I Use Exclamation Points In Emails With Women. I Do Not Do This With Men. Is This Sexist? » VSB

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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:ThanksDefinitely 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.)

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Courtney Wheeler

    Two years ago..my boss calls me in and says that my e-mails come off as “aggressive” or “flat” to others and suggested that I use more exclamation points. I was super annoyed. I do my job and I do it well and this is the only feedback I get. So I use exclamation for EVERYTHING. Even if I’m asking an employee if I want get lunch.

    Mind you, my VP is the most nonchalant man on earth. He never uses punctuation and curses all the time in e-mails.

    • At the gig, I make it a point to use exclamations because it makes my emails appear happier and more enthusiastic. I could sense how that perception of flatness could be made at times, lol.

      • LadyJay?

        I call bs on enthusiasm level. If you ask a direct question, expect a direct response. Don’t try to gauge the level of emotionality or lack thereof.

    • Question

      Why did I get the exact same feedback? “Your emails are a bit terse”. Mind you, people in my office used to respond to emails with questions with simply “no”. (That’s the entire body of the email, no signature, no nothing just “no”). I hate emails with lotsa filler….get to the point, what do you want?

      “Hi. How was your weekend? I hope it was great, I went to a bbq and spent Sunday at the beach. So that deck you worked on, I know I asked you to do it over the weekend, but I think we’re going to go in a different direction. Do you think you could refocus it on _____ in time for our meeting at 4 PM? Thanks!!! :).

      Warmest Regards,

      • L8Comer

        Lolol @ that email

      • Kas

        In banking the email would have come through Sunday evening after the return from the beach with a request for you to have the deck updated Monday morning by 7 am so they could review and get one more turn, possibly two, prior to the 4 pm meeting. Side note, the meeting would have been pushed to Tuesday, allowing for three more turns and likely an entire new section.

        • Question

          Or an entire new target…

          • Kas

            “Targets” with significant foreign operations in Europe excluding France, Germany, and the U.K. Shouldn’t be that hard to track down. With all your free time figure out a way to slice and the league table so we are #1.

      • MsSula

        I work for a Scandinavian company… and them folks do love to have consensus. The emails are FULL of fillers. My “I have worked in Corporate America for 10 years; all of them in Texas mind you so get to the point” self just wants to die every time.

    • NonyaB

      Aw heII nah, I’d push back with a thinly veiled response indicating i see his prejudice (e.g. by asking why he’s reading negativity into my neutral punctuation and nobody else’s). You’re there to work, not assuage his ego or insecurity.

    • That’s messed up. Do they want you to devote company time to making extra flowery emails, or to being the best employee you can be? Ugh! They would never call a man’s emails aggressive, they just wouldn’t.

      • grownandsexy2

        Hard for me to believe they’re so concerned with e-mails.

    • nillalatte

      I got that some years ago. I did a poll and asked folks I worked with if my communications were aggressive. Nope, just direct and to the point. Right?! Why I have sugar coat it. A man wouldn’t. Umph.

    • kingpinenut

      The petty is great in this one

    • Kas

      Is your boss the same race as you?

      • Courtney Wheeler

        My boss is a Korean female..and my VP is a Spanish male.

        • Kas

          So your boss comes from a race that all other Asians consider to be the rudest people on earth, thinks you are aggressive/flat. I’m going to have to call sexism on that.

          • kingpinenut

            You know he wants her to walk behind him everywhere he goes too.

  • RaeNBow

    This is not sexist. Carry on, Damon.

  • Trill Mickelson

    “In fact, I didn’t even capitalize letters in the last two emails I sent her.”

    *remembers when Damon wrote articles in all lowercase*

    On topic: every time I use exclamation points/emojis/lols/etc. is reason #1. I used to think it was just with women (because it has also been my experience that it occurs more often with women, as you stated), but I realized that it’s just with whomever does it at all during our correspondence.

  • Aye Bee

    *Realizes that I overuse “!” but I blame it on me usually being excited when talking or corresponding with someone*

  • Mr. Mooggyy

    Wow! I noticed this about myself as well. Even in a simple gesture like saying happy birthday on FB and whatnot. I feel like “I put this Happy Birthday and ended it with an exclamation mark because I want you to know that I’m genuinely excited about your birthday (so it seems) because….emotions and shyt”, for women. For Men, its like “I concluded my Happy Bday statement with a period because I acknowledge it’s your birthday but I’m not going to express too much excitement over the net because, Ni99as. So I left our some letters and changed the punctuation. But if we meet up for for your birthday, it will be plenty of dark liquor and skrippas.”

    Men do not want to see to excited when communicating with other men. Point blank! Unless its an informal, one word sentence like, “Ni99aaaa!!!!!” or “Bruh!”

  • I have serious ellipsis addiction. And for those that don’t know, the ellipsis is the “…” lmao, I have no real rhyme or reason for when I use them. I suppose it represents the breaks in my train of thought…or when my thought isn’t complete.

    • miss t-lee

      I have one also.

    • Vanity in Peril

      I have tetrible grammar when I write but when people use, “..” or “….” I want to throw a trash can through a pizza shop.

      • Junegirl627

        Nice do the right thing reference #RIPRadioRahiem

      • Kas

        Why does that bother you? I mean sometimes it just the perfect thing . . .

        In a previous career we often used . . . To show transition. It had to be 3 periods with spaces between each or back to the printer it had to go. I really really hated my previous job.

        • Vanity in Peril

          I dunno. I’m…petty.

          • Kas

            They are spaced incorrectly. Sadly after 3 years of senior people treating it as serious as the plague, it honestly bothers me when I see it any other way. They broke me.

            • kingpinenut

              typographers unite!

    • Junegirl627

      Welcome to my tribe…

      I use them show my trail of thought disappearing.
      i’ll respond to someone’s lack of response with one to show that i’m “impatiently waiting for a response”
      Then i’ll use it to emphasize breaks/spaces/ and pauses that would normally occur in an in person conversation.

      • miss t-lee

        “i’ll respond to someone’s lack of response with one to show that i’m “impatiently waiting for a response” ”

        You are me.

        • Aye Bee

          Me three

          • miss t-lee

            It’s really a nicer way of saying, “ninja I know you saw this f*cking text.”

            • Aye Bee

              And you’d better respond or behold my wrath.

              • miss t-lee


              • Kristijgooch2

                Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !dk162f:
                On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
                ??;?? http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash452ShopBetterGetPay$97Hour ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????::::::!dk162f:….,….

            • Junegirl627

              Or “oh we playing the ignore game? Cuz you know what happened last time we played the ignored game. You should remember your bltch azz still mumbles about it.

              • miss t-lee

                This is too many words…lol
                I don’t talk this much via text.

                • Junegirl627

                  that is what i mean if I shoot your a “…”

              • Santarbeasley2

                Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !ct122f:
                On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
                ??;?? http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash412ShopBrainGetPay$97Hour ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????::::::!ct122f:….,……..

    • [Insert Creative Name Here]

      Nope, I have a serious disdain for the overuse of ellipsis. No joke: In e-mail correspondence with my nephew’s math teacher, she wrote a full three paragraphs ending all sentences with ellipsis. ALL. OF. THE SENTENCES! My confidence in her ability to do anything resembling adulting disappeared with the quickness.

      • L8Comer

        Lol i could see that. It’s one thing to do that in texts with friends. but professional e-mail requires a different tone, hahaha!

        • Val


      • I’m with you… It comes across as a little sociopathic to me… Where is your brain going mid-thought?… Why can’t it accept that its thoughts have beginnings and endings?…

        • L8Comer


        • Helga G.Pataki

          It confuses me on whether to accept the statement as a statement or a thought I wasn’t suppose to know about. Literally hate the overuse.

          • lol “Pay no attention to what I just wrote… That ellipsis means I couldn’t find the delete button…”

            It gets a little weird when overused.

          • cakes_and_pies

            It’s like the person is fleshing out their thoughts to you with no rhythm or rhyme.
            Makes a person sound really flighty.

        • cryssi

          I might just be a borderline sociopath… I have no clue, though.

        • I see what you did there.

      • Ess Tee

        There’s something about ellipses, aside from maybe denoting the trailing off of a thought, that sometimes reads as…well, as “reading” someone silently.

        Like, to me, there’s a world of difference between “I saw that black dress you wore. It was cute!” versus “I saw that black dress you wore. It was cute…” whereby I fill in judgment coming from the ellipsis user.

        • L8Comer

          hahaha definitely a judgey ellipsis

        • Junegirl627

          Nah its shade if they write “I saw that black dress your wore…It was cute.”

          Dems fightin words

      • Odyssey

        My dad’s gf does this. She has a bad habit of texting very long paragraphs, with a bunch of misspelled words and all of her supposed sentences ending in ellipsis. I have no idea why she does this or if she even knows the actual purpose of using ellipses. She also uses four or five periods in place of the intended three.

    • Hugh Akston

      same here…actually a friend got me into that…but it makes sense though…

    • cryssi

      Me too…you’ll notice in all of my comments.

      I use them when I can’t figure out how to communicate my thoughts with proper grammar….but I don’t want to seem unintelligent due to my bougie nature.

    • NonyaB

      This thread is full of elliptical terrorists, mayne. Hate seeing paragraphs riddled with ellipses.

    • Mochasister

      I love those too.

    • Wise Old Owl

      I use them to make a point and to make the reader pause and think before moving on to the next sentence/topic…hopefully, it is effective…

    • Maestro G

      I use parentheses a whole lot. It’s like I have thoughts inside of thoughts all the time. I can relate to your addiction.

    • J2daT

      AaaahhhHaaa….and I thought this was my thing ONLY. LOL.
      Yes, as you can plainly see…..ME TOO.

  • StillSuga

    I began to use exclamation points after college in my first corporate job. I believe it was my first review where my boss at the time gave an offhand remark about email tone, and I’ve kept it going ever since. I have absolutely no idea why (well I know why, but why exclamation points??) that is used to convey positive tone but I’ve been indoctrinated into it so oh well!

    • I was just mentioning to Courtney below that I made it a point a while back to use exclamations when communicating via email, lol. Reading an email written in a certain way can sound uninspired and almost bitchy without the exclamation amazingly. Now I sound overly happy all the time, lmao.

    • charisma_supreme

      Of what identity backgrounds was this boss?

      …and you know why. Chile.

      • StillSuga

        Sis, you know the background lol

    • L8Comer

      Yeah I’m friendly in my work e-mail, but I very rarely use exclamation points. Probably the one time I do it is if I’m saying “Congratulations! Your case was approved.” or maybe “Great news!” I hate to sound effusive or euphoric. I wonder if men get lectured on e-mail tone.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        I’ve seent it. These young dudes who text more than they ever wrote…

        • L8Comer

          is it for being to brusque like women tend to get? Or something else… like too informal or familiar? That’s something I could see happening to really young women and men

  • Vanity in Peril

    This is interesting. I use exclamation points in almost all of my emails but I write very much like I’m just having a conversation. I never really thought of it being gender-connected or maybe more like gender-rule conditioned into us. I know that when I write a lot of thought goes into what I say and word choice, tone, punctuation, etc. Maybe men aren’t conditioned to care much about how they come off or that they sound “nice”

    This isn’t a slam on men by any means it’s just another element of being a woman we women get to deal with, I guess.


  • Mr. Mooggyy

    In my professional career, I’ve notices that “tone issues” in emails have been synonymous with black folk when being read by….others. Then you see an email by a YT person that was out of left field and no repercussions. I had a boss (black lady) was reprimanded about her email tone! So she said she felt like she had to put on a fake as smile before she started typing emails because of backlash!

  • BmoreLikeLA

    I over exclamation mark in an attempt to communicate friendliness. I try to go back and edit it, bc I know very well that it is not necessary and seems like a frivolous addition. I feel like it makes me seem like an air headed woman, and I’m not sure why a punctuation mark puts that much weight in my head, but it does

    • Val

      Interesting. I almost never use exclamation points in business emails. Not sure why. The only exception is if someone goes out of their way to do something for me.

      • Hugh Akston

        Why would one need to use exclamation points in emails though? Proper grammar doesn’t require !!!!!….am i wooong?

        I can understand internal IMs but…even then….never use !!!!! what’s the point again?

        • L8Comer

          !!!!! scares me, lol.

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