Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Gender Benders

So authoress JK Rowling uses a male alias ‘Robert Galbraith’ for penning a detective novel (The Cuckoo’s Calling) and all hell breaks loose in the teeth-gnashing, chest-thumping, bra-burning world of feminists.

“Why do you need a masculine name when people like Agatha Christie have already broken the glass ceiling in the crime genre?” ask the women’s libbers. But what they don’t realise is Ms. Rowling wasn’t assuming a new identity to earn brownies from men. All she wanted want was to run far away from the Harry Potter baggage. And the farthest she could get, was by turning ‘he’.

Escape from an image trap is not the only reason for the quaint practice of gender crossovers in pseudonyms. Nelle Harper Lee opted for the manly Harper Lee when she wrote the masterpiece ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because she was scared that people will mispronounce her first name as ‘Nelly’ instead of ‘Nell’.

Yes, the Bronte sisters published their classics in the guise of the Bell brothers to avoid male condescension, but many others such as George Sand voluntarily chose a virile moniker as they felt like one of the boys.

Another telling aspect that might surprise feminists is that there are quite a few respectable men who’ve written books under the garb of a woman. The big daddy of them all was Benjamin Franklin aka ‘the bloke on the 100 dollar bill’. When his brother refused to publish his pieces in a newspaper, Benjamin wrote some mystery letters to the editor under the pseudonym ‘Mrs. Silent Dogood’. The epistles were so good that they had to carry it!

Likewise, when Frank L. Baum (the chap behind ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’) wanted to publish his kiddie tales, he chose ‘Laura Bancroft’ as the fairer sex was supposedly best at narrating stories to children.

Female nom de plumes find currency even back home. The famed Tamil detective novelist ‘Subha’ is actually the literary mask of two guys - Suresh and Balakrishnan! ‘Charu Nivedita’ (real name: Arivazhagan), ‘Pushpa Thangadurai’ (Sri Venugopal) and ‘Sujatha’ (S. Rangarajan) are a few more popular examples. Just goes to show that artistry knows no gender.