Stanford University, my alma mater, has a mostly distinguished history of co-education; it had nearly equal numbers of men and women in 1901, as today. 1904 was the exception, when in response to women's continued sweep the of the academic awards the president -- with co-founder Jane Stanford's support -- capped the number of women admitted. Alarmed alumni suggested retaining a 3:1 male/female ratio to boot, a policy in place until 1933.
But we've had plenty of women since then, and it's smart for advertisers to want to reach a crowd that includes Sandra Day O'Connor, Rachel Maddow, and Chelsea Clinton. So I was puzzled by an ad for Cadillac on the inside back cover of the current alumni magazine. It's a column of statements, high-winded, stentorian.
The background is all white, save for the top edges of what appear to be buildings in SoHo. We're craning our necks. Is the great man on the roof?
It's not the critic who counts: The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . [who strives/errs/knows/spends himself in a worthy cause etc.; and who at the worst] if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
The Dare Greatly web site - heralding what the company president describes as an audacious turnaround by Cadillac - features high-profile men and women who've also shut out the naysayers to accomplish difficult tasks. Click through to the Cadillac president's note to finally learn that the Dare Greatly campaign was inspired by a 1910 Theodore Roosevelt speech.
A credit-belongs-to-the-man-who speech by Teddy Roosevelt, makes sense for his time. But why would this forward-thinking, in-transformation - disruptive! - American car company have such a tin ear for putting out messaging that in this single-ad page context leaves out women? There is no Roosevelt attribution. Bad form aside, and with shame to have my limited exposure to the Roosevelt oeuvre outed here publicly, had I known it was from a Roosevelt speech given 10 years before women in our country had the vote, I would have moved on. I ripped it out instead.
Gender inclusive language has become more the norm since the 60s, and thank the He and She Lord for that. New York Times columnist and language guy William Safire missed the romance and punch of 'every man for himself' when it became 'citizens fend for themselves' in a speech amended by President Clinton; and he once argued for the 'he' pronoun in a column. I love a readers' response:
The average American needs the small routines of getting ready for work. As he shaves or blow-dries his hair or pulls on his panty-hose, he is easing himself by small stages into the demands of the day.
True, as my favorite Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," but language that recognizes both women and men as a matter of course makes it easier to assume parity, as I want my girls to do. (Eleanor Roosevelt also gave this advice to campaign wives: "Lean back in the parade car so everybody can see the president." Dare I suggest she was thinking right then of when she could escape to Val-Kill?)
Here's the thing: women drive car buying decisions. Car people, don't forget to speak to them in their language.