In October of 2015 Academy-Award winning actress Jennifer Lawrence penned a now famous open-letter addressing the wage equality, titled: “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?”
It was brave, honest, to the point, and unequivocally Lawrence.
Missing from the letter was one word we’ve been recently taught as women to eradicate from our vocab: sorry. Present in the letter was another qualifying word: just. It appeared twice.
In the first instance Lawrence writes, “A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt.”
The second is the very last line of the letter: “For some reason, I just can’t picture someone saying that about a man.”
In the first instance it can be argued that the word is being used less as a modifier, and more in the word’s traditional sense: “deserved or appropriate in the circumstances.”
In the second however, it cushions the final blow and avoids committing, even if she is being sardonic.
It’s something that a lot of women have taken note of lately.
JUST NOT SORRY
Not too late now.
In December of this past year, a plugin for Gmail that highlights words that weaken your writing was released by Cyrus Innovation. The idea was first conceived by CEO Tami Reiss at a League of Extraordinary Women brunch when Reiss and many of her colleagues were noting the still prevalent use of "undermining" words.
In a blog post explaining the plugins origins, Reiss writes:
"We had all inadvertently fallen prey to a cultural communication pattern that undermined our ideas. As entrepreneurial women, we run businesses and lead teams — why aren’t we writing with the confidence of their positions?"
She then asked her colleagues if they would use a plugin that had a simple feature that would mitigate the chance of using undermining language. The response was yes, and Just Not Sorry was created. The plugin underlines any words or phrases considered not effective.
After downloading, step 2 is committing to a pledge to send better emails. It reads: “In 2016, I will be a more effective communicator. I will only use "sorry" in emails when I mean it. I will not say "I think" things that I know. I will be more conscious of my tone and it's impact.”
It so happened to make a few women mad.
“So you’re telling me,” a friend said the other day, “that I can just install a man in my keyboard?”
Speaking with another work peer who asked to remain anonymous, she said: ”This war on the "J" word is interesting to me. In my c-suite both men and women were banned from using the word “just” to describe any work because it implied a lack of conscious thought. But to ban it in other instances, is strange to me. Language is not that cut and dry.”
OPINIONS ARE LIKE AHOLES
Everyone has one. *raises feminist hand.*
Jessica Grose is the editor of Lenny. The same site that published Lawrence’s letter. On January 4th in a op-ed for The Washington Post Grose took issue with the plugin. The lead-in read:
Grosee claims that unwarranted scrutiny, not specific words, surrounding female speech works to undermine female authority. She includes counter-arguments from linguists who claim that words like “sorry” can be used as “conversational smoothers,” and that women have found a way to make their speech work for them at work. She also links to a study from linguist Cynthia McLemore who found that Texan sorority girls used uptalk to “cement authority.”
She argues that language is fluid, depends on environment, and if certain women feel more effective using “undermining” language, then so be it. None of this is wrong. Men and women have distinctly different work styles, and some studies have proven that a woman's approach is more effective in leadership positions. What Grosse glosses over (a criticism she makes of Reiss and the simplicity of the plugin) is a complicated history of gender politics in the workforce where women have occupied subordinate positions, both figurative and metaphorical, and have adjusted their vocabulary to fit said positions.
More so, giving women the OPTION to apologize less is not about shame, it's about choice. (Also, though women are the target demo, the plugin isn't only for women. Last I checked men can download it as well-- plus it's free.)
If Lawrence hadn't qualified her final sentence with "just," it would have been a stronger finish. That's my opinion, and as just a woman, I'm entitled to it and a plugin if I so choose.