Criticizing How We Talk Is the Wrong Way to Empower Women

katy perryYou know that distinctive, slightly Valley Girl–esque way of speaking favored by female celebs like the Kardashians, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Zooey Deschanel? Well, there's actually a name for it -- "vocal fry" -- and it's being blamed for undermining the message of empowered young women. 

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Critics of vocal fry (which, in my opinion, wasn't really a thing until everybody made it a thing) say it's just one more deliberate tool the patriarchy is using to keep women down. According to author and feminist Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth), today's generation of women (the most empowered yet, ironically) are "hobbled" by this "new fashion in how they use their voices," which supposedly makes them seem "less competent, less trustworthy, less educated, and less hireable." She compares vocal fry, which sort of emanates from the back of the throat, to "up-talking" and the overuse of the word "like" insofar as it makes people (especially men) less likely to take women seriously.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people out there who find the mannerism irritating. But are these "empowered," successful young vocal fry-ers really "hobbled" by the affectation? Because it seems to me that the Kardashians, Katy Perry, and Britney Spears are all doing pretty well for themselves (even if they're not exactly considered intellectuals).

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It's not that I don't get Wolf's point -- women should feel confident to speak out loudly and proudly, and not feel the need to make their voices smaller or less threatening in order to fulfill some sort of misogynistic cultural mandate. Agreed. But if they actually want to talk that way, then what's the harm? Shouldn't we be focusing on what women are saying instead of how they're saying it? Shouldn't we be encouraging women to just use their voices, period?

Like I said, I understand Wolf's concern, but my fear is that all the vocal fry fuss is ultimately just one more example of women being unfairly criticized for making their voices heard -- in this case, by another (very prominent and well-respected) woman. At the end of the day, focusing on vocal fry is an excuse to focus on women's perceived flaws and inadequacies when we should be celebrating each individual woman's unique contributions. Because what all of this boils down to is: Women don't sound like men. That's because ... we're NOT men!

And interestingly enough, vocal fry has been observed in men, too -- so this isn't just a girl thing. Funny that nobody's complaining about the guys doing it, right?

 

Image via Xavier Collin/Image Press/Splash

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