Thanks to a reader for sending me a link to an article about a woman who had a lot more success finding work as a writer/editor with a male pseudonym than when using her own name, for the exact same work, which was entirely transacted online.
The comments are interesting too. Most are very supportive, but then there are some others.. there are always those others. Some of those others say that using a male name to conduct business (in this case writing/editing) was deceptive and that people who enter into a business contract have a right to know things about the person with whom they are contracting their business.
But what are these things that one needs to know, other than some obvious things about professional qualifications, and do these things include gender? I see no legal or ethical reason why someone hiring a copy editor or technical writer needs to know the gender of the person being hired. Do we also need to know the race, religion, weight, and hobbies of those with whom we do business, especially if that business involves no in-person contact and these characteristics (and our opinion of them) are irrelevant to the tasks involved in the business transaction?
For some in-person professional relationships, it does matter. For example, some women request female doctors when seeking medical care. I think that is fine and is a different category than, say, having a gender/race preference for an airline pilot (or professor).
In the specific case of working with writers/editors, I often interact (entirely electronically) with editors and technical writers in other countries; in many cases, I do not know whether they are male or female because I am not familiar with the names in those countries. I can't imagine why I would need or want to know their gender, or they mine, as long as we all learn to adopt some non-offensive modes of address in communicating in writing with strangers.
Just last week I got yet another "Dear Sir" e-mail request from a person in another country for some information about my research. The fact that my correspondent did not recognize my name as female is understandable, but the assumption that scientists are male is obnoxious, and hence my advice to avoid gender-specific greetings in letters.
Furthermore, most of us know people with names that are ambiguous as to gender, whether by choice or their parents' choice. I have some female friends whose parents gave them traditionally male names, albeit with somewhat unusual spelling in some cases. Are these women obliged to inform everyone that they are female, no matter how irrelevant it is to their correspondence or business transactions? Perhaps their e-mail can be set with automatic stamps that say "This e-mail was sent by a female person". Is this more/less/just as relevant as knowing that someone sent you an e-mail from their iPhone?
Names give some information about a person, but in many cases names -- first or last -- don't give as much information as we might think. Consider all the women who change their last names when they marry. A cousin of mine recently acquired through marriage a certain ethnic heritage previously entirely absent from our family, and my step-mother-in-law, who is African-American, has a last name (acquired through marriage) that takes people aback when they meet her in person. So what? Are my relatives and others deceiving people by using these names?
In those cases, my answer is no. In the case of this particular blog, however, it is of course essential that someone who calls herself FemaleScienceProfessor be female because it would indeed be deceptive if I were not female. I want my readers to trust that I write from experience (unless otherwise noted), so it is important that I be (1) a professor, (2) a scientist, and (3) female.
But what if I had a blog that was entirely about cats? If I were not writing it specifically from the point of view of what an FSP thinks about cats, I should be free to call myself whatever I want.
9 years ago