I Use Exclamation Points In Emails With Women. I Do Not Do This With Men. Is This Sexist?
As is the case with many others who write for a living, I don’t have a very traditional work day. I work roughly 16 hours a day. But I’m not working for 16 hours straight. I’m just in “work mode” — where if I’m compelled to write/edit something, I do — from 9am to around 1am. Sometimes the day doesn’t start until 11. And sometimes the work day doesn’t end until 3am. I also have no coworkers. In fact, there are days where I’ll go eight hours without talking to another human in person. (I do talk to myself on occasion, but I don’t think that counts.) I also don’t have a place where I go to work. I work wherever there happens to be wifi. And donuts.
I do, however, share one thing with those who have more standard working environments. I frequently receive and respond to emails. Between my personal email accounts and the VSB account, on a typical weekday, I get dozens. Some days I get hundreds. And some weeks I get thousands. Much of it is stuff I’ll never respond to, like hate mail and random people asking me to write reviews of their mixtapes. But I do respond to enough of it to notice a trend. When I’m corresponding with women, I’m much more likely to use exclamation points than when I’m corresponding with men.
(Also, just so we’re clear, I’m speaking of exclamation points to communicate excitement and enthusiasm. Not exclamation points to communicate frustration or anger.)
Now, just to clarify, this doesn’t encapsulate my correspondence with all women. For instance, my emails with Shamira (a woman) typically contain suggestions about topics/edits and jokes about chicken. No exclamation points though. In fact, I didn’t even capitalize letters in the last two emails I sent her.
No, the emails I’m referring to are those of a more professional nature with people I don’t know very well. When someone new approaches me about writing for VSB. Or when I’m communicating with some administrator from some university about doing a talk or appearing on a panel. Or when someone reaches out about a writing and/or revenue generating opportunity. Or when I’m talking to my lawyer or my agent. In these emails, I tend to use unnecessary exclamation points if I’m communicating with a woman. For instance, instead of “Thanks for reaching out. I’ll get back to you next week about my availability.” its “Thanks for reaching out! I’ll get back to you next week about my availability!”
And, if I’m talking to a guy, not only will the exclamation points disappear, some words disappear sometimes too. “Thanks for reaching out! I’ll get back to you next week about my availability!” turns into “Thanks. I’ll get back next week.”
I have two theories on why I do this, and both theories seem to have quite a bit of truth in them.
1. I’m responding in kind
Based on my completely unscientific observation and recollection of the emails I tend to receive, women tend to use more exclamation points in professional (and personal) emails. So responding with exclamations, even if they seem unnecessary, is me keeping up with the tone of the conversation and attempting not to be rude.
On the other hand, the emails I receive from men tend to be shorter and more curt, so I reply shortly and curtly. It’s almost like we have a contest to see who can communicate with the least amount of words and punctuation.
First email: “Damon, we have a slot open at the Museum on the 6th. Let me know if you’re interested.”
My reply: “Thanks. Definitely interested”
His reply: “Need mailing info”
My reply: “Attached”
2. Its a way of establishing/asserting status
This is where it might get somewhat sexist. (Well, depending on how you felt about the rest of what I’ve said, even more sexist.) The shortness and curtness with other men isn’t just a response in kind, it’s a subconscious way of establishing some sort of alpha status. Which apparently is communicated when you use the least amount of words necessary to communicate. It’s saying “I’m a busy and important man who doesn’t have time for explaining myself and shit.”
The best cinematic example of this dynamic I can think of is whenever Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) communicates in The Devil Wears Prada. She whispers the entire movie. Because she’s so powerful she doesn’t even have to raise her voice. In fact, there’s a scene where she changes the temperature of an entire room by raising an eyebrow.
Basically, we’re subconsciously attempting to out-Miranda each other. But the email exchanges I have with women are less about asserting any status and more about just being polite and seeming affable. Which I think might be kinda, sorta sexist. (And maybe racist too, but that’s another topic for another day.)