When Good Writing Goes Bad: the power of the pen

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Writers have power, and we have to be careful how we wield it.

You may think of writers as those lonely hacks in pajama bottoms and a dirty T-shirt hunched over a laptop. And sometimes we may be. Though my T-shirts are always clean and at the moment I'm wearing an actual skirt. Coming soon: actual makeup.

But more important than what we're wearing—remember that laptop we're hunched over? We use it to string words together. And those words can shape the lives of people we know and people we may never know. Our word-strings can move people to action or stir new thoughts in their brains. It can change how they look at the world—either broadening their perspective or narrowing it.

We can create stereotypes. And we can sometimes eradicate them too, although that takes much longer and many more word-strings, most of which will be ignored.

Power Point: Girls—er, Women—Like Sports

Exhibit A: An article in The New York Times about Pitch, a new, baseball-themed drama airing on Fox this fall describes this as one of the "hurdles" the show has to jump:

...how will it cater to the hard-core baseball fan expecting authenticity while still appealing to women, whom Fox is depending on for much of its viewership?

Did you catch the stunning assumption writer John Koblin made—that we can't expect women to be "hard-core" baseball fans? Women certainly did. You can see our outrage all over the Twitterverse.

And Sporting News gathered many thoughtful longer-form responses here.

Power Point: Writer, Heal Thyself

That story about Pitch may not reflect Koblin's own feelings about women. He may have just been parroting something a Fox publicist said. Working on deadline, I can imagine him thinking, I gotta put something in about Fox's challenges in doing this show—oh, yeah, that thing about attracting women viewers. Where are my notes about that?

We've all been there. And that includes me.

I recently wrote about the irony of seeing someone ask for help while wearing a T-shirt that said "LEAVE ME ALONE." But the first time I wrote about that sighting—I posted it to Facebook the moment after it happened—I included an adjective. I remember standing there on the sidewalk, waiting for the shuttle bus and considering my options: "I just saw a young woman..." nah, I can do better than that. Oh! I got it:

"I just saw a millennial..."

I told myself that "millennial" was a richer adjective. But I also knew what made it richer: It would conjure a whole bouillabaisse of associations for my readers. Not just that the person in the T-shirt was young, but that she was...well, take your pick in this article called "The 10 Worst Millennial Stereotypes."

Fortunately, a millennial friend called me on my casual stereotyping. And she's right: For every young person in a LEAVE ME ALONE T-shirt there are a dozen who'd wear LET ME HELP, and then go above and beyond.

Some of my friends tried to defend me—I even tried to defend myself. But the truth is, I don't like stereotypes when they're aimed at me (lookin' at you today, New York Times), so I shouldn't aim them at anyone else. Words carry too much power, and the impressions they make are too difficult to eradicate.

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