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Reading Gender Tea Leaves: The Dangers In PC Marketing

Years ago, a gay colleague brought me up short by pointing out (it was news to him, too) that reporters should not refer to lesbians as gay women.

I marked it down as one more copyediting

rule to keep in mind. But I’ve since realized that it was more than that — it’s part of a sensitivity that keeps you from offending people even when you don’t know the precise

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rule.

I was reminded of this by a Jo Ellison column in last Saturday’s Financial Times, titled: “Woke speak is scary. Time to swot up.”

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Ellison seems bemused

by the fact that she is a cis woman—a woman who was female at birth, as opposed to being a transgendered woman.

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“I have only a very rudimentary grasp on the new vocabulary of

gender,” Ellison writes. “To engage with it is fraught with hazard.”

She goes on to quote an older gay man who asks a younger gay man: “Why is your generation so

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obsessed with labels?”

Good question. But they are. Axios cites a 2017 study showing that 20% of millennials put themselves “somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum” and 12% identify

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as transgender or gender fluid. Gen Zers are even more likely to classify themselves in those groups.

Jessi Hempel, a tech journalist, writes that this feels like “the spring that the

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gender pronouns migrated into email signatures,” Axios continues.

This is a dangerous area for marketers whose algorithms spit out triggered emails that have not been viewed

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first by human eyes. The risks do not only concern gender issues, but also ethnic and religious identities. And age.

There are at least three PC danger areas in copy:

Ellison concludes: “Labels are exasperating. And exhausting. And confusing.” True. But they’re worth getting right in a time when humanism is being eroded and groups of all

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types are under attack.

 

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