Sorry, I’m no expert, but have you ever, like, just noticed that women inject many kind of undermining phrases in their day-to-day speech?
The phenomenon has been widely discussed in the past year, with countless thinkpieces, a Pantene commercial and even a skit from Amy Schumer essentially telling women to apologize less. Now, a free plug-in for Google Chrome will make that goal more attainable, working like a spell check for negative phrases in emails, underlining them in red.
Tami Reiss, CEO of software development consulting firm Cyrus Innovation, got the idea for “Just Not Sorry” after discussing the speech patterns with fellow female entrepreneurs.
“I am a strong woman with a strong voice, and I still fall into the same traps as everyone else, trying to edit my tone so it comes off as less strong,” she told Motherboard. “We decided to create this New Year’s campaign to leave ‘Just, I’m sorry’ in 2015.”
Image of the plugin via Medium
In addition to underlining the problematic words, the tool also includes links to educational articles on why the phrases it flags are considered undermining. ‘Just Not Sorry’ is also open source, allowing anyone who uses it to customize it to their own speech and goals. Reiss announced the plug-in in a Medium post last week, and said its initial users love the tool, saying it made a notable difference in how often they apologized.
Despite the early praise for Just Not Sorry, some have found the recent movement of women being told to apologize less as just another form of policing their behavior.
“If most business and political leaders were women, perhaps we’d see a spate of articles suggesting that men could advance in these fields if only they’d learn how to speak properly,” Raina Lipsitz wrote at Al Jazeera.
“Men also use the word just,” Ann Friedman wrote at New York Magazine earlier this year. “Men engage in upspeak. Men have vocal fry. Men pepper their sentences with unnecessary ‘likes’ and ‘sorrys.’ I haven’t read any articles encouraging them to change this behavior. The supposed distinctions between men’s and women’s ways of talking are, often, not that distinct.”
Is the plug-in an effective way for women to fight sexism and be more assertive, or an annoying Clippy for mansplaining your own writing to you? Reiss is aware of these criticisms and said she wishes we lived in a world where women’s conditioned form of speech wasn’t considered unprofessional.
“I also advocate for men to be aware of their unconscious bias against when people use words like this, so I don’t think this is one-sided at all,” she said. “It would be great if we could change everybody so that when someone says sorry, it doesn’t affect their position. But if you are apologizing for something, chances are you are not coming off as the stronger position, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.”
Reiss also noted that the app is not just criticizing women’s natural speech; often women are editing these words into their writing, adding phrases to a finished email like “I think” and “Does that make sense?” to come off as more collaborative, but ultimately sounding less confident in their ideas. She said the tool is not meant to police women’s tones but make them more mindful of what impact their words have.
“The thing about this tool is that it doesn’t correct it, it underlines it, so you think, “Is this really want I say right now?” Is this something I just think, or is it something that I know? Is it actually surprising so you want to say ‘actually,’ or is it not? Is it just a fact? Is there ever any value in saying “does this make sense?” Reiss said. “Why would you ever asks someone else to validate your ideas?”