Friday, December 01, 2006

The Stay at Home Mommy vs. Daddy Wars

I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole stay-at-home mom perception that people have of women freelance writers. Don’t get me wrong; I believe being a stay-at-home mom is a noble profession in itself. But when it is used in the same sentence with the words “freelance writer,” it is usually meant to imply unprofessional or someone not really dedicated to her writing.
A comment left on the blog by a male writer in a previous thread had me wondering what men experience when they tell people they are writers. Do people then assume they are stay-at-home dads?
Thomas Bosch, a British citizen currently living in Germany and working as a freelance writer has been called everything but a stay-at-home-dad: “I have been asked if I am a lazy slacker who likes to live off his partner.”
In fact, none of the male writers I asked had ever been asked if they were a stay-at-home dad.
And I found it interesting, in my little non-scientific survey, that the perceptions people had of writers seemed to take root in how we define ourselves. Dr. John K. Borchardt, Ph.D, a science and business writer, says how he identifies himself depends on the situation. “When covering science conferences or writing science articles, I introduce myself as a science writer and note that I have a Ph.D. in chemistry. When I introduce myself to sources, I note that I have written more than 125 peer-reviewed articles published in research journals and hold 30 U.S. patents. This isn’t to brag but to reassure them that I will understand what they tell me and not screw it up in the published article. I introduce myself as a business writer when appropriate and mention the business magazines and newspapers where some of my articles have been published. When writing a job-hunting or career management article, I cite the book I wrote on the subject, “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers” as well as some of the magazines that have published my articles on these subjects. When introducing myself as a corporate technical writer, I cite some of my clients and published articles relating to the subject or technology in question.”
John said when strangers ask what he does, he tells them he is a “writer,” and doesn’t introduce the word “freelance” into it. Some people have even told him that he “must be smart.”
Thomas Pellechia (, a wine, food and business writer and author in New York agrees. “I never refer to myself as a freelance writer. I refer to myself as a writer. In a subtle way, using the word "freelance" shows the power of language. The word becomes an adjective in front of "writer." Like so many adjectives, "freelance" weakens, rather than strengthens, the word that follows it.”
Where does the word freelance even come from? According to a website “In medieval times, when warlords needed extra power for their armies, special mercenaries could be called upon. These mercenaries – called free lance warriors – would receive payment in gold, or in ground property rights when a certain area was conquered.”
Pellechia noted that he’s noticed that sometimes writers will answer queries about what they do with reservation. “I've heard many people respond to a question about their profession with that "end of sentence" question mark that sounds tentative, and drives me crazy about American discourse. You know:

’So what do you do for a living?’

With an over-exaggerated inflection, ‘I'm a freelance writer?’ or ‘I'm sort of a writer?’
Could Bosch’s self-description as a “Freelance writer, Frustrated Scribe, Saucy Scribbler and Wannabe Author,” lead to the reactions he’s received?
When I was in the corporate world, one of those buzz phrases of the month was “Perception is Reality,” which is the only one of thousands I was exposed to that stuck with me.
Using a term that equates to being an ancient mercenary probably is not the best idea. It seems that maybe the answer for bringing professional recognition to our craft may be to change not what we are, but how we describe ourselves.
And maybe when we are able to view ourselves more professionally, everyone else will too.


Anonymous TB said...

I don't use the "Freelance writer, Frustrated Scribe, Saucy Scribbler and Wannabe Author" description with clients! That was just a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor which I privately tell to friends and family! With clients, I refer to myself as a "freelance writer". All professional me.

11:37 AM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd. I was a freelance writer for ten years and nobody ever assumed or implied I was a slacker or a stay at home mom.

10:27 PM CST  

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