Why Are We Policing Women’s Voices—And Not Men’s?

by Isabel Bartholomew

In Terry Gross’s NPR interview with writer and editor Jessica Grose, professor of linguistics Penny Eckert, and speech pathologist Susan Sankin, the subject on the table was the policing of young women’s voices. “People are busy policing women’s language and nobody is policing older or younger men’s language,” Eckert says. Two of the speech tics discussed are uptalking (ending a sentence like it’s a question) and vocal fry (drawing out, or rasping, the ends of sentences). The clear double standard here? Men often employ these same tics.

Young women’s voices, when they have these tics, have been described as “valley girl,” “mall girl,” “sexy baby,” and in Grose’s case, “faux socialite.” Young men rarely receive such criticism. When an older man told Grose that she sounded “like his granddaughter,” the implication was that she sounded childish, not authoritative or knowledgeable enough (being both young and female).

Susan Sankin says that she finds these speech patterns to be distracting from the speakers’ intended message. “It still has a feeling to me of sounding hesitant, less sure of yourself, and less decisive,” she says, while Penny Eckert stresses that there exists a generational shift in the way we hear and interpret patterns of speech. “There’s been a change and those of us who are bothered by some of these features are probably just getting old,” Eckert says.

Whether or not you’re bothered by these speech patterns, there is a double standard at play in the way they are policed, and for whom. “So it sort of feels like even when the culture is changing… usually white men are the defaults and how we should all be behaving,” Grose says.

It’s good food for thought. Listen to the entire interview here.

Image: In A World

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