Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

When it comes to developing content for your business’ Web site, does sex matter to you? Should it?

Only if you believe the hype.

Before I go any further, I do want to establish a frame of reference for my use of the terms sex and gender. Too often, people misuse gender when they really mean sex -- gender, I guess, is less snicker-inducing in the school system. But it’s also wrong.

  • Sex refers to specific biological and physical characteristics that define men and women (e.g. men have testicles, women don’t);
  • Gender refers to artificial constructs that society assigns as masculine or feminine (e.g. roles, behaviours, attributes, interests).

Now that’s out of the way, should sex matter when you’re developing content?

The communications industry tends to be a female-dominated one. Forget what Mad Men teaches you… public relations, copy writing, editing, and – to a large part – marketing are departments that tend to skew dramatically towards women.

Being the only man in a department is nothing new for most male communicators. In fact, a Ragan Communication’s PR Daily piece from late 2010 references a statistic from the chair of Syracuse University’s PR department that states nearly 85 per cent of practitioners are women. That same article states that 73 per cent of the membership of the Public Relations Society of America is female (representing 21,000 PR and communications professionals and students in the U.S.).

So why is this? There are many theories behind this, but where I believe they fall down is in the fact that they’re arguing artificial gender stereotypes, not sexual differences.

This 2010 article is a fair representation of the general mindset towards women in communications. It lists seven main reasons why women dominate the industry ranging from being more natural communicators, to being better multi-taskers and organizers than men, to being more imaginative, intuitive, and sensitive to nuances.

Those are gender stereotypes. Looking at the examples listed by the World Health Organization (some of which I’ve referenced earlier http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/), none of these sex characteristic differences would indicate that one sex over the other would be better in these roles. However, our cultural gender stereotyping does: we attribute better listening skills, multitasking, and organizational skills to women, but I know many men can do all of those things*.

*Well, anyone who has seen my desk will know that while I may be a good multi-tasker, organization can easily be called into question.

I speak from experience in saying that sex does not matter when you write. Over my career, I’ve written copious amounts of copy ranging from sports to health to cosmetics. Compelling sales copy is compelling sales copy, and the sex of the writer shouldn’t matter.

I’ve worked with great male writers who crafted wonderful pieces of prose targeted at a feminine audience. And I’ve worked with wonderful female writers who have deftly created copy aimed at the masculine audience.

The thing you, as a business owner, need to ask is this: are you truly writing for a man or a woman, or are you focusing on masculine or feminine roles?

In general, most customers will approach your brand as sex and gender-neutral.  Unless there’s a specific reason to assert whether you’re a man or a woman – or your masculinity or femininity – neutrality tends to open your content to the widest audience possible. And, personally, I tend to be more focused on the writing than the writer.

For some, that’s not the case. This recent piece outlined one man’s experience writing under a gender-neutral name (personally, I’ve always thought Nico was for a guy’s name, but…) In it he discusses the assumptions and responses that readers have made relating to his work.

A good writer will put him or herself into the content. When you’re writing a book, you want your writer to feel the character, but when you’re writing business copy, you want your writer to write with the customer in mind.

Man or woman? It doesn’t matter. As long as he or she is a good writer, your business is ahead of the game.

Questions Answered

Do I need to have a man write my copy?

Do I need to have a woman write my copy?

Why are there more women in public relations?

What's the difference between sex and gender?

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