“You talkin’ to me?” The pitfalls of gendering your reader in marketing

The Pitfalls of Gendering Your Reader

Editor’s note: I’m very pleased to welcome guest poster Renata Dalmaso of emailManager! The eMail Guide community continues to grow globally and we gain a great deal every time we expand that global perspective.

Last week I experienced a Taxi Driver De Niro moment. While reading an article about email marketing I was suddenly thrown aback by the writer unexpectedly addressing the reader—i.e. me—as male. Just to clarify: I’m not, male that is. I am however a journalist that works with email marketing for some time and was really interested in the take of the article—up until the time I felt completely left out of the analogy.

My reaction was somewhat along the lines of “You takin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who else are you talkin’ to? Well, I’m the one reading this article. You must be talking to me.”

A few moments later I suppressed the need to express my disconfort by shaving my head and doing justice with my own hands. I felt it would be much better to reflect on why we sometimes make the mistake of gendering the reader in situations where we should be addressing a general audience.

So, like now, I’m referring to “you”, as my reader in this text, but I can’t know who you are. What I do know is that you are my reader, the person interested in what I have to say (hopefully), and that is all I can safely presume about you. I can’t just make the assumption that you are a woman, a man, a transgender person, or anything else about you, besides the fact that you are interested in reading about marketing.

We see marketers everywhere falling into this gender pitfall. And what happens when you gender your audience when you shouldn’t? You alienate HALF of your readers, something that every marketer out there should be afraid to terrified of. Of course that when you are sure you are addressing an already segmented audience you should personalize the dialogue as much as you can. This is in fact one of the secrets to success in email marketing: to deliver a message in a way that every person that receives it feels like it was sent directly and specifically to them.

However, when you do not have that information it is crucial that you do not make hasty assumptions. If you address your readers as male, how should the female readers receive the message? Should they feel left out? Should they get past this issue and just relate to it in the same way?

We could debate the reason behind these types of assumptions for hours (believe me, I’ve actually have spent hours discussing it), but the main thing to remember is that when writing anything (and I do mean anything: an email , a greeting card, a billboard sign, a magazine ad, an academic paper, etc) you should always consider the targeted audience for that text while writing it. In other words, unless you want your female readers to experience De Niro moments like mine, you should consider beforehand who will be the readers to your text and do your best to include them all in whatever message you are trying to convey.

Takeaway: Consider the audience you are writing for and be as inclusive as possible.

About the Author
Renata Dalmaso is currently in charge of the Social Media and Communication department at emailManager, an email marketing company based in Florianópolis, Brazil, which provides services for clients in South America and Europe. Besides her work as a journalist, Renata also holds a Masters degree in English Literature and is a PhD candidate within the Gender Studies field.

Twitter: @renatalie
Website: http://www.emailmanager.com

Meet the author:

Jeff Ginsberg

Jeff Ginsberg

20+ year email marketing veteran who wants to help NewBees BEEcome eMail Marketing Ninjas. Want to contribute to our blog? We are always looking for eMail Marketing Ninjas to come share their knowledge and help NewBees create and send better eMail messages.

Connect with: Jeff Ginsberg

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  • Chris Donald
    June 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Renata,

    A very good post on a subject that probably isn’t addressed enough. I learned a lot from your comments to my article which I had change from non-gender specific to gender specific in mid-stream. It’s an easy thing to do when we write in a conversational manner. The brain knows what it means to say, yet the words do not always convey the message appropriately when it comes to gender.

    Cheers and I look forward to your continued participation.

    Chris

  • Chris Donald
    June 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Renata,

    A very good post on a subject that probably isn’t addressed enough. I learned a lot from your comments to my article which I had change from non-gender specific to gender specific in mid-stream. It’s an easy thing to do when we write in a conversational manner. The brain knows what it means to say, yet the words do not always convey the message appropriately when it comes to gender.

    Cheers and I look forward to your continued participation.

    Chris

  • Renata Dalmaso
    June 29, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Thanks Chris, I’m always glad to write about this topic. I don’t think that people intentionally make these mistakes, it’s just a sort of automatic control. That is why I feel it is important to raise this issue whenever possible. If we start to reflect on it we begin to be a little more self-conscious in our daily actions, thus leaving the autopilot.

    I look forward to continue contributing as well!
    Best,
    Renata.

  • Renata Dalmaso
    June 29, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Thanks Chris, I’m always glad to write about this topic. I don’t think that people intentionally make these mistakes, it’s just a sort of automatic control. That is why I feel it is important to raise this issue whenever possible. If we start to reflect on it we begin to be a little more self-conscious in our daily actions, thus leaving the autopilot.

    I look forward to continue contributing as well!
    Best,
    Renata.

  • Jordie van Rijn
    July 9, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Hi Renata,

    You sure have a point. A big point. But it’s not true that you alienate half of your readers all the time. When you know the composition of the target audience there are times you should be more manly or female because you know a large size of your list is just that.

    We had a loyalty program with truck drivers where we knew that > 95% (maybe even > 99,5%) was male, thats just the type of list that needs to be man focussed. Also if you have a product specifically for men of female, that could be the case.

    Great piece Renata and i’d love to hear more from Brazil!

  • Jordie van Rijn
    July 9, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Hi Renata,

    You sure have a point. A big point. But it’s not true that you alienate half of your readers all the time. When you know the composition of the target audience there are times you should be more manly or female because you know a large size of your list is just that.

    We had a loyalty program with truck drivers where we knew that > 95% (maybe even > 99,5%) was male, thats just the type of list that needs to be man focussed. Also if you have a product specifically for men of female, that could be the case.

    Great piece Renata and i’d love to hear more from Brazil!

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