How To Write A Sexist Headline

With another September still visible in our mental rear-view mirrors, we’ve all had a chance to go through the ritual of remembering where we were and what we were doing on September 11th, 2001. Emotionally impacting every U.S. citizen, the events that day are impossible to forget. So, it’s with great pride that 1 World Trade Center is being constructed in its place.

Co.Design has written a great post about Nicole Dosso, an architect who’s work on 1 World Trade Center should be acknowledged. However, initially seeing the headline definitely grabbed my attention:

The Tallest Tower In The U.S. Is Being Built By A Woman

Instantly, my instincts assumed this was an article title designed to stir emotion and curiosity just to generate more page views. Of course, I did what any rational person would do: I went on a tweet rage.

Why did I jump to that conclusion?

Simply, because of the context of the message. If the title were, “The Tallest Tower In The U.S. Is Being Built,” the focus of the post would be about the building itself. But, by adding in “…By A Woman,” that focus dramatically shifts to how a woman achieved the goal.

In order for the title to have an impact, there must be an implication that the process of architecting a building cannot be done by a woman, which is nonsense.

From reading the article though, it doesn’t seem like the author was trying to create a headline just to generate buzz, nor to be offensive to women, but was genuinely proud of Dosso’s accomplishments. From the last paragraph:

“Given her understated approach, her quiet competence, it seems unlikely that Dosso will soon be acknowledged as architect of a world’s tallest building, or even the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. But it’s exciting to realize that there are women, like Dosso, whose names you rarely hear, who know more about how to grow a supertall tower from sub-basement to spire than the famous guys who collect the prizes.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the issues facing women in industries that are seen as dominated by men. And seeing progress for equality among everyone is very exciting and promising. The problem here isn’t that we’re not acknowledging Dosso’s accomplishments; it’s that we’re acknowledging the lack of female accomplishments.

A person should be given accolades for what they do, not how they were born. We should see the people themselves, as equal humans, for what they do to make a better world, without having to add what gender or race they are for validation.

And on that thought, if you still think my concerns have gone a little overboard, consider if I changed the title to cover race instead of gender:

“The Tallest Tower In The U.S. Is Being Built By An African-American”

It’s difficult to take a well-written post seriously with such a distracting title in poor taste. I feel like they could have achieved the same outcome with an alternate title to showcase the quality of the post instead.

Take my alternative title suggestion, for instance:

“Meet Nicole Dosso, Architect Of The Largest Building In The U.S.”

Now, the focus of the title is on Dosso and what she’s done. This compliments the writing contained within the post…which realistically is about more than Dosso; it’s about how her work, along with the talents of many others, are helping Americans heal from a historically significant tragedy

When writing an article online, copywriters always want their work seen by the most people and using a catchy title definitely helps. But, one can easily get caught up in sending the wrong message with a badly worded title. If your article’s title has a gender or ethnicity for its subject, definitely take a second look to decide if it’s really the best choice of words to use.

Sidebar: While researching for this opinion article, I came across a similar article, of all places, from Fox News and they got their headline wording right. Interesting comparisons to be made in title and copy.