We’re used to examples of women writing with men’s names because it was understood their works would be taken less seriously or ignored if they used their true names (Maryanne Evans as George Eliot, Baroness Dudevant as George Sand, Alice B. Sheldon as James Tiptree, the Bronte sisters as Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell). For the same reason, women have selected gender-ambiguous names (Joanne Rowling, who used the pen name J.K. Rowling at the request of her publisher, who felt boys would be less likely to read a book written by a woman). Virginia Woolf remarked “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” But what about men writing under female pseudonyms? Why would they do that, and under what circumstances? Well, here are five of the best-known such writers.
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5. Writer’s real name: Don DeLillo
Pseudonym: Cleo Birdwell
What: the novel Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League, a fictional autobiography.
Why?: Well, it was in more of a popular, mass-market-audience-aimed style than the great writer’s usual work, and was about a woman. It was co-written with one of DeLillo’s employees, Sue Buck (I know, that sounds like a pseudonym). He appears to have been embarrassed by it as he declines to admit to having written it and has refused to have it reprinted.
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4. Writer’s real name: David Duke. Yes, that one. [!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – E]
Pseudonym: Dorothy Vanderbilt
What: the novel Finders-Keepers: Finding and Keeping the Man You Want
Why? To make money, and presumably the advice would seem less creepy coming from a woman with a schmancy name than from a white supremacist KKK member. It’s a self-help advice book for women, and includes information on vaginal exercises, fellatio, and anal sex. This I learned from searching for information on the book. The folks at Stormfront dot org (white power website) are upset because they feel David Duke has been slandered. Apparently, to Stormfront dot org, writing a women’s self-help book using a female pseudonym, with advice straight out of the pages of Cosmo, is the worst thing you can say about David Duke. For the record, Duke says he only helped out on one chapter.
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3. Writer’s real name: L. Frank Baum
Pseudonym: Edith Van Dyne
What: Several novels written about and for girls
Why? The female pseudonym was decided by the publisher, who wanted to appeal to the same audience as the books of Louisa May Alcott, and a female author was thought to have greater appeal to such girls. Oddly, the contract stipulated that Baum should write a “book for young girls on the style of the Louisa M. Alcott stories, but not so good.”
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2. Writer’s real name: Paul Rudnick
Pseudonym: Libby Gellman-Waxner
What: A column in Premiere Magazine, and later in Entertainment Weekly.
Why? Paul Rudnick is an acclaimed screenwriter and playwright. Writing under this pseudonym gave him the freedom to write more outrageously and campily, albeit as a stereotypical Jewish American Princess/wife/mother.
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1. Writer’s real name: Benjamin Franklin
Pseudonyms: Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, Alice Addertongue, Martha Careful, Celia Shortface, Fanny Mournful, and Busy Body
What and Why? Being from Philadelphia, I’ve already learned that Benjamin Franklin could and did do anything he wanted to do. But his actual job was a writer, and the satirical work he did in that field gets lost amid all the stuff about starting a country, inventing bifocals, discovering the Gulf Stream, inventing the stove, libraries, university, hospital, insurance, etc. But in any case, he was a keen satirist and used female pseudonyms to help illustrate his ideas and also mock certain popular conceits. The Silence Dogood letters were written as 16 year old living in colonial Boston. As her name suggests, Franklin used her to gently mock the long-suffering, puritanical elders of New England. He also used Silence as forum to less threateningly voice progressive ideals, like freedom of speech and religious hypocrisy. He’d tried writing under his own name, but failed to get published. The other names were all used later in his career in his publications and others. Some of the women wrote about women’s oppression, using pretty proto-feminist ideas, while others were gossipy busybodies speaking frivolously and insultingly.