Is this “permission” word undermining your authority?

Girls just want to have fun illustration by Bree Reetz

Apparently, former Google exec, Ellen Petry Leanse thinks so. You can read all about what she really thinks in her opinionated article. Personally I think that the issue is much more dynamic than what Leanse would have you believe. There are many comments on the article but some of them manage to make you think. For instance, Robbert Sheppard insightfully responded saying:

“With all due respect, it is clear from the content of this article that the writer doesn’t have a background in linguistics. She says, “I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference.” This sounds plausible enough on the surface, except that when you dig into the language, one of the primary ways that we express politeness in English is through deference: “would you mind…”; “could you…”; “if it’s not too much trouble…” We soften a request to make it seem less of an imposition. Things like this are especially important in email, where you don’t have facial expressions and intonation to soften your language.”

Personally, I agree with Sheppard. But I also think that this sentiment expressed by John F. Kennedy in 1962, gets us even closer to the heart of the issue.

“Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” ― John F. Kennedy

Blogger, Debbie Cameron, explores just these sort of prefabricated interpretations in her recent blogging on the topic saying:

“What this advice boils down to is ‘talk like a man’. The writer doesn’t even try to argue that there’s some inherent reason to prefer ‘less body language’ (whatever that means) to more. It’s preferable simply because it’s what men are said to do. Men are more successful in the workplace, so if women want to emulate their success, the trick is to mimic their behaviour.

Even in the 1990s the flaw in this reasoning was obvious. Men’s greater success in the workplace is largely a product of their privileged status as men: just imitating their behaviour won’t give women their status. Yet here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, recycling the same old advice.”

I’ve been reading a lot of reactions to the topic over the last couple of days and felt compelled to add my own. As you might expect from an artist like myself, my ideas are probably best expressed in the illustration. I hope this inspires you to dig into the background of the topic and do some thinking of your own.