The friggin cruel fuckery of JK Rowling using a man’s name to write mysteries, is, I hope, not lost on the gatekeepers of Hell. But I digress. Women began using male names or ungendered initials to get published in a man’s world, but why do they do it now? Oh, right. The “reclaimhername” campaign has brought this to the fore recently, with people making understandable arguments on both sides of the issue, so BBC looks into things in a deeper way than my flip comments might allow.
Our education system is partly to blame: the traditional canon, created by men, has tended to focus on men since the novel’s inception in the 18th Century. “Actually, you have a load of women writers being incredibly important in the rise of the novel,” points out Dr Sam Hirst, an associate lecturer and host of free online Romancing the Gothic classes. “By reproducing these narratives – that women couldn’t publish unless they had a male pseudonym – you are completely erasing the existence of all of these other women. You’re reinforcing this incredibly patriarchal and misogynist view of the canon.”
Women published anonymously, pseudonymously and under their own names in the 18th and 19th Centuries; being written ‘by a lady’ actually became a selling point, to the extent that male authors would adopt it. According to research by academic James Raven, almost a third of novels published in 1785, for instance, claimed to be ‘by a lady’. While such anonymity means it’s hard to know exactly how many writers were really men, it’s believed that some deliberately opted for ‘by a lady’ as a sales ploy: female authorship helped indicate that the subject matter would be suitable for feminine readers, and it was women who made up most of the novel-buying market.