I’m gonna take some time now to talk about how to get messages across when you feel the message is not a very popular one, or one that a lot of people have a hard time accepting. There are many different topics I could use as examples; racial tensions, homophobia, various political agendas, etc. On the subject of what I call ‘Factual Thinking’ I’ve decided to use the example of sexism since I’ve seen so many examples of writers trying to get messages across on this particular topic and a lot of them unfortunately come across awkwardly because of not using Factual Thinking. I’ll try to explain why these attempts fall short and hopefully give you a better idea of how to get your messages across more effectively.
Have you ever noticed how a person or a TV show can try so hard to not seem sexist that they end up seeming sexist just because of how hard they’re trying? I can think of a few examples. The Sherlock episode “The Abominable Bride” comes to mind.
There was a particular commercial I saw once. I won’t name the company, but their closing message was “We proudly support women in sports.”
What I heard was “We’re comfortable with the women folk thinking they can also do things.”
We live in an interesting time for women’s rights. And by interesting, I mean bizarre. And I recognize that a lot of our own perceptions come from the cultures and beliefs that we grew up with, so I’m not faulting anybody for struggling with this concept. I just want to offer some advice that may help get the message out sooner.
When it comes to any worldview that’s relatively new and not yet widely accepted, there are three different categories, three different ways that people respond to it.
- “Of course.”
- “Oh, well, I don’t see why not. Sure, I’m on board.”
In other words, there are people who take to the idea a lot more easily than others. The idea that ‘maybe women can do things too’ is no exception. But the idea is super trending right now, so everybody wants to write their stories with this idea inserted somewhere. The “Sure, I guess” kind of people, though well meaning, have a tendency to make things worse. It’s not that they intend to, it’s just that they’re still trying to fit it into their own perception of things and it’s not quite fitting yet.
Many people in Category 3 will not even realize they’re there, because they’re so supportive of the idea. And they are supportive. It’s not that they disagree with it; it’s just that they’re not quite sure what it looks like for women to be smart and skilled. That’s why we need to set the example and show them.
I think the problem stems from the belief that the concept of women doing things is something that still needs to be proven, as opposed to treating it as if it’s common knowledge. Granted, there are cultures and even subdivisions within cultures that still view women as second-class citizens, or as hardly capable of thinking or moving around much, so there certainly does exist places in the world where the value of women is not common knowledge, but I know from experience that simply trying to argue a point rarely has the desired result. And that’s how most writers go about it. But turning it into an argument tends to have the opposite effect, just driving people deeper into their already held beliefs.
On the other hand, acting as if the point has already been made, is self-evident, common knowledge and able to stand up for itself if challenged, is a far more effective way of changing a person’s point of view.
Those who do this well are writers like Joss Whedon.
I’ll further address specific matters on ‘how to write women’ in a later post, so I won’t talk much more about that particular subject here. I just mention it here because, like I said, the idea of women doing things is a particularly trending topic right now. And as such it provides an abundance of both positive and negative examples of how to try and get one’s message across.
My next post will discuss the link between Consistency in your writing and making your Message more credible to your audience.
For more on these and other writing topics, The Storyteller’s Handbook is available for purchase now.