I was sending my morning emails as I listened to emails i can’t send, the new Sabrina Carpenter album, and it struck me how I have always had a tendency to send emails that are overly courteous and kind. This is a unifying quality I see in my e-communication with women; however, most of the emails I exchange with men are often dry and to the point without sparing any niceties. I have always noticed a stark difference in my email exchanges with other women versus those with men; my correspondence with women seems considerably more courteous and polite than the cut-and-dry exchanges men often send to me. I don’t necessarily care for taking more effort to write emails or adding more fluff to them; however, email etiquette and this contrast in courtesy seem to reveal something deeper about workplace double standards that I think is worth having a discussion about.
So, I thought what better way to tackle it than by writing an “email i can’t send”:
Dear Mr. Misogyny,
It’s frustrating that women are held to high standards of courtesy and humility compared to their male counterparts and it still doesn’t even guarantee that their ideas will be taken seriously. I personally think everyone should be kind and courteous from a humanistic perspective, but I take issue with how these expectations are unevenly enforced when it comes to women (especially those of color). For instance, I often hear about women in the workplace being assigned to tasks that do not correlate to their position at the office (like running to get coffee for the team, being assigned to plan social events or being placed on constant cleaning duty), but they are expected to tolerate it all with grace and a smile on their face. If they refused to put their team’s needs over their own, they would be considered an egotistical b-word that’s difficult to work with. However, men that enter the workforce at their level do not have to prove themselves in such ways and their accomplishments seem to be more accepted at face value. Beyond that, women are often expected to present their personalities in a way that is palatable and appealing to those around them even though these superficialities do not always correlate with the jobs required of them. This is evidenced in constant reminders for women to smile even in the midst of being interrupted and to use their happy customer-service-type voices in response to disrespect just so that they do not bring everyone else’s mood down. Women have to be more overly respectful and bubbly to avoid coming across as aggressive in a way their male counterparts do not. Men are allowed to be blunt and “rough around the edges” without risking their credibility in the workplace. They do not have to be appealing to be taken seriously.
Gendered double standards even extend to how much effort we are expected to put into maintaining our external appearance compared to men. Women must have a frequently rotating wardrobe, perfectly maintained hair and a full face of makeup (but not makeup that looks too much like makeup, because who could ever take you seriously if you were *too* snatched). And, while I appreciate the poetic sentiment behind the idea that makeup is a woman’s armor (not to say that makeup is restricted to women in any form or fashion), it is exhausting that it is the baseline expectation to be taken seriously in a professional setting. According to a Ted Talk by Tracey Spicer, an award-winning journalist and author, this vast temporal gap in grooming time manifests in men saving around 2,184 hours of their lives compared to their female counterparts. Why does it feel like a privilege to be like a guy and roll out of bed, rinse your face with bar soap and wear the same blue shirt every other day? Why is it so important for women to present themselves in a physically desirable way in the workplace where we come to do work and get paid? It’s not like women are getting paid to be eye candy and the objects of co-workers’ fantasies, so why are they expected to carry that burden as well?
These issues just scratch the surface of a much larger problem belying the patriarchal values that undergird many aspects of our world. However, being aware and willing to learn about them is the first step to dismantling them. Reflecting on these issues and venting about them seems like a productive use of this Women’s History Month—that’s how I feel anyway.
Happy Women’s History Month,
P.S. I understand the simplistic sentiment behind keeping email exchanges straight-to-the-point and email etiquette doesn’t usually get under my ~skin~ (courtesy of more Sabrina wisdom), but Women’s History Month was the perfect opportunity to dig beyond the surface of workplace double standards and let some good ole fashion female rage take the steering wheel.