Female novelists have been using men’s names for centuries in order to have their work taken seriously (even JK Rowling was not immune), and as one recent case proves perfectly, plenty of industries are still significantly happier with an entirely fictional man than a real-life woman.
Feeling stymied by inherent gender bias, the two female entrepreneurs behind a start-up company last year started signing off emails as ‘Keith Mann’ – and say they instantly noticed a difference in how they were dealt with.
Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer run online alternative art marketplace Witchsy, and said tech professionals didn’t appear to be taking them seriously from the outset.
“When we were getting started, we were immediately faced with ‘Are you sure? Does this sound like a good idea?’,” Dwyer told Fast Company. “I think because we’re young women, a lot of people looked at what we were doing like, ‘What a cute hobby!’ or ‘That’s a cute idea.’”
They claim many responses to professional emails were slow, disrespectful and patronising, and Dwyer told the BBC one actually addressed them as “girls”.
Even worse, they say one male web developer even attempted to sneakily delete code from the website after Glazin rejected his romantic advances.
Enter Mann, with his own Twitter profile and everything.
Dwyer and Glazin say the fictional Mann was always addressed by his name, and there was a “noticeable difference” in the way he was dealt with.
Instead of the usual “days” to get a reply, Dwyer told Fast Company: “Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.”
However she also says that as Mann, they felt they could be more straightforward in their emails: “Keith would chase things up: ‘You guys said this would be done, what’s the status?’”
Though they describe having to resort to an imaginary man as “unfortunate”, the pair saw it as a necessary step to get their site up and running. Mann is being sent “on vacation” now that the year-old business is more established – and the “girls” have had their brand critically acclaimed, have secured investment from Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and are now turning a profit.