At the recent 92nd Annual Academy Awards a trio of superheroic women (Brie Larson, Gal Gadot and Sigourney Weaver) took the stage to give away one on the night’s prizes. Now, they said something during their banter that I thought was pretty interesting. They said “All women are superheroes!”. The crowd ate it up and thunderous applause ensued. It stuck with me and I wanted to address it from a communications perspective.
First of all, it worked so you have to give them points right off the bat. But, here’s the thing and It’s really important. All women are NOT superheroes. I read a story about a woman in Riverside County, Calif who kept her three small children in dog cages and abused them both physically and mentally for years until the state finally rescued them. She’s NOT a superhero. Nancy Pelosi, who most recently tore up the President of the United States’ State of the Union speech in one of the more juvenile acts ever witnessed in that chamber is also NOT a superhero. …And we could list many others.
Now when you as a communicator make an all-inclusive statement that does not allow individuals to have an individual identity such as “all women are superheroes” that is by definition a sexist statement. Even if the intent is positive that does not remove you from your responsibility to treat all individuals as individuals and not lump them into a group like that. And no one noticed it. Well, I did but no one else seemed to care.
If I went out and said “all black people are criminals” that would probably get some attention. First, it isn’t close to true and second, it’s pretty ridiculous and could be refuted very easily. But if I said, “all black people can play basketball well and jump high,” see that appears to be a positive statement YET…still very racist. Because again, the definition of that is grouping all people with a certain characteristic (skin color) together and saying they “all” are “insert adjective phrase here.”
All women aren’t anything because that group is huge and made up of individuals who behave that way. All men also aren’t anything because they are individuals and the minute you get a nice grouping going, one of them will come along and screw it up. That’s human behavior, folks. We cannot be grouped like that. And I think we’ve proven that trying to do so (with any intent) is sexist and wrong.
Here’s why YOU should care. Because as communicators we have a fundamental responsibility to be clear and accurate—and these kinds of BS feel-good statements which show up in speeches, marketing- speak and brochures are neither. Here’s a good trick for you. Ask yourself questions and challenge what you’ve written. If you write something like “all women are superheroes”. Stop, let it cool off and then say to yourself — “are they?” “All of them?” “Really?”
Too often journalists and communicators today DO NOT challenge their own thinking which is why we get Gizmodo headlines like “Miami is F-ed” and the story turns out to be one study that claims the Miami beachfront is eroding away (like many other beachfronts around the world cause that’s what they do over time). No one internally challenged it.
Challenge your thinking before communicating anything. Identify bias, misleading statements and of course seemingly benign and yet really sexist comments like we’ve been talking about. Do this and your communications will be clear and will attract your audience. The world needs more of it and it’s in your power to make it happen.