I’m a woman, which means I’ve been groomed from birth to believe that my two primary functions in society are (1) to please others and (2) to be pleasing to others. So it’s basically a miracle that every work email I send is not a helter-skelter concatenation of apologies, exclamation points, lols, and smiley faces.
As I age, though, I’m trying harder and harder not to apologize just for (1) existing and (2) completing the functions outlined in my job description. But it’s hard to overwrite years of psychological conditioning. So now I’m at a point where I review each message carefully before I send it, and I usually end up editing out (and then re-adding, and then cutting again, and then sometimes compromising on) about five apologies a week. Based on my hourly rate, I would estimate that my company pays me nearly $200 every week to carefully consider my usage of the phrase “I’m sorry” via email.
Just yesterday, however, I sent an email to several male managers that not only contained no apologies, but actually demanded answers. In fact, one of them replied-all and apologized to me. It felt like a significant moral victory, though it was tinged somewhat by the context of his apology — which, if I’m not mistaken, was an attempt to paint me as somewhat hysterical, and possibly premenstrual.
As women, it seems like we can’t win at work email. No matter how far we go up the organizational chart, we have to toe a narrow line between “that strident bitch who wears ill-fitting black pants from New York & Co.” and “that emoticon-spouting doormat who uses a cursive font in her email signature” — basically, the same Madonna/whore dichotomy that colors every other aspect of our lives.
After more than a decade spent operating within the confines of this marginalizing socioeconomic framework, it’s no wonder that I’ve come up with a whole fucking LIST of ways to avoid expressing strong opinions over Outlook. But if you’re reading carefully, which none of the men I work with ever do, you’ll still get my meaning.
1. Signing an email with “Thanks!”
The “Thanks!” sign-off is basically my “aloha” at this point. I sign probably 75% of my work emails this way, unless there’s some passive-aggressive reason I’ve decided not to (see #2 and #3, below).
2. Signing an email with “Thanks.”
There is something very quietly dangerous about the exclamation-less “Thanks.” It assumes compliance from the recipient, and it invites no rebuttal.
3. Not signing an email at all.
For the emails where I don’t use a “Thanks!”, a “Thanks.”, or even a “Sincerely,” there are two main messages I’m trying to get across. The first is that I’m a very busy person, and I don’t have time to bother with the briefest of courtesy sign-offs. The second is that I hate you so much right now, I don’t even feel like pretending to be polite.
4. Sending an entire email with no exclamation points.
I often use exclamation points to soften/feminize my tone when I’m trying not to sound too demanding or unpleasant over email. But if I send you an entire message with no exclamation points — just a string of declarative statements? Know that there is no excitement in my voice, no upwards lilt in my tone to imply a question, and no vocal fry to shred my meaning into effeminate tatters. Know that I am dead fucking serious with you right now, and conduct yourself accordingly.
5. CC’ing my boss.
If I copy my manager when I’m writing you an email, it means I want you to hear this unspoken exchange between me and my boss: “This is the motherfucker I’ve been telling you about.” Yeah, that’s right — I’ve been complaining about you behind your back. And now you know it. Your move, bitch.
6. CC’ing your boss.
The last thing your boss wants is to get an email from me, but now she’s got one — and it’s your fault. Yes, I’m aware this is the grown-up version of being a tattletale, but YOU set the tone. Listen — if you had simply responded to my requests in a timely and competent manner to begin with, I wouldn’t have to sink to your level and resort to grade-school behavior. So now you’d better run along to that follow-up meeting with your boss. Enjoy explaining how your lack of accountability has translated into a waste of her time!
7. BCC’ing Human Resources.
NOW you’ve done fucked up, and you don’t even know it. This shit’s going on your personnel record. But hey, I hope fucking with me was worth it. Thanks!