This past week, I went to talk to an Atherton High School class and I focused the talk on the power of words. How the world will try to talk young women out of using their words, disabuse them of the power of their words, try to get them to change their words if they want to be taken seriously.
I slammed the books I’d written down on the table and detailed how much my words had earned me in my 20-year career; why the difference between my amazing fulfilled life and one that might have been was never letting someone talk me out of the power of my words. Never letting anyone silence me.
Learning to code is awesome. But words can open just as many, if not more, doors.
One of the things I don’t like is how women are forced to change our words. We all know people who hire speaking coaches to drown every last “um” or “ahhhh” or “mhm” or “like.” I’ve never had one. I talk like me. I break rules in how you are supposed to talk. And I still get put on TV and paid a lot to give keynotes.
So don’t try to tell me that it’s weak to use exclamation points and say sorry. I know I do both of them a lot. I know women do it more than men, and I know that women sometimes have to do it more than men, because they have to have a friendlier interface in the work world. And yes, that’s BS. It can go overboard, yes.
This kinda stuff is hilarious because it’s real…
But has anyone ever known me to affect a friendlier interface just because?
I am sure there is gendered conditioning in my use of exclamation points and “sorry” but I also use them because…I want to convey genuine enthusiasm that I have for something that you would naturally hear in my voice and I want to convey sympathy, regret, or empathy. I like that I feel both of those things in such regular and extreme ways that it wouldn’t read right or seem authentic if I stopped using either.
My son literally has to preface stories about his day with, “DON’T GET TOO EXCITED…” I am a walking exclamation point when it’s something I’m passionate about. (And another thing: I’m still gonna say “literally” when I am describing something literal…)
As for sorry, I think it takes strength to say it. Look at the worst of fragile, toxic masculinity in this country: It cannot apologize. How many tortured justifications of sexual assault have we read, when an apology would have done more? How many tech giants twist in contortions to justify actions we know are wrong, rather than just saying “sorry”? One of the things we teach our kids early on is the importance in saying your sorry. We could all slow down in these polarized times and think about the feelings of the person we just cut off in traffic or yelled at on social media or judged walking down the street. A habit of sorry’s makes me feel more connected to others, because it’s verbal tick— a reminder—to think of others feelings and consider them as important as my own.
The rest of you can get rid of your sorry’s and your exclamation points, just like you got rid of your “likes” and your “um’s.” I’ve built a career on speaking the way I speak and I am keeping it all.