(F)e-mail

Everyone knows that there’s a double standard in the workplace between men and women. And if you don’t know, you A) have never worked with the opposite sex or B) truly don’t know there’s a double standard, so you shouldn’t be reading this blog. You should be reading every feminist text you can find.

But let’s just say that we’re all on the same page, and we’ve all noticed that men and women are treated (and paid) differently at work.

Where are the differences most evident? In promotions? In conversations at the water cooler? In the lunch room?

No, it’s in our e-mails.

When I first started working, I wrote e-mails that had sentences with question marks implied at every turn.

They looked like this:

Hello?

Um, excuse me? Do you mind doing the thing that you said you were going to do four weeks ago? I know you must be busy, but I’m sorry, do you think you could get it to me? When possible? Thank you? I really appreciate your work? Thanks for not yelling at me?

And yes, maybe that’s just because I am a very timid and shy person to begin with. But I’m also a woman. And I feel the same at work that I do in daily life: like I’m not meant to be there and I’m taking up space. My e-mails reflect that.

And this is a sentiment embedded in women since the day that we are born. Chimamanda Adichie points out in her book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, that little girls are constantly pulled back by their mothers, asked to “play nice” and “sit still,” whereas little boys are given free rein of the playroom. (And what is an office but an adult playroom? Where we are all free to interact with our surroundings and work on what we are best at?)

So, what do my e-mails look like now? They’re still nice. I understand that it’s not fair to take out my frustrations on an unsuspecting stranger. And as sad as it is to say, people do respond more nicely when you are nice to them in the first place.

But I beat around the bush a lot less. I ask. And in very rare and desperate times, I even plead. I do not demand. I’m not as confident in myself yet. But maybe someday, I’ll conquer my inbox in the same way that the vikings took new land: completely.

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