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J-Law Gets It, Women Shouldn't Have to Speak Differently

Photograph by Getty Images

It's not news that women have a style of speaking distinctive from that of men. Yes, we have a more expansive color vocabulary (yay?). Women also tend to punctuate statements with a question mark, which can be interpreted as apologizing for simply making a declaration or having an opinion—we can even be criticized just for noticing that women make inflections at the end of sentences. On so many days, for so many reasons, unless we keep our mouths shut, women can't seem to win. (Unless we're in a contest for who can name the most colors. We've got that going for us.)

As if Jennifer Lawrence wasn't already kicking ass for being an accomplished actor and a seemingly all-around-cool person, she triggered a whole bunch of headlines recently for an essay she penned, "Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?" for Lena Dunham's newsletter, "Lenny."

"Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn't 'offend' or 'scare' men?" she wrote, all while knowing that by doing so, she's apt to come off as looking "difficult" or "spoiled," while men doing the same are perceived as "fierce and tactical."

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A writer for The Washington Post summed up Lawrence's characterization as quite sadly typical of a "Woman in a Meeting," which is when a man and woman mean the exact same thing, but the way in which the woman expresses it is essentially one big atonement for having the chutzpah to feel she needs to say anything.

"You start with your thought, then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a groveling apology for an unspecified error," Alexandra Petri said in the Post.

Maybe, just maybe, by having women in positions of power with a lot to lose speak up about it, it'll help chip away at the issue.

To illustrate her point, Petri translated some iconic statements made by famous men into how a businesswoman would likely say them so as "not to be perceived as angry, threatening or (gasp!) bitchy." They include:

"Give me liberty, or give me death."

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."

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

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."

"I will be heard."

Woman in a Meeting: "Sorry to interrupt. No, go on, Dave. Finish what you had to say."

It's hard to imagine that the generations-long habits of women-speak will disappear overnight, or even in the next generation or two. But maybe, just maybe, by having women in positions of power with a lot to lose speak up about it, it'll help chip away at the issue.

Of course it's easier for someone like Lawrence to say she's "over trying to find the 'adorable' way to state my opinion and still be likable"—she, in a place of strength (top in her field) and wealth (if she's never hired again, she can live off her millions, even if it's less than the millions her male co-stars make).

However, precisely by having Lawrence put herself out there—and risk millions—another woman, who might just be risking tens or hundreds, will feel a little more empowered because the issue is now on the (board room) table, instead of at the water cooler or maybe even just in a meme.

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If the first step is to acknowledge the problem, then the next ones are to learn and move on, which means we're making progress. Old habits die hard, but killing them off completely instead of letting them fester slowly and painfully seems to be a better course of action.

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