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Amal Clooney, nee Alamuddin (left): Her decision to take her husband's surname met with criticism (photo: HotGossipItalia)


“Dear Sir,” “FAO Mr McCoy,” “Hello Frank.” Such email greetings ping into my inbox on a daily basis. It is rarely worth the effort of correcting the sender’s minor error: Frankie McCoy is actually a woman and “Frankie” is an abbreviation of  my full birth name, Francesca. It appears that a history of prominent male Frankies—Boyle, Valli, Howerd and the forgetful subject of Sister Sledge’s 1985 song—means that without a face to put to an abbreviation, people presume masculinity.

Why? Plenty of prominent female figures have also adopted male diminutives: Billie Holiday and Frankie Sandford, Stevie Nicks and Taylor Swift. As musicians, these women are immediately outed by their voice and appearance—indeed, fans will frequently be aware of their gender before their male name. Perhaps such a blatant expression of femininity renders a masculine name irrelevant, or even “cute”. It is the other way round in professions where faceless and voiceless words create first impressions. For centuries, female writers have adopted masculine names to preclude misogynistic presumptions.

In her 1929 feminist manifesto A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (an unambiguously feminine name if ever there was one) claimed: “It was the relic of the sense of chastity that dictated anonymity to women even so late as the nineteenth century. Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand, all the victims of inner strife as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man.” Less chastity, more a desire for a quiet life influenced 1970s science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr—real name Alice B. Sheldon. For Sheldon, “a male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”

Good camouflage indeed: fellow science fiction writer Robert Silverberg even prefaced “Tiptree Jr’s” 1975 Warm Worlds and Otherwise with an essay that described the idea of the book having a female author as “absurd”.

As Tiptree Jr, Sheldon forwent misogynistic preconceptions that a female writer’s books must be both intellectually inferior and designed solely for other women. Twenty years later, publishers Bloomsbury sympathised with Sheldon’s deception, entreating their new children’s author Joanne to disguise her femininity in order to appeal to young boys. Thus “J.K. Rowling” was born.

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Anonymous
April 11th, 2015
12:04 AM
I find the concept that 21stC Western women are discriminated risible when you look at the oppression that Muslim women go through. When I see feminists marching against Islam I will treat them seriously. They never.raise.a.peep.

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