A recent editorial trend is the admonishment of women who apologize. This movement has spawned similar essays that disparage women for vocal fry (common example: any word that comes out of Zooey Deschanel’s mouth), upspeak, the use of words such as “like” and the act of verbally undermining oneself.
(I’m about to defend women who do any or all of these things, but let me first say: VOCAL FRY SOUNDS LIKE FLAPPY MOUTH FARTS. I’m not going to tell any woman how she should speak, but damn, if you do vocal fry, particularly with upspeak, please reconsider for the sake of healthy ears everywhere.)
To me, the articles mentioned above scream, “Women, stop being who you are! Start talking more like a man! Talk in a way that makes men respect you more!” It also suggests that women want to constantly climb their career ladder, with the implication they work in a corporate setting, and for many of us, this is not applicable.
I get where these articles, found in publications such as the New York Times, Time and Jezebel, are coming from, and I understand that they are written in the best interest of women, but as a proud user of the word “sorry” and of qualifiers, I do not personally think this has held me back in my current field of work. Now, in my previous field of work, the film industry in Hollywood, you better believe it would have. And that is why I got the hell out of there. I was tired of pretending to be someone I was not, and I now work in two industries, nonprofit and creative arts, where I do not have to second guess how I speak.
When I worked in Hollywood, I was an assistant to a high profile, and very difficult, producer (read: asshole; D, if you’re reading this, you know you are and you love it). As his assistant, I often asked him to elaborate on what his needs were because he wasn’t always clear in communicating them. When I did this I was told to “stop acting like a girl.” So I stopped asking questions, and I tried to not do anything “girly” like cry in the office (one time when I was verbally and nearly physically assaulted by a stranger and broke down upon returning to work, my boss found my tears to be entertaining and photographed me crying). I worked with a small team of men, and I had to play like a man to be taken seriously. Except the thing was, I f’ing hated it. It wasn’t me, and I wasn’t good at it. I soon realized I didn’t want to become like my boss or anyone else I encountered in the film business. You can read that as I couldn’t cut it in Hollywood, and I’m ok with that.
Fast forward to ten years later: I’m working at a nonprofit. Many of my co-workers and leaders are women. People ask me about my weekend, ask me how my grandmother’s health is doing (she was diagnosed with cancer in January and is currently in remission), we bring in goodies for everyone to share, we cry together, we laugh together, we apologize to one another and we say things like “I’m not the expert on this, but I think…” This was foreign to me- I learned to stuff away these traits- and in the beginning I resisted it, but by resisting it, I was the outlier. I was the cold, odd one. The warm culture at my nonprofit quickly rubbed off on me, and the camaraderie we share is something that has changed my life. I look forward to going to work in the morning and I’m proud to work at such an establishment. I never felt like I had a true work family, and they constantly lift me up and praise my work. Kind, considerate and hard-working people- people who may say “I’m sorry” are rewarded there.
As for my writing career, I write how I want to write. You can either hire me for it or not. If we talk on the phone, I’ll be confident and respectful and hopefully you’ll like me. I may say a quick “I’m sorry” if the reception on my phone cuts out. I might even swear or talk about farts (which I assume would be a big no-no in these “I’m just trying to help you ladies with the way you talk!” editorials). It’s who I am, and either you’ll take it or leave it, and I’m ok with that too.
What I’m trying to say is, ladies, do whatever the f you want. You’re smart; you know if apologizing and saying “like” and bringing in muffins to work is a good or bad thing at your job. The only thing I suggest is do all of these things with confidence. Say your “I’m sorry” quick and move on. Maybe I’m not the best person to take advice from (see, I just undermined myself there), but I think I’ve done well career-wise, and I’m happy with the direction my career is going. I get along with everyone I work with (except for assholes; I try to ignore them), I get paid well and I’ve received accolades that I’m proud of.
Don’t let these articles make you second guess who you are or make you become someone you are not, but also remember that you’re strong, smart and opinionated and your voice deserves to be heard.
I waffle on the idea of whether or not we as women should alter the way we speak/write/deal with others in the workplace to be perceived as something we may not be naturally. While I do think that workplace and everyday actions may be different for a lot of people, women especially are the ones who are told to change themselves to fit some ideal. That said, I did change industries about a year and a half ago (from insurance to HR for a tech company, both in Austin) because I really felt like I just didn’t fit in. As a somewhat wacky, outspoken feminist (with a shaved head and pierced nose now post-job change, heh), I didn’t feel like I could succeed or really WANTED to succeed where I didn’t feel welcomed and didn’t feel like my opinion mattered. At times I feel guilty for leaving an industry that I could have tried to stick around and change, but ultimately my happiness was at stake and I just wanted OUT. And I completely agree with you on vocal fry. Flappy, mouth farty bullshit.
ANYWAY. Good post, good insight, and food for thought. Glad you found your happy (work)place!
I completely agree! I noticed when I first applied to engineering jobs my apologies and admitting to not being an expert at everything was looked down upon… It prevented me from getting a job at the time, but encouraged me to go back to school. How could I have been an expert when the job wants me to know everything when mechanical design engineering used to be considered 2 separate jobs?! I can curse professionally enough to make a sailor blush, but I don’t think that makes me a better design engineer. Admitting that I don’t know everything, apologizing when something doesn’t go 100% as expected, and being willing to learn? I think that’s the ticket for me. :^)
Love this post, Lauren. I’m so fortunate to be part of your work family!!
<3 I feel the same way about you, Steph.
As always, your work is very thought provoking to read. I like how you take the approach of not having to change yourself to fit into a job, but rather finding a job that fits you. That is a great piece advice that I’ll be carrying with me !