I don’t mean to offend any of the men out there, but it kind of seems like funny women in Hollywood are, I don’t know, maybe having just a bit of a moment? Like, using their platform to sort of shine a light on some deep-seated gender inequalities that are maybe just a little, I don’t know, outdated?
If the above language sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve had an experience similar to the “Woman in a Meeting” depicted this week at the Washington Post by the ever-entertaining Alexandra Petri. I know I’ve been guilty of it a few times myself—this phenomenon of verbally diluting one’s opinions or thoughts so as to appear as agreeable as possible—but to see Petri’s hyperbolic take on this type of speech, juxtaposed with history-making inspirational statements such as “I have a dream,” well, it makes me cringe.
And, turns out, I’m not the only one cringing. Petri’s article was inspired by a recent essay written by Jennifer Lawrence for Lena Dunham’s e-newsletter, Lenny, in which Lawrence reveals that after learning she was paid less than her male co-stars, she mostly just blamed herself for not negotiating her salary more fiercely. Lawrence recalled a time when she said something with assertion in a meeting, and all the men acted as if she were saying something offensive:
“A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, ‘Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!’ As if I [were] yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.”
Petri and Lawrence’s articles both call to mind a sketch titled “I’m Sorry” from Amy Schumer’s show, Inside Amy Schumer, in which a panel of “women innovators” continually offer apologies for occurrences that are not only not their fault, but they are also usually the victim of a man’s oversight. When a male stagehand brings one of the panelists a cup of coffee after she states that she’s allergic to caffeine, for example, her response is immediate and all too familiar: “I’m sorry. This is my fault.”
It seems ridiculous to see it played out on a television screen or written at the Washington Post, but it’s only barely more ridiculous than what many of us hear—or worse, say—in our everyday lives.
Perhaps we’ve confused a normal human desire to be liked with an unfounded fear that upsetting one person might forever scar our likability. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about other people and their perception of us. But the crazy thing is that by diluting ourselves down to the most agreeable versions possible, there’s a point when we’re no longer really ourselves anymore. Sure, maybe you’ll never offend anyone that way, but maybe you’ll ultimately offend yourself.
The problem is when we let these fears win. If we never let the true, full-strength versions of ourselves show up, we’re not giving anyone a chance to actually like us—for who we really are.
As Lawrence says, “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!” I’m with J. Law. And, like Schumer, I’m done with saying sorry for things that aren’t my fault, throwing myself under the bus to keep some pseudo-peace. How about you?