Somewhere along the way of talking about my emotions on the internet, I had grown uncomfortable about having any feelings that weren’t all happy-happy-joy-joy and so had to hide behind the little yellow face.
There’s a bit in a TV show I love (which I’m declining to name in case of spoilers) where one character says to another, “There are two kinds of people in the world. When they bump into each other accidentally, the first kind says, “Watch it!” and the second kind says, “Sorry.” The character saying this believed he was the first kind of person. The character he was addressing was—surprise, surprise—a woman.
I thought of this when I had to send a text message the other day. I wasn’t completely okay with the person I was texting—I’m forgetting who it was or what I was upset about, but I remember a feeling of twisting stomach and general need to convey my lack of patience with the situation. So I sent off a terse message, added the Full Stop Of Doom, and then, almost like I couldn’t help myself, I added a quick smiley face and sent the message off. Effectively negating everything I had just said.
The Full Stop Of Doom is a useful little device. Given the general brevity of the texted form, it’s sometimes hard to convey tone. Let’s try an example.
Person A has just texted Person B that they’ll be even later than they thought.
Person B is sitting and reading a book and doesn’t really care: “Okay!”
Person B has been waiting for a while and is sick and tired of people taking her time for granted. “Okay.”
You see? A simple period and that sentence conveys your tapping foot, your unsmiling face. However, as women, we’re so uncomfortable with being angry (and if we admit we’re angry, there’s a high chance a man will appear from the middle of nowhere and tell us to “calm down”) that we feel the need to tone down our even slightly aggressive messages by adding that killer of all tone: a smiley face.
Emoticons are great for people who can’t convey subtle tone. I use them all the time out of laziness. When I bite back at someone sarcastically on Facebook, I add the tongue-sticking-out face. Don’t take me too seriously! I was only joking! When I’m not in the world’s best mood but want to convey happiness anyway, I add a smiley. It doesn’t matter what my words say, just look at my smile! Somewhere along the way of talking about my emotions on the internet, I had grown uncomfortable about having any feelings that weren’t all happy-happy-joy-joy and so had to hide behind the little yellow face.
Of course women apologise more. We don’t need a study to tell us that. But, since I like science to back up what I’m saying, a 2010 Psychological Science journal study said that women had a lower threshold for what they thought was offensive behaviour. Basically, if it’s you and a random dude and you both spill your drink on someone else, as a woman, you’ll spend much more time apologising, fretting about causing offence, and in some cases, fetching copious amounts of paper napkins than the guy who will probably just say, “Sorry” and move on.
In The New York Times, essayist Sloane Crosley is doubtful. She writes: “I think it’s because we haven’t addressed the deeper meaning of these 'sorrys'. To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”
Which, granted, is an interesting theory. Now, I live in Delhi, where apologising just means you’re a weak person and you may as well be running around naked waving a sign that says, “Take advantage of me!” Literally no one apologises in this city, and that goes for women, too. Delhiites are stoic and hard faced in public, bumping into you with elbows and shoulders, pushing in front of you in lines or moving their car so no one can pass, and all the while looking at you with an expression that says, “Yeah? What are you going to do about it?” What I find fascinating though, is take these selfsame Delhi women home, put them in a social situation where they’ll have to be slightly unpopular, and watch them start to say sorry like there’s no tomorrow.
“I’m sorry, but could I have a soda instead of a Coke?”
“I’m sorry, but I think my appointment was for 2.30 not 3.”
I guess there’s a whole other column I could do on Delhi women and their schizophrenia, how they move from “watch it” to “sorry” just by moving them geographically, but that will have to wait for another time.
Meanwhile, I just checked my email and there’s one person I need to reply to with not great news. I’m going to give it to her straight and not add the sad face smiley. It’s a small step towards taking control of your feelings, but I think it’ll make all the difference.