Tag Archives: gender bias

Do literary agents suffer from gender bias with authors?

I may be one of those people who sees the world through rose-coloured glasses, but when I stumbled across this experiment by Catherine Nichols, I almost fell out of my chair.  Partly because my name is Catherine, but mostly because for a grown woman, it appears that I’m as naive as a toddler. I assume individual equality, and I always play by the rules. (Ahem, fortunately, they’re my rules.)


Catherine had been sending out queries to literary agents for a novel she had written, and was receiving minimal responses. Now, this in and of itself is not unusual, however, it wasn’t her first novel, and she (along with her published writer friends) knew this novel was good. It had that something, and you just know. After some 50-odd sends to agents, she had two requests for a full and an inbox full of form rejections.

And so it was on one fine Saturday morning, feeling discouraged and perhaps low on java, she created “George Leyer” and gave him his own bare-bones email account. She copy/pasted her query and used all the same language, only now the queries came from George instead of Catherine. (And because my dog’s name is George, I figure her story is a sign from the universe.) She sent out one query, and as she prepared the second, there was already a response from the first in the empty email account. What the… on a SATURDAY? It read:  Mr. Leyer. Delighted. Excited. Please send the manuscript. She sent a total of six queries that Saturday, and she received five responses before the end of the weekend. Three requests and two personal rejections praising “his” abilities. By Monday morning, she had deduced that the novel wasn’t the problem, it was her as the author.


In a puff of slighted rage, Catherine rolled her experiment out to 50 agents, some of them she had already queried under her own (female) name. “George” received 17 requests for a full manuscript. He was eight and a half times better at writing the exact same novel.  Not only that, his rejections were personal, warm, and full of compliments and advice.

Now, for new and budding authors that send out queries, our name is likely the last thing we’re thinking about. In fact, it’s usually the only thing we figure we got right. The query itself is a fierce animal that often takes longer to write than our precious novels.  We brood, we re-write, we take critiques, and then we spend large parts of our days curled up in the fetus position licking our critiqued wounds. There are as many authoritative types telling us the ‘correct’ way to structure a query and send our proposals as there are writers trying to get noticed. With all of this complex publishing science to navigate, now we have to worry about the name we attach to our work?

larry king

And if you do lie to 50 agents, 17 of which ask for a full, and let’s say a handful of those want to represent “George”, what’s that awkward conversation going to sound like when they find out that he’s a she?

I don’t know how to feel about any of this. Is this an anomaly? Tell me what you think.



Filed under author, on writing

whose idea was it to assign genders to toys?

In November, 2007, I wrote a letter to Robert Eckhart, the (then CEO) of Mattel toys, appealing to him to use his company’s power for good.  The letter is as follows:

Dear Mr. Eckert;

You are in a key and promising position to impact the children of the world in a very healthy and productive way that will affect their growing self-esteem and confidence, and you may not even know it.

Lately I have seen some very sobering statistics on our youth harassment and physical violence from the ignorance of gender bias and discrimination. It frightens me to think that we, as adults and parents, are ultimately responsible for every beating death of every child considered different by their own peers.

I’m a mother, and my 9-year-old boy loves to play with Barbie®. Already, at the age of 9, he lies to strangers in the pink Barbie® aisles of stores pretending to be purchasing gifts for friends and is questioning his own gender beliefs because of it.

Mattel is an industry leader. First in class, best in breed, a powerful deity creating standards to live by for our children. I understand that the marketing campaign is as it always has been, but does that make it right? The more power we possess do we not need to become more socially responsible? Our social equalities in law govern that each individual’s rights include the right to be free from sponsored social discrimination. Mattel’s marketing is having an adverse impact on our children. We are using traditional gender stereotyping of the toys, in a time when more and more of our youth are questioning their identities. This is an important implication in their development. Are they really born with some identity crisis? or are we socially impacting their gender decisions because they don’t fall into a traditional “girl” or “boy” category. Not only are we affecting their individual self-esteem but also perpetuating the prejudices of the children who judge and discriminate against them.

Toys are toys, there are no gender assignments for them. They are for all children of all colours, shapes, sizes, and genders to play with. Be the industry leader that you are. Make the innovative change, do it for the future of the children of the world. Imagine the press Mattel would make? See how powerful your footprint can be and raise the bar for your contemporaries.

I write this letter to you to ask , with total respect and kindness, if you could consider the possibilities that your position could make. Sometimes it does take a village to raise a child, and sometimes it takes the whole world to raise a healthy and happy one.

Sincerely Yours,

A similar letter was sent out to McDonald’s Corporation, The Prime Minister of Canada, The President of the USA, the United Nations, and even the Queen of England.   My young son and I worked on the letters together as an exercise in voicing our opinions and reaching out to affect change.

The first response came from the Queen of England—within a week.  A hand-written note full of expressed concern for my son and the gravity of the issue.  McDonald’s refused to “hear” that asking children if they want “girl” toys or “boy” toys with their Happy Meals was socially irresponsible.  They deferred the responsibility to individual stores in a one-paragraph standard reply letter.  The president of the USA and the UN never even acknowledged our letter.  The office of the Prime Minister in my own country sent me a standard 2-page pamphlet on bullying with an impersonal “dear sir” letter attached.  Oh, the irony.

Mattel asked me to call them and I eventually spoke with someone in their marketing department.    The ultimate response was that Mattel was giving consumers what they wanted. This was how the children of the world wanted their toys marketed to them.    I wondered if children could really know such a thing.  I mean, really—they just want to play with toys.

This morning a video was shared with me through Facebook that has finally given me the answer.  This is NOT what all children want.   This small child is as confused as I am on the subject.

Thanks Riley, I will forward your “video” answer to Mattel Marketing for consideration.



Filed under world news