Saturday, August 18, 2012

Clear Writing, Dead Pregnant Teens And Women's Voices

Yesterday on Facebook I had a less than joyous exchange with a woman who had related the story of the teenaged Dominican girl who had cancer, was pregnant, and who had died after a delay in treatment because of her pregnancy.  The Dominican Republic prohibits abortion under all circumstances and the doctors there were afraid to even attempt treating her cancer because the chemotherapy would end up killing the fetus which is unconstitutional under Dominican law.  It is saddening and frustrating that country's abortion law is so inflexible that the mother's life has no value and precedence is given to the fetus in all instances.  But this really is not about the content of the heart breaking conclusion of a young teen's life.  It's about the poor writing relating to the story and my unwillingness to accept that poor writing.

The story commences with a line introducing the link to the story:   "9 week pregnant girl dead in Dominica Republic thanks to a pro-life law." 
My fundamental disagreement here is over the poor quality writing that presented the story; the syntax and grammar both were stunningly poor and that the statement was erroneous on several points:

  1. The subject teen was 16 years old, had cancer and was pregnant.
  2. At the start of her legal ordeal to get treatment for her cancer the teen was 9 weeks pregnant. 
  3. The subject was not 9 weeks pregnant when she died.  
  4. The name of the country she resided in is the Dominican Republic, not the Dominica Republic.  
In my reading of it, a 9 week girl is an infant, so a "9 week pregnant girl" is an oxymoron.  Normally, when people talk about gestational age, the usual language or terminology is:   "___name/mother/teen/fill-in-the-blank___" is __X__ weeks pregnant." 
Yes, dear reader, that cheesy little n's absence the end of Dominica(n) mattered too.  Briefly, people and nations usually like having their names spelled correctly if only because it's their name and most tend to like their names just fine, thank you very much.   

Anyway, after a few exchanges, the writer defended it as "a little typo" without understanding what a typo was so I linked to Wikipedia for an explanation of what a "typo" really is.  Typos are not the same as grammar or syntax errors.  They're not even closely related.  Of course I am that kind of person-- the one who will use the tools at hand to help educate and/or to back up the veracity of what I'm trying to convey.  I do that. I love sharing knowledge.

Amusingly, that writer's rebuttal was that visiting my web URL would be a waste of their time then later said we should get back to the business of "discussing women's rights."  Women's rights and discussing them is a point I will briefly return to.   

I've written almost all my life on a near daily basis for 50 years.  Whether I was writing to fulfill homework requirements throughout my elementary and secondary education; in the Air Force where I worked on occasional technical writing projects and also did regular clerical writing for NCOs’ and officers in my work areas;  the numerous research papers, essays and creative writing projects later in college; carrying out nearly 25 years worth of business and legal writing in several city departments and private businesses as well as personal correspondences with friends and family and now blogging, tweeting and commenting on many diverse subjects, I have written with an awareness that what we say and how we say it can materially impact people.  A sloppy business letter or poor headline can negatively impact the perception people have toward companies, organizations and institutions as well affect their reputations.  Bad word choices change the meanings of what is said and what the writer intends to say.  Badly written instructions with erroneous information can even lead to accidents and death. 

In the milieu of school, many of my teachers implored us to respect our writing and to practice it as a skill because good writing gives our voices resonance and weight.  I think clear, accurate writing gives what we say credibility.  As a reader, I am normally quick to dismiss things that are badly written as unimportant and a waste of time.  I'm definitely not going to take them seriously. 

If we treat the information we convey about our world without accuracy and clarity, how is our audience supposed to trust what we say?  Excusing an error as a "little" typo is lazy and careless.  Why would anyone respect and accept lazy and careless work?  And why should they?  Mediators, courts and juries don't.  People have won major lawsuits because of written errors, incorrect facts, slander and libel, or badly written instructions that resulted in injury or death. 

If a person is a working non-fiction writer, their continued employment depends on them writing original material, that it be factual and verifiable, that it be able to stand up to scrutiny, and that the material presented is understandable by the intended audience.  If they're a fiction writer, the story has to be readable, follow a coherent plot or set of plots, and be entertaining.  And on it goes. 

Responding to a criticism that asks for accuracy and clarity (and explains why) by saying, "OMG out of all the womens groups I am are the only one that really gave a hoot. She was 9 week pregnant. Anyway I am not going to even check out your web address....a waste of my time." is silly and a third grade kind of behavior.  Yes, the accuracy of what I read does matter.  But I don't need you to visit my blog to validate what I have to say in my own writing or threaten to not visit because you want to punish me for critiquing you. 

So returning back to discussing women's rights I wonder how we women are best 'discussing' our rights when the things we write poorly, even in making a comment, make us appear incompetent. diminish us, make us look stupid and under-educated and lastly, make us sound like children instead of grown, mature women because we can't be bothered to correct mistakes, fact check our information and make sure it correct and follows a logical writing structure?

If our voices sound like children's voices then women will continue to be treated like children, even by other women.   If we can't articulate our ideas even in informal venues like Facebook, who's going to say "Wow!  That's an important thought!"  Or "That's an important story!  I need to learn more about this!" and be passionate about it?

We have a lot on our plates as women.  The facts are plain:  our rights are under attack.  The ERA was never passed and the window for having it passed is quickly diminishing.  Our health concerns, including our reproductive health, is seen by many on the political right as a 'bright, shiny distraction' in public policy discussions.  The voting rights of women of color and aging women are being chipped away at in states mandating Voter IDs.  Our very patriotism and love of country is attacked if we step up in support of our rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, or anything else the political and religious right disagrees with.   Republican and Tea Party politicians at the state and federal level are working night and day to silence us, to push us out of the work force by denying us equal pay, and to exclude us from the public life of our nation.

We have to be able to use our best tools to keep these topics and all the others affecting us in the public light.  We have to use our best wit and wisdom to express ourselves, to champion our rights, and establish our goals and visions.  So yes, I'm not going to be satisfied with cheap, sleazy self-serving grade school level excuses for intellectual laziness.  If a person is savvy enough to use a computer and social media, then I expect them to also be savvy enough use the rest of their tools well.  The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

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