Tag Archives: diversity

Editing outside your experience

The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, recently spoke to PEN, the Professional Editors Network, members and guests about how to be a radical copyeditor when editing language that describes the experiences of those outside our own life experiences. Nicholas Taylor shares his takeaways from the event.

The Radical Copyeditor’s seven principles for editing text

The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, spoke to PEN, the Professional Editors Network, members and guests about how to be a radical copyeditor when editing language that describes the experiences of those outside of our own life experiences.

Whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, disability, religion or faith, socio-economic background or any of the other many ways we describe ourselves, as editors, we are going to come across texts that describe people who don’t share the same backgrounds and experiences as ourselves. As editors, we are going to come across language that describes those experiences and we need to edit that with sensitivity and awareness.

Being an editor is not about sticking to a set of arbitrary rules, Alex reminds us. It is about being sensitive to language that describes people and affirms their lives and backgrounds, being aware of the rules, where they came from and figuring out which ones to apply, in context. As editorial professionals, we should be considering who those rules serve, where they came from and their impact on marginalised communities. As we know, language is always evolving and as professionals, we should be aware of changes in usage, terminology and trends.

Alex told us about the effects of an author’s choice of words. Language has the ability to:

  • dehumanise,
  • pathologise and
  • invisibilise.

Dehumanising language causes people to look the other way when its targets are suffering, completely othering groups and erasing their voices from the conversation.

Pathologising language stigmatises people who have different experiences. The language used can make people feel that they are ‘wrong’ simply for having those backgrounds or lives and that their lives need to be fixed.

Invisibilising language takes the experiences of people, whether through appropriation or erasure, communicating the idea that a group of people no longer exist. All three of these are particularly problematic and are something that editors should be looking out for.

As always, we are reminded that context matters, but our primary concern should be to avoid harm. Caring for the readers, writers and ourselves is important, Alex reminded us.

Alex took us through seven principles for editing text.

1. Be appropriately specific

Using specific language to describe people, rather than awkward or inaccurate generalisations, is going to be more inclusive. For example, describing ‘LGBTQ+ people’ is not helpful if you are trying to talk about ‘same-sex couples’.

2. Avoid euphemisms

Using euphemisms suggests that the right language is ‘wrong’ or something to be avoided.

3. Counter dehumanising language

Avoid using adjectives as nouns or equating people with a label or condition.

4. Respect self-identification

If people use a certain language, term or phrase to describe themselves, use this. You should not edit this language to make it ‘correct’ if it’s the language they use.

5. Use gender-inclusive language

More than just correcting fireman and postman, use non-sexist, neutral language. Singular ‘they’ works for both those who use this as a pronoun and for more general cases, replacing ‘he/she’ constructions.

6. Be mindful of metaphor

The idea of blackness and darkness vs whiteness and lightness is well-known, especially in fiction, but this language has the power to reinforce stereotypes.

Hands in darkness holding a candle

7. Challenge imperialism

Alex spoke about this from the perspective of someone from the US, but more widely, editors need to challenge the ideas of a collective ‘we’ approach. Who does that ‘we’ exclude when we talk about that?

There are opportunities to develop a more conscious approach to language at every stage of the editing process, from developmental editing right through to proofreading. Whether we are editorial freelancers or in-house editors, we have opportunities to ensure that language is inclusive. Publishers and presses have responsibilities, too, Alex reminds us.

At the heart of this approach is care: care for the reader, the writer and for the editor. The focus should not be on avoiding ‘offence’ or ‘getting into trouble’ but on not causing harm. When we edit, particularly language and topics that fall outside of our own experiences as individuals, we need to be tuned in to the potential to cause harm.

Using conscious language requires a lifetime commitment. It isn’t going to happen overnight and we may find that it feels awkward or clumsy at first. But language is important and we should take the time to learn from others who have experiences outside of our own to fully understand how language works for them.


The CIEP produces resources to help editors and proofreaders. These EDI resources include:

Read about where the CIEP stands on EDI 


About Nicholas Taylor

Nicholas Taylor (he/him) is an editor, proofreader and occasional writer. He specialises in working with LGBTQ+ texts, both fiction and non-fiction, and works to make text more inclusive for the whole LGBTQ+ community. He is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

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Photo credits: hands by Anete Lusina on Pexels, candle by Myriams-Fotos on Pixaby.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP. 

Gendered language and children’s books

By Philippa Neville

Gender representation is, quite rightly, a hot topic in children’s publishing. I grew up in the nineties, whose media provided a diet of kind women in floral dresses, powerful men in shirts and ties, little girls with dolls and nail varnish, and little boys with footballs and dirty habits. Stepmothers were universally evil and headteachers were almost always men. Of course, plenty of girls loved dolls and many little boys adored football, but I often wonder what the world would have looked like for me if I’d been presented with casts of female doctors, astronauts and builders, and male ballet dancers, homemakers and babysitters. Happily, things are changing across all forms of media, and it is our responsibility, as children’s editors, to lead the way in showing children that there are possibilities beyond the normative roles of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

I am an in-house copyeditor for Ladybird, and my colleagues and I are mindful of how we represent gender in our books. Ladybird is committed to creating diverse books for all children, and part of this commitment is about representing gender in a way that does not pigeonhole according to normative stereotypes. In 2018, The Observer carried out a study of the top 100 children’s books of the previous year. It found that those books were 50 per cent more likely to have a male leading character, and that he would often play a stereotypically masculine role. Male characters were twice as likely to have a speaking role in the books, and a fifth of the books did not include female characters at all.

We know that the media has a huge part to play in shaping children’s worldview. Ladybird is invested in presenting a varied gendered landscape, ensuring, in particular, that a mixture of genders are given the starring role. Much of this work is done by the commissioning editors, and I’m regularly delighted by my colleagues’ commitment to finding stories that play with and challenge stereotypes.

As a copyeditor, part of my role is to interrogate language choices. When a manuscript is handed to me from the commissioning team, one of my jobs is to look out for language that might subtly encourage stereotypical thinking and to then make it as gender neutral as possible. In children’s books, a common example of this is in job titles, so any ‘firemen’, ‘fishermen’, ‘headmasters’ and ‘air hostesses’ become ‘firefighters’, ‘fishers’, ‘headteachers’ and ‘flight attendants’ under my pen. Likewise, I change the words ‘mankind’ or ‘manmade’ to ‘humankind’ and ‘made by humans’, though the latter often requires some light rephrasing.

I also look out for opportunities to swap one gendered pronoun for another, or to use gender-neutral pronouns, where the swap makes for a non-stereotypical outcome. For example, I might change ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow his lawnmower’ to ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow her lawnmower’ or ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow their lawnmower’. For those that are unsure, it is perfectly acceptable to use ‘they’ or ‘them’ as a singular third-person pronoun.

Children’s books that fight against stereotypical gender roles are becoming more and more common, and I believe this will continue. The success of Particular Books’ Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in 2017 kicked off a flurry of non-fiction children’s titles about brilliant women, and its effect continues to ripple through the industry. I hope to see the industry’s concern with combatting gender stereotypes extend to more representation of other gender identities, and to see more trans and non-binary characters taking up leading roles in children’s titles.

It is vital to remember that gender is only one beam of the diversity rainbow. We must also pay close attention to how we represent race, disability, sexuality and social mobility in our books, ensuring that we reflect the diverse landscape of experiences that exist within our world. At Penguin Random House, we want, through our new hires and authors, to reflect UK society by 2025. As creatives, we can lead the way in presenting children with a wider worldview – one in which there is room for everyone. Society is still on the long road to equality, but through our books we can reflect reality, broaden horizons and show the adults of tomorrow that they are represented in books or can be anything they want to be.

Philippa Neville is a copyeditor at Ladybird Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s. She works on titles from both their trade and licensing lists, which range from short picture books to longer books about science, nature and fairy tales. She has been in the industry since 2011 and has a background in primary educational publishing.

 


CIEP members can now download a fact sheet and a focus paper on gendered language from the Resources page of the website.


Proofread by Cathy Tingle, Advanced Professional Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.