I was listening to Ed Gandia’s High Income Business Writing podcast featuring guest James Chartrand. As he was describing James’ business, Ed was using pronouns like she and her. You see, James Chartrand is a woman.
So as I anticipated the guest’s voice to find out whether the presumably transgender writer was born a man or a woman, Ed let me know before he let me really know. How? By his introduction: “She’s wicked smart, super-fun to talk to and an all-around great person.”
I thought to myself, either Ed’s really good at respecting James’ female gender or James is, in fact, a woman. Because I haven’t heard a man described in quite the way Ed described James.
And I was right. James was born a woman. And she isn’t transgender. James is her pen name, created after much frustration building her business with her real, female name. (Check out Copy Blogger to read more of her story.)
Working Like a Man
All professionals are confronted with changing their image and mainstreaming their work while still setting themselves apart. We call it professional development. But when a woman is in business, she is faced with a very different set of issues in addition to general professional development.
Women have the added frustration of being overlooked, corrected, passed over, and assigned more menial tasks simply because they are a woman. As James contrasts the operations of her business under her real name and operating under her male pseudonym, she notes:
There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all…Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it, too.
Her work is the same, the perception is different. All because she uses a boy’s name.
A Professional By Any Other Name?
But let’s be reasonable, right? Men and women are different. They act differently. They perform differently. If a woman is looked over, it’s not just because she’s female.
That’s true..but also not true. Women do behave differently, but much of that behavior is based on how we are raised to behave.
My introduction to “acting like a girl” in the workplace came from a book called Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (Amazon). In this book, Lois P. Frankel notes women have a lot of girly tendencies that seem innocuous, but can actually damage their reputation as a professional.
For instance, how often do men bring food to share? Decorate their office like they would their house? Are asked to make copies or take notes in a meeting?
Based on a lifetime of gender biased treatment, women adopt “female” communication traits, including the compulsion to second guess themselves, apologizing whether it’s their fault or not, justifying their actions without a request to do so, and softening opinions and requests. All these traits are considered weak in a male.
Additionally women are taught to suppress the very traits that make men successful. Because aggressive women are witches. Successful women are negligent of their families. Women who don’t smile are unapproachable.
To make things happen, women have been trained to be cute, yield, and “make him think it was his idea.”
To be considered competent and professional, our suits/shoes must be updated at least every two years, accessorized, modest but feminine. Our hair must be groomed for hours, our lipstick reapplied regularly.
Even to ensure their physical safety, women must constantly be on the watch for predators who hold our jobs in the balance, and we are much more aware of our surroundings in a dark parking lot.
Basically, we must be an appropriate woman and a business professional–a burden few men could handle.
Writing Like a Girl
Writing is a sticky situation when it comes to gender issues. Women have been taught we have to manipulate the situation instead of addressing it head on. Which is fine, to a point. All communication is manipulation (eventually I’ll write a post on that).
But women more often apologize subliminally using words like “just” and “apparently.” They provide more support and explanation for their arguments. And they strive to sound bright, chipper and accommodating while still portraying their competence.
I started noticing my own “girly” writing through correspondence with a male client. He’s a friend, too, so it’s less formal, but the difference in the way we communicate is too significant to overlook.
I spend a lot of time composing my correspondence and include such details as well-worded questions, multiple options, and potential issues. I try to be efficient with my words. but I also struggle with maintaining a friendly tone (I am really straightforward, and I’ve literally been fired because my tone lacked warmth), so I include words like “especially” and passive voice, costing my word count.
With few exceptions, his replies are limited to 20 words, often one or two words. Sometimes I have had to follow up with questions, but often “sure” is enough.
I compared two emails of comparable word count through Gender Guesser. While I have a more neutral voice in my writing at 55% male, my client’s email registered as 100% male! One-hundred percent!
Doing a Man’s Job
So why can he say “sure” and be ok, but I sound unfeeling, harsh, cold?
First, women are supposed to be soft, not concise. But also, in this situation and many similar, I’ve already done all the work for him. I’ve detailed and given options, and so on and so on. And while there are advantages to being the one to collect and organize the ideas, it’s also a trait women are trained to do.
It’s like when a man takes over dinner and grills for the family. He stands out at the grill, making sure the meat is cooked to perfection. But traditionally it’s the woman who plans the meal, compares grocery store prices, buys the ingredients, prepares the meat, delivers it to the grill, prepares the sides, sets the table, brings the meat back in, gets up during the meal to get forgotten condiments, controls the behavior of the children, cleans up (or at least manages cleanup), stores leftovers and considers how to use leftovers as meals or as ingredients in other dishes. But the man grilled the food.
And we bahve similarly in a business setting. We often provide the research, thought, and work, while men come up with the decision.
Even women’s word choice indicates to the reader the female gender of the author, down to the choice of pronouns and how they are used, passive voice, and connecting ideas through relationship words such as “with” and “and.” Generally, men get to the point, and women circle around it (classic male/female imagery, btw).
Does Gender Bias Matter?
Gender discrepancy in writing begs the question: does it matter? Should women be true to themselves, even if it means “writing like a girl”? Or should they bury their female gender (which was arguably created by a misogynistic society), write more like a man, play by their rules?
That’s up to the woman.
James Chartrand chooses to maintain the male persona in exchange for being able to support her family (and I absolutely support her).
On the other hand, when women adopt male gender traits, they suppress the female voice and cover up her presence in the professional community. How are we to combat gender bias if we reinforce it?
But the first rule to effective writing is: consider the audience. Your writing choices are based on how to get your audience to do what you want to do.
If I am writing for a masculine brand, I need to write in a masculine manner. If I don’t want to do that, I need to find another job.
If you want to sell tractors to men, you want a male voice. If you want to sell diamonds to men, you probably want a female voice.
If you want to be an authority or motivational, sorry, but you have to write like a man. And if you want to encourage or inspire, a woman’s voice will probably be more effective.
Understanding language traits of men and women helps hone writing skills to accommodate your audience. Instead of balking at it or kicking against it, learn about it.
P.S. This post is female, almost 20% more than my formal writing for my masculine client.
What tendencies do you notice in men’s and women’s writing?
Have you ever read something, thinking it was one gender, and it ended up being the other gender? Why do you think that happened?