Gender issues of freelance writers

This article originally appeared on The Freelancer .

If you’re a freelance writer, the majority of your editors are likely to be male, and the majority of your colleagues are likely to be female. It’s not just an anecdotal generalization.

Latest report of the American Association of News Editors shows that, on average, women wear makeup only 37 percent of newsroom staff and hold only 35 percent of supervisor roles. However, women make up about 73 percent press point and form about 70 percent applicants to MFA programs in the United States, under a report from the Women’s Media Center.

As the traditional paid writing profession becomes rarer, both former newsroom staff and press staff are plunging into the freelance world. For some it’s by choice, but for two-third that’s the situation.

For women, pushed to the margins of the media industry, freelance work is often the only way forward — and it’s not surprising that wages reflect the gender gap.

‘pink collar’ area

Although data is scarce, a 2012 “Freelance Industry Report” over 50 occupations found that 71 percent of freelancers are female. In other words, freelancers change the demographics of the newsroom over their heads.

Despite the domination of freelancers, female freelancers working in the media may be experiencing a significant pay gap. According to a 2015 survey of the Canadian Writers’ Association, female writers earn only 55 percent of what their male counterparts make. That disparity is much worse than estimate 77 cents on the dollar earned by women compared to men in the typical U.S. labor market (in Canada, the pay gap can as low as 73 percent). Data on the difference in wages for freelance writers in the United States is lacking, especially because of the Department of Labor. have not checked independent contractor status since 2005. The 2005 survey did, however, find a 42 percent pay gap between full-time male and female independent contractors and a 35 percent pay gap between part-time independent contractors (see page 82 in the report).

“It must be admitted that low-paid freelance work like women’s work is not a new phenomenon, but in fact it can be traced back to as late as the 19th Century when women first entered the press force,” wrote Dr. Errol Salamon. communications student at McGill University, who explored the phenomenon in his book Journalism in crisis and in a series of articles on the Canadian Communications Association website. “The difference is that today, more and more women are entering the workforce, and the low-paid ‘opportunities’ have expanded due to the boom in online journalism in the mid-1990s.”

“Freelance writer” as a job title isn’t just for hardcore journalists. It also includes people who have passed the site “ content farm ” scary, usually offers as little as $3.50 an article. According to the journalist Andria Krewson in ReadWrite, “mostly women, often accompanied by children, often English majors or journalism students, are looking to do what they love and make a little money from it. ”

Whether you call it “ pink collar area ,” “ glass ceiling “” penalty wages “or” nickel-and-dimed , “women are classified in unstable, low-wage occupations. And even if they do engage in a male-dominated profession like professional writing, that profession then becomes devaluation .

What makes up the wage disparity?

Like regular wage disparities, the causes of apparent wage disparities for self-employed can be traced back to many complex factors: from economics to differences in gender expectations to discrimination. completely.

Making matters worse is the lack of transparency in the freelance market. Many freelance writers living outside of major cities like New York City and San Francisco may not have much direct contact with fellow freelance writers; most publications do not pre-list their standard rate of articles; and apart from one some notable exceptions most freelancers do not release their tax returns.

Jessica Scott-Reid – a globe- a trotting freelance writer who used to work for Vice , The Wall Street Journal , and of Canada National Post “I don’t really have any male freelance writer friends, so I’m not sure if I make less than them. ”

In addition to the lack of financial transparency, part of the problem may be due to “ confidence distance . “A quoted statistic oft from an internal report by Hewlett-Packard states that men will apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the position’s capacity while women will rarely apply without meeting 100 percent of the criteria. . Women are more likely to feel “ impersonation syndrome ,” an unfounded fear of being shoddy.

This self-perception is not just paranoia. Novelist Catherine Nichols conducted an experiment in which she submitted a book proposal under a male name, “George.” She sent out 50 queries, and under George’s name her manuscript was requested 17 times, compared to twice under her real name. In other words, he’s “eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.” Furthermore, Nichols says publishers are kinder and more helpful to “George.”

Many female writers love the idea of ​​a new moniker, depending on where they advertise: Scott-Reid told me she contemplated being “Scott Reid” when advertising for style magazines. outdoor lifestyle and sports shops, wondering if “Scott” is more than likely not getting a response and a short line of writing.

Where female freelancers write — and where they don’t

Lifestyle writing is one area where women can feel more confident about receiving a paycheck and a host of “women-friendly” mainstream publications — like Daily Mail of the Female and Gawker’s Jezebel – provides a pink background for women’s writing.

In Guardian, Lou Heinrich calls the explosion of news items and new media publications aimed at women “ pink slums ,” where topics like parenting, cooking, fashion, celebrities, beauty, body positivity, sex, and feminism dominate.

“Overall, amplifying women’s voices is positive and a step towards legitimizing the women’s experience,” Heinrich wrote to me in an email. “But smearing female writers with only female readers strengthens patriarchy: The idea that mainstream society is built by and for men.

Heinrich’s perception of women’s writing and opinions is consistent with front-page articles. Although the gender divide varies widely among publishers, the top editors and columnists on “big topics” are predominantly male, with politics 65 percent male ), sport ( 95 to 99 percent male ), literary criticism ( 53 to 78 percent male ), film Review ( 70 to 82 percent male ) and op-eds ( 75 to 85 percent male ) are some of the more serious examples.

As a freelance writer, I would even be wary of thinking it’s a long shot to refer this very article to four male editors at The Freelancer . While anecdotes clearly differ from established data, this is only the second time I have been hired by a male editor during a year of freelance writing.

Even with publications that specifically require submissions from women and minorities, men may still prevail. The positive Awl not recommended white men threw the ball in an attempt to level the playing field, but even with submissions set as is, one male editor asked not to be named, noting that “men are still one step ahead of women.” little on the pitches, and especially on the more ambitious pitches.”

Brooke Binkowski an editor at Snopes and a veteran freelance reporter covering US-Mexico border issues, told me she often struggles with getting content on certain political and social issues.

“It’s really hard for me to draw on certain stories, especially ‘harsh’ ones,” she said. “The stories that people really care about me are stories about child sex trafficking and murders. Both are things worth covering up, but I can’t help but notice that they both involve women and children. When I put out other things — for example, the worker uprisings and subsequent violence — it was really hard for me to get a response. ”

STEM subjects are not much better. Project of counting along the lines of science, lasting 8 months study from 2014, revealed that while men and women wrote comparable numbers of STEM stories (855 from women to 867 from men), men wrote 81 percent of the features in Scientific Americans and 73 percent of the features in Wired .

Even experts on journalistic stories are overwhelmingly male.

In The New York TimesMale Ability cited from sources 3.4 times higher than women; In general, men are 76 percent The number of people featured in the news. Whether it is the result of pervasive patriarchy in which men tend to hold positions of power or from a tendency for male reporters and editors to look to other sources of men (or a combination of both). two), the result is an even more misleading presentation of the news.

Path ahead

Despite the many challenges female freelancers face, many have found that there are some perks to freelance writing “workplace”.

“Working almost exclusively online or by phone makes me feel more secure about pitches, interviews and other aspects of my job,” says Scott-Reid. “I worry that as a young female writer with a ‘next door girl’ appearance, if I have to face editors and audiences directly, it will be more difficult for me to present self. exclusively through my words. ”

Her advice for female freelancers trying to get into the game?

“Let your professional communication style and high-quality writing do the work for you,” she says. “In other words, do the best job you can, own your own work, and don’t give editors any reason to see you differently from anyone else.”

Binkowski’s advice is much more blunt: “Pretend you’re a white man.”


By Nguyen Manh Cuong

Nguyen Manh Cuong is the author and founder of the nguyendiep blog. With over 14 years of experience in Online Marketing, he now runs a number of successful websites, and occasionally shares his experience & knowledge on this blog.

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