fashioned mentalities to read more extensively, because it isn’t logical to denounce and/or avoid half of the world’s literature based on prejudices. It really is beyond disappointing that we’re still fighting for people and publishers to take literary women seriously. You wouldn’t judge a book by its cover… so why would you judge a book on its author?

What are your thoughts? Does knowing an author’s gender affect your impression of or expectations for a book? Do you feel that female authors are stereotyped or dismissed still today? Did you enjoy reading this? Let me know your thoughts and opinions because I’m honestly interested to know.


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