Stereotypes in communications – just harmless fun?

Posted by Shelley Grell on July 24th, 2015.

Communications is beautiful. It’s how we’ve been exchanging knowledge and ideas with other people for millennia. And it’s so simple. If you can speak, write or sign, you can communicate.

Does it need a second thought? Absolutely. Because, if winning the approval of your audience is important, you really wouldn’t want to risk upsetting them over an inappropriate piece of content or image that might be sexist, racist, political, et cetera.

When you communicate with an audience, think about how they might interpret your content. Some deliberately use risky content/images to reflect their viewpoint, or challenge an opinion, because they want to evoke a reaction from their audience. Others use it inappropriately, accidentally, or naïvely, resulting in unintentional offence. Giving your content a second thought and even a second pair of eyes will help you to choose your words and images wisely.

A Man's Day vs. A Woman's Day

A Man’s Day vs. A Woman’s Day

Knickers are best left unknotted

Humour is an interesting example. We often incorporate humour with our communications to share a laugh or break the ice, and lighten the mood. If the humour is relevant, inoffensive, and funny, that’s great. Use it. We all love a good laugh. But a joke or reference that’s in poor taste and doesn’t meet your audiences’ expectations can have the opposite effect.

For instance, recently a woman’s business group posted on their Facebook page this emoticon picture showing the difference between a man’s day and a woman’s day.

In the image the emoticons throughout the man’s day were all happy-go-lucky smiley faces, whereas every emoticon in the woman’s day was different in the extreme – depicting women as unstable psychotic emotional hazards.

Many will see it as just a harmless joke and nothing to get anyone’s knickers in a knot about. But remember the audience of this group is business women – many of whom will have had experience of sexism or gender inequality at work.

Many of these business women also, at some point in their career, may not have been considered for a job or a promotion because they are a woman, or a woman of ‘childbearing age’, or because they requested flexible hours to help juggle childcare. They also may not have been taken seriously, called over-emotional, and asked if it was their ‘time of the month’.

Does the content meet your audience’s expectations?

When I saw the emoticon image, it did not meet my expectations. Instead of finding it funny and making me laugh as the administrator intended, I felt that it was inappropriate for this particular group to reinforce a stereotypical image that smacks in the face of every woman fighting for equality. To me it reinforced an offensive stereotype, and corroborated sexist reasoning as to why women shouldn’t get the same employment opportunities as men.

If you’ve seen the recent powerful #LikeAGirl campaign that changed the stereotype “like a girl” from an insult to a compliment, you’ll understand why we should think about the impact of our content and avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes in our communications.

Thankfully, the admin person of the group saw my point and immediately deleted the image.

So, unless you actually intend to provoke or offend, take a minute before your next public missive to think about how your audience might react to your content and images.

Comments are closed.