The Sneaky Way We Tell Women To Shut Up

Does it matter what a woman is saying if all you are focusing on is her voice? In episode 3 of our Strong Opinions Loosely Held podcast, R29's Elisa Kreisinger talks with writers Sally Herships and Amanda Marcotte about why policing our physical voices is just another way to shut women up — and where the overused qualifiers and upspeak even came from the in the first place. "I think we're trying to find ourselves in a crazy world, and owning your voice and your opinions is hard," Kreisinger explains. "Insecurity is all around us, and we never really learn to communicate in an insecure world. We're all grappling with what it's like to express ourselves verbally in this culture. That said, yes, I think it's women trying to play down their confidence. We've grown up knowing the answer but not raising our hands." Below, we chat with Kreisinger about the inspiration for this week's episode and what she hopes you guys take away from it.

What do you think is the biggest thing society could do to take steps to improve this issue? Do you think it will ever be fully fixed?

"Amanda [Marcotte] gives some great advice in the episode, when she says that it's not women's job to fix it. It's those who are offended by vocal patterns' job to either find a new hobby or get used to women speaking. "She also made this really interesting point that we had to cut for time:

"I’ve read a lot of linguistics writing about this, and I don’t think that even linguists know why it is that young women seem to be at the forefront of every vocal change. But they are... Now, you hear middle-aged men, you hear Republican presidential candidates, using uptalk. I noticed that George W. Bush used to do it all the time. It’s subtle, but he definitely does it."
Before making this podcast, were you nervous to put your voice out there — making way for criticism?
"Yes, but I've gotten used to the sound of my voice now. It's funny; the more I hear it, the less it offends me. I'm excited to get feedback on how I speak. I feel like I will have accomplished something if I'm saying something substantial and all someone can hear is how I'm saying it. (It's like Sally [Herships] told me: If you're a woman and someone critiques your voice, you know you've made it to the big leagues.) As of today, I'm happy to report that I have gotten a few comments on the sound of my voice and my over-use of qualifiers in the podcast. It was 'very irritating' and I was urged to 'please improve.'"

Who are some of your favorite women speakers?

"I love Terry Gross, Shonda Rhimes, and Brené Brown. With the proliferation of panels, conferences, and TED-like events, speaking has become a way to brand yourself. But it's amazing now how little is actually said. I get it; people are busy and don't have time to prep. It really makes you value those people who truly have something to say — who are so passionate, their ideas ooze out of them. Or people who are diligent and put in the time and research to present a new idea, however simple, into the public consciousness."

Where is the line in all of this? Should people change the way they speak to meet some new standard?

"The line in all of this is that when you're told your voice lacks credibility, or that you use too many qualifiers, or you see articles in your feed about how women who speak a certain way could lose out on jobs, we have to question the source. It's usually just plain sexism meant to shut us up or make us feel insecure. Being a woman in this culture is like being on a roller coaster of mixed signals. So no, I would say: Never change the way you speak, unless it's important to you." Listen below via SoundCloud, and subscribe to Strong Opinions Loosely Held on iTunes, here.

R29 Original Series