At first blush, all of this speaking advice sounds like empowerment. Stop sugarcoating everything, ladies! Don’t hedge your requests! Refuse to water down your opinions! But are women the ones who need to change? If I’m saying something intelligent and all a listener can hear is the way I’m saying it, whose problem is that?
“All the discussion is about what we think we hear,” the feminist linguist Robin Lakoff tells me. Lakoff is a professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, and, 40 years ago, pioneered the study of language and gender. “With men, we listen for what they’re saying, their point, their assertions. Which is what all of us want others to do when we speak,” Lakoff says. “With women, we tend to listen to how they’re talking, the words they use, what they emphasize, whether they smile.”
Men also use the word just. Men engage in upspeak. Men have vocal fry. Men pepper their sentences with unnecessary “likes” and “sorrys.” I haven’t read any articles encouraging them to change this behavior. The supposed distinctions between men’s and women’s ways of talking are, often, not that distinct. “Forty years after Lakoff’s groundbreaking work, we’ve learned that all such generalizations are over-generalizations: none of them are true for every woman in every context (or even most women in most contexts),” writes feminist linguist and blogger Debbie Cameron. “We’ve also learned that some of the most enduring beliefs about the way women talk are not just over-generalizations, they are — to put it bluntly — lies.” Maybe we don’t sound like a pack of Cher Horowitzes after all.
(Excerpt etc. first posted on. Orig. attribution above.)