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A woman starts a freelance writing service from home.  Her business struggles along.  On a whim, and to distance herself from her struggling business, she chooses a male pen name, James Chartrand.

Her business takes off, earning two to three times the income she earns under her own name.  She wins recognition, and now she’s outing herself as a pseud.

The phenomenon here is reasonably well attested.  J. K. Rowling published under her initial upon the advice of her publisher, if I recall correctly, because of the belief that a book by a male writer would be more appealing to the kids’ market.  Identical resumes with female names have been found to be presumed to be less qualified than their male counterparts.   What’s striking about this particular anedote is both that it’s removed from most of the external forces that would amplify or diminish prejudice and that the outcomes are so stark.  Two to three times as much money!

No doubt that part of the difference in success is simply that success follows success; once James Chartrand had a few nibbles and early successes, he became not merely James Chartrand, freelancer, but James Chartrand, successful freelancer with a proven track record, and she had the confidence that goes along with success.   Even if that were the whole story, however, it’s still interesting how a small difference in her client’s perceptions (it’s tantalizing to speculate what their thought processes were, but I suspect it was mostly nothing more than “this guy looks qualified enough” vs. “I’m just not convinced that her work is good, who else can we look at? ” rather than anything overt) is quite literally the difference between wondering whether she can feed her kids on her income and having enough money to purchase a house.

I note with some amusement that my former employer, the University of Denver, has hired Michael Brown, one of the few miscreants pathetic enough to have failed out of the Bush administration. Brown will teach a class on the Patriot Act at DU’s law school. That said, given that John Yoo is still a member in good standing of the University of California’s faculty, there’s only so much chuckling to be done here.

On a more serious note, Fred Cheever, the associate dean quoted in the linked story above, is actually a great guy and very progressive politically. (He may also be John Cheever’s son. That was the rumor, at least, though I never had the guts to ask him.) I can’t imagine how much all of this pains him. Which suggests that one lesson here is about the Faustian bargains made along the administrative track. They’ll offer you a nice office and a salary bump, sure, but next thing you know, you’re defending the decision to hire Dick Cheney to teach a class on the rule of law.

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