Making Fun Of How Women Talk In Meetings Isn't Funny — It's Dangerous

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
I like to think of myself as someone with a well-developed sense of humor. While there are some things that are widely considered funny that I just don't get (like, every single Monty Python sketch ever), I'm usually a pretty easy laugh. That's why I was surprised when the viral post that took over my Facebook feed yesterday not only failed to make me laugh — it made me furious.

To be clear, Alexandra Petri's piece — which was loosely inspired by Jennifer Lawrence's recent essay on the wage gap in Hollywood — is definitely meant to be funny. In it, the writer reimagines famous quotes "the way a woman would have said them during a meeting." As she describes it, this "woman in a meeting" language stems from the idea that when women try to state things "simply and effectively," everyone thinks we are being scary and angry. "You start with your thought," she explains, "then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a groveling apology for an unspecified error."

Petri illustrates the concept with a bunch of examples, each a little more depressing than the last. I understand that they're supposed to make me smile or laugh, or perhaps nod my head in recognition, but instead they just make me deeply sad for all of us. It's 2015. Are we really living in a world where successful women feel like we need to diminish ourselves like this? I've certainly never worried about offending a colleague because of my gender, or voiced an opinion differently because I'm a woman (at least not consciously). Am I alone here? Just the thought of the extra work we're creating for ourselves and the amount of time we're wasting makes me exhausted.

While I'm sure it wasn't Petri's intention, there's a disturbing undercurrent to her entire argument: How would these historical moments have turned out if a self-effacing woman had been leading the charge? Take this example:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
Woman in a meeting: “I’m sorry, it really feels to me like we’re all equal, you know? I just feel really strongly on this.”

If that's what being a woman in a meeting means, I want nothing to do with it.

Or this:

“I have a dream today!”

Woman in a meeting: “I’m sorry, I just had this idea — it’s probably crazy, but — look, just as long as we’re throwing things out here — I had sort of an idea or vision about maybe the future?”

I'm assuming that Lawrence published her piece to help drive an important conversation about equality, not to inspire a few laughs. Making light of the inequalities in the workplace, even if we're in on the joke, just seems foolish to me — particularly when there are still so many young women who worry that being seen as assertive or ambitious is a bad thing. Thanks to preexisting social stereotypes, powerful women will always face a more difficult road. We've got much more important things to do than waste time making fun of ourselves.

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