Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Point of Contention

As an editor who straddles journalism and marketing, nothing exposes a writer's background to me as quickly as the exclamation point. If you write in your copy: "The company reduced turnover by 50 percent," there is a chance you have a journalism background. If you write, "The company reduced turnover by 50 percent!" I'm fairly certain that you do not. It's right up there with Random Capitalization and "utilize."

Yet, for all my exclamation-point snobbery, my emails to co-workers and clients look something like this:

"Hi Emily!

I know you're super busy, but I just wanted to check in on that TPS report again? Sorry to be a pest! If you need anything from me to pull that together, just let me know!! :)


So, why the absence of all basic writing skills in my electronic communication? Because after more than 10 years in a female-dominated industry, I've learned that if I don't use them, I will be perceived as a bitch. Or, as The Onion wisely put it, a stone-hearted ice witch.

This is definitely a double-standard: Most of the men I work with don't use the superfluous exclamation point. And I suspect it's more common in certain industries — Chris is a lawyer and says that no one uses them. In fact, he said he once received an email from a co-worker that included an exclamation point, and he wrote back asking him why he used it.

It's not just the exclamation point that I've fully adopted; it's also the apologetic, trying-not-to-be-too-demanding tone I've incorporated into my communications. I take steps to make sure I don't come across as bossy or demanding or short (figuratively, of course. Literally, there's nothing I can do about it.)

And part of me, a big part of me, gets angry about this double standard. Why, as a woman, should I have to communicate this way? Men don't have to communicate this way. Men don't feel the need to apologize for expecting people to do their jobs. Men are applauded for being "bossy" and "demanding" and "short" — or, as they would most likely be described, "managerial" and "driven" and "to the point."

If a man were to write my email above, it would probably read something like:


I haven't heard back from you about the TPS report. Please let me know when to expect it.


When Bob writes that email, he's just a co-worker inquiring about a missing report. If I were to write it as Bob did above? Major bitchtown.

But the thing is, I don't really care if my co-workers think I'm a bitch. So why do I continue to communicate this way, with emails replete with exclamation points, apologies and smily faces? I've never in my life been passive. The reason I push "Free To Be You And Me," on my daughters definitely isn't so they'll grow up to be demure and submissive.

So why don't I follow my own lead? Because sometimes, all I care about is getting shit done.

I have a lot of work on my plate everyday, and most of what I need to do requires getting other people to complete things for me. However, all of those people also have a lot of work on their plates. So if I want them to put my shit ahead of other people's shit, I need to be saccharine sweet and all puppy dogs, rainbows and ice cream.

In other words, I need to be a girl. A girls who gets shit done.

Maybe it's because I have two kids, a mortgage, a leaky basement and a healthy drinking habit to support that I'm just too tired to fight the good fight. Maybe someday I'll quit being so self-centered with my own life that I'll stop and think about how my actions could make a bigger difference in the workforce.

But for now, I'm just a girl who gets shit done, and I'm OK with that!