Guest Post: Are Women Better Freelancers?

It takes a courageous man to tackle gender issues. It’s even more courageous when he does so in terms of how women could possibly be better writers than men. Our chum Jake Poinier dives in with a style that is, well, purely Jake, which is to say purely entertaining and thought-provoking. Jake, you have moxie. And thank you for your fearless entry into gender-related waters.

By Jake Poinier

What I’m reading: The Ebony Tower by John Fowles
What’s on the iPod: “Guys Like Me” by Aimee Mann

Note: The following post contains generalizations, leaps of faith, stereotypes, and unscientific assumptions, does not necessarily reflect the views of management, and should be used for entertainment purposes only. Guest blogger Jake Poinier runs Boomvang Creative Group to pay the bills, the Dear Dr. Freelance advice column for fun, and trusts Lori is having a blast away from the daily grind.

As a guy freelance writer, it can seem somewhat lonely. I realize full well that “data” isn’t the plural of “anecdote,” but the fact is that I can count my male freelance writer/editor friends on two hands, whereas my female friends and acquaintances who freelance number into the dozens, maybe triple digits. About three-quarters of the respondents to the 2010 “Freelance Forecast” survey were identifiable as women.

Which brings me to the question: Are women better at freelance writing?

As an editor, I started out in the golf industry, which heavily skewed toward male editors hiring male writers. When my career later diversified into healthcare, business, and other custom publishing topics, my freelance stable diversified, too. It was an eye-opening experience, from which I drew a couple of conclusions about why women are often well-suited to the profession:

Better communicators. Yeah, I know — it’s trite. But it’s true. My experience is that women do a better job of listening, follow-up, etc.

More skilled writers. Perhaps the best way I can visualize the male/female divide here is that they exist in two separate bell curves. It’s not that all women are better, but it’s a larger talent pool and on average it’s easier to find a skilled writer. (Clearly, those results will vary based on topic matter.)

Deadline adherence. Women care more about this. As an editor, it’s valuable.

Learning from each other. Our very own Words on the Page is a great example of sharing ideas that can help us do our jobs better. Again, 100% anecdotally speaking, it seems like more women blog about writing and participate in discussions about it.

As entrepreneurs, we have a lot more in common than we do differences. Our field of freelancing requires a balance between the savvy to get the business, and the writing and editing skill to retain it. That, of course, transcends gender…and I’ll confess, I don’t mind being outnumbered.

Do you think that women are generally more suited to freelancing? Or do you think there’s another explanation for the female/male ratio that I’ve described? If there are any guys out there, please de-lurk and comment!

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  • Cathy October 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Then you have James at Men With Pens who came out of the locker room to tell readers he was really a she and how she felt she got more (or maybe it was better) work penning as a man. I find the whole thing fascinating.

    I have always said that it's not about good or bad, but different. We are definitely wired differently.

    I give the example of a woman who had a scar from breast cancer surgery. She was complaining about it to her husband who said if it bothered her so much, she should have it removed. He wasn't unfeeling. He just responded in the common male response of "fixing a problem." He didn't find the scar ugly, but if it bothered his wife, he wanted to fix it.

    When she had the same conversation with her girlfriend, her friend said, "I know it's hard. It's like a constant reminder of that cancer." That was what the woman was looking for.

    Two – really caring responses – just different.

    So, how's that for skirting the question, Jake? Write on. 🙂

  • Paula October 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    It's a classic Yin-Yang situation. Perhaps a co-ed freelance team would be unstoppable.

  • Jake P October 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    @Cathy, aha — "skirting the question." I see what you did there!

    Your point about fixing the problem hits home. Last week, my teenage daughter was in tears over something in the moments before school. I was doing my best to ferret out what the issue was so I could address it (particularly if it was something I had inadvertently caused!), while my wife simply comforted her. Different wiring, indeed.

    @Paula, that's an interesting idea. One of my favorite graphic design partners is a husband-and-wife team. Their skill sets are different enough that they work extraordinarily well together.

    Thanks for the comments!

  • Wendy October 26, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I have a male friend that could be a good Freelance Writer if he put his mind to it. The reason he gives for not going for it is that he'd rather be doing something "manly". I gave up trying to convince him otherwise, since he's happy being a high-tech mechanic.

    I don't know if that has anything to do with the male/female ratio in freelancing or not, but I thought I'd add it anyway.

  • Jake P October 26, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    @Wendy, I'm not really surprised. Even in college, I detected a stigma as a guy English major, especially as one who was more interested in playing sports than artsy stuff. (I caught a lot of crap from my friends who were in "manly" majors like history and econ!) But, it was what I liked and it was what I was good at — didn't seem like I had much choice!

  • Short Poems October 27, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Great post, like your blog!

  • Lindsey Donner October 27, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    I agree with you and Wendy that "writing" may not be perceived as a masculine profession, although of course James/MWP's success may be attributed to that reason too, capitalizing on a way to dominate the field and appeal to the types of editors or suits who prefer a man for any job.

    Your post brought up another question that I wondered about (given that my own copy/blogging heroes are, almost 90%, female-gendered).

    And that question is, do more women blog in general? Sort of like cooking. Tons of women doing it, yet still the uppermost tiers seem to be male-dominated.

    I bet someone knows the answer…

  • Jake P October 28, 2010 at 12:35 am

    @Lindsey, interesting observation/analogy with top-tier chefs. On an anecdotal level, it sure seems to me that there are more women who blog in general as well as about writing in particular. At the risk of appearing to ingratiate myself to the proprietor and audience here, I will say that my RSSes in the writing field rank are primarily from the distaff side!

    James/MWP's experience is curious to me, but it may be an indication of matching skills to target audience and/or industry. (I say that without knowing who she was targeting, since her legendary blog post about wearing women's underpants doesn't say.) For what it's worth, my only experience writing for a women-only magazine was as the token "guy's view" for a bridal magazine — which was a helluva lot of fun.

  • John Sealander October 28, 2010 at 5:09 am

    There are a lot more male writers out there than you might think. Probably a lot of the male writers just didn't bother to respond to the 2010 Freelance Forecast.

    There is a subtle but important difference between thinking of yourself as a "company owner" with clients and a "freelancer" with projects.

    A lot of male writers I know in the ad business would rather think of themselves as business owners or entrepreneurs, even though their clients come and go and they are doing essentially the same thing every day as those who define themselves as freelancers.

    Most writers I know who own little ad agencies or studios tend to be male. Most writers I know who do editorial work on a project basis for magazines tend to be female. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

    I think there are still a lot of male writers in ad agencies because even though women may be better communicators, men are better bullshitters. Agencies still depend on good male writers to sell their concepts. Sure, things have changed, but it's still not that different from "Mad Men."

  • Jake P October 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    @John, thanks for a thoughtful comment. The distinction you draw between owner/clients and FLer/projects is essential to business success. I generally introduce myself as the owner of an editorial services firm, though I'll use freelancer when it's easy shorthand; i.e., hobnobbing with fellow creatives who hire freelancers.

    Had to chuckle at your comment about men being better BSers. I've never been an ad agency employee, but have spent enough time in and around them to have seen the Mad Men dynamic at work.