"A few weeks ago at work," Jennifer Lawrence wrote in an essay for Lenny (yup, I guess I'm subscribed to Lenny now! Well played, Lena Dunham). "I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-[BS] 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 was 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."
"Woman in a Meeting" is a language of its own.
It should not be, but it is. You will think that you have stated the case simply and effectively, and everyone else will wonder why you were so Terrifyingly Angry. Instead, you have to translate. You start with your thought, then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a grovelling apology for an unspecified error. (In fact, as Sloane Crosley pointed out in an essay earlier this year, the time you are most likely to say "I'm sorry" is the time when you feel that you, personally, have just been grievously wronged. Not vice versa.)
To illustrate this difficulty, I have taken the liberty of translating some famous sentences into the phrases a woman would have to use to say them during a meeting not to be perceived as angry, threatening or (gasp!) bitchy.
"Give me liberty, or give me death."
American attorney and politician Patrick Henry.
Woman in a Meeting: "Dave, if I could, I could just - I just really feel like if we had liberty it would be terrific, and the alternative would just be awful, you know? That's just how it strikes me. I don't know."
"I have a dream today!"
American Civil Rights and religious leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
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?"
"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Former US president Ronald Reagan.
Woman in a Meeting: "I'm sorry, Mikhail, if I could? Didn't mean to cut you off there. Can we agree that this wall maybe isn't quite doing what it should be doing? Just looking at everything everyone's been saying, it seems like we could consider removing it. Possibly. I don't know, what does the room feel?"
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Former US president Franklin D Roosevelt.
Woman in a Meeting: "I have to say - I'm sorry - I have to say this. I don't think we should be as scared of non-fear things as maybe we are? If that makes sense? Sorry, I feel like I'm rambling."
"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
Former US president John F Kennedy.
Woman in a Meeting: "I'm not an expert, Dave, but I feel like maybe you could accomplish more by maybe shifting your focus from asking things from the government and instead looking at things that we can all do ourselves? Just a thought. Just a thought. Take it for what it's worth."
"Let my people go."
Moses the prophet.
Woman in a Meeting: "Pharaoh, listen, I totally hear where you're coming from on this. I totally do. And I don't want to butt in if you've come to a decision here, but, just, I have to say, would you consider that an argument for maybe releasing these people could conceivably have merit? Or is that already off the table?"
"I came. I saw. I conquered."
Roman statesman Julius Caesar.
Woman in a Meeting: "I don't want to toot my own horn here at all but I definitely have been to those places and was just honoured to be a part of it as our team did such a wonderful job of conquering them."
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
The third US president Thomas Jefferson.
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."
"I have not yet begun to fight."
US naval Captain John Paul Jones.
Woman in a Meeting: "Dave, I'm not going to fight you on this."
"I will be heard."
Woman in a Meeting: "Sorry to interrupt. No, go on, Dave. Finish what you had to say."
American abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, and social reformer William Lloyd Garrison
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She wrote this for The Washington Post.