James Chartrand Got Me Thinking

by Jim Spencer on December 16, 2009 · 36 comments

It’s been 10 hours since I learned that a professional colleague is not who I thought he was.

This colleague authored a post explaining that James Chartrand is really a woman. Yes, my jaw hit the floor.

Graphic and text from the article on CopyBlogger

Graphic and text from the article on CopyBlogger

I read through a lot of the comments  and took the afternoon and evening to reflect and consider how I feel and why.

The Author Wrote

The gist of the story is that James chose a male pen name so that she could earn more money to support herself and her kids.  She found that her day rate doubled and that there were no more, “is that the cheapest price?” comments.  She achieved her purpose.  To accommodate this new nom de plume, photographs of James and client phone calls were largely out of the question.  She trusted a handful of colleagues with the truth however.  In time, one of these confidants got mad with her and decided to “out” her nearly three years after James was invented. This forced the writing of the article that I read this morning.

In The Comments

The comments seemed to be overwhelmingly sympathetic and supportive.  Many focused on how unfair it is that to this day women earn less than men for the same work.  Many applauded her efforts to provide for herself and her kids in what initially sounded like poverty level conditions.  One person even seemed to out themselves for being gay in response to this post.  Clearly the post pulled some heartstrings.

How I Feel At the Moment

The word Underpants in the headline gets as close to gender as any article of clothing can.  Initially I thought the headline was pandering to the lowest common denominator. Not sure I have changed my mind quite yet.  I will admit to a clever and effective choice of words.

Trust is something that I seek in business and personal relationships. Without trust my interest wanes very quickly and quietly.  Is the breaking of trust a binary proposition?  Or is trust extremely flexible allowing itself to be twisted and contorted without breaking? Does it depend on the motive, the circumstances or the situation?

hermself watching hermself being hermself

Man or Woman

I agree that it is unfair that women earn less than men for the same work.

It is also unfair that one person may earn $20 an hour while another may perform the same task for eight cents a day.

Do you think integrity has a price?

If others will be following the example of James, will this be good for society?  I am not thinking of millions of women representing themselves as men, but a more generic thought of misrepresentation for financial gain.

Could there be some good to come out of this “outing”?  Maybe there will be, indirectly.  People get thinking and reassess positions all the time.  This could be one of those times.

I do not hope that others repeat this approach.  Pretending something to gain advantage over others is not to be encouraged.

Summary

There has been a breach of trust the severity of which I am still considering.  I seem to want to run towards James and away from James at the same time.  I don’t want to be feeling tricked and also don’t want to feel that nothing has changed.  Situations have a unique meaning for each of us based on our own experience and point of view.  What do you think, has a trust been impaired in this case?

Conclusion

Maybe my conclusion for today is that equality is an over-riding principle that is more important to me than feeling a breach of trust with one person.  It would have been more comfortable to see equality brought up without a breach of trust.  How do you feel about it?  Any of it?

December 16

Thinking about the handful of people at Men with Pens that James worked with day to day, I am assuming that they had to make a choice to maintain the confidentiality of who James is.  A bit of a burden it seems to me.

What about James?

I have to think that James is immensely relieved to be out from under the burden of maintaining the James Chartrand identity.  What a relief.  I imagine relief must exist for anyone else that was “helping” James maintain this 3 year old secret.

We all have our gifts.  We work with what we have been given.  Some work harder than others.  Why would I want  and take what is not mine?  That would go against the grain of the fundamental principles of  Truth and the tenants that maintain order in our lives.

A Bigger Context

Absent

Feeling Deceived

Think about the premise of the dot com bubble and the mortgage debacle.  The foundation of both was misrepresentation.  What  a terrible choice. What a terrible price to pay.  The foundation of dishonesty is never stable and always crumbles. History demonstrates this.

When a story is crafted to excuse dishonesty we have to be sharp.  Situational ethics is a slippery slope.

There must be a reason that the old adage says “Honesty is the best policy.” 

The hardest choices, the times when it is most tempting to not be honest, are the times that build character and strengthen us just enough to overcome the next temptation and continue being honest.

Getting out from under a lie places one in an excellent position to move forward with integrity.

More Ideas

The primary issues here are not feminism, gender bias, women’s rights and so on. James had no interest in addressing these social concerns.  Her motive was to increase her earning power.  She would have served gender issues issues far more if she had persevered and reached the level of success she desired as a woman.

Let’s not forget the many women that saw these same gender biases and barriers for what they are and overcame them.

Whether he or she, green or white, tall or short James’ quality of work remains as it has been, good work. That has not changed.  I certainly continue to work with all types, based on performance. I don’t even get to meet most of the people I work with, both clients and colleagues.

It seems many commenters on CopyBlogger  feel that the ends (stirring conversations on gender bias) justify the means ( living under a lie). What do you say?

This is well said, “if the only way that a copywriter can figure out how to sell services is by being dishonest, well, then, that’s probably not the kind of person I want to work with.” by attorney Carolyn Elefant

December 17, 2009 – Pricing Theory or Gender Bias

Yeah I am still thinking about this.

Money

Money

Pricing Theory is another angle on this story that I have not seen discussed.  The perception of value in some markets increases as the price goes up.  There is also a corresponding assumption of authority, quality and experience as the price increases.

Think about attorney fees.  The fee may be an hourly cost of $150, $300, $400, $650 or any other number a lawyer cares to charge. You can test this out yourself. One day tell prospects that you charge $50 an hour. The next day tell them that you charge $150 an hour. Let us know what happens.

Also when someone is paying what they consider a higher rate I think that they generally trust that person more.  They are hiring an expert and will meddle less frequently if the project moves forward as expected.

If you charge more you will earn more. Makes sense to me.  Maybe pricing has more to do with increasing income than gender does.

If you see yourself as a lowly work-at-home part-timer you are not likely to charge as much as if you see yourself as a hot shot writer whose star is rising.

December 18, 2009 – Harry is Deb

I think it is fair to say that Harry was the design genius behind Men With Pens.  Turns out that Harry is a gal too.   I found her story here and it is worth reading.  Her name is Deb Dorchak and she started a new company in November or December named Sirius Grahpix along with three other women.

I wonder how much the decision to leave Men with Pens (note: Deb left prior to the CopyBlogger article) was due to the super-charged “personas” that the two of them had maintained over the years.

Thank You

A heartfelt thank you to each person that has come by and read and especially those that managed to leave a comment on this subject. I recognize it is not easy for some people.  There are many issues and angles involved.

Oh, and don’t miss the comments below. Some of the best stuff here is in the comments.

December 21, 2009 – Seeking More Wisdom

We each face our own challenges in life.  For some people they have challenges in common with others, like gender, race or religion, while others are individual, one of a kind even.  Either way the challenges have to be met and overcome. How we each choose to do this defines us.

I prefer to see more unity and equality among all humanity.  I am not convinced that taking sides on the subject of bias brings us closer to that harmony and equality. Opposite teams generally means an outcome with a winner and a loser.  Discussing harmony or equality, examining it, explaining it and most of all understanding it and living it will do far more good than discussing the problem and its roots ad infinitum.

It was Einstein that wrote, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Revolution

I am thoughtful of the fact that this country was founded through revolution.  The United States has experienced a number of revolutionary changes in its short history. Women and slaves used to be property.  In some cases a head of cattle had more rights.   The woman’s suffrage movement required 70 years before women could vote. Similar advances for all people have been happening and continue to happen in countries all around the globe.

Be inspired for a moment by the many historical agents of change and grab a hold of a positive way to support harmony and equality in your day to day life.  I will be with you shoulder to shoulder moving forward.

Harvard Business Review

HBR has an article on Women CEO’s today.  Reports of modest progress and common frustrations.

7 Tweets

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Casey Cheshire December 16, 2009 at 2:35 am

You’ve identified the biggest issue here correctly- it’s trust. The severity, based on harm done, seems minor. Lastly, a vendor is paid the amount where budget and asking price connect, independent of the gender of it’s principal.

2 Emma L. Devlin December 16, 2009 at 3:17 am

It’s hard to know what to think or how to feel about something like this. I read James’ story and I have to think there is more to it than she is revealing. I least I hope there is.

I’ve revealed to many, on a defunct blog, that I’ve been homeless. I’ve been in that desperate situation where a person will do almost anything to crawl out but I never lied about anything essential to me. I never lied on my resume. I certainly never pretended to be a man.

Wrapping my mind around what James has done is further complicated by the fact I have an alter ego. My alter ego is far more popular and accepted than I am. I’ve no way to be certain but I am pretty sure I would not have made connections I’ve made or be as well loved in within my circle of social media (where this alias exists) under my actual identity. I know how intoxicating it can be to have people appreciate me, want to know who I know, hear what I say and sometimes get defensive in their protection of me. Still, I know it’s not me, even if it really is. They always have known. Guinea pigs can’t type.

My alter ego is to shield my personal self from my professional life. I would never consider doing the reverse. With James’ revelation that whole premise becomes complicated. I want to be able to speak my mind, have a forum for my thoughts, get feedback from others and learn. But not be Googled. Surely, this must be different? I’ve adopted my alias so I can still be me, while I go about my work in my real life. The difference is, no one who knows my alias thinks it is real.

Maybe that is the key to why this is complicated for me. I’m sorry if James’ wondered if being female was holding her back. I was in tech before most women knew that was short for technology. I was in loss prevention and security before most other women dared enter the field and I had better apprehension records than the men. I had my own contracting company, employing men because there were no other women to do the work. I am not a feminist. I am a survivalist. I do what I can to get by. None of that has involved being anyone but me.

When it comes to business, I want trust. I don’t want to backtrack and try to remember what I represented to one person and what I represented to another. I couldn’t do that. It’s a wonder James could for so long. She sure has a leg up on me.

3 Marte Cliff December 16, 2009 at 4:07 am

I don’t know.

I’m still blown away by the fact that gender matters in copywriting. I think it definitely should if the subject matter was decidedly male or female. It annoys me when people write about things they can’t possibly know anything about.

Aside from that, the whole idea made me feel like society hasn’t progressed since before women had the vote.

But – you have some kind of professional relationship with James and I don’t. So I’m not feeling any betrayal of trust. If I did, I might also have strong feelings.

I wish you success in resolving your own feelings…

4 the_IRF December 16, 2009 at 6:35 am

Breach of trust? Yes.

In the wild dogs kill that treachery to the pack. Why do dogs sniff each other? Why do all animals do this? Because they are looking to register the health of another. Treachery has a sent to it. So too does betrayal. Understanding where someone is coming from, their true internal persona is how we interpret their words or actions. That is why a phone call or a face to face confluence of personal energy tell our bodies much. Lying can be better done on a phone than in person. Lying can be better done through a computer than on the phone.

What is it that causes betrayal to be so dangerous in the wild? What is the instinct that informs us as our core about this and to avoid the diseased ones who do it?

I don’t blame James for what was done. I do wonder if she realized what she was learning about the male she should have learned to honor. Her attitude spoke more about precious her and how she was hurt and vulnerable. The crowd that responded with concern about discrimination were all the same inadequate bunch that would be used as easy food on the savanna.

They are all stimulus-design beings, not male-souls. There is a difference. Honor has a smell. It is a scent that stimulus-design beings, especially females, cannot use in a sentence. It is something they don’t register.

It is what the gal who built Standard Oil understood about today’s females and why she was so afraid for the country, and angry. As she said to me, “They don’t get it!”

Respectfully yours,
@the_IRF {Twitter}

5 Sophie December 16, 2009 at 11:19 am

I want to tell you what bothers me the most. It’s the lack of regard for the MwP community. The best part of visiting MwP everyday is the comments. It’s a lively, tight, infectious community. The discussions and camaraderie make MwP THE writing blog hangout to be. James showed no regard for the community that is showing a surprising amount of loyalty and understanding. I’m sorry to say I don’t feel the same way.

James proved the impact is more important than the news by telling his tale via Brian Clark’s blog. I feel betrayed by the lie but even more so that he didn’t break it to the MwP community first. “Harry’s” quiet explanation at Deb’s blog made more sense and she showed more class by exiting quietly into the night instead of finding the world’s biggest megaphone.

I may go back to MwP but I don’t think I will ever trust James Chartrand again.

6 jeff selig December 16, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Breach of trust? you would have to ask Tiger Woods about something that draconian. [why they now call him Cheetah]. The entire point of a nom de plume is anonimity which the “author” acheived.

If the work was solid and the rate was fair then no harm no foul, or is the whole lot stinking and reeking of sexism.

I say the latter!

7 Jim Spencer December 16, 2009 at 11:31 pm

@Casey – Trust is the issue, sexism or gender bias is the smoke screen that many are not seeing through. The harm was severe, but not for me as I remain unharmed.

@Emma – Your story should be more of an inspiration for overcoming adversity successfully. There is no one better at being you, than you. We each have that unique gift. Concealing it seems counter productive. Overcoming societal biases/issues seems worthwhile, but not with deception.

@Marte – It is indeed unfortunate that gender, race and so many factors seem to impede a person’s personal development an contribution. Writing the post, reading the comments and thinking things over certainly provided more clarity for me. Thanks.

@the_IRF – Your analogy to the wild kingdom is something I had not considered. I respectfully disagree to any generalizations about what women (or men) can and can’t do. The genders may excel at expressing certain qualities, however they are not the exclusive domain of one gender. Compassion is not restricted to women, nor is strength restricted to only men.

@Sophie – Thanks for that. I had not thought of the MwP community or Harry. I am interested to learn how James chose the CopyBlogger blog to tell the story, rather than MwP.

@SEOSEM – I am thinking this is more than a nom de plume and that sexism is an altogether separate, albeit important, issue.

8 Cam December 17, 2009 at 9:02 am

This is going to sound harsh, but both the original post and the follow up comments strike me as completely disingenuous. The overall tone of the post is that of an apologia serving up what amounts to a sob story of hardship by way of a justification for her deception (and that is precisely what is at stake here). Sophie (above) is absolutely correct in pointing to the writer’s total lack of regard for the community who support her and to which she most definitely depends upon. Throughout the entire post, there is not even a hint of contrition in her words. While I have no stake in any of this, I do find this attitude appalling.

This person implicitly asks us to accept her story as true, all the while “confessing” an elaborate web of deceit. And why? Not because she feels it is time to come clean, nor because she wants to illustrate a wider feminist agenda as many cementers would have it, but because she has no other way out. She was if effect backed into a corner. She outed herself precisely because “someone I trusted got mad and decided to out me.” This does not inspire any great faith in the veracity of her tale.

Furthermore, the whole victim of patriarchy plea doesn’t wash either. Indeed, the writer undermines the entire thread of her argument as she assures us that she is in fact a respectable member of the middle class down on her luck rather than a “hustler”:
“It was ironic. I’d once had a respectable, safe job in a corporate office. I’d had the nice salary, the paid vacations, the opportunity for advancement. I had formal education, diplomas, brains, and skills, and life had been good.”
In other words, a woman who had everything going for her, all the benefits and opportunities that a western liberal education offers, and was successfully making her way through the (patriarchal) corporate world. In the next breath the writer proceeds to inform us that structural inequality is rife in the realm of freelance copy writing. Not true. Inequality, yes: Structural, no. As a male writer, I am only too aware that I have a snowballs hope in hell of making a successful pitch for an article about womens underwear. If I were to employ a feminine non de plume the situation would no doubt change considerably. That’s fine: though it may be unfair, I accept that not all markets are open to me. I also accept that different markets offer disparate renumeration; however, this disparity can by no stretch of the imagination trace a delineation between what is commonly referred to the masculine and the feminine. Interestingly, many women who commented on the post expressed an astonishment that sexual inequality was indeed so prevalent, which, of course, betrays a testimony of its absence due to their hitherto being oblivious of any such thing. It at once amazes and saddens me that one dubious individuals testament can inspire people to believe that nothing has change since the 1950′s. Sorry, but everything has changed thanks to the great struggle undertaken by those involved in the second wave feminist movement throughout the later half of the twentieth century.

This brings me to my final point. The writer of the post makes no attempt throughout the commentary to dispel the the prevailing idea that she is some kind of heroine of a greater feminist agenda. While she doesn’t actively encourage this discursive arc, she appears to be perfectly happy to let it continue along unhindered. To my mind this too is disingenuous. Had she been sincere, she would have corrected this erroneous idea instantly by directing commentators back to her text thereby showing that her post was, quite simply, all about herself. No feminist agenda: rather, an excuse. The only critical light throughout the entire commentary was the lawyer Carolyn Elefant who insisted upon the value of truthfulness over economic opportunism, and for this she was disparaged by other commentators and, at one point, the writer made an inference that Elefant implied something which she clearly did not. Moreover, the writer was more than happy to allow her commentators to castigate the tiny minority of Elefant and a few others unhindered.

Writing is not a glamorous occupation and it is mostly poorly paid, regardless of your gender. Despite this, it ought to be conducted with integrity and truthfulness.

9 Chris Brogan... December 17, 2009 at 9:19 am

I have such a weird perspective on such. I don’t care what sex James is/was. I have no problems with imaginary friends… PROVIDED they don’t use that status to screw with me. Meaning, if they’re someone they’re not, I don’t care. If they’re pretending to be someone to get something out of me using a different tack, then that’s “all gloves are off” bad angry mean no good.

See the difference?

James just needed to be James. He didn’t really do something negative with his deception. Right?

10 Rachel Levy December 17, 2009 at 9:53 am

I agree with you about the breach of trust. But, knowing that s/he felt it was necessary to do this doesn’t necessarily make the trust issue go away, but makes me understand it a bit more. And, in the meantime, provided a real-life example of gender discrimination!

11 Jim Spencer December 17, 2009 at 2:01 pm

@Cam You seem to have really thought through the contents of the original post and developed and shared a thoughtful response here. Thanks. Maybe you have observed that deception does not lead to logical events. By the way, is Cam Need a nom de plume? A quick search of the Internet came up with nothing in contrast with a search for James Chartrand.

@Chris – Your daughter’s imaginary friends is one thing. A professional and intentional effort to present yourself as something other than what you are is not transparent, authentic or honest. I am convinced that deception is not right. Doing it for profit doesn’t make it ok. The women that have overcome gender bias have done more for that issue than someone that joins the other team because it is easier to win. Actually some of the highest paid colleagues that I have paid have been women. One in fact is a writer in Vermont. And Yes, if James had just been herself I would still hire her. I didn’t need her to be a man to see the value of her work.

@Rachel I am not convinced it is 100% gender bias. I think that pricing theory plays a role as well. Like when you call two contractors to get bids on a job, you may be able to afford either, but the higher priced one strikes most people as more professional and more capable, interestingly enough.

12 Dave December 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Jim, as you stated honesty is the best policy. I have worked with and hired many copywriters over the years. The one I paid the most was Rosemary Delisle who I valued the most due to her incredible talents. I am not sure where “James” data was gathered that men get paid more. What we believe shapes our existence, and then we gather evidence to support this, many times what we believe is a lie.

13 Deb Dorchak December 18, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Jim & Everyone,
I’d like to thank you all for the incredible insight and deep thinking going on here. It’s good to see people asking the hard questions and taking the time to express their thoughts so eloquently. Reading a post and discussion like this has gone a long way to restore my faith in humankind.

Keep raising those questions. Like X Files used to say, “The truth is out there.”

Sincerely,
Deb Dorchak

14 Karen Swim December 18, 2009 at 3:16 pm

James, I appreciate your honest and in depth look at this and the issues that it has highlighted. I think one of the things I have learned is that we are not emotionally detached from online brands/personalities/people. Connecting with “people”online is not a purely clinical connection. While we all realize that the online persona may not be the real life persona our emotions do get involved and for some it creates a sense of “ownership” of the brand. Chris Brogan poses a great question. I agree that largely people don’t care pen name, persona, male or female but it appears that it is the perceived human connection that pushed this to more than just a pen name.

15 Jim Spencer December 18, 2009 at 5:12 pm

@Dave – Thanks for your comments. Honest can indeed be a tough policy, but my experience has convinced me that it is indeed the best policy for me.

@Deb – I am thrilled to see you came by and left a comment. This story has really got me thinking, as the title says. I was initially interested to learn more about what actually happened, to get the facts right, but over time I am becoming less focused on the one experience and more focused on the issues that are raised, the perceptions that people are sharing, the range of feelings and the excuses people make. ;-)

Naivete or even ignorance is not an excuse. There are many paths to the same destination and James chose a path that is not one I would take. There are likely areas in everyone’s life where things are not quite what they seem and decisions are made out of fear and for this reason the story resonates deeply with the audience, but that again does not excuse them. Transparency is not as easy to do as it is to talk about. The opposite may be true as well. I imagine it is not easy to lie and keep it up successfully.

@Karen – Visit http://www.hulu.com and have a look at Caprica I think you will find that the story line extends this theme to an extreme. It stirs up and exposes who we think we are, what we are made of. The abstraction or removal of matter and then the potential for human-like inter-action in a virtual world and even the thought of then placing that “personality” into a machine is thought provoking. What is the essence of being? That’s heady stuff, but it is important to consider. Is someone with a prosthetic leg less of a man? No.

My thoughts on brand connections; Why else create a brand if not to make a connection? It is all about relationships. What are relationships built on? Hopefully trust. Break the trust and the relationship is effected.

16 Karen Swim December 18, 2009 at 5:32 pm

James, thank you for the link and the thoughtful discussion. It’s not my desire to disrespect anyone involved in this but wonder for men who have said “what’s the big deal?” – if a woman online flirted with you and presented herself as a single female, and you later found out she was a burly dude with a beard, would you consider that a boundary that should not have been crossed? believe this analogy describes how some are feeling/reacting to this situation.

17 Deb Dorchak December 18, 2009 at 5:40 pm

@James: This has gotten me thinking too, on many levels, and viewing it from an outsider’s perspective on all angles. I totally agree that there is no excuse. Schtuff happens. It may seem innocent enough in the beginning, but hopefully one grows and comes to see the full implications behind the actions.

I’ve learned from this experience. No doubt about that. Now I’m taking the opportunity to look at myself and see where the improvements can be made. There have been many questions raised that have me looking inward and analyzing my own motivations and actions. It’s not easy, but it’s not as scary as I thought it would be. It’s rather enlightening. For better or worse, there was something to be gained from all this (and I’m not talking financial gain, either). How it all pans out and the reasons why it had to happen…well, only time will tell.

18 Jim Spencer December 18, 2009 at 5:51 pm

@Karen – Thanks for stopping by again. Also, I will be interested to learn your thoughts after seeing that TV pilot of Caprica. As to your comment, I think the police call that a predator. Wasn’t there a DateLine TV show (hah look at the title of that show – no pun intended) that setup and caught guys who thought they were meeting young women?

Indeed folks are thinking. In fact I know that one of the commenters that you might be speaking to has had deeper thoughts on the subject since then. ;-)

Oh look, I just got followed on twitter by an account called @JamesLied

19 Jim Spencer December 18, 2009 at 6:43 pm

@Deb Thoughtful introspection at Christmas time. Sounds great. Effort, not time, produces results. And you can call me Jim.

20 Verilliance December 19, 2009 at 4:51 am

I think the only parties that have truly betrayed anyone, are all the people who blindly believe that we have reached anything remotely resembling equality. I think the only parties that ought to feel embarrassed are all those who were less willing to pay for good copywriting if it was coming from a woman.

How exactly did James really betray anyone? She was selling her writing, and she did so under the pen name, and identity, of another gender, but her writing was still hers.

The only “bad” here goes to society for continually turning a blind eye to the real issues at hand here. To make this an issue of betrayal entirely misses the point, the fact that James has inadvertently participated in one of the most startling social experiments today, and the results are in.

21 Justin Whitaker December 19, 2009 at 4:36 pm

When I first learned of this deception, I thought “why should this matter?”

Doesn’t the quality of Men With Pens stand on it’s own, regardless of gender?

Then, the more the discussion goes on, the more the whole reasoning behind it starts to gall me.

We are continually told that we need to build trust, be authentic, be real-that’s what our customers deserve, and what our communities demand. Doesn’t this fly in the face of that?

There are plenty of women that are doing just fine without hiding behind a pseudonym. Would they be making more as men? Most likely.

There is a broad bias in the blogosphere and the social media scene towards males. It’s not quite an all boy’s club, but a quick look at many “panels of experts” of events in 2009 sure makes it look that way.

Is it okay for James to capitalize on that? It’s smart, but does that make it okay?

I’m leaning towards no. If the modern era has taught us anything it is that cynically taking a low road to make a fast buck undermines your authority, the trust in that authority, and the community trust you’ve worked so hard to build.

I think it is a shame that people are making this a gender issue, and not a trust issue. It has little to do with the former, and everything to do with the latter.

22 Velvet Verbosity December 19, 2009 at 5:39 pm

In response to Justin’s comment regarding this issue being one of trust and not gender. If James had lied about who was writing the copy, that would’ve been a real betrayal. If James was employing illegal immigrants at sweat shop wages while she vacationed in the Caribbean, that would have been a betrayal worth feeling duped over. If, even, she had maneauvered this tactic when she was already making a good living, but wanted more than she needed, heck yes, betrayal.

You say yourself that men are making more than women here. That there is an overarching bias toward men in the field. And you’re ok with that? You’re more concerned that James lied about her gender (while still producing the same quality of writing for clients mind you), than you are with the reasons she had to lie?

And this is what will happen with one of the most important accidental social experiments of our time. People will personalize the issue, put their own spin on it, pull it apart piece by piece until the most important truth of this story is diluted down to nothing, and we all forget about it with barely a ripple through the status quo.

A single mother couldn’t get enough work to support her family. With a man’s name, just a name at first, and the same exact work, she made enough to support her family. THAT is the truth, and it is appalling. Put yourself in those shoes for a minute. No really, sit down and really contemplate what this means, what this would be like if you were in that situation, and so on.

Society betrayed a woman here, as society betrays women every day, and yet women aren’t allowed to bring it up, talk about it, feel bad about it, be angry about it, or generally point out that The Emperor is Naked! We are punished personally and professionally when we do. So my hat is off to James, who may not have known that what she was doing would have an impact, but it has nonetheless. We can demonize her and miss the point entirely, or we can stop and reflect on what this says about the beliefs that still pervade and affect people’s lives.

23 James Chartrand - Men with Pens December 20, 2009 at 5:19 pm

The conversation here has been interesting to watch. I think the situation has definitely brought out both the best and the worst in people. It’s been a good exposé on how ugly people can get, and the assumptions and judgments they make without gathering all the facts. I will say that I think it’s been a good experience in that some people have taken a step back and really thought about all the issues involved, which go far beyond which name I used.

That said, I want to address a couple of things mentioned.

Jim, you mention that trust and integrity is crucial to your business and personal relationships. Our relationship was in business (not personal), and I think that you were well served each time we worked together. I think you’d agree that your emails were responded to quickly, the goods you requested were delivered in a timely method and that you and your clients were pleased with the results, as well as the team’s skills.

That’s what counts. Yes? You trusted our team to provide what you needed, and we did. Whether I was a man or a woman was irrelevant to the fact. You received professional treatment and services that met your expectations. I find it curious that you’d discredit that so quickly based on my gender.

Also, you mentioned in your post that I must be immensely relieved, all things considered. Truthfully, being who I am and being respected for my ideas was never a burden to bear. There was no hardship in sharing my knowledge and having both clients and readers tell me that my advice improved their business or ability to earn income.

It wasn’t a burden to be me. I am the same online as I am offline, with the same likes and dislikes, the same hobbies, the same personality. I find it odd and amusing that people think I should become someone else now, write differently, have a different attitude… No. I am who I am.

In one of your updates, you mention that Harry/Deb was the design genius behind Men with Pens, but I’d really like to give credit where credit is due. There are three full-time team members at Men with Pens beyond myself and they’ve been there for quite some time. Yes, Deb did perform some graphic design services as a subcontractor, but she wasn’t alone and other people worked just as hard to provide the great copy, design and services we’re known for.

Let’s not take away from what these people have accomplished, and let’s not forget their good work amidst all the brou-haha, please.

To finish, I just want to say that I think Chris Brogan summed it up best: “James just needed to be James.” Thank you for that.

24 Wendi Kelly~Life's Little Inspirations December 20, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I have done my best to stay out of this, seeing that I am Deb’s business partner and I have always considered myself a friend to James in the past and wish her all the best.

However, I want to say that although there may be at this time other designers, I would be curious to know how long they have been there and how long they have been doing the designing? I know that Deb was the only designer that I had contact with, in fact she was the only one I recall speaking to when my design was done at MwP. I don’t believe I am alone in believing Deb did the majority of the design work…if not all of the design work at least in the early and mid days at MwP.

As for trust. I do believe trust goes beyond just service rendered when someone presents themselves as an expert in their field and blogs accordingly. It isn’t has nothing to do with gender,it has to do with the fact that if you aren’t honest about one thing, are you honest about other things as well? And since you still haven’t disclosed your real name, it makes it difficult to back up your facts and move forward. For example, this could be my imagination, but I vaguely recall a post at MwP where you talked about NOT having a college degree, now I have been told that you have two degrees. No one knows for sure, nor can anyone back up your resume the way they could any other public figure.

I don’t bring these things up to cause trouble. It’s a point of discussion that when anyone works works under an alias everything they say has to be taken with a grain of salt because facts can’t be confirmed. It makes trust difficult and gender has nothing to do with it at all.

25 James Chartrand - Men with Pens December 21, 2009 at 12:41 am

@ Wendi – Quite frankly, if you have questions that you need to personally resolve, then you have my email and can contact me. I’m sure we can arrange a discussion that helps you feel comfortable with your issues.

26 Ari Herzog December 21, 2009 at 2:46 am

This entire episode and the backlash of reflections, such as yours, reminds me of Gordon Atkinson, a Baptish preacher in San Antonio. After 18 months of anonymous blogging, he came out — http://blogs.salon.com/0001772/2004/05/26.html — back when his blog was hosted there. Five years later, he still blogs but makes no secret who he is. Check out http://www.reallivepreacher.com which I look at every few months.

I toyed with creating an anonymous blog about two years ago, and corresponded with Gordon by email a few times. He shared the background why he came out of the anonymous closet and reminded me that unless I am OK with being truly anonymous, details will slip and people will guess. That’s why RLP is now Gordon — and why I presume James is not a man.

27 Jim Spencer December 21, 2009 at 10:25 am

@Verilliance – Thank you for your comments. I have not read the suggestion that there is equality. I have read many comments saying that there should be and that there is not gender equality in pay. I must be reading something different from what you are reading.

Based on my reading, James had no intentions of addressing the gender bias, the glass ceiling, unequal pay or any other feminist tenants. Nor have those issues been addressed by the decisions that James made. James simply saw a way to earn more money and took it. The gender pay pot has certainly been stirred among those who have read the Underpants and related posts and comments. That is true without question. Not sure how big that population really is though.

I leave the determination of betrayal to those who know and worked with James far more closely than I did. I am interested in thinking the issues through, but am I not out to judge an individual.

There are distances that we all go to in order to survive. I suppose that some go further than others and for many the distance that James went was too far for their liking. I don’t know the situation enough to give Harry (Deb) a complete pass on this issue either. That is another discussion and likely a worthy one that would include a beginning (intention), middle (execution) and end (introspection and retrospection).

@Justin Indeed the quality of work has not been a question in anything that I have read, which is not that much outside of these comments. The bias exists. And we could all list a hundred biases in this world we live in; gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, height, hair color, body shape, many forms of handicap, wealth, even geography. However, none of them is a passport to deceive, but rather an opportunity to over come.

@Velvet Thanks for your comments. Certainly Justin can speak for himself, but I read his comment to say that he sees the bias and is not blind. I couldn’t find words to substantiate that he encourages or dislikes the bias, but I figure he doesn’t support it. As far as what you said, I read a lot of self-righteous indignation in your comments. You seem pissed. You see a crooked system. You feel that James figured out a way to use that crooked system to her advantage and you salute that effort. You don’t see anything wrong with what that James has done. Have I got that right? You see no deception, poor judgment or lack of integrity. So, when do you start up your male persona?

@James Thanks for your comments as well. Interestingly the issue has never been quality or gender. If a man had presented himself as a women to the same extent and with the same result, the issue would be the same. However, it is becoming clearer that those who focus entirely on the gender issue can’t fathom that.

I am happy to choose to hire the right person for the job (based on my project requirements), even if he happens to be a little green man. But I will be disappointed to learn later that he is a giant blue woman. I didn’t hire the person based on their size, gender or color, but it was a fact (maybe even an incidental fact) included in my understanding of who I was hiring and later working with. Does this mean that the little green man did bad work all of the sudden? Of course not. Is this a gender issue for me all of the sudden? No, no more than it is a color or height issue. It is an issue of credibility and trust which are components of most successful relationships. Why I was told (tricked into believing) that a big blue woman is a little green man is a separate issue, as is the motive. No less important, but separate. It is the deception that has got me thinking, not quality or gender.

28 Sophie December 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Wendi wrote:

“And since you still haven’t disclosed your real name, it makes it difficult to back up your facts and move forward. For example, this could be my imagination, but I vaguely recall a post at MwP where you talked about NOT having a college degree, now I have been told that you have two degrees. No one knows for sure, nor can anyone back up your resume the way they could any other public figure.”

Here’s a quote from James taken from “Someday Syndrome”

“I went through the University application process and began taking courses at a part-time pace. Unfortunately, life got in the way when I reached the point of earning half my degree and I’ve set learning aside for the moment.”

29 Velvet Verbosity December 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm

“@VelvetVerbosity: Certainly Justin can speak for himself, but I read his comment to say that he sees the bias and is not blind. I couldn’t find words to substantiate that he encourages or dislikes the bias, but I figure he doesn’t support it. As far as what you said, I read a lot of self-righteous indignation in your comments. You seem pissed. You see a crooked system. You feel that James figured out a way to use that crooked system to her advantage and you salute that effort. You don’t see anything wrong with what that James has done. Have I got that right? You see no deception, poor judgment or lack of integrity. So, when do you start up your male persona?”

I see what is exceptionally obvious. I don’t see that someone took “advantage”, I see that someone did what was needed to feed and support a family, and that it wouldn’t have been necessary if things were different. I also can’t help but wonder if I had made these comments as a man if they would have been perceived differently. Less self-righteous and “pissed”, and more focused on a human rights issue.

Just for the heck of it, try reading my comments and pretend a guy is saying it. Is there not the subtlest shift in your mind?

In my experience, when I’m passionate about human rights issues, no one feels I’m “pissed” or “self-righteous” as long as the issue I bring up has nothing to do with anything I am. If I passionately speak about genocide, or war, or gay rights, or any other issue that doesn’t have to do directly with women, people might disagree with my position, but that’s it…a disagreement on position. If what I am talking about involves women however, some men automatically pull the “angry” card. That is the “punishment” of which I speak. If a woman speaks up about women’s issues, it is implied, or she is told outright, that she is angry, she has a problem. Yet, when I bring up other issues, no one thinks I have a problem or that I’m angry. Instead, we generally agree that society has a problem, even if we disagree how to solve it. When I’m talking about other issues I’m seen as strong and passionate, when it’s women’s issues I’m seen by some as angry, and I find that it often says much more about that person than it does about me.

Speaking clearly, and strongly about an issue that I feel is important doesn’t make me “pissed” or self-righteous, and I expect that the argument/debate at hand is what will be discussed, not my mood, perceived as it is.

What if a man were in a similar situation? To put a lighter “what-if” scenario into play, consider the movie Mrs. Doubtfire where Robin Williams plays a father who has made some mistakes, and therefore isn’t able to see his children except under disguise, and as a woman. Does anyone fault his betrayal in the end? No, because he did it for his children, as did James. I suspect if this were to happen in real life, a man posing as a woman in order to help his family because time was of the essence, and the walls were too many to scale, we would all be taken aback for a moment, and then soon realize the greater social statement at hand.

That is how I see this situation.

Leave a Comment

Additional comments powered by BackType

Previous post:

Next post: