Women are held to different expectations in the workplace than the men they work beside. They balance on a fine line between being dismissed and belittled, or being seen as aggressive and bitchy. It’s a frustrating double standard that I know intimately, because I experienced it before I embraced life as a trans man. Contrary to “gender critical” ideas, I was not magically bequeathed with all of the trappings of male privilege the moment I realized I needed to transition. However, I do see how remnants of the ways I was socialized as a girl and woman now seem out of place as a man. I don’t communicate the way cis men often do.
Women (or AFAB people generally) often use a softer tone verbally and in writing. They are encouraged to anticipate how others feel, lest they be seen as insensitive, angry, or (god forbid!) selfish. This affects all communication in the workplace, including via email. Using exclamation points, smiley faces, and more casual language in emails communicates a gentle tone that mimics how women can hedge in verbal conversation. I still do this regularly, but thankfully, the seeming oddity is reduced since I am in a caring profession.
Articles like this Medium piece encourage women to “write emails like men.” But much like the concept of “self care” has replaced accountability for employers, turning the onus of changing the image of women in the workplace on women themselves is unfair and adds even more pressure to behave a certain way. Consequently, there is even more at stake: one’s dignity. Using this logic, if you don’t write the way men do, you can’t complain when you are mistreated.
It’s one thing to encourage women who already want to change the way they communicate to do so, and to validate that decision. It’s another to tell women who feel most comfortable ending sentences with a ! or to say “Does that make sense?” to change that because men don’t take them seriously. It shares a problem that narratives about abortions and menstruation can have: centering (cis) men. “If men could get pregnant, they wouldn’t restrict abortion!” Besides the trans exclusionary attitude behind this sentiment, it also makes the conversation about men — the exact same thing proponents claim to want to change!