Since August, I've been asking one of our vendors to send me a copy of our contract and straighten out for me what services we pay for and what services we don't. I need this information before we re-up with the vendor. Since August I've been asking. This is the end of January.
Yesterday I got a perky email from a different person at the same vendor saying hi, here's your contract, I'm taking over your account, how can I help you with this upgrade? I wrote back with three detailed, matter-of-fact paragraphs about what I wanted to know from him and what I was seeking for our next period of service, and I thanked him for sending me the contract at last. I read the email a few times for clarity before I sent it.
At one point I put in "I'm sorry if this seems rude, but", and then I took it out. Because I don't need to apologize to our vendor for seeming rude. Our vendor needs to damn well apologize to me for taking four months and two salespeople to send me a five-page document I asked for. But my natural instinct is to apologize when I use brevity and clarity to demand an answer.
There's research on women and "I'm sorry" at work, most neatly and positively summed up in this Refinery29 article, but also debated in Cosmo, the NYT, and elsewhere. Women say they're sorry a lot. There's a connection, I think, between this cultural habit and the research on powerful women seeming like bitches while powerful men seem assertive.
In late October, I met with a salesman in a similar field but for a different purpose. Partway through our conversation, I remarked on something to do with how large our firm was compared with other family law firms in the area, and he said "Let's not compare sizes." I don't know exactly what my face did, but he ramped up his sales patter to sales babble for a few minutes, and then things got almost back to normal. The meeting didn't last much longer. Defeat gave a sort of slump to his shoulders as he handed me his card before leaving. He knew we weren't going to be doing business.
Either he slipped, or they don't tell you in salesman school not to make dick jokes to female office managers.
The harm in this situation was minimal (mostly me thinking "what a dumb thing to say"), but it was a reminder that in another room, with an office manager of another gender, the same comment would have drawn him closer to closing a deal instead of pushing him farther off. Which was a reminder of the difference between me and some other person with different genitals doing my job in another firm. I felt my long hair on my back; I felt the makeup on my face; I felt the skirt I was wearing; I felt the jewelry on my fingers. I saw his suit and his bald head and smelled his cologne. I felt my gender all over me, when previously I had felt like a professional human having a meeting with another professional human.
This afternoon, I exchanged a few more emails with the vendor after my initial one. In his first reply, he was cold, just shy of insulting, but he gave me the answers I sought. I replied with with a little more warmth - "this email has made me feel better about [vendor] than I have in a long time" - but his second reply was almost as cold as the first.
I don't know whether he's trying to set a we-don't-have-to-like-each-other-to-work-together tone, so as to cut through all the salesman folderol (which I would appreciate), or whether he has written me off as a bitch and is treating me accordingly. If the latter: again, all I did was ask for what I wanted without apology. I was well within my rights to do so, particularly considering the four months of goose-chasing I've been doing with this vendor.
But I have a female-gendered name. And he has a male-gendered name. And I think that means I'm supposed to apologize and submit, even if he's the vendor and I'm the purchaser.