Skepticism

It’s My Party and I’ll Vocal Fry If I Want To

Once upon a time there was a “new” feature in language called vocal fry. It sounded a little like a creaking or growling sound, and while almost everyone used it sometimes it become more common in younger people. For some odd and utterly non factual reason, this feature of language became associated with young women, despite the fact that men and women used it approximately at the same rate. Of course this meant that everyone and their brother and their uncle and their dog felt the need to comment and inform young women that it was bad, hurting them, and making them less hireable.

No one knows why the way young women talk is such a big deal to so many (old, male) people. But for some reason, just as with uptalk and the word like, people are very worried about this (totally natural) feature of language. No matter that it’s not actually a gendered feature of language, only causes damage to the voice if it’s done literally constantly, has been around for quite some time, and is actually a totally normal feature of speech that most people use on a regular basis. And yet despite the pile of facts that there is nothing about the feature that makes it bad (with the exception that sometimes it does lead to employers discriminating against women. I would suggest this makes the employers bad), people are mad about it.

Yet again, it appears that this is one of those things on the list of “stuff people hate that is associated with young, upwardly mobile women totally not because we hate young, upwardly mobile women but because the things are bad.” There may also be a side helping of hating on language change, despite the fact that language has always changed, and when it stops changing the language dies, but at the heart of the issue is the conviction that young women are unprofessional, annoying, and so stupid that they will manage to hurt themselves with the way they talk.

Everything from leggings (sluts without pants!) to uptalk (why do you talk like you’re so uncertain you stupid girl!? Oh wait, most British people also use uptalk? Ignore that, it’s bad when you do it) to feather tattoos on your ribcage (trashy! so trashy!) is deemed horrible when young women do it. And yet there are all sorts of other people who engage in these same behaviors that don’t receive the same repercussions. In fact, there’s little evidence that any of these things cause any actual harm or problems to anyone (except that some people keep bitching and whining about them, causing serious annoyance to the young women who have to listen).

I’m really over the concern trolling of people who want to tell young women what to do, who say they’re just looking out for the well being of teens and young adults. Nope, sorry. There is absolutely nothing wrong about behaviors that you find kinda annoying because they’re different. And the oh so weird coincidence that many of those behaviors are associated with teen girls? Huh…might just say something about you.

So get over it. I’m vocal fryin’ dawgs.

Cross posted from We Got So Far To Go.

Olivia

Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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2 Comments

  1. The best (worst) was the recent This American Life episode about the many complaints they get regarding vocal fry in their young female reporters… when Ira Glass is really the #1 culprit! I was screaming “BUT IRA DOES IT TOO” to myself during the whole segment until he finally admitted it. Whew. At least he’s aware, if listeners aren’t.

    1. No word of a lie – I was coming to make the EXACT same point. I had to turn it off because it was pissing me off so much. I guess I should have waited until he confessed because that would have made my day better.

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