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Your Content Has a Gender (Yes, Really). Here's Why.

churchill-v-for-victory-ap410827011

Take a look at the riddle below:

A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad.

The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says,

"I can’t operate - that boy is my son!"

Explain.


The answer to the above riddle evades most readers.

They’re stumped.

The father is dead, so how can he be about to operate on his son?

Admittedly, when I first read this, I was stumped too.

It makes no sense, does it?

The answer though is actually pretty straightforward: the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

Now, while some would instantly argue that this is proof of a gender-biased society, become triggered and tweet angrily in protest of such offensive riddles, there’s actually a really interesting, logical, word-based reason why most people don’t consider the mother as a possibility when trying to solve the riddle.


Did you just assume my gender?

Interestingly enough, content itself can actually be inherently biased (or, at least lean heavily) towards being masculine or feminine.

The main reason this riddle stumps most isn’t because the reader is a sexist who hates women and only considers men to be worthy or surgical-based job roles - far from it.

The truth is that the riddle is itself riddled with masculine words and contains almost no feminine words at all.

Take a look at the riddle again below, in which I’ve highlighted the masculine words:

A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate - that boy is my son!"

The use of these words plays a trick on your mind and has you looking specifically for another masculine word to continue the pattern.



What does this mean for your business?

This is a really important point which every company on the planet needs to take into account when putting together a piece of content or wider content marketing strategy.

Most professional marketers and copywriters take into account a lot of different criteria when thinking about their target audience and reader: age, interests, hobbies, life goals, job, favoured brands, favourite TV shows etc.

While many do think about the gender of the target audience too, most fail to consider how the language used will impact the way the target reader thinks - and more importantly feels - about the brand’s writing.

Winston-Churchill

Example 1: Winston the Motivator

We only need to look to history to find thousands of great examples of people using masculine and feminine word patterns in their writing to evoke certain emotions.

Take for example this iconic, wartime speech given by Sir Winston Churchill:


"We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.

That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
"

This is an incredibly powerful writing style - one which Churchill used throughout his famous political career.

But what made the writing so powerful and inspiring to its target audience: the men about to go to war for their country, probably never to return?

The masculine words used, as highlighted below, are a large part of the answer:

"We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to
wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.

That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is
victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."

 

GettyImages-51805873-E

Example 2: Winston the Softie

Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum though, here’s a snippet from a letter the same man wrote during the same period of time to an entirely different target audience: the love of his life, Clementine Churchill:

"Sweet cat - I kiss your vision as it rises before my mind. Your dear heart throbs often in my own. May God bless you darling and keep you safe & sound.

Kiss the P.K. for me all over.

With fondest love

W."


It’s easy to see the difference here between writing styles when Churchill - just as any company today would - wrote for a different target persona.

Highlighted below are all of the feminine words used in the above piece:


"Sweet
cat - I kiss your vision as it rises before my mind. Your dear heart throbs often in my own. May God bless you darling and keep you safe & sound.

Kiss the P.K. for me all over.

With fondest love

W."



But what does it all mean?

So, what does this mean for you and your content?

Should you only use overly manly words for all products aimed at men?

And how about the ladies? Should you only use soft, subtle words to sell to the fairer sex?

Sadly, nothing in life is that simple - especially copywriting.

Also, who’s to say girls can’t evoke masculine traits and males carry feminine characteristics?

Look back at the two examples I mentioned above.

It’s fair to say that, in these instances, Churchill was writing specifically to males in the first example, and to a female in the second.

But look deeper into it than that.

In the first example, Winston was trying to evoke tougher, more masculine feelings and emotions such as hardiness, perseverance, grit and determination.

In the second, however, the emotional focus is completely shifted: warmth, tenderness, comfort and love - all emotions we’d sooner associate to the caring nature of ladies than the average man - are instead the aim of the piece.

Of course, the topic of sex and gender are very complicated matters - particularly these days.

As a rule of thumb, think - as Winston did - not about the sex of the reader, but on the emotion you’re trying to evoke.

What do you want them to feel when they read your writing?

If you want them to feel empowered, inspired or afraid, try to lean toward more masculine words.

If, however, you want your readers to feel safe, loved and appreciated, be sure to focus on more feminine words.

And, if you’re in the kitty nibbles business, take a leaf out of Winston’s book and write to your audience as ‘Sweet Cat’ - I guarantee your sales figures will soar.


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