Submissive Email Language

By Akosua Asare

Patriarchy lives within the emails.

I scrolled past this TikTok recently:

The person is drafting an email to their professor that so far reads “I was wondering”, and then they add “just” to make it “I was just wondering” to make the email less straightforward.

The comments are full of women commenting their go-to submissive email lingo. Such as, “so sorry again!” “when you get the chance,” “if it’s not possible that’s fine too! No worries!”

These are common “non-threatening” phrases many people use in emails, especially when speaking to authority figures like professors and bosses. However this is especially prevalent with women. We joke a lot about our use of exclamation points in emails to sound happy and friendly, and the way we write emails to ensure we aren’t sounding too demanding, bitchy or out of line.

But it really makes me think… outcomes of patriarchy really does show up in everything we do. Why when we ask for things, we’re so avoidant of making the other person feel uncomfortable with what we’re asking? Or if we need something, we make it seem like it’s not that important to us so the other person doesn’t think we’re being too demanding. Kinda sounds related to having an anxious attachment work style.

According to a Glamour Magazine article, “Women tend to be more apologetic, saying sorry for requesting things that are perfectly reasonable to be asking. This could be a reflection of lower confidence, or a representation of women feeling less sure of their professional position and authority.

The reason men tend to write shorter, sharper emails (again, this is a complete generalisation) is that stereotypically men tend to worry less about what people think and thus worry less about offending the recipient.”

So, should women start changing the way they write emails?


i wish i could be this direct 🥲

♬ Plain Jane – Ilkan Gunuc & Emie

Most people would say that women should change. Be confident, straight to the point and more demanding. That in order to combat this lack of confidence in emails, we should write like men.

A Vice article calls out a problem with telling women to be like men in order to be taken seriously. It places the responsibility on the individual (who is already disadvantaged by societal structures). It says to women, “conform and fix the problem. Toughen up.” instead of actually addressing the social structures that have created this problem. Because while this passive language is stereotyped to women, most people at disadvantaged intersections have to deal with.

Do women have to write “like men” to be taken seriously or should they just be taken seriously? Is emailing “like a man” automatically the correct way to write an email? Or is the lack of confidence in women’s email a genuine problem that need to be fixed? And by who?

I’d say it’s up to you. If you don’t like to come off as submissive, you have every right to change that. If you don’t care, or think that the way you draft emails helps create necessary social cues and context, then go be great at getting your thoughts and emotions across through text!

It’d be nice to not have to consider this at all. Let me use my exclamation points as I please!!! However, I will make it a point to stop adding “no worries, totally fine if not!” when it is indeed not totally fine and I am in fact very worried.

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