I've been having a low key identity crisis over the past few months. No- I'm not having a mid-life crisis. I'm trying to decide under what name I should publish my upcoming children's book (and probably any other future writing I choose to publish in a non-blog format). I had generally assumed that I would publish under a pseudonym, but lately I've been considering using my real initials and last name.
I've been thinking about showing Pumpkin my book- which is her bedtime story- and explaining why it is not my name on the front. What would I tell her? Would I feel good about my explanation and what it said to her about me, her, and our place in the world?
I do not kid myself and think that I am truly anonymous here. Far from it- anyone who knows me in real life and finds this blog will recognize me, and I am aware that it would be trivially easy for someone who wanted to find out my real name to do so. I have two main reasons for writing pseudonymously: (1) I worry about potential employers googling my name and finding the blog and reading something that makes them not want to hire me, (2) I worry about having something I write about the kids come back later to cause them problems (e.g., teasing at school).
In short, I've thought that by blogging under a pseudonym, I am protecting myself and my family. I have started to rethink that.
On the first issue, what is it that I write that could potentially sour an employer? I used to joke that I didn't want someone who was considering hiring me to find a bunch of posts about how sleep deprived I am- but I am not sleep deprived anymore. The more likely scenario now is that the potential employer disagrees with my more feminist posts or doesn't like my assertion that working long hours is unproductive. I rarely blog directly about my work and never blog anything even close to proprietary. In a fair world, nothing I write would cause me any problems with my career. But we do not live in a fair world, and I know that, so I worry.
Still, I find myself thinking about the worst possible career outcome- namely that I get fired and/or cannot get hired someplace else because of something I write- and find that I don't care. I would not write anything where such an outcome would be justified, so if I did suffer any career repercussions for anything I write, I think I could live with that. I have money in the bank and other ideas about what I could do to make more money. Perhaps I should reject the idea that writing honestly about my life as a mother in the workforce might jeopardize my place in the workforce, not because it couldn't do that, but because it shouldn't do that. I have long felt that the safest course for me in my career is to avoid being linked directly with feminism. Perhaps it is time for me to stop being safe and do my small bit to help make it safer for women in science and technology to be outspoken.
The second issue is trickier. I still would not name my kids on my blog. I don't have the same last name as my children, and my last name is a fairly common one. So realistically, by the time my kids' friends are old enough to find this blog, they would be old enough to break through the thin veil of anonymity I have now- but it isn't likely that they would do so by accident. The more likely concern is that I could pick up a troll who becomes scary, i.e., who figures out who I am in real life and threatens me and my family there. This is very unlikely, but sadly, not impossible. In a sane world, nothing I write here could possibly spur someone to take such hateful steps. But we do not live in a sane world. We live in a world where the outcry and discussion around the outing of the man who created and moderated disgusting and harmful Reddit sites is more around the fact that someone outed him than around the fact that his sites were a safe haven for men who engage in predatory behavior towards women and girls. We live in a world where all young women have to worry about the ever present camera and what an inopportune photo can do to them in the hands of the wrong person. We live in a world where Kathy Sierra can be hounded offline by trolls issuing death threats. We live in a world where Facebook allows disgusting hate speech aimed at women under the guise of "humor" and "satire." And in this world, women are just supposed to shrug and ignore all of this because of "free speech." (Note: most people do not understand what free speech really means.)
But as I've been reading all of the recent news, and reflecting back on the Sierra story (which occurred right around the time I was first becoming active online), I find that my primary emotion isn't fear. It is anger. I am angry that this is the world I have to explain to my girls someday. I am angry that I'll have to coach them to be careful about pictures, and that I'll eventually have to explain about sexists and misogynists and the happy home those people have found for themselves in certain corners of the internet. I am angry that I have to pick my way past that sexism and misogyny online, and that my daughters undoubtedly will, too.
And come to think of it, I am angry that I have to worry at all that writing under my own name about being a working mother and being a feminist could have negative repercussions on my career.
I am sick of this stuff. I want it to get better. Maybe it is time to revisit my old adage to "never give them a reason to disrespect you" and acknowledge that the people who are going to disrespect me and try to hold me back will always find a reason, no matter what I do. I do not kid myself that my reach or importance are anywhere big enough
to mean that my decision will make an iota of difference to the rest of
the world. But it will matter to me, and to the example I am to my
daughters, and that is reason enough to think this through. What message do I want to send them? And how, exactly, do I best protect them from the ugliness that is in this world?
My decision is made, but I am not going to tell you what it is, because I want to hear what you think in the comments. Tell me, please.