Scribbles: Writing by Christin Keck

My writing, information about my books, and a lot of miscellany


The Voices of Women

Posted by christinkeck on July 8, 2013 at 1:05 PM

     Next time you are listening to a radio bit, or television interview when a woman is speaking, close your eyes; is she asking a question with every sentence?

     The most irritating thing about listening to a woman speak is that rising inflection at the end of every pause; it’s as if there is a question mark placed there. It bothers me tremendously that women speak this way because more than anything else they do, this one affectation of speech removes any authority they may have in the words they are saying.

     Why should a woman need to ask permission for her words? Most of them would tell you they don’t, or aren’t doing that at all—but if you listen to them, you hear the permission being asked. This can be especially frustrating when a woman is trying to say something authoritative, but quite a few of them do this with every sentence they speak, as if they aren’t sure if you will accept it, or aren’t confident in what they are saying at all.

     I have heard this most often from younger women—but there are plenty of older ones who do it too. Some of these have impressive credentials, but these are totally negated by that interrogative at the end of everything spoken. It’s too bad. Women need to speak as if they can run things, or they never will.

     Listen to someone like John Behner, Speaker of the House of Representatives sometime. He absolutely never uses a rising inflection at the end of a sentence. Never. Not even when he is asking a question. The most you get from him is a very slight pause before the question mark appears audibly.

     Radio talk show hosts and dee-jays are trained not to do this—they listen to the playback of their interviews, they are schooled in enunciation and elocution to avoid that interrogative. And as a result, even a moron like Rush Limbaugh or a shock-jock like Howard Stern sound like they know what they are talking about. Anyone can sound like an authority if they speak like one.

     Women have a particular investment in this: more and more these days, the rights of women to choose what happens to them are coming under fire. Everything from abortion to voting rights can be at stake here—and yet, they continue to ask the listener to approve what they say in public. If they continue to use the interrogative inflection, they will find that not even ignorant or invested listeners will believe what they are being told. Go ahead and put a question mark at the end of some sentence you respect, such as the following excerpt from the Gettysburg Address and see how it sounds:

Four score? and seven years ago? our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation? conceived in liberty? and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal?

    Was it that long ago? Or some other time? Maybe I don’t know when it happened. My best guess is 87 years ago, but I can’t be sure. And were they our fathers? Maybe they were our uncles. Or brothers. Or mothers. Or some other people we don’t even know. And how were they conceived? And are they equal? Is equality a concern here?

     See what I mean? Just a simple sentence that states facts suddenly becomes a very iffy statement. We don’t know what the truth is. We can’t make a decision. We can’t get past that question mark.

     Women especially need to learn not to ask permission for what they say. Michelle Bachmann doesn’t ask—she does not use that rising inflection when she speaks, and as a result, even her most egregious lies and scurrilous untruths have a ring of authority. No wonder she got where she did. Even the least amount of checking into the validity of her statements reveals what an idiotic body of information it can be—but because she speaks without questions, she manages to convince a lot of people.

     There is another problem with women’s speech—the countermeasure to that “moronic interrogative” is sometimes even worse. This type of speech is the “flatline” voice that has almost the opposite effect of asking questions—it puts the listener to sleep. I have heard women, in an effort to avoid sounding as if they are asking everything, artificially enforce a non-inflected sort of speech that sounds a lot like the drone of a humming machine. It sounds as if they have no idea what it is they are saying—but reading it from cue-cards and reading it badly. The questioning inflection can be irritating, but this one is simply a turn-off.

     There are some fairly well-known women who do this: the actress Winona Ryder is one. She sounds tired—all the time. Another actress, Kristen Stewart, does it too. And unfortunately, Hilary Rodham Clinton does it, unless she gets angry. Then, that flat, level voice takes on a sharp edge. She will also slow down when she is angry—so her speech sounds a lot like a disgruntled kindergarten teacher speaking to errant five-year-olds. This isn’t a useful trait when you’re Secretary of State. It sounds as if she is talking down to people. Not diplomatic.

     What is particularly distressing about this speech trait is that many of the women who use it are lesbians. Not all, certainly—but many. If there is one group of women who ought to be concerned about speaking with some authority so their voices are heard, it is the homosexual community—and yet, both men and women in this segment of society seem to have the most noticeable speech identifiers: men use the rising inflection, and women use the drone; I refuse to believe this is anything but learned behavior. If a moron like Michelle Bachmann can sound like an authority, or an idiot like Rush Limbaugh can sound like he actually knows something, then any homosexual person can also learn to speak to be heard and heeded. I know it can be done. I just wish it were being done more often.

     So who are some good speakers? Who uses their voices to convince, educate, or inform? Who do you trust to tell you the truth?

     The best example I can think of is Dan Rather. Could there have been anything he said you did not take in completely or believe? Probably not. He could have read excerpts from the Satanic Bible on the air and it would have been heard in its entirety and the next day we might all have been hanging our crucifixes upside down.

     And listen to Martha Stewart speak sometime. She tells you to make perfectly adorable items out of dryer lint and pine cones, and you believe her—even when you try it and they turn out looking like pine cones covered in dryer lint and are good for absolutely nothing useful whatsoever. Why? Because she says it with authority. Her voice is a bit clipped and abrupt at times, but it’s not uninflected and she, too, never asks the listener any questions. She just directs.

     There are others, I’m sure you have your preferences; whether or not this is done consciously or subconsciously it determines how the listener or viewer ultimately responds to what is being said. Anyone who speaks in public for any reason needs to learn how they sound to others, and address them accordingly, especially if they are trying to get a point across.

     Women take heed. Don’t sound like a moron asking a question, and don’t lull your listeners into a stupor. Speak with conviction and authority. It will further whatever cause you have and make your words stand out as truth—even if they aren’t.

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