I once drove by a local ATV dealer and was sickened by the message on their sign: “Husbands: We called your wife and she said it was okay. Come on in” (or something like that). That offended both my husband and me. The implied message here was that wives have to give husbands permission to buy things and that it’s only men buying ATVs (and married men, at that).
One of the biggest misconceptions out there about what it is I, as an editor, do is that I fix typos,
making sure all those commas are where they should be and none have snuck in where they shouldn’t and what not. And, sure, yes, I can do that, but that type of editing (known as copyediting, to use the technical term) actually takes place in the later stages of a piece of writing.
When clients come to me with a manuscript or article or web copy or report or whatever, the ideal process has me first looking at the document for big things: structure, voice, tense, flow, gaps, character development, order of info, and so on and so forth. Once all that has been nailed down (and this process could take some back and forth), then and only then is it time to worry about those pesky things like grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Today, I want to chat about one of those big things I can help with in the early stages of editing. And while normally, I’m all for adding a little more Manley into your world, it’s also helpful to know when to bring the manly down.
Is your message excluding half (ish) the population?
I’m not up on my stats, so I don’t know, exactly, what percentage of the world’s population self-identify as women, so let’s just pretend that half the population are either women or share traits of a woman.
Do you purposely want to exclude them from your message? Whether that message is promoting a product or service or is the book you’ve written, why risk excluding or annoying a good chunk of the world?
Sure, some products and books might have more of one gender interested, but that’s not the point (and seeing a gap in the market should actually encourage you to reach out to that gap, really)…whether your website or book is read by 50 million women or 31, your goal should still be to create a relevant message for those who do come to you.
I have much to say on this topic, so this is going to be a two-parter blog post. Today, I’d like to focus on how important it is to use inclusive language in your messaging. My next blog post will revolve around gender stereotyping.
One note before I get into it: The point of this post is not to bash anyone or assign blame. ATV sign post (and the like) excluded, I truly believe that there’s a good chunk of sexist rhetoric and messaging being used out of ignorance. And that, if brought to the owner’s/author’s attention, they’d be all too happy to fix it. Because, at the end of the day, you want your message well received, right?
Mankind. Manpower. Penmanship. Right-hand man. He. Middleman. Gunman. Manning.*
*the verb, not the last name.
Do you use any of the above words? If so, please stop. These are examples of gendered language, and, yes, they’re offensive.
Some of you reading this might now be rolling your eyes (“Oh, what’s the harm?” “Don’t be so sensitive!” “How is that offensive?” “Are we going to get upset over every little thing?” “We’ve been using those words for hundreds of years!”), but that’s a risk I’ll happily take because if I can make one suggestion for businesses and authors alike it is this: be inclusive.
Why risk excluding or offending a portion of your audience? An audience who might, otherwise, be willing to give you money. Seems silly. Especially when there’s such an easy fix. Here, let me show you:
Humankind. Worker/Workforce. Handwriting. Sidekick/Helper/Assistant/Partner. They/He or She. Middleperson. Shooter. Staffing/Leading/At.
Now, some of these gendered phrases have woven their way into the everyday vernacular and you might argue, “where’s the harm?” And I get it—you may not have thought about the meaning of your word/phrase choice and its implications, but words matter. Just because these words have been used for hundreds of years doesn’t mean they still have to be. We all know that history is full of dark things that should not be celebrated or repeated…and this includes language.We can all think of words and phrases that were once acceptable to use in society, but are no longer used.
Words carry weight. They have power. Using male-centred words/phrases implies that you are placing more importance on men. Think about it: By choosing to use “man-made,” for example, you’re removing women from the picture. You’re assuming that the creating was done by men. Not women. All men.
But doesn’t the word ‘man’ include ‘woman’?
No. Once upon a time, there may have been that assumption. But that assumption needs to go away now. By only using “man,” you’re basically eclipsing women and suggesting that they don’t matter (otherwise, why can’t we use “woman” to include all men since the actual word “man” is part of “woman”?). That they’re okay to be ignored.
And we all know that isn’t what you mean to do, right?
Solution: Use words that include everyone.
My next blog post will talk about gender stereotyping and how to avoid that. In the meantime, I challenge you to review your messaging to see if you use (even inadvertently) gendered language. Or, if you’d like some help identifying where you could be more inclusive in your language, give me a shout. This is one area where being more Manley can work in your favour!
Christine Gordon Manley is the resident editor for Manley Mann Media. She cares about using words respectfully and properly. She also has a graduate degree in Women’s History and is raising two fierce Manley girls.