July 10, 2013

“Make Your Move Missoula” has recently launched a new campaign designed to encourage bystanders to intervene to keep others safe from sexual violence.  The posters have gone viral, thanks to the way their language cleverly plays off familiar excuses like “she was asking for it.”  But the way one of the PSAs was worded has ruffled some feathers among those who have otherwise applauded them.



Some commenters have objected to the phrase “no way to treat a lady.”  This wording raises legitimate concerns that it reinforces an outdated concept of who “deserves” or is in need of protection, which could potentially exclude men, or women who are not deemed to be “ladylike.”  In one commenter’s words, “Have you heard of benevolent sexism? It’s no way to treat a PERSON.”


To their credit, the organization behind the posters has addressed this objection on Facebook, explaining that their goal is to create language that resonates with their target audience—just as we always tell our clients to do:


We should note that this poster in particular was developed for use in rural Montana and uses language that speaks to people in our communities. Actually, several of us on the steering committee felt similarly to you – but we decided that our posters needed to be in the language of our target audience in order to be effective.


In this debate, I think I have to take the side of Make Your Move Missoula.  They have important goals, and they’re using the language they think can best help them accomplish those goals.  And, just as importantly, they have proactively and clearly addressed the criticism, and provided their reasoning—helping put a damper on the internet outcry.


So what do you think: Is it OK that they compromised their beliefs to connect with their target audience, or do they have a responsibility to “lead by example” with the language they use?

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