In my junior year of high school, my history teacher gave us three possible topics and told us to prepare each for an in-class essay. Due to my, “I hate the world, the world hates me” sixteen-year-old attitude, I decided to just prepare for one and hope for the best. Low and behold, someone was looking out for me, and my prepared topic was picked. I was completely over the moon! I wrote the whole paper like it was a Netflix series, walking my teacher through the history of China with a flourish of my pen.
So when I got to an exciting part of the story, “And with a fury and passion the Mongols came in!” it was necessary to end my statement with an exclamation point, to show the drama. They didn’t walk in slowly, they came in! You know?
She, with her two Ph.D.’s in history and art history, and limited patience for students seemed to disagree and took the time to painstakingly circle each exclamation point with red ink. She went so far as to write some note on the top stating that it wasn’t “academic” to use an exclamation point, “You should try taking this more seriously, Molly,” but I was! I was interested in the topic and I knew the history. Just because I didn’t talk like a 70-year-old historian, I wasn’t taking it seriously?
This is not atypical slander for the poor exclamation mark.
I use it constantly. Every text is sent with a “No problem!” Every email, even if it’s for an important interview or to the Dean of something for an article, I begin with a “Hello!” or “Good morning!” and end it with “Hope you have a great rest of your day!”
I’ve been told it’s unprofessional. There are many Tik Toks of women joking about how they have to put on their “Masculine persona” to send emails without exclamation points. To talk like their male colleagues to fit in, to fit in with the “boys”… you know?
I urge women in the workplace to say a big, “screw you” to colleagues or others who say it’s unprofessional. If you want to use it to say a friendly good morning or “I hope you’re well!” use it. I could’ve internalized what that teacher said or what other career professionals said, but I think it’s ridiculously stupid to measure someone’s intelligence or professionalism by the use of a little exclamation mark.
I do understand that there’s a possibility that the use of the exclamation point can work against women. I have friends who don’t use it, who then say that people think they’re not friendly, simply because they don’t find the exclamation point of use. Which is just as awful as thinking that someone who uses it is unprofessional.
So, what are we left with then? Women who use an exclamation point are seen as more unprofessional than their male colleagues, and those who don’t use it are seen as unfriendly. I think that this is just another indication of the simple sexism that still exists within society. Though we’re trying to work to structurally fix sexism, by fixing gender pay gaps and hiring more women in the workplace, there’s still a habit to try and force women into this very specific role.
I always think of that “Cool Girl” monologue from “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. It’s seen best in the movie version with Rosamund Pike’s chilling tone reading the passage as she runs away from her husband.
It’s a slightly dramatic example, but it’s true. We as women have to be perfect- not perfect in the normal sense, but perfect in the patriarchal idea of what the perfect woman should be. She should be a go-getter, but not so much so that she oversteps and, god forbid, does the job better than the men that were in the position before her. She should be professional in the workplace, but not cold or unfriendly. She should look nice at work, in a skirt and low cut blouse, but the skirt shouldn’t be too short and the blouse shouldn’t be cut too low.
I still remember standing up in front of my sixth-grade class with my hands against my thighs while my teacher went through and checked to make sure all the girl’s shorts touched our middle fingertip (at a public middle school).
My overall point is that I think it’s of course lovely that Fairfield is celebrating 50 Years of Women, and that women leaders are being highlighted for what they’re doing across campus, however, I don’t think it’s right to say sexism is gone suddenly because we’re recognizing women. Women have been on planet earth since the beginning of time, and we’re celebrating the fact Fairfield University thought they were deserving of a college education in the 1970s?
We will always have to work twice as hard on campus and post-graduation. We will have to put in the work, and then maintain the image of what type of woman society wants us to be.
Simply because I identify as a woman, I will always have to read over each and every email I send and ask myself, “Is the exclamation point too much here? Are they going to think I’m dumb if I send this?” But, there comes a point where you just don’t care. I don’t care what they think when reading this because I know who I am and how capable I am. I’ll click send on an email littered with exclamation points just because I want to and I think it’s an unwinnable battle to try and guess what role the patriarchy wants me to fit in today. I’ll use an exclamation point if that’s what I want to do.