Last week, I talked to you about the power of words and the importance of avoiding gendered language. How you shouldn’t offend your audience by using language that excludes them. I also offered up some substitutes for such words/phrases as “manpower,” “penmanship,” and “middleman.” If you missed it, you can catch up here.
Today, I’d like to talk about something that’s mostly for you authors out there but also shows up in advertising: gender stereotypes.
Avoid Gender Stereotyping
Men tinkering under the car. Women in the kitchen, fixing after-school snacks for children. Men drinking beer on the couch while women scrub the bathroom clean.
I think we can all agree that these images are pretty silly in the year 2018 and that advertisers should be called out for such gender stereotypes.
But what if your copy only speaks to men? Or your book has 99% male characters (with the token female sex object)? Or the women you do include all wear lipstick, are usually crying, and never make their own decisions?
Is that still stereotyping?
Okay, your book might be about a post-apocalyptic world where only men survived, and in this case, the absence of women makes sense (let’s pretend there’s something about that Y chromosome that saves only men, here…it’s a plot, just go with it). I’m not trying to control your story here.
But, assuming that you are not writing about such an event, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions:
- How many women do I include in my message and what purpose do they serve? Do their roles/descriptions fit with the time period in which I’m writing? (If you’re writing a story set in the 1860s, it is fine to have wives at home, looking after children.)
- How do I portray the women I do include? Do they all wear the same type of clothing? How realistic for the setting are the wardrobe choices? Are they all married? Do they all have children? (Variety is the spice of life for a reason, so make sure your women are not one-dimensional.)
I work with men quite frequently, and during the editing process, I’ll flag possible gendered issues in their manuscripts. Most of the time (hmmm, it’s actually safe for me to say “all of the time” here because my male authors are pretty wonderful), the writer isn’t aware of the gender bias he created and is more than happy to fix it. In one case, a whole other character was created because of my comments. (It made me feel like I gave birth again…)
So, this is not about coming down on men. There’s no judgement when these words/phrases/stereotypes slip through as long as the author is willing to adjust their perceptions.
What about male stereotyping?
Gendered language favours the male. It just does. Remember when I said that words have power? Yes, so the whole reason why we have “manpower” and “mankind” is because men, once upon a time, were seen as the superior sex. Obviously, that line of thinking is less prevalent today, but language takes a while to evolve.
So I’m not sure if my first tip—avoid gendered language—applies, when we flip ye olde gender scale (if anyone has an example of a female gendered term that eliminates or puts down men, please do let me know!). The female terms I know tend to portray a negative impression (“Debbie downer,” “diva,” “drama queen,” “throw like a girl”), but I’m not claiming to know everything, so feel free to challenge this assertion, my friends!
Now, with regard to stereotyping…
Honestly, it doesn’t happen as frequently, but I’ll, of course, always encourage businesses and women writers to take a look at their messaging. How have you depicted your male characters? Do they all avoid housework, childcare responsibilities, etc. (if written in a more modern-day time period)? Are they all dishonest and up to no good? Do they all drink beer?
It’s important to have balance, so I’m not saying you can’t have characters that are jerks. Life includes a whole bunch of jerks, and writing about them is, simply, a realistic portray of the world. Just make sure that one entire gender isn’t lumped into the jerk category.
If you aren’t sure if your message is gender inclusive, I can help! Pass your words over to the Manley one here and I’ll make sure your message is relevant and will be well received by anyone (manly or not).