In a recent article about how she should have negotiated harder for better pay for her supporting role in “American Hustle,” Jennifer Lawrence describes a recent meeting where she spoke her mind, and a male attendee at the meeting thought she was being unduly aggressive. Hollywood prides itself on its liberal values, but routinely underpays female powerhouses such as Lawrence and fails to even give many women jobs behind the camera or off the camera. It’s a surprisingly regressive job environment for a place that is constantly preaching to the rest of the country about its values.
Over at the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri picks up on the meeting portion of the essay:
“Woman in a Meeting” is a language of its own.
It should not be, but it is. You will think that you have stated the case simply and effectively, and everyone else will wonder why you were so Terrifyingly Angry. Instead, you have to translate. You start with your thought, then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a groveling apology for an unspecified error.
She goes on to share “famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting.” Here’s an example:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m sorry, it really feels to me like we’re all equal, you know? I just feel really strongly on this.”
I don’t know how to spell the long, exasperated groan I expressed upon reading this. Here are three problems with this growing idea that women speak like sub-literate teenagers in meetings lest packs of men will think they’re too angry.
1) It comes off super sexist
I always find it fascinating how different the world described by the media is from my own. I know many different women. Some of us have even experienced a bit of sexism here and there. I have never encountered this mealy-mouthed language the media tells me we’re forced into using during meetings.
Yes, women and men tend to communicate differently. Men tend to be more aggressive during conflict, and women tend to be more passive aggressive. Both can be grating and both can serve a purpose.
But where do feminists get the idea that women somehow are forced into speaking like idiots in meetings? Just how bad are Washington Post editorial meetings, you know? I wish feminists could learn how liberating it is to work in environments where you can just speak your mind and, assuming you’re holding to basic standards of respect for your fellow human being, nobody freaks out. From Hollywood to mainstream media, it sounds like there’s some kind of problem where progressive politics ends up really harming women in various ways.
Further, imagine you were a sexist trying to claim that women don’t have the skills to hack it in corporate life. You could have written a piece translating quotes into female-speak, and it would have read much like the actual piece linked above. Look at this example here. Does it seem like something written in defense of women or something that makes you think we’re not cut out for corporate life?
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Woman in a Meeting: “I have to say — I’m sorry — I have to say this. I don’t think we should be as scared of non-fear things as maybe we are? If that makes sense? Sorry, I feel like I’m rambling.”
2) It’s not how women actually talk
The claim that men speak clearly while women ramble and can barely form a coherent thought isn’t just sexist, it’s not true. Women and men communicate differently, but no one wondered what Maggie Thatcher meant when she told former President George H.W. Bush about his plans in Iraq:
“Remember, George, this is no time to go wobbly.”
Or what about her response to European Commission President Jacques Delors when he said European institutions would become the seats of democracy in Europe:
“No. No. No.”
OK, she’s the Iron Lady. What about Mother Theresa?
“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”
Any questions? How about someone who is not on track to be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church? Coco Chanel:
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
When I asked some of my friends for quotes from women, they responded with too many to include. But one that struck me was from the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, who in the early 19th century wrote to the king of France:
“When thee builds a prison thee had better build with the thought ever in mind that thee and thy children may occupy the cells.”
We might not all be that eloquent, but we get our points across just fine.
3) It conflates the challenges of group dynamics with sexism
I work with men and women who speak clearly. When we have meetings, we speak our minds. I’ve worked in academic, non-profit, and media environments and in all my meetings, I don’t recall men reacting as if women who spoke directly were overly aggressive. I have vague recollections of a ton of annoying behavior — people who wasted time telling stories, people who had trouble prioritizing concerns, people who didn’t participate fully, people who were rude, people who were clearly using meeting times to flirt with a staff member — but none of these broke along clear sex lines.
It’s a shame that Jennifer Lawrence had a bad experience in a meeting, but I think for most of the country, men and women actually get along pretty well in corporate climates. Women, despite what we hear from feminists about us being forced to speak some weird passive code language, actually function at a high level. Recent female graduates frequently outearn their male colleagues. We are not in some perpetual state of victimhood.
Meetings are awful not because men are sexist or women can’t form coherent thoughts but because meetings are awful! Nobody likes them. People have trouble getting along in groups, and communication is difficult.
But let’s stop giving people the idea that women are pressured into speaking incomprehensibly by the patriarchy. We have enough problems without inventing new ones.