Just Call Me Mr.: Women Who Have Pretended To Be Men To Get A Job

January 31, 2015  |  

There’s no denying that sexism still exists in the American workplace. Women still make just about 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, and, while there are some, you will not find very many females CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

This is why some women throughout history have sort of hedged the truth about their gender in order to get in the door. Impersonating men has gotten some women ahead in their career.

This goes back for a while. “In 1914, Dorothy Lawrence was an ambitious cub reporter with aspirations of becoming a war correspondent. Living in Paris when war was declared, she contacted numerous British newspapers offering her services but was turned down by them all, on account of her being a woman,” reports The Telegraph. So the next year she went as far as cutting her hair, using a razor blade on her face to give herself a razor burn, and dressing as a man. She applied for jobs under the name Denis Smith and worked for 10 days on the Western Front before her real identity was discovered.

And most people didn’t know the real story about Dr. James Barry (born Margaret Ann Bulkley), a pioneering surgeon for the British Army who died in 1865, being a woman until 2008. The Army, so upset they had been fooled by a women, locked away Barry’s medical records. “Barry, living as a man, became the first biological woman to graduate with a medical degree, went on to have the highest recovery rate of patients treated during the Crimean War, and reportedly became the first surgeon in the then British Empire to successfully perform a Caesarean section,” reports the Telegraph.

In literary circles the famed Bronte sisters passed themselves off as men by name only. Charlotte, Emily and Anne went by the names of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell when they first started writing. It was easier to get published as a man, and men were more respected in literature at the time.

Today, most women don’t go as far as to change their appearance, they most often just change their name like the Bronte sisters to sound more masculine.

In more recent time, female DJ Tatiana Alvarez spent a year posing as a man. When she kept finding herself rejected by venue owners just because of her gender, she decided to “change” it, reinventing herself as a male DJ named Matt Muset, aka Musikillz. “Alvarez (as Musikillz) was immediately successful. She will serve as music supervisor in the movie of her life, the rights to which were purchased by Warner Brothers last year,” reports the Telegraph.

Women passing themselves as men will most likely continue until equity is reached say experts. “As long as gender barriers exist, there will be women who because of their passion to accomplish their goals, will do whatever it takes to pursue what they desire,”  Dr. Rachel Elahee,  psychologist, life/business coach, and author of the book Choose You!, tells MadameNoire. “This includes jobs. There is no question that gender bias and salary gaps exist. Some women believe that posing as men will catapult them over such barriers.”

The idea of impersonating a man isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. “Although some women certainly go to extremes to alter their appearance, the most common way to disguise their gender is to change their name to a neutral or masculine name and to remove all gender references from the resume. Creating this new identity also involves composing a new social media profile,” says Dr. Elahee.

“Women continue to use these tactics because sexism remains an issue in the 21st century. Getting your foot in the door for an interview is a critical part of landing a job, and some people still discriminate based on gender,” career adviser and resume expert for Resume Genius Mark Slack explains to MadameNoire.

According to Slack, sometimes the gender bias is unconscious. “In most cases, the female candidate will be able to make a strong argument for herself and impress the hiring manager,” he says.

Even if a woman has been caught impersonating a man, it is illegal for the company to not to complete the interview based on her actual gender. “If you have an unlucky encounter with a truly irredeemable misogynist who immediately boots you out of the interview after discovering you’re female, and you can prove that you’ve been discriminated against during the hiring process, you definitely have legal recourse,” says Slack.

If you’re the victim of discrimination, report your case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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  • Jay

    First thing I thought of was Mulan lol, sorry. Then again, not just the Disney movie but the Chinese story itself which is hundreds, maybe thousands of years old. Even though she pretended to be a male soldier (can that even be called a job, in ancient times or even now?) in place of her sick father and not just to make money and get ahead, I guess today things haven’t changed and life continues to imitate art but not always in the best way.

  • Courtney Banks

    Throw race into the mix and it gets even more complex. Remember the black woman who pretended to be white and all the job offers started pouring in. It’s not black and white(no pun intended).. The whole pay inequality glosses over the fact that WHITE women make more than black and Latino women. They also make more then black men. That’s nothing more than white women trying to get paid as much as their white counterparts. I’m a bit longwinded but my point is it’s not enough to be a “man” it’s about the right type of man

  • Guest

    Throw race into the mix and it gets even more complex. Remember the black woman who pretended to be white and all the job offers started pouring in.