By: Kathryn Rainville
“Just.” A small, but powerful word. One that we use far more frequently than we probably realize. ~Just~ today, I noticed myself typing it several times; I used it in an almost apologetic way regarding small favors or follow-ups. Each time I typed it, I thought about what it really meant for my reputation. I thought about how it lowered the power of what I wanted to convey and showed a meekness that I don’t normally display in advocating for myself. It wasn’t until this article resurfaced that I realized all of this.
A few years ago, I stumbled across an article that an Apple and Google alum wrote. She brought up this phenomenon of the word “just.” In her observations, women use the word more frequently than men, and describes it as a “permission word,” something that grants the person you’re addressing “more authority and control” (Leanse). In her own “research,” she observed that women’s “J-count,” as she refers to it, was substantially higher than men’s. She recounts a story of a man and a woman giving speeches, and the woman used “just” six times to the man’s one time. Ultimately, this got me thinking about a few different points of view. First, concise speech and writing is always more powerful, and “just” gets in the way of that clarity and force. So, I started watching myself. However, when this article surfaced, I couldn’t help but wonder: was this just the latest in advice to women on how to police themselves?
In a retorting article, a different woman cites that this is, in fact, the most recent attempt to censor women in some way and argues that it harms a woman’s self-confidence when she is constantly second-guessing herself, instead of speaking naturally. As Ferro states: “The problem here isn’t the women who hedge their words; it’s the people who believe policing them is somehow a service.” The article further cites the lack of data backing up Leanse’s claims, and instead explains that this is part of “…the myth that if only women could act just a little bit more like men, they would finally be able to succeed in the workplace.” Perhaps most importantly though, Ferro counters Leanse in stating that rather than empowering women, she has put them down by “selling [them] something” that, actually, isn’t true.
The question then remains – are words like “just” creating a subservient attitude for women, thus preventing success, or are we better off remaining authentic, even if there is a potentially harmful rhetoric occurring in the background?