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You Can’t Please Everyone: How to Write about Sensitive Topics

This post was written in tandem with my fellow blogger, Samah. Go read Samah’s blog for an illuminating glance into the diverse lives of Scarved Muslim Women.

I’m going to say a word, and you’re going to feel a quake of emotion; I don’t know if it you’ll have a positive reaction or what, but I want you to focus on what you feel.

Are you ready? OK. Here it goes: Feminism.

Feminism is a blazing hot topic, especially on the semi-anonymous internet battlefield. It’s infamous for starting absurd internet wars and it’s divisive enough that sometimes feminists clash with other feminists.

The point is, touchy topics like feminism are so sensitive, they might as well come with a ‘WARNING: FLAMMABLE” sign. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them.

Here are some tips for you, dear reader, on how to write about sensitive topics without poking the bee’s nest.

Respect All Sides – There are more than 7 billion people in the world, which means that there are more than 7 billion people with different opinions. Everyone believes in something (even if that means they don’t believe in anything),  and chances are you’re going to disagree with many of them.

But that doesn’t mean you have to offend them. You’ll have much better discussions (and far more readers) if you try to approach every sensitive topic respectfully. Try to see the topic from all points of view, even if you already know you disagree with one side. And PLEASE, don’t antagonize people with offensive language. For example, read this article attacking ‘Ted Talk Feminism’. It’s brimming with derogatory remarks, which are perfect for pandering to a crowd that already agrees with author, but what is the point of that? Hits? Is someone profiting off of feminism?

You Can’t Change Everyone’s Mind – Aesop once wrote, “In trying to please all, he had pleased none.” Think about this: before you even start writing your opinion, someone, somewhere thinks you’re wrong.

You might sway millions of people with your ideas, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that human beings will always find a way to disagree.

That is fine. When you’re talking about a sensitive topic, your job is to show others how you came to your own opinions. You should be persuasive, not unreasonable.

Speak for Yourself – Remember, your opinion is your opinion. When you write anything, you are representing yourself. You can always talk about others, quote their thoughts, but you should never deign to speak for others.

For example, if you’re a feminist, you don’t want to say “All feminists believe X”. It’s much better to say, “as a feminist, I believe X”, because you have more room to defend your opinion and you won’t alienate every other feminist that disagrees with you.

If you’re lucky, someone will disagree with you – vocally. If you’re unlucky, someone will disagree with you – vehemently. You don’t want to exclude your readers, even the ones who disagree with you, unless their input is toxic.

On that note, never lower yourself by slinging mud at mudslingers. You want to engage your readers, you want to educate everyone, you don’t want to make enemies.

When you want to talk about a sensitive topic, you want to cultivate an environment for discussion. By following these tips, you can educate the world and avoid a pointless battle with strangers on the internet. Besides, really, nobody ever wins on the internet.

Thank you for reading! Don’t forget to like, follow, and comment below. And of course, check out Samah’s blog!

Image courtesy of Guyon Morée via Flickr Creative Commons.

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