Women Posing As Men to Get Ahead

“Whatever women do they must do twice as good as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

– Charlotte Whitton

Throughout history, there are countless stories of women posing as men to either protect themselves, or get ahead in a male-dominated society.

One of my favorite examples is Jane Austen, who published “Pride and Prejudice” anonymously in 1813 because, as you can guess, women weren’t supposed to write books. The same is true of George Eliot, who wrote the literary masterpiece “Middlemarch.” Most people don’t know that George Eliot was actually the pen name for Mary Ann Evans. She wanted her work to be taken seriously, so she posed as a man.

This also goes for the Bronte sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Ann. They used male pen names until their books were such a success they felt confident in revealing their true identities.

It’s tempting to think that we’ve risen above the need for women to hide their gender in order to get ahead. However, there are plenty of fairly recent examples that show we still have a long way to go.

Did you know that when J.K. Rowling wrote her first book, her publisher advised her to use only her initials because, it was thought, young boys (the target audience,) wouldn’t want to buy a book written by a woman?

Did you know that the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, Katherine Switzer, signed up as K.V. Switzer to hide her gender because the marathon was a male-only race? This was in 1967. And, once they spotted a woman running the Boston Marathon, one official tried to forcibly remove her as she was running. Fortunately her boyfriend, who was running beside her, knocked him out of the race instead, and she finished strong.

I could list many, many more examples of inspiring women who have beaten the odds in this way. And it’s sad that so many women have had to resort to hiding or disguising their gender to get ahead. There’s a wonderful article on Huffington Post that tells the story of 14 women who posed as men to achieve their dreams, and I highly recommend you give it a look.

Also, if you missed the PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Made America, please give this a watch as well. I watched it when it premiered back in February, and it was incredibly sad, inspiring, and uplifting all at the same time. It does an excellent job showcasing women who changed the course of history, and highlighting all the challenges women are still facing today.


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