This is part of a WNYC series called “You’re Entitled to Your Wrong Opinion.” These are low-stakes debates where the point is to agree to disagree, so relax, okay? You’re welcome to brag about your wrong opinion anytime using the hashtag #MyWrongOpinion, and suggest ideas for other low stakes debates to @shubasu. For today's #MyWrongOpinion, listeners were asked, "Do you think exclamation points are acceptable to use in work-related email?"
Provocative question! https://t.co/OZfAvsoV3e
— Gothamist (@Gothamist) May 14, 2018
"Just circling back to check on the status of this! Can you let me know? Thanks!"
You've probably been on the sending or receiving end of one of these work emails. And chances are, if you’re a woman, you’ve spent far more time agonizing over whether to keep or delete those exclamation points.
That’s because, as numerous studies have shown, women use exclamation points more frequently than men in online communication. While those !! have, in the past, been characterized as signs of “excitability” (see: the history of women and hysteria), they usually function as markers of friendliness and politeness. But who gets disproportionately burdened with appearing friendly and polite? (see: the history of women and hysteria)
Michelle Markowitz has thought a lot about how women and men communicate differently online and in texts. She and Caroline Moss recently co-authored the book Hey Ladies!, which follows a year of fictional email exchanges between eight close, women friends. She says, just as women using exclamation points can be seen as overly-enthusiastic, men using periods can be seen as overly-terse.
“My female friends and I joke that it makes me feel really empty after getting a text like that,” Markowitz told WNYC. “Like, I just threw up lots of exclamation points and emojis and I’m just getting a period back?"
Markowtiz says she often thinks about who she’s emailing — whether they work with her or above her or for her — and how to be her authentic, enthusiastic self while “not giving away your power.”
It’s a tightrope many people cross on a daily basis, especially with emails becoming less formal and more frequent.
But if you ask Loryn Brantz, author of Feminist Baby and senior writer at Buzzfeed, she says enough with overthinking the balancing act. She admittedly spent her twenties editing exclamation points out of her work emails. Now, she thinks it’s time for women to reclaim them.
“I was conditioned to believe they were too enthusiastic sounding or made me sound ditzy,” said Brantz. “And at a certain point it just clicked that all these words were kind’ve alluding to sounding too feminine."
me dropping exclamation points in emails to fight the feminine stigma around them and destroy the patriarchy pic.twitter.com/MSYsFTaMoV
— (((Loryn Brantz))) (@LorynBrantz) May 3, 2018
When asked how serious she is about that ^^ tweet, Brantz said: “Pretty serious! I feel like it’s the little things we do day to day that are gonna change the fabric of society.”
Here are some voicemails we received:
Tell us what you think: Do exclamation points have a place in professional communications? Leave @WNYC a voicemail at 855-869-9692, or tweet using the hashtag #MyWrongOpinion.
— Cecile Vidican (@cecillus) May 14, 2018
— Emily Karcher (@Recruiter_Emily) May 14, 2018
I just took a bunch of exclamation points out of an email that my college-age daughter asked me to review. Maybe I should have left them? @vapsvaholic
— Jeanellen Vapsva (@JeanellenConVap) May 14, 2018
— YellowleesDouglas (@neurosciwrite) May 14, 2018
@wnyc Intead of encouraging women to be less friendly through nixing the exclamation, shouldn’t we be encouraging men to embrace/show more emotion. I think this premise is built off the thought that men do it better, when they don’t. #MyWrongOpinion
— Charlie Henri Sanson (@CharlieHenri) May 14, 2018
It makes me happy to see exclamation points in business emails because It signals that personality/feminism will not be punished in the workplace- it makes me comfortable to be myself. It’s ok to communicate like a woman AND be professional! #mywrongopinion
— Mariel (@marieldumas) May 14, 2018
— Rob Crilly (@robcrilly) May 14, 2018
Depends on workplace culture but in a traditional office environment, I’d say sparingly. I silently judge emails with multiple !s #MyWrongOpinion
— Prime Time Pauly G (@areacode212) May 14, 2018
Used with positivity, I feel like they've become a necessary part of the email vernacular to break up short, direct sentences that could be read as hostile. Would be nice to not have to parse so much, but feels like most work conflicts start with unintentional escalations in text
— Nick, between drinks (@ClaytonNicholas) May 14, 2018