Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 10.10.01 AM

Stop telling women to talk like men

Over at Slate, Marybeth Seitz-Brown has an important piece on uptalk, the rising intonation some women use at the end of their declarative sentences. That speech pattern, and the women who employ it, are frequently belittled or outright dismissed, while the men who use it — and many do — escape the same censure. Seitz-Brown calls that out for what it is: sexism.

In Belfast English, stereotypical women’s speech falls at the end of a sentence, while men’s speech rises before it plateaus—basically, the men are uptalking. And yet Belfast women’s speech is still perceived as more expressive or emotional, showing that it’s not about their actual intonation at all: It’s about whose mouth the speech is coming from.

[...] The notion that my uptalk means I was unsure of what I said is not only wrong, it’s misogynistic. It implies that if women just spoke like men, our ideas would be valuable. If women just spoke like men, sexist listeners would magically understand us, and we would be taken seriously. But the problem is not with feminized qualities, of speech or otherwise, the problem is that our culture pathologizes feminine traits as something to be ashamed of or apologize for.

Seitz-Brown, who faced pushback for using uptalk in an interview she did with NPR, notes that much of that resistance came from women who were, perhaps, trying to be helpful (by cramming their respectability politics down her throat). To those critics, Seitz-Brown responds:

I get it. I owe a lot to these women who came before me, and I understand that they may not have had much choice in the matter when they were my age. After all, employers admit to actively punishing workers who use uptalk, and many women, especially women of color, simply can’t afford not to change their voice in order to gain respect. But just because sexism exists doesn’t mean that the sexists are right about it: Women shouldn’t have to wear pantsuits to be treated like human beings, and we shouldn’t have to contort our voices to sound masculine (but not too masculine!) to make people hear us…. I believe we can do better than that. We can evaluate the merits of an idea based on the soundness of its reasoning, not the pitch range in which it’s articulated.

At the end of the day, it’s an accident of history (and white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy) that uptalk, or AAVE, or any other dismissed “variant” of “standard” English, isn’t viewed as the model speech to which we should all aspire.

Header image credit.

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

Read more about Dana

Join the Conversation