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The Copywriter’s Guide to Gender Inclusive Writing

Recently I read The Copywriter’s Handbook: a step by step guide to writing copy that sells by Robert W. Bly. The book was very helpful and I was really enjoying it until I got to his section on gender neutrality and sexism.

It was the paragraph noted below in italics that began an irritation, that continued to aggravate each time I read another of his ‘random’ selection of gendered pronouns (often used in an example to illustrate a point). Because according to Robert Bly, the only reason not to write in sexist  language is — you might lose a sale. 

Copywriters must avoid sexist language. Like it or not, sexist language offends a large portion of the population, and you don’t sell things to people by getting them angry at you.

And he’s absolutely right too, but he should probably take his own advice lest women stop buying his things.  His suggestion to alternate gender references (ie, alternating he and shehis and her throughout a piece of writing) is a problematic strategy, and in case of his copywriting handbook, equally offensive. Instead of taking in his fictionalised examples, I found myself wondering why the ‘he‘ was alway the copywriter or manager and the ‘she‘ was always the buyer or reader.

But this post isn’t about ragging out Mr Bly’s book (because it’s not a bad book), it’s really about recognising that gender inclusive language has become the standard in journalistic and academic writing, and using masculine terms like workman, mankind, and man-made is antiquated and no longer representative of culture and values in 2018. AND It’s also sexist and offensive.

The University of North Carolina have an excellent guide to gender inclusive language on their website which I recommend my fellow writers checking out. It gives clear strategies for tackling gendered nouns, occupational stereotypes, and unnecessary gender references. 

Also if you want to improve your copywriting Robert W. Bly’s copywriter’s handbook really is a worthwhile tool. Had the whole thing been written in consistent masculine pronouns with no mention of sexism I probably wouldn’t have been really bothered. But in his own way he did reinforce two excellent points: that copywriting is sales writing; and it’s difficult to sell stuff to people when you get them upset.


© 2018 Melinda J. Irvine
Location: Iloilo City (Philipppines)
#copywriting #WritingBiz #equality

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