Hannah McGill: Sorry state of gender equality

A new app seeks to dissuade women from apologising in emails. Picture: Stuart Jenner

A new app seeks to dissuade women from apologising in emails. Picture: Stuart Jenner

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I HAVE wondered at particularly busy or chaotic points in my life if I shouldn’t attach “Sorry for the delay in getting back to you” as an automatically generated opener for my emails.

Sometimes it really is the expected pause of modern communications that’s at fault – once, an editor enquired via Twitter if I was available to write something, and by the time I got back to her 20 minutes later had run out of patience and commissioned someone else – but more often it’s me. Nonetheless, a new app would seek to dissuade me from apologising in my emails, because women do that too much. Just Not Sorry draws women’s attention to how frequently they hedge around with “just”, “actually” and “sorry”, by underlining them. Do you undersell yourself with language that shrinks your power? Maybe you do, in which underline away, and become ruder in the name of success!

I can’t help feeling, however, that these moves to equalise communication between the genders often have the effect of minimising rather than expanding women’s power.

Take the term “mansplaining”, which seems to have evolved in usage from “man talking down to woman about subject she actually knows better than he does”, to “man expressing different opinion from woman in any context whatsoever”. Don’t we do young women a disservice if we raise them with the assumption that dissent is always sexist in origin, and that they should be protected from disagreement with males? How about starting from the assumption that we’re not subservient or inferior, and thus can speak up for ourselves when someone challenges us or tries to tell us something we already know – rather than constructing and hiding behind a word for how talked-down-to we assume we’re going to be?

The point has already been made by commentators that politeness and consideration in professional communications might be worth encouraging in both genders rather than stamping out in one. But it also seems a counter-productive idea in that it takes as its starting point the assumption that women aren’t capable of communicating properly.

I will admit to finding the timid, self-effacing female archetype that emerges from many current discussions about female participation a bit hard to square with the women I have known over the course of my personal and professional life. There are without a doubt numerous ingrained social structures that still compromise women’s progress in certain fields – but that’s not because women are collectively mealy-mouthed.

You can’t go to school with girls, work with women or encounter a hen night on an early flight and still think that women lack aggression or force of personality. You can’t have had female teachers, older sisters or, come to that, a mother, and still think women need hand-holding when it comes to getting their own way.

I wonder if we aren’t in danger with this sort of corrective measure of insisting on a stereotype of simper, fragile, poor-little-me-I-can’t-even-write-an-email womanhood that ultimately does more harm than good to the cause of workplace equality. Still, if someone can come up with an app that would dissuade me from getting overly involved in fruitless online political arguments – I’m in.

Focus on politicians’ secret lives

THE newly released transcripts of phone calls between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have inevitably been scrutinised for their political significance. No less intriguing is the dynamic revealed between the two men – broadly friendly, if characterised by a certain trepidation on Blair’s part around Clinton’s waggish sense of humour. It’s always fascinating to speculate on how statespeople really get on away from colleagues or cameras. Does Barack Obama make faces at his secretary while he’s talking to David Cameron? Is there a friendly word or a stony silence if Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn find themselves side-by-side at the Commons urinals? Of course, personal relationships between politicians have real impact as well as gossip value; it’s been posited that the endless inaction over the Iraq inquiry isn’t unrelated to the real-life friendship between David Cameron and Tony Blair, which reminds us that the impetus to defend their records by keeping their friends close and their potential enemies closer might extend far beyond a politician’s time in high office. Maybe one day we’ll be made party to the plans that must be being made for just how world leaders stay civil with Donald Trump should a US dizzy spell propel that boor into the White House.

Let’s hear it for Charlotte

GETTING sad about awards nominations is a fruitless business, since the whole thing’s a weird racket in which moderately acclaimed films with Eddie Redmayne in are disproportionately favoured, classy, pretty flicks that displease nobody have a built-in advantage, and small or edgy films inevitably get shoved out by the pressure of consensus.

And a year with Mad Max: Fury Road at its awards forefront can’t really be considered wholly predictable.

Still, I can’t help feeling a little sad about Charlotte Rampling not getting a Bafta nomination for her standout performance in 45 years. «

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