What’s In a Name?

Photo credit: "sexism..." by peragro. Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Yesterday, I was asked by a Twitter follower why I didn’t choose to change my name on my online work. She asks because I am most well known online at this point for an experiment I did at my old technical writing job three years ago—I switched email signatures with my male coworker, and it went about the way you would expect. My article on workplace sexism that went viral back in March is making the rounds again, because Fast Company did an awesome profile on two women entrepreneurs who invented a fake male coworker in order to be taken seriously over email. A whole new round of women are reading it and finding validation for their own bullshit experiences, a whole new round of men seem to be discovering that sexism exists for the first time, and a small batch of freelancers and entrepreneurs want to know how I did it.

Specifically, a lot of folks have asked why I didn’t take the results of my experiment, and just live in it full-time to boost my freelance blogging and copywriting career. I could easily take a male penname, or even just initialize my bylines to make my gender ambiguous. I know what would happen—I did just that at work, three years ago. My clients would get more respectful, I would be able to charge more money, and everyone would suddenly find me a whole lot smarter and more talented.

Back when I was writing resumes, when the whole experiment began, I was asked by my clients constantly—”do you think I should try to hide on my resume that I am black, or latino, or gay, or trans?” I eventually wrote a canned response that I sent to every one of them. “That’s a totally personal choice. But consider that you may not want to work for a company that is anti-black/latino/gay/trans.”

When I first started my freelancing company, I hesitated for a long time on my portfolio website. I could put on that privilege again as easily as I put on a jacket by just being “N. L. Pieri”. I wouldn’t even have to lie. Most would assume that I was a man, and if they found out differently during a phone call or a meeting, well, that was on them. But I remembered the advice I gave my old clients, and I remembered that I left that company in the first place so that I would no longer be forced to appease a sexist asshole for a paycheck. Christ, if I wanted that again, I could go work for Uber.

That’s why I decided to keep my real name. Not so much out of a desire to live the Sheryl Sandburg brand of corporate feminism, where I “live my truth”, but because I was well and truly tired of working with assholes. I’ve been working full and part time jobs since I graduated high school, and one thing never changed: when there is a man in charge, and there is always a man in charge, he will never fail to put you in your place and keep you there—regardless of your talent, your work ethic, your results, or your loyalty. If that hurts you right in the #notallmen, then I assure you that I will amend this statement just as soon as even one of you proves me wrong.

From subtle gendered bias all the way down to prosecutable sexual harassment, I have dealt with it all with a fake smile stapled on my face, and I was done. The fuckboys of capitalism had finally driven me out of the formal economy, and I was no longer interested in improving their bottom lines for them. I would write, and succeed or fail, as Nicole.

That’s just one possible decision out of many valid ones. I’ve known women who love writing under a pen name, and have loved the freedom to have their work speak for itself. As for me, though? Men have been taking credit for the shit I do my whole life. I’m not going to sit here and write for a fake one.  

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