Women get a lot of flack for the way they speak.
In general, women are more likely than men to be criticised for using upspeak (where you end every sentence as though it’s a question?) and vocal fry (that low, creaaaaky sound).
Experts say it can make them look less self-assured in professional settings, precluding them from securing jobs and leadership positions.
But speech pathologist Susan Sankin said that her experience suggests upspeak and vocal fry — and the problems they supposedly cause — aren’t limited to young women.
“In the past, the tendency to speak in this way was observed more often in the speech of young women than in men,” she told Business Insider. “Now, not only is the trend noticed in both the speech of women and men, but also in the speech of individuals of a variety of different ages.”
Sankin recently worked with a male doctor who was completely unaware that he used upspeak and vocal fry until one of his supervisors pointed it out. “He was appalled,” Sankin said. He came to her seeking help getting rid of those tendencies.
Some recent research backs up the idea that men use upspeak and vocal fry, too. One study found that men and women were equally likely to end declarative statements with upspeak. Women were, however, more likely to use upspeak when they felt they were about to be interrupted.
Ann Heppermann, the producer of Slate’s Culture Gabfest, even created a mix of men using vocal fry.
The biggest gender difference in speech trends may be that listeners expect women, but not men, to demonstrate under-confidence when they speak.
“With men, we listen for what they’re saying, their point, their assertions,” feminist linguist Robin Lakoff told New York Magazine. “With women, we tend to listen to how they’re talking, the words they use, what they emphasise, whether they smile.”
Men may be in denial about the way they communicate. As one researcher told The New York Times, “Men don’t think they do it [use upspeak], but they do.”
Opinions differ as to whether upspeak and vocal fry are problematic, but Sankin thinks these speech phenomena can damage your professional image, regardless of your gender.
The point of this discussion isn’t to start a running tally of how many times your male and female colleagues use upspeak and vocal fry. But hopefully, the conversation will help us recognise the biases in our own perception. When you’re interviewing a young woman for a job, you might feel validated when she ends a sentence like a question just once and not even blink when the older male candidate does it eight times.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sexist; it just means you’ve been influenced by cultural stereotypes. The first step to getting rid of those biases is becoming aware of them.
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